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Roundup 3-7-2014

March 7, 2014

TIA – Money, Signs, and the Future

This week, there was more news about the future development of Tampa International Airport.

— The Money

First, some money for to execute the master plan:

Scott on Wednesday designated $194 million in state funds toward the $1 billion first phase of Tampa International’s master plan improvements outlined last year.

Those include main terminal redevelopment, a new rental-car facility, and an automated tram linking the main terminal, remote parking garage and the rental car area.

* * *

“This is the biggest project at this airport since it opened,” Tampa International Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano said.

The master plan concept is to create improvements to avoid building an additional main terminal north of the current facility for years.

It will create 7,100 short-term construction jobs, and up to 1,100 permanent positions. Construction is expected to begin this year and be completed by 2017.

Airport officials sought $272 million from the Florida Department of Transportation through Scott, and got about 70 percent of what they asked for.

Lobbying for state funds in Tallahassee by airport officials and a private firm under an $80,000 contract began in February 2013, with the governor approving funding a week ago in a tightly held decision.

While the airport is paying for most of the project and the proposed State money is not as much as the airport asked for, it is still good.  As we said previously, we do not really care if it is an election year move because we need the money.  We are all for this spending.  Improvement to infrastructure is a solid investment, and the airport does infrastructure right.

Though, since the money still has to be approved by the legislature, it does raise a question we have raised before.  While we are unequivocally for the project, including the people mover, we admit shuttle buses from the landside terminal to the rental car facility would be cheaper to set up (it is not clear about running them), and the people mover will not charge anything to ride, so it will not pay for itself.  Additionally, passengers have a choice of which rental car company they use or whether they use a rental car.  If that is the case, based on the logic used by Tea Party, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and other opponents of rail, is it proper to support this project?  In fact, even at the main part of the airport, why don’t people have a choice either to walk to the airside or pay to ride the shuttle?  Under their argument, isn’t having free people movers just government waste?  Will they try to kill the money?

Like we said, we are all for this project because it is a good project.  And we are glad the airport is interested in quality, not just cost, which is not to say we think they waste money.  They just do things properly just like successful companies do, which sometimes costs more. That is life and that is the market (just ask Apple).

— The Sign

A small part of the improvements at the airport include some new signage.  Usually, signage would not much interest us, but 1) this is the airport, 2) it is quite a big sign, and 3) it is another example of how, when you do things cheaply you often have to come back and spend to fix them anyway, you might as well do it right the first time.

The sign was metal. It hung over the highway. Its message was spelled out in white letters over a black background: “Welcome to Tampa International Airport.”

But back when Joe Lopano applied for the airport’s top job in 2010, he didn’t feel welcomed.

“My impression was that this is nothing but a roadway sign that tells you where you are,” said Lopano, now the airport CEO. “But it doesn’t welcome you.”

That’s why Tampa International is spending up to $662,000 to erect a grand new sign in the grass median at the entrance of the George J. Bean Parkway.

The new sign will be imposing, made of concrete and translucent polycarbonate. It will stand 21 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It will be lit at night and be able to change colors on command.

It will be built to withstand not just the rigors of Florida’s thundershowers and the occasional hurricane, but an even harsher foe: the sun’s UV rays.

Sounds good, and this is what is will apparently look like:

From the Times – click on picture for article

But what we really like is the approach:

Lopano believes that the new sign, set for completion around the middle of this month, will raise the airport’s profile and better reflect its role as an economic engine in the Tampa Bay area.

The current entrance sign overlooking the main road, he said, just doesn’t do that for him.

“It doesn’t portray an image of the community or the airport,” Lopano said. “I’ve never seen an airport that doesn’t have some form of a welcome feature that’s a little bit more stylish than a welcome sign.”

* * *

“I tell people when we put something in the airport as a new feature that we want it to look good on day one and look good on year 20,” said Al Illustrato, the airport’s vice president of facilities and administration.

Right, it is not a half measure that relies on hype, it corrects a mistake, is done right, has substance, and, hopefully, is made to stand the test of time – like the rest of the airport.  We wish other parts of the Tampa Bay area would adopt the same attitude.

(And, following up on last week, here is an article and video of TIA receiving the route development award.  What is notable is the inclusive, regional nature of the comments by TIA.  Once again, a model for the area.)

