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Roundup 3-14-2014

March 14, 2014

Transportation – Insight Into the Hillsborough Conundrum

We have been quite critical of Hillsborough County’s transportation planning and system – and quite rightly so.  We have also noted that the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group (aka Transportation Talking Shop) has, after months and months of consideration, figured out that there needs to be one organization that is in charge of implementing whatever is proposed.

Last week, the Times had an interesting article that showed just what a mess Hillsborough’s transportation system really is.

In Hillsborough County, a dozen different agencies are responsible for some aspect of transportation.

There’s HART and TBARTA, the MPO and the PTC. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays a role. So do county government and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

* * *

In Florida, Hillsborough County seems to take separation to the extreme.

This county has one of the most decentralized transportation decision-making processes in the state, Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher noted recently at a meeting of the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group — yet another transportation entity.

Other counties in Florida combine related agencies, Fletcher said, such as the Planning Commission and the Public Transportation Commission or port and aviation authorities.

“There’s not another one I found that had everything separated,” he said.

Yup.  It’s a mess.  Of course, it is not a mess without cause.  For instance, why do we have the PTC? (And note the PTC is made up of elected officials.)

Having pointed out the mess, the article gets the requisite comments:

The sheer number of players makes coming up with unified decisions on transportation issues difficult, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who serves on the boards of five of the 12 agencies.

“We lack one voice,” Murman said. “I think that’s a huge weakness.”

Well, if you are on the board of 5 of the 12 organizations and many, if not most, of the other board members are also elected officials who are on the same boards, it should not be too hard to speak with one voice.

We thought it would be helpful to look at the makeup of these various boards (we will not list the makeup of the Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace or Plant City governments):

HART

1 Tampa City Council member

2 Tampa appointees

3 County Commissioners

4 County appointees

2 State appointees

1 Temple Terrace City Council member

THEA

Mayor of Tampa

1 County Commissioner

THEA Director

THEA General Counsel

FDOT, District 7 Secretary

TBARTA

1 member each from Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, and Sarasota County Commissions

1 member each from the elected officials of NorthPort, St. Petersburg, and Tampa

1 member from the West Central Florida MPOs Chairs Coordinating Committee (currently a Hillsborough