TIA – On to Seattle
This week, the airport announced new nonstop service to Seattle.
Alaska Airlines will inaugurate daily Tampa-Seattle service on June 20, fulfilling Tampa International Airport’s longstanding goal for non-stop flights with the Pacific Northwest and gaining an airline renowned for its financial performance and passenger amenities.
More than 320 passengers a day fly between Tampa to Seattle, on various airlines including Southwest, United, US Airways, Delta and American and Alaska Air connections,, the third busiest U.S. route not served by a non-stop flight.
“Our strategy is working,” Tampa International Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano said regarding recruitment of the Seattle flight, along with recent new service to Panama, Switzerland, and Cuba. A start-up airline is planning intra-Florida jet service at Tampa later this year.
“To entice high-tech companies (to the Tampa Bay region), we need service,” Lopano said of the non-stop flights that can support established companies in the Seattle area including Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon along with entrepreneurial-oriented business that are a staple of the Puget Sound area.
Excellent. Good route and good new airline. (And we like the graphic designer the airport uses). Yes, the strategy is working. The other major tech hub and really underserved route is Tampa-San Francisco. Hopefully, we will get that soon.
Rays, Downtown, and Money
In the last few weeks there have been various news items presented separately that actually should be looked at together, so we will do just that.
The first one involves a theoretical location for a Rays stadium in downtown Tampa and the Lightning owner’s large land holdings.
Baseball might attract 2 million fans a year or more to the area, but the stadium footprint — at 12 to 14 acres — would consume half of Vinik’s current holdings without necessarily yielding ongoing income. Mid-sized market teams typically pay little or no rent to the stadium owner.
The best solution, Buckhorn said, could be locating the stadium just north of Vinik’s property, on land now occupied by a ConAgra flour mill. That site “would require a sliver of Mr. Vinik’s property but not gobble up the rest,” Buckhorn said.
(Win-win? Bro Bowl/Perry Harvey Park anyone?) It makes sense that the Lightning owner may not want to give up half the land he bought to build a stadium. It also makes sense, stadium or not, to get the Con-Agra mill out of downtown. While it may be a profitable operation, it is like a wall dividing various parts of downtown that could be relocated elsewhere. There is a downside to that land, though:
The Tampa Port Authority could offer land for a new flour mill, but Buckhorn said he has heard of building costs of $60 million to $80 million, a big add-on to a stadium already projected at $550 million or more.
So, even if it worked out, that plan would have to be paid for.
— Show Us the Money
So how could it be paid for?
The mill site carries one financial advantage, Buckhorn said. It is within a special downtown taxing district currently paying off construction costs of the Tampa Convention Center. When those payments end in 2015, revenues could switch to a new capital project — like a stadium, providing $100 million or more toward costs such as land acquisition or infrastructure, Buckhorn said.
Using that money to bring a Rays stadium to the downtown redevelopment district is likely the only way City Hall could participate seriously in the project, Buckhorn said. Otherwise, he said it would be “very difficult.”
Buckhorn has talked of using the redevelopment revenue — officially known as tax-increment financing, or TIF for short — for roads, utilities and infrastructure that could support a stadium. Or it probably could be used to assemble the land for a stadium. Or it could pay to create new mass transit connections to the ballpark.
“There’s a lot of moving parts, but they all relate to each other,” Buckhorn said. “That’s why that TIF money is so important to us, and it’s so important that council members, as they have these discussions, don’t get backed into a corner by making pronouncements that they can’t walk away from.
Ok, that is an idea. Are there any catches? Well, yes:
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s idea to put $100 million of downtown tax money toward a potential new Tampa Bay Rays stadium is getting a skeptical look from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and other nonprofits.
The money in question comes from the property taxes paid by downtown Tampa landowners. Through a system called tax-increment financing, some of these taxes are steered into an entity called the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area and used for projects that benefit downtown. For now, the system generates about $12 million to $13 million per year, and those dollars are used to pay off the bonds on the Tampa Convention Center.
