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Roundup 2-28-2014

February 28, 2014

Transportation – Where Do You Really Stand?

Last week, we discussed the Gateway Express toll road project and how some elected officials, including the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee who is from Pinellas County, may be supporting the funding to counter the Greenlight Pinellas initiative.

Interestingly, we received a comment form a prominent local Tea Party member that helped clarify the State Senator’s position on Gateway and Greenlight.  We will just post the whole comment:

Sharon Calvert

February 24, 2014 6:27 PM

Regarding Gateway Express project which is good news for Pinellas, FL State Senator Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, stated this on a WFLA 970 radio interview on 2/18: “The newly announced I- 275 connector in Pinellas to be started in 2017 does not contemplate any involvement with a light rail system. In fact, it would help leverage the assets we already have in Pinellas County and work well with expanding Bus Rapid Transit and managed lanes and steer our conversation away from light rail and all the huge costs of a light rail system. Once this connector is completed you will be able to travel from the Sunshine skyway bridge to north of Countryside Mall without a stop light. This will be a game changer in Pinellas County transit.” Find the entire podcast here: http://www.970wfla.com/media/podcast-am-tampa-bay-AM_Tampa_Bay/sen-jeff-brandes-24352165/

Thank you for that clarification.

Setting aside that:

1) part of Gateway Express will be elevated and not given to much expansion;

2) every bus on the Gateway Express will create more congestion on the road and inconvenience cars and, because the state’s policy is to raise tolls to reduce congestion (in South Florida, going up to $10.50 for seven miles), make the road more even expensive for drivers;

3) Greenlight Pinellas includes bus improvements (there will be no real BRT on Gateway Express); and

4) transportation is a system so that roads, buses, and rail should work together to get people around but that each individual project does not necessarily include all aspects of transportation,

we will accept that his position is that rail is just so expensive, and we need to focus on BRT (whatever that is).

Which takes us back to last week when we also noted that the Governor wants to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Orlando for a train station at their airport and wondered if the anti-rail State Senator would block the money for Orlando’s train station.  Why should the state spend hundreds of millions more to support anymore SunRail or build a station for All Aboard Florida trains?  Based on the State Senator’s logic, Orlando should just build a cheap bus station at the airport, which already has highway access.

And then there is the Wave, a less than 3 mile streetcar project in Ft. Lauderdale that the State is going to pony up about $30 million to help build (the total cost is $143 million).   Shouldn’t that be an inexpensive rubber tire trolley bus?  What is his position on that?

We understand the State Senator’s position.  But, once again, we have the question – is it rail that is the problem or just rail in the Tampa Bay area?  And if he just wants to deny the Tampa Bay area the choice of rail while spending millions on it elsewhere, why is that?

Tourists, Taxes, and the Future

We recently wrote that Tampa/Hillsborough County should consider using bed tax money, and maybe raising the bed tax, to help pay for needs in the County and City.   Then, last week, we saw an article on Pinellas that told us:

. . . Pinellas County has become Florida’s sixth “high tourism impact” county.

Pinellas collected $31.8 million in tourist development taxes in calendar year 2013. Also known as the bed tax, it’s a 5 percent surcharge added to the bill of every hotel room and accommodation rented out for less than six months. The 2013 figure makes it four consecutive years that Pinellas tourist tax collections have increased from the year before.

* * *

Pinellas collected $31.8 million in tourist development taxes in calendar year 2013. Also known as the bed tax, it’s a 5 percent surcharge added to the bill of every hotel room and accommodation rented out for less than six months. The 2013 figure makes it four consecutive years that Pinellas tourist tax collections have increased from the year before.

* * *

. . . Pinellas joins Broward, Monroe, Orange, Osceola and Walton as Florida’s only high tourism impact counties.

Under Florida law, counties that break the $30 million bed tax barrier can be designated as high tourism impact areas. That allows them to raise their tourist taxes to 6 percent, bringing in even more tax revenue to fund even more economic development projects.

That got us thinking that maybe Hillsborough in not presently allowed to raise the tax anymore.  So we looked deeper.  The state provides a summary of the possible bed taxes here. The statute, while a little messy, can be found here.