Channelside – Just Buy It Back, Already

This week the Channelside saga kept going on (and on and on).  When last we left, the liberty folks were grandstanding with an offer to buy Channelside. Now, the Port is having its say:

Last month a federal bankruptcy judge scuttled the port’s first attempt to buy the 234,520-square-foot outdoor mall for $5.75 million. But a majority of the board told the Tampa Bay Times they still support their original plan: The public agency should buy Channelside from the Irish bank that foreclosed on the property and then pick a private developer to turn the downtown icon around.

* * *

Channelside’s complex and dysfunctional ownership structure — the bank owns the mortgage on the building, the port owns the land — has left the complex bereft of tenants and customers. Both entities must approve a buyer, an issue that has separated them for years.

Some board members said that they’re willing to pay more, perhaps $7 million or higher, to get the Irish bank out of town and put Channelside’s destiny in Tampa hands once and for all.

That would be fine with us.  The entire thing is a mess.  The Port should take control of the complex once again to protect the public and get the entire complex fixed.

Of course, there is always Liberty’s lawsuit against the Port – apparently, their position is that, if you can’t negotiate a deal you like, you can always try to get a Court to force the other side to make the deal – but anyone can file a lawsuit.

The Port should get the deal done to buy Channelside already.

Transportation – The Other Side of Gandy

We have written previously about Tampa/Hillsborough County’s abject failure over decades to connect the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge, even though everyone knows it needs to be done. (See, for instance, “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” )  As we noted, the failed efforts were part of an attempt to connect to I-275 in Pinellas.  Well, even if Tampa/Hillsborough County are constantly caving in to a small number of loud people and failing the community at large, Pinellas County is moving ahead with work on its side of the bridge.

This first phase, estimated to cost about $83 million, will focus on the section from Fourth to Interstate 275.

When this phase is completed, Gandy will have an elevated six-lane roadway (three in each direction) from I-275 to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. It will be four lanes (two in each direction) from King Street to east of Fourth Street. Overpasses will be built at Fourth, Roosevelt Boulevard, King and 94th Avenue. A frontage road system will parallel the main roadway.

The project will include pedestrian and bicycle trails along the frontage road, traffic signals, lighting, an intelligent transportation system and landscaping. An intelligent transportation system includes such things as informational signs although it’s unclear whether they will be part of the Gandy improvements.

* * *

Work is scheduled to finish in 2017.

The second phase, west from I-275 to the end of the Gandy overpass over U.S. 19, has not been funded. Construction is not scheduled to begin until 2021.

Even though the new work will not go all the way to the bridge, it is a major part of the work, and way more than on the east side of the bridge.  Once again, Pinellas County is ahead of Hillsborough when it comes to transportation.  How long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?

Hillsborough County – An Endless Supply or a Dry Well?

Speaking of Hillsborough County, there was some interesting news this week.

— Chasing The Bright Lights

First, the County Commission decided to subsidize some films.

While state lawmakers consider pumping more money into Florida’s penniless motion picture incentive system, Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending $300,000 Wednesday to lure two movie productions here.

* * *

The bulk of the county money — $250,000 — is earmarked for The Infiltrator, based on the true story of a U.S. Customs agent who spent years working undercover as a Tampa-based money launderer investigating Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel and the banks that helped drug suppliers and smugglers hide money.

* * *

After Hagan finished his sales pitch, Commissioner Al Higginbotham asked for $50,000 to go to the makers of Saat Hindustani, a Bollywood movie also considering filming in Tampa. The film is about seven Indian college students studying abroad.

“It’s not an Animal House-type film,” said Higginbotham, who helped recruit the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, also known as the “Bollywood Oscars,” which will be held in Tampa in April.

Any county money that goes to either movie would be paid in cash, post production, after the filmmakers provide documentation showing they reached economic goals, such as hiring a certain number of locals or spending a set amount of money on local vendors, according to Ron Barton, Hillsborough’s economic development director. Barton’s staff would negotiate economic goals with the filmmakers, he said.

The Infiltrators is expected to have a budget of about $50 million, with $20 million to be spent locally, and has been pre-approved by Florida’s Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program for more than $4 million in tax credits, according to Gordon. But the state program is out of money.