Representatives of the Tampa Theatre, Tampa Museum of Art and David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts noted to the council that they operate out of city-owned buildings. They said they could use the city’s help as they make repairs and updates to their facilities.
(And see here. Remember, the cost of moving the mill is $60-80 million.) Let’s look at one non-profit, the Straz Center:
This week, The Tribune reached out to a few big downtown nonprofit groups, but the only one that expressed concern was the Straz Center. Chief Executive Officer Judy Lisi said she doesn’t object to a baseball stadium in downtown Tampa, but her performing arts center has at least $10 million in capital expenditure needs, and she’d like a discussion on the money.
Then there is this:
The panel — about 25 feet long, 5 feet high and 1 foot thick — fell from the third level of the 27-year-old city-owned building about 2 p.m. Dec. 12. It came loose from the west side of the building, facing the Hillsborough River, and landed outside the lobby for the Carol Morsani Hall.
The Straz Center has paid $35,000 to $40,000 so far to clean up, secure, study and install the cable reinforcements to the remaining panels. It also has filed a claim with City Hall because the building is owned and insured by the city of Tampa.
It is not clear who will pay for all that and to make sure something like that does not happen again. And that is not the only potential need:
And, there are scores of potential uses for the money, including giving some to nonprofits, spending it on Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park or steering some to a possible referendum on mass transit, he said.
(Not to mention renovating the convention center). There are a lot of needs.
— Enter the County
Of course, no decisions have been made (at least not officially):
Tampa’s administrator of economic opportunity, Bob McDonaugh, downplayed the issue. No one has dedicated any money to a stadium or any other cause at this point, he said. The city and county still have to decide whether they’ll continue setting aside downtown taxes for major projects through tax-increment financing.
County involvement in downtown Tampa? That should be entertaining.
So what have the Commissioners said?
A Channelside stadium, with road improvements and other infrastructure, could justify renewing the full county share, County Commissioner Ken Hagan said recently — as long as it did not lead to new property taxes.
Wait a minute. We understand that a baseball stadium may be a use for the money, but would the County really hold the money if it were used for something else? Is a stadium the only use the County would support? What about that other list of things to be done? What about all that new era of County-City cooperation?
In any event, there are other opinions on the County Commission:
But County Commissioner Victor Crist, now wants to claim some of that money for Hillsborough County needs. If that happens, it could eat into the $100 million pot Buckhorn proposed for stadium infrastructure.
In other words, there is no consensus in the County either.
We would like to see a Rays stadium in Tampa. (We just doubt their success in St. Pete.) Setting aside the whole St. Petersburg permission issue and the question of how much, if any, tax money should go to a stadium, there is the issue of paying for it and what money could be used for it. Unfortunately, there is a limited pot of money, and there are many needs. While we would like a stadium, a way needs to be found to take care of other needs as well.
Moreover, there is a problem with the County. This is all quite the conundrum.
We agree with this Tribune columnist:
Given that, even the most ardent stadium supporter should agree wholeheartedly with Capin’s demand for transparency. You may believe a new stadium should be built downtown as quickly as possible, but this has to be done correctly.
Indeed. Transparency is needed. Unfortunately, the discussions with the Rays are still shrouded in mystery, which does not help find solutions to all these issues.
Another Thought About Tax Money
This week it was announced that a million dollars will be put to promoting the IIFA (“Bollywood Oscars”):
This week Hillsborough County committed to spending $1 million in tax dollars to help market and support the event — and to sell the area as a tourist destination that Bollywood fans will want to come back to visit.
The Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council voted unanimously Thursday to release $900,000 in reserve tourist development taxes to Visit Tampa Bay for the April 24-26 IIFA weekend. The tax is a 5 percent surcharge on hotel rooms and other short-term accommodations that pays for tourism marketing, the Tampa Convention Center and other venues.
The Hillsborough County Commission also voted unanimously on Wednesday to give the tourism agency $100,000 to promote the show. Commissioner Al Higginbotham made the proposal and Commissioner Kevin Beckner added a stipulation that they get an accounting of how the money will be spent to brand Hillsborough County — and not just the city of Tampa.