From the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council Guidebook, which is also not artfully drafted, , it does actually appear that the bed tax cannot be raised until Hillsborough County becomes a “high tourist impact” county.  Given the criteria, we doubt that is going to happen soon.

Then we saw this:

Buckhorn said Tampa’s top priority will be getting lawmakers to approve allowing cities to vote for a sales tax referendum that could pay for transit or other services. Currently, sales tax referendums can only be approved countywide. In 2010, a sales tax that would have funded light rail won precincts in Tampa, but failed in the suburbs and rural areas of Hillsborough County.

Buckhorn sort of pushed for it last year, and it died. He said he’ll push it again this year, but there’s still no bill yet for it. With a staunchly conservative Legislature, chances are slim he’ll find any support for it, even from the Tampa Bay area’s own delegation.

“We’ll continue to push it in this session,” he said. “We recognize it’s an uphill struggle.”

In other words, the Mayor is going to spend another year (and probably some lobbying money) pursuing a plan that has almost no chance of success to raise taxes in the City of Tampa for “transit or other services.”  We have no idea what the “other services” might be but a City only transit plan would, in our opinion, be a mistake anyway. (See “The City Tax”) And, even if the City got the power to hold a referendum on its own, we have seen no plan from the City for transportation, not to mention the talk for getting a County referendum in 2015 or 2016.  How would the City tax work with that?

Standing there at the nexus of these things is an idea – try to push to change the law so that Hillsborough could increase the bed tax.   That could be by changing the “high impact” definition (only the government could set up a system with where Walton County has high tourist impact but Dade does not, regardless of whether Dade wants to take advantage of the status or not.) or by just getting authorization to tax for a different purpose.

If other cities, like Miami, are cool with authority to raise taxes on their people, it is likely their areas are also cool with getting authority to raise taxes on tourists to match (or really stay lower than) most other places in other states.  It is much more likely (though not necessarily that likely) that the state legislature would authorize more bed tax than a city tax.

No, the bed tax increase would not cover our transportation needs, but it would cover other costs for things that the City and County can’t pay for anyway, and, unlike the city tax, it may actually have a chance.  (And we are not even saying the bed tax should be raised – as we noted before, there are arguments on both sides – but if you are going to go to the legislature, you might as well ask for something that makes some sense.)

Just an idea.  And, even if it is not done, the city tax is going nowhere.  Real planning, of transit and other things, and developing consensus throughout Hillsborough County and the region is the only hope to get a real transportation system funded.

The reality is that we have a lot of needs and not that much money to pay for them.  Various entities and officials free lancing will not achieve anything near what can be done by having a consensus on a well reasoned and laid out plan on how to proceed.

Rays – Money and the State

Speaking of money for stadiums, the Legislature is considering changing the way money is allocated to stadium projects:

Latvala was traveling Tuesday and couldn’t be reached. His bill proposes a number of factors to be considered, including:

 The kinds of “signature events” — like Super Bowls, all-star games or racing championships — the facility might attract.

 The likely boost in ticket sales and attendance the project would create.

 The likelihood of attracting out-of-state visitors.

 How long a team has been in the state.

 Whether the new or renovated stadium could host a variety of sporting or other events.

The ranking process also would give extra points to teams that can put up half or more of the total project funds.

The same day Latvala’s bill was filed, the House Economic Affairs committee released language of its own for a proposed committee bill that includes similar criteria.

The House version also has a provision that Weatherford has repeated: Showing an “ability to provide a positive return on the state’s investment.”

We have nothing against having set criteria for allocating money to stadium projects.  On the other hand, a lot of these criteria seem to be ready made for political shenanigans (like the “signature events” idea – obviously a Super Bowl is a signature event, but the World Series or NBA finals go to teams that make are involved, not designated cities, so how does that mean there is no money to arenas or baseball stadiums?)  And does the multi-use idea mean we have to go back and build stadiums like in the 1970’s? And would a Pinellas delegation support money for a Rays stadium in Tampa or would our legislative delegation continue to fight among itself rather than fight for the area?