So, we have no idea what the deal with is with the Indian movie.  Maybe it will be good exposure, maybe not. (Though it sounds more like a pet project for one commissioner.) As for the other move, fine, but . . .

We want this area to become a major filming location.  We think that is a good goal and, given good projects, would provide good exposure.  We also understand that the film/TV industry looks for subsidies and goes where the money is. (Though there are some questions about it which should give us pause about getting too involved.  For instance see here, here, and here.)  Because of the nature of the industry, generally, if there is money, we are ok with limited, structured subsidies (though the projects should be properly screened so we do not waste money, and we should not expect miracles).  But is there money?

In the overall scheme of things, the money is not that big.  The real problem is that the money the County has overall is limited, and the needs are great.  The County has not been effective in its spending priorities or its policy decisions, and, without great care (do you think there is great care?), subsidies can become a slow bleed that leaves us without money for things we, the taxpayers, need.  For instance, read on.

– Bloomingdale Strikes Back

The hubbub in Bloomingdale about a sneaky approval of a big box store by the County and the lack of road improvements (or any planning) continues.

Bloomingdale homeowners upset about plans for a big-box store and apartments in their area want major improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue, which fronts the property and an adjacent public library.

Meeting with Hillsborough County’s public works director on Thursday, a small gathering of homeowners said they would prefer spending $564,000 in impact fees by the project’s developer, Red Cast LLC, on fixing the major east/west road. Spending the money on sidewalks and bicycle lanes — county officials suggested doing so as a possibility — won’t cut it, the residents said.

In other words, the County’s response to demands for a road fix was sidewalks and a bike path.  Somehow, shockingly, that did not cut it.  So what was the County’s response?

John Lyons, the public works director, said he will review previous discussions by county officials about major improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue, including widening the road. Lyons said he will report back to the homeowners with his findings.

If county staff members decide the best option is to make sweeping improvements, he said, they might need approval from the Hillsborough County Commission. Mike Williams, engineering and environmental division director, said he would guess such a project could cost about $50 million.

So let’s review. The County Commission basically approved a project through the back door that will add a lot of traffic to an already congested road that the locals residents want fixed.  The County is getting $564,000 in impact fees from the latest ill-advised and poorly planned project.  However, actually fixing the road the County has neglected will cost $50 million.

It appears that the mismanagement of the County planning and development, as well as the policy of favoring sprawling development without dealing with the costs, has caught up with the County.  Where exactly is the $50 million going to come from?  Sure the County is fine with giving $6 million here and more millions there for strip mall development, but where is it going to get $50 million to actually serve the needs of the residents, even the ones in East County?

We can’t say we are surprised.  The County has favored developers over planning and residents for decades.  Anyone with eyes (and who drives) can see that the County has not kept up with the needs.  This is just another example.  The sad thing is that even if the County did find $50 million to fix the road, the money would likely come at the expense of other residents and their needs.  And then there is the whole question of really planning so that to manage the needs in the first place. (Properly planned development with proper transit would not have created as much of a mess in the first place, so you would not need so much to mitigate it.

And let us be clear – responsibility for all this rest squarely on the County Commission.  (The staff can only do what it is told with the money the Commission gives them.  We actually feel sorry for them.  They are like the customer service folks who get yelled at because someone else screwed up and won’t fix it.)

It is all fine to give subsidies to some pet projects (actually it is often not fine, but we’ll set that aside for the moment), but it is well past time the Commission actually starts solving the problems it created.  And how long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?

Downtown Tampa – Something, But In the Wrong Place

There was news of another potential development in downtown Tampa:

The project is not yet announced, but city planners are working out details with The Richman Group on potentially a seven-story complex with up to 338 units in a sleepy area just north of the Forum and the Channel District.

According to city records, the block-sized site in question is bordered by Morgan Street on the west, Whiting Street on the north, Jefferson Street on the east and the Crosstown Expressway on the south. The property has not yet changed hands, and is still owned by an entity called JMC-Booker LLC, appraised by Hillsborough County at just over $5 million.

Officials with the Greenwich Conn.-based Richman Group declined to comment on their plans, other than to send an email that read “We’d be happy to talk with you after we close on the land in May/June 2014.”