Corrada said the marketing plan always counted on using tourist tax reserves. His agency gets a share every year. But the agency didn’t ask for its $360,000 portion of the surplus in 2012, before Corrada came aboard. The agency’s cut of the 2013 reserves was $540,000.
Setting aside that Hillsborough County is spending $1 million to promote a weekend event and $2 million total to support local startups (and we have nothing against promoting the IIFA, but the ratio seems a bit off if high wage jobs are the priority we are told they are), all the downtown tax talk plus the fact that the Rays conversation in Pinellas involves tourist taxes got us wondering about the Tourist Development Tax money. How much is the total?
The tourist development tax in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is a 5 percent surcharge on every short-term accommodation. Also known as the bed tax, it’s considered one of the best measures of the tourism industry because it’s directly correlated to hotel bookings.
The tax rate in Hillsborough County is 5%, which is the same as Pinellas, Broward, and most large Florida counties. Orange and Osceola Counties are at 6%. (Notably, Florida counties are quite low in tourist taxes nationwide.) And what are the uses of the money?
The broad purpose of the tax is to have a funding source that supports the continuous growth of tourism and visitors to the area. Besides the direct benefits of tourism (lodging sales, attraction of tourists, and jobs within the hospitality industry), additional impacts are realized by carefully planning the investment of tourist development tax dollars.
The remaining two percent portion, the “fourth” and “fifth” cents, are used primarily for the payment of debt service on bonds issued in connection with the Raymond James Stadium, George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) and the Tampa Bay Times Forum professional sports franchise facilities. In March 2003, the BOCC approved the expansion in the authorized uses of the TDT revenue generated from Hillsborough County’s “fourth” and “fifth” cent TDT, to reflect expanded authorized uses under the State Statute. After satisfying bond covenants and directives, the revenues can be used to support activities that promote and advertise tourism in the State of Florida nationally and internationally.
(from pg 5-6 of a Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council Guidebook pdf. The statute referenced appears to be this which allows for use of the tax money for sports facilities or convention centers.)
Based on the 5% tax bringing $21 or so million in 2013, an increase of 1% would bring in about an additional $4 million annually. That would cover a decent percentage of the $12-13 million development district money in the first item.
(For some context: Apparently in Pinellas County “Tourism officials recently conducted a survey, asking if an additional penny ‘resort tax’ to help promote rainy day destination activities would be a good idea. The results were split right at about 50 percent, officials said.” “Guests currently pay a 13 percent sales tax in New Orleans, which puts the city at the low end of the country’s top 25 hotel markets, according to figures from the American Hotel & Lodging Association Information Center. Houston and Anaheim top the list with a 17 percent sales tax rate.” That tax rate is normal sales tax plus any tourist/bed tax. In Hillsborough there is 7% sales tax and 5% tourist development tax. For more about New Orleans and the standard debate about tourist taxes see here)
Now we are not necessarily saying to raise the tax to Orlando levels. We understand there is an argument that we must be competitive with other areas in Florida and that there is a race to the bottom of sorts. And, of course, the hospitality industry probably would object. On the other hand, the tourist development tax is a tax paid by people from other areas, and we suspect most people do not really check the tourist tax numbers when deciding to visit somewhere. In other words, is it really a deal breaker? Frankly, it is not clear nor is it clear that the tax should be raised. But, with everyone looking for loose change under the seat cushions to fund various projects, it needs to be in the conversation.
To pay for the things we need and/or want, we are obviously going to have to get creative, so everything should be in the conversation.
Economic Development – Adventures In Branding
A few weeks ago, the Times had a column about Orlando attempting to rebrand itself.
Except Orlando no longer wants to be known only as a theme park playground. That’s why the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission is unveiling a new branding campaign that includes this slogan:
Clever. It says Orlando has a whole other half to its identity beyond tourism. New branding opens the door for Orlando to market other pieces of its economy. Like its Lake Nona medical complex. Or on-the-rise University of Central Florida. Or Full Sail University, which offers entertainment and media degrees. Or its defense industry.