Then there is this in the house bill:

The bills also would allow funding for a “motor­sport entertainment complex,” mentioning the Day­tona [sic] Speedway as an example, as well as a “professional golf hall of fame” and an “international game fish association world center.”

Coincidentally, the World Golf Hall of Fame is near St. Augustine and the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum is in Dania Beach.

How do these fit any objective criteria?

The bills are interesting but problematic.  That does not mean they cannot be fine tuned.  Hopefully, they will be.

Gaming the System

Speaking of the legislature, there are expanded gaming proposals floating around, too.

The Florida Senate on Monday unveiled proposals that would bring casino resorts to Miami-Dade and Broward counties and expand gambling statewide with one new wrinkle: The gaming industry would be subject to new regulations.

Ok, stop right there.  Why do Dade and Broward get permission for casinos but nowhere else?  What makes them so special?  And why would their facilities get special protection from competition?  (And how is that a market based approach?  Sounds like protectionism to us.) And there is this:

In addition to licensing two destination casino resorts, the bills also allow for slot machines at dog tracks in Palm Beach and Lee counties and at a rodeo track in Gadsden County.

Once again, why the special treatment? If gaming is ok with the state, every county should be able to decide for itself whether it gets it.  If that is not changed, the bill is fatally flawed in our opinion.

Then there is this:

All of the changes would take effect this year under the plan, but the plan also proposes a constitutional amendment to require voter approval for any additional gambling expansion.

Voters in counties and cities that would host the destination resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward also would have to give their consent.

* * *

Complicating the proposals is the fact that an expansion of gambling in Florida could nullify the state’s $230-million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, the owner of the Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and five other casinos in Florida.

Voter approval is good.  Messing up the Seminole deal is not.  Fortunately,

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he will not accept any gambling expansion unless the governor signs off on it and negotiates a new compact.

Good.  Hopefully, the bill will die.  These kind of discriminatory bills are unacceptable.

Economic Development – It’s Something

This week, it was announced that a local technology company of sorts would be expanding locally.

ConnectWise, which sells information technology software, support and expertise to other IT companies, plans to invest $1.28 million to add 112 jobs to its Tampa operation by 2016.

* * *

Public incentives will aid ConnectWise’s plans to expand its workforce, which will also require the company to add 10,000 square feet of workspace to its headquarters in the West Shore business district.

Officials said the company will receive up to $560,000 in incentives. That will take the form of $448,000 in tax refunds from the state, plus an incentive package of $112,000 jointly offered by Tampa and Hillsborough County. In all, that’s $5,000 per job.

The salaries of the new positions in sales, human resources, accounting, marketing and software engineering will average about $52,000.

What exactly do they do?

The company essentially is a technology consultant for other information technology service consultants. For example, it sells software that helps IT consultants track their service calls, billable hours and sales leads.

It has profited from the explosion in technology spending by corporations and currently has 50 open positions, Chief Executive Officer Arnie Bellini said. All told, ConnectWise has 330 employees and when combined with some sister tech companies employs about 600.

Ok.  Not bad.  It is essential to keep this kind of company here.  That is a success.  Of course, it is still a small step, but you have to start somewhere.

We just don’t want to keep seeing this listed as one of the reasons we have a “burgeoning” tech scene.  It is a good thing and we are happy the owners are expanding locally, but we have a very long way to go.

DNC – Huh?

There was interesting news about the 2016 Democratic Convention.

The Democratic National Committee has invited the city of Tampa to consider bidding for the party’s 2016 national convention, but Mayor Bob Buckhorn is cool to the idea.

“It’s flattering,” he said Thursday. “After hosting the Republican National Convention, I think everyone recognizes that we set the standard for how those events should be run.”

* * *

But while Buckhorn is proud of the work that went into the RNC and the results, he said “the Democratic convention is a very different animal.”

“I think it would be much more difficult to be able to put together a competitive bid for the Democrats, largely because in 2012, they prohibited the city of Charlotte from taking corporate money,” he told reporters. “You guys saw the numbers.”

* * *

“If that (DNC) requirement is still in place, I can’t see a scenario that I would be willing put the city at risk to host that knowing full well that we couldn’t raise the money without taking corporate money,” the mayor said.