You can check out the developer’s website here.  This is the preliminary rendering of the project which has not been officially announced:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The status of the project is described as this:

As of August last year, one official with the Richman Group told city planners that “we are in the due diligence stage of building a multi-family structure in the [central business district] of Tampa,” and they asked questions about rules regarding open spaces in the area. By October, they started trading potential site plans and by December they started trading preliminary drawings of a structure that very much resembles others in the Channel District. The correspondence does not say whether the plan entails condos or apartments.

One potential layout calls for about 50 units on each of seven floors, with a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, with cantilevered balconies on many units.

We are all for the development of downtown, but this project seems out of place.

This is the lot, which is quite large.  It should be noted that 1) this is not the Channel District and 2) the project as described only resembles some of what was built in the first wave of Channel District development, not what is going on now, which is taller and more downtown-like.  (And that is not even mentioning that it is going to be residential right under the shadow of the Selmon, which is also kind of odd.)

If this project as described were in Hyde Park, near UT, in “West River” or Tampa Heights (or Westshore), we would likely be completely fine with it.  It is good infill for areas near downtown.  However, the proposal is in the middle (pretty much literally) of downtown.  It is in an area that is a blank slate ready to be the heart of downtown and right across the Selmon from the property of the Lightning owner that is supposed to be developed so nicely, and right near where the Mayor wants to put a baseball stadium.  Not only that, it is a full block (if not more).

Given all that, this project as described is quite disappointing. (It is not as bad as Pierhouse, but it is hardly something that fits the middle of downtown.)  It is not nearly dense or urban enough.  They could put all the units (and get them over the Selmon)  in a taller building more befitting the middle of downtown and still have room left over for another equally large building (which seems to us to make a lot more sense).

Because the developer is still talking to the City, this is the time for the City to express disappointment with the design and get something actually good built there. (And to show that the City actually understands something about planning, though we are not sure they do.)  It is the future heart of activity downtown, right next to an area that is supposed to be completely redeveloped and connected to the Channel District.  The land is valuable enough to not settle.

The real question is when that area develops, is this really what should be in the middle of it?  In our opinion, it would be a waste if this is all that gets built on that land.  The City should not settle.

HCC – Abracadabra, They Have a Deal

A few weeks ago, we wrote about what a Tribune report portrayed as just some ideas about redeveloping some land at HCC’s Dale Mabry campus for a sports complex.  (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”) From the Tribune article:

Hillsborough Community College is considering two major development projects at its Dale Mabry Highway campus that could see a youth sports complex built near Steinbrenner Field and a new mixed-use complex on its south end.

One likely bidder for the sports project is Tampa investor and youth sports booster Bob Gries, who has wanted to build a volleyball and basketball complex in Tampa for a few years. If built, the sports complex would replace the large community tennis complex at HCC, which would be relocated to other college property.

Until Wednesday, the manager of the tennis complex had only heard rumors that a large development project was under consideration and occasionally saw officials touring the property.

* * *

For now, members of the college’s board insist they’re just weighing their options and might decide to do nothing.

It seems that may have been a little too casual a portrayal.

A local business group that includes the Westshore Alliance and Tampa investment manager Bob Gries is the only bidder vying to build a proposed amateur athletics complex at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.

* * *

College spokeswoman Ashley Carl said several groups have approached HCC about building a youth sports complex over the years. That includes Gries, a local youth sports booster who runs a Tampa investment firm. The college moved ahead in December by inviting would-be developers to submit proposals for such a facility on nine acres housing HCC’s large community tennis complex. Any developer would have rebuild the HCC tennis complex on land elsewhere on the campus.

On Friday, the school released bid documents showing just one bidder, the Westshore Alliance. a business group representing Tampa’s Westshore district. The college didn’t release details of the group’s proposal, citing a statute that closes bid documents for a period of time.

* * *

Carl, the HCC spokeswoman, said the college can move forward with negotiations even though it attracted only one bidder. For now, plans call for the college to award a contract for the project in late April.

Wait a minute.  There is a plan to award a contract in April? What happened to the college may not do anything and that it was just thinking about options?  And there is only one bid and no one knows what the bid actually is?

Sure, just sneak in a project on some of the most valuable land in the area to just one bidder while playing down the likelihood of anything happening.