One mock-up from the branding campaign features an image of a medical researcher with the text, “Fantasy, meet reality.” Another depicts a modern office building and the words, “Our home is more than our castle.”
* * *
But if Orlando pursues a more sophisticated brand, Tampa Bay may find its I-4 neighbor has turned into a stronger competitor. We might want to hone our own identity.
All good points. Which raises an interesting issue:
This identity dilemma is not new. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional marketing group, unveiled its regional business plan. Assembled by SRI International, the plan listed the area’s top weaknesses. Among them: a “lack of clarity about a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity.”
You can’t have clarity about a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity if you do not have a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity. . . and we don’t. We have forward-looking pieces – some bio-tech (with a stealth cloak), some startup supporters, some transit supporters, some urbanism supporters (and some objectors to all that, too.) What we do not have is a cohesive idea of what we want to be, at least not in the halls of government – not when strip stores get more local financial support than high paying jobs and transportation and planning are still a nagging issues (not that we don’t have planners but elected officials settle far to often as though we can brand sprawling subdivisions and strip malls). And, even if some have ideas, regional cooperation is still in very short supply.
The reality is that there is a lot of talk, but the facts on the ground, as it were, are usually much different than the rhetoric. We may be getting to an idea of what we want to be, slowly, but we are not there yet. And it is hard to brand what does not exist.
Transportation – The Diversions Begin
This week, opponents of Greenlight Pinellas launched a new attempt to confuse the issues.
In a letter copied to Gov. Rick Scott, members of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation say Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Ronnie Duncan’s leadership of the Yes for Greenlight campaign is a conflict of interest and will damage TBARTA’s standing. The letter also was sent to other members of TBARTA’s governing board.
Duncan was announced at a campaign launch event Friday as one of two members of the steering committee of Yes for Greenlight. The advocacy campaign is expected to raise about $1 million to persuade Pinellas residents to back a 1 cent sales tax hike to pay for development and operation of a mass transit network run by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
“I think it’s really impacting TBARTA’s credibility,” said COST spokeswoman Sharon Calvert, founder of the Tampa chapter of the tea party and a vocal opponent of other Bay area transit referendums. “If Mr. Duncan wants to go be the face of Yes Greenlight, he should not be the chairman of TBARTA.”
Duncan, a former Pinellas County commissioner, was appointed to TBARTA by Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed for a second term by Scott. He said his involvement in Greenlight is as a private citizen and that TBARTA would not be involved in the advocacy campaign.
“I’m a citizen and taxpayer and I have the same rights as everybody else does to do what they think is right for them and their community,” Duncan said. “People can think what they want but, at the end of the day, there is no legal conflict.”
Setting aside that the founder of COST is from Hillsborough, is there an actual issue?
TBARTA was established by state lawmakers in 2007 to produce a regional transportation plan for the West Central Florida region consisting of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Its governing board unanimously endorsed the Greenlight plan in October.
Duncan’s involvement in Greenlight has been reviewed by TBARTA’s legal counsel Don Conn, a Tampa attorney. He said Duncan can work legally on the campaign as long as he makes it clear he is not representing TBARTA, agency officials said.
PSTA leaders also were advised recently on what is permissible under Florida election law. Tax dollars may not be spent to influence how residents vote, but the law does not prevent elected or appointed officials from publicly advocating for an outcome, PSTA attorney Alan Zimmet recently advised PSTA’s governing board.
There is no controversy here – just obfuscation by COST/Tea Party.
Moreover, some of those complaining were the same people who sued to get County Commissioners removed from office so they could not support Greenlight Pinellas. The suit was thrown out, but they won’t let that get in the way, nor the fact that TBARTA supported the plan, anyway. And there is also the fact that the opponents and their friends seem to have similar issues of their own.
Like Duncan, Jaroch was appointed to the board of a public agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, or HART. She also works for Heritage Action, a 501c4 that functions as the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation that doesn’t release its donors’ names.
Of course, they distinguish their activities from those about which they complain:
Setting aside that Heritage Action is anti-rail, what is “the opposition?” It sounds like their position is that it is acceptable if the Tea Party/Anti-Rail folks do it but not for people with whom they disagree.