We get that (other than the setting the standard thing – just read the bottom of this Tribune article and here).  Why try to host the event if it will become a costly mess?  Of course, if we are all about hosting big events, why can’t we get the money to do it?

And unlike the GOP, Buckhorn said the Democratic Party does not have an infrastructure of donors with deep pockets in this part of Florida.

“I just don’t think that we have the resources here in the Tampa Bay area to muster the kind of money that it would take to put on a comparable convention, and I don’t want to do anything less than what we did before,” Buckhorn said. If the city won the bid to host and fell short, the burden would fall on the city “to kick in the money to make up the difference, and I’m not just willing to do it.”

Democratic donors in South Florida might have that kind of money, Buckhorn said, “but why would someone in South Florida write a check to a convention in Tampa?” (That’s a reaction the Tampa Bay Host Committee for the RNC knows something about. For all of its success anywhere else, it had little luck raising money in Orlando or from big corporations based there.)

We find that all kind of strange.  Why wouldn’t Orlando interests give money to a Tampa convention?  It is an hour away.  We always hear we are a super-region.  Apparently we aren’t.  And is South Florida that detached?

It seems that this is another lesson that this area needs to work as a region (not necessarily for a convention, but for other things) since other areas are apparently just in it for themselves.  If we do not act regionally, we will get run over.

LUV TIA Some More

People who have been here for a while, or people who just are interested in the airport, might remember (or be aware of) the old “Luv TIA” bumper stickers (which came before the airport began pushing to use the actual code for the airport, which is TPA).  They were a sign of the well-justified pride with which this area viewed the airport.

It is good to know that we can still have that pride:

Officials at Tampa International Airport aren’t surprised TIA once again ranked high in the 2013 Airport Service Quality Awards compiled by the Airports Council International.

What did surprise them was that the airport actually improved its grades for quality and service while the interior of the main terminal underwent a major renovation.

* * *

Tampa International was ranked third among global airports serving 15 million to 25 million passengers. TIA, which handles about 17 million passengers a year, finished fifth in the 2012 rankings, but rose two spots in 2013 to finish behind first-ranked Gimpo International Airport in South Korea and Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in China.

TIA also ranked the third-best airport in North America in 2013, finishing behind top-ranked Indianapolis International Airport and No. 2 Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport.

We are pleased that the present airport administration and staff have maintained the high standards to which we have become accustomed. (Funny how people love that fixed guideway transportation, even when walking or an airport bus would be so much cheaper to build.)  And then there is this:

Tampa International Airport was recognized as the best airport in the Western Hemisphere at attracting new airlines and new destinations.

The airport on Monday was awarded the 2014 Routes Marketing Award for the Americas at the annual Routes Americas forum, held this year in Santa Ana, El Salvador. It’s the annual airline network planning conference where airports, airlines and tourist agencies get together to discuss developing new commercial airline routes.

TIA was recognized for working with community partners to market itself to new airlines. Tampa won its category of the best airport serving 4 million to 20 million passengers, besting Pittsburgh International, Oakland International, Portland International in Oregon and Southwest Florida International in Lee County.

It also topped the winner of the over-20 million passenger category, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and the under-4 million category, Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, Bahamas, to win the award for best overall airport.

Most excellent.

Now the Tampa Bay area’s legislative delegation should make sure the state gives the airport the money to maintain its excellence and carry out its master plan.

Ybor – First Glimpse of the Hotel

As we have noted, the City is negotiating with the Liberty Group to build a hotel on what is presently City land.  This week, we caught a first glimpse of the hotel plan.

A screenshot of a WTSP.com video from the Flickr account of Gonzo1030 – click on picture for account

Nothing special, but ok, except for a couple of potential problems.  First, the rendering appears to show outside hallways – they could be balconies but they do not seem divided by room.  If they are outside hallways, that would be horrible.  There is no way the City should allow outside access to the rooms like an old Howard Johnsons at some rural exit.  This is Ybor, and the building should reflect Ybor designs.  The other thing is that there appears to be a dead streetscape.

We have no problem with a hotel on this lot or with the massing that appears to be reflected in the rendering, but, if the plan has outdoor hallways and no street activity, the City should demand changes.