Maybe this is actually a good idea, though it has not really been discussed and vetted (at least not in public) and no one has really seen the ONE proposal.  Unfortunately, it sounds like another wired deal.  And not one that there was any groundswell for or, with proposals all over the area for sports complexes, a glaring need that had to be filled.

Welcome to Tampa.

St. Pete Waterfront – More Planning is Outsourced

For those who may not know, St. Pete has been examining the future of its waterfront.  First, it got a report from the Urban Land Institute, because apparently no local government can do anything without a report from the Urban Land Institute (We will not get into that report right now).  Now, it is looking at hiring a consultant to master plan the waterfront (because apparently the ULI report is simply an expensive requirement to actually getting to substance).

A dozen years ago, the city embarked on a months-long endeavor to get feedback from residents on what they wanted the community to look, feel and be like for the next generation.

That exercise, which came to be known as Vision 2020, laid the groundwork for reworking city land use regulations.

Later this year, the city will once again seek input, this time about the waterfront. The same planners will be tapped to lead this effort, too.

The City Council will be asked Thursday to authorize negotiations for a contract — worth up to $500,000 — with AECOM, a Los Angeles-based global consulting firm.

AECOM was one of 18 companies that responded to the city’s bid request to develop a master plan for the waterfront.

Days ago, a selection committee ranked AECOM at the top of its list. Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates and Virginia-based Ecology and Environment were ranked second and third, respectively.

Ok. Of course, St. Pete can’t be expected to plan itself even with the ULI telling it what to do.  So who is this AECOM?

AECOM has been involved in other big projects in the Tampa Bay area. It helped shape Tampa’s vision for its waterfront, and is conducting a feasibility study on the proposed downtown aquarium in Clearwater. It also has done master planning in England, downtown San Diego and San Francisco.

Maybe it is just us, but it appears a bit strange that the same companies or organizations keep getting contracts – and not inexpensive contracts – to do all the planning work throughout the entire area.  Does that really give us the best input and innovations or does it just keep recycling the same ideas?  Using the same people and companies could be because they produce a good product, but, frankly, from what we have seen, most of their product is fairly obvious and not particularly inspiring (like InVision Tampa) and often silly (like ULI’s idea to make SR54 in Pasco an inspiring “boulevard”).  Are they really just that much better than everyone else or is there something else going on?

Like all the RFP’s with only one bidder – it may be all above aboard, but it sure seems odd.

And it appears others have reservations:

City officials voted Thursday to delay by two weeks the process to select a company charged with creating a downtown waterfront master plan. City staff had recommended the council approve a measure to allow negotiations to start with global consulting firm AECOM, the top-rated firm that has been selected to carry out the plan, due by July 2015. But several city council members said they had concerns about the scope and price of the project, which has a potential budget of up to $500,000. The council voted to revisit the issue later this month after getting a chance to discuss it more.

Good.  Make sure it is right for you and the taxpayers.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is wallethub.com’s Best Cities to Find a Job.  The methodology, summary of it so brief as to be of no use, can be found here.   Of note, they are really doing it by cities, not metro areas.

The best city to find a job is Ft. Worth, followed by Washington, Tampa, Arlington (TX), Dallas, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Mesa (AZ), Houston, Raleigh, Corpus Christie, Aurora (CO), Phoenix, San Jose, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.

So Tampa made a good list with the rest of the usual suspects.  Did anyone have any reaction?

“We’re on a roll. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“People are shaking off the depression and are looking forward to a much, much brighter future. There’s an electricity in Tampa that hasn’t existed in decades. It’s palpable.”

Setting aside that the recession only started in 2007 so we have no idea what the “in decades” comment is about, things are better, but a little perspective is in order.

As we said, there is no doubt that the economy is better now than a few years ago.  However, there is an issue with the list.  It is the list of the best city to find a job – it does not say what kind of job or how much it pays.  Our economy, even though it is better, has a major issue regarding economic diversity, wage and income levels, as well as disposable income.  Showing up on one list of relatively unknown provenance does not change that, as pointed out by this comment:

“This is not New York, this is not Chicago, it’s not L.A. We don’t have that much disposable income or corporate headquarters.” 

That was from the Mayor in the dark days way back a couple of weeks ago.

Nevertheless, we do admit, it is better to be on the list than to be excluded.

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