Just like the lawsuit against the Commissioners, there is nothing in this . It would be good if this campaign were on the issues rather than full of distractions. Nevertheless, get ready for much more of this type of silliness.
Transportation – A Nice Summary of What Hillsborough Needs to Do
We have written often about transportation in Hillsborough. Last Week, the Times had an editorial on the subject that echoed much of what we have said, and put it nicely, so we will quote:
City and county officials meeting on transit should acknowledge that bus and rail must play a central role in any transportation fix. The local, state and federal governments do not have the money to keep condemning property and walling off entire neighborhoods to add more lanes. Officials also need to better explain to suburban residents why mass transit is important to preserving their lifestyles. Expanded bus service and a new rail system would limit sprawl and reduce the need for more road projects.
Those pushing for a fresh transit vote in Hillsborough should build on the momentum from Pinellas but put substance before expediency. Hillsborough’s next transit package needs a clear route and a reasonable price tag for rail, a more robust role for buses and a timetable for taking the system to the suburbs and to Pinellas. It also needs to be backed by smarter land use policies that curb sprawl and preserve scarce transportation resources.
Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe should use his final year on the commission and his position as chairman to focus this debate. He should point to rail systems in Central and South Florida as examples of how the bay area has lost ground by not thinking regionally. Hillsborough already has learned from Pinellas’ transit referendum effort by recognizing that any transit plan must be clear and easily understood months before the election. The first step in getting there, though, is for policymakers to figure out what they are selling besides vague promises.
Well said, now if only the elected officials in Hillsborough can do it.
MacDill – Thinking About the Future
There was an article in the Times about the future of MacDill now that its biggest Washington defender has passed away.
“I’m not saying the sky is falling,” said Evelio “E.J.” Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who worked at MacDill for 14 years and lost a 2012 congressional bid to Kathy Castor. “But it’s a critical time in MacDill’s history. We can’t take the base for granted.”
MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, both of which have spearheaded the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The tinderbox that is the Middle East ensures both commands will maintain brisk activity for many years.
“The reality is you now have two basically brand new headquarters in SoCom and CentCom,” Fallon said. “That investment is already done. You don’t need a whole lot of Bill Youngs” to ensure the base’s long-term survival.
Good points. As are these:
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said the Air Force chief of staff assured her last year that MacDill will be a vital base for years because it is home to 16 KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. MacDill lost a bid to be among the first to get the next-generation tanker, the KC-46. The Air Force will rely on the Eisenhower-era KC-135s during the next two decades as the new aircraft are phased in, said Castor, whose district includes MacDill.
And there is another good point that was not mentioned – MacDill is one of the largest employers and one of the biggest economic forces in the area. It just so happens that the Tampa Bay area is the largest swing metropolitan area in the largest swing region in the largest swing state in the United States. It is well past time that we keep hammering that point home in Washington and elsewhere.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week this week is locality.com’s Yuppies (ed. Do Yuppies still exist?) Price Index for Services. You can find the methodology (basically the cost of various services) on the website.
The top 10: Coming in first (cheapest) is Indianapolis, followed by Cleveland, Houston, Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, Orlando, Dallas, and Sacramento.
For context, the most expensive was San Francisco, where the bundle of services cost $6,718. The cost in the least expensive, Indianapolis, was $5,181. The difference is $1,537.
In an article on the Rays, the Mayor explained why the price difference is not as attractive as it might seem:
Right. The list ignores income which makes it questionable at best.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is cheapism.com’s Top 6 Most Affordable and Growing Cities in the U.S.
Unlike the first list, the methodology takes income and wide variety of expenses into account:
We awarded the cities a score of 1 to 6 for each data point, based on where they fell relative to the competition. We gave the most weight to cost of living, as calculated by Sperling’s, which accounts for housing, food, transportation, and health care, among other expenses. We also factored in median household incomes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, to a lesser extent, state and local income and sales tax rates from the Tax Foundation.
Coming in first is Austin, followed by Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Charlotte, Houston, and Raleigh.