Channelside – Who Do You Want as a Business Partner

Of course, the City might want to be careful with demanding changes from Liberty. As reported in the Tribune, there was a letter last week from a Port Board member that raised an interesting point (that we also raised tangentially):

With all the legal drama over who will control Channelside Bay Plaza, Tampa Port Authority Board Commissioner Patrick Allman had a pointed question: Should the City of Tampa ever do business with a developer who sues governments when they don’t get their way?

Allman came to this question after the latest legal salvo between the Port Tampa Bay board and developers trying to take over Channelside.

On one side, the port already owns the land under Channelside, and is trying to buy the above-ground shopping complex from the bankrupt Irish bank that holds a mortgage on the complex. The port recently offered $5.75 million, and set a deal with the bank. On the other side are two developers, Liberty Group and Convergent Capital, who cried foul because they tried to negotiate a similar deal with the port, but acrimony and accusations helped shut down those talks. Since then, Liberty and Convergent have come to the bankruptcy court with a $7 million bid, and the judge involved says the whole process might need to be re-opened for bidders.

All that didn’t sit well with port leaders who issued a statement, saying in part that “nobody won, everyone lost” with that ruling.

“A bigger question to ask is whether or not local public entities should be doing business with companies whose dominant negotiating style is to use litigation as a means to get more favorable business terms for themselves,” Allman wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “For example, what happens if the City of Tampa doesn’t select the Liberty Group to develop a hotel in Ybor City on its current [request for proposals], will they be sued? If they are selected and can’t force their desired business terms on the City of Tampa will they then sue the City of Tampa?”

Exactly.  Does it serve the taxpayer to deal with people who sue first and ask questions later at the Port or at the City?  If Liberty does not want to fix their possibly flawed hotel plan, are they going to sue and why should the taxpayer have to pay to defend such suits?  It is a very fair question.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week the Business Journal‘s Brainpower Index.  The methodology can be found here.

We will list the metro with the percentage of people with at least a bachelor degree in the metro in the parentheses. The top 20: Washington (47.6), followed by Madison, WI (42.9); Bridgeport, CT (44.9), Boston (43), San Jose (45.7), Durham (43.1), San Francisco (44.2), Raleigh (41.3), Minneapolis-St. Paul (38.7), Colorado Springs (34.8), Albany (33.8), Seattle (37.3), Denver (38.9), Portland, ME (35.8), Hartford (35.4), Austin (40.2), Baltimore (35.7), Provo, UT (35.7), New Haven, CT (32.5), Portland, OR (34.1). Of note, New York comes in 22nd, though many of the surrounding areas are in the top 20.  Strange how many of the usual suspects are in the top 20.  Most of the rest are in the top 40, with the odd exception of Houston and LA.

So, you ask, where is Florida? Sarasota-Bradenton (28.3) is 44th. Palm Bay-Melbourne (25.9) is 61st. Orlando (27.8) is 71st.  Jacksonville (27.3) is 73rd. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (28.8) is 75th. The Tampa Bay area (26.0) is 78th. Ft. Myers (24.1) is 83rd. Lakeland (18.1) is 95th.

Not very good for Florida in general and the Tampa Bay area in particular.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is the 2014 Central Connecticut State University list of most and least literate cities. The criteria are explained here.

The most literate city is Washington, DC, followed by Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, St. Paul, Boston, St. Louis, and San Francisco.  Funny how many of the most literate cities are also the usual suspects on most of the other good lists we find.

The least literate city is Bakersfield (CA), followed by Corpus Christi (TX), Stockton (CA), El Paso, San Antonio, Anaheim, Chula Vista (CA), Fresno, Aurora (CO), and Mesa (AZ).  The least literate list is a little (but not that much) surprising, but it is what it is.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2014 9:34 AM

    No matter what side of the political spectrum one is on, protectionism should piss you off. It is ridiculous that they won’t allow all counties to vote on gambling.

    Add the Taxi protectionism denying Uber in Tampa Bay and it really pisses me off.

    Great read. Thank you.

  2. February 28, 2014 9:36 AM

    Also, let’s pray that those are balconies or something on the hotel.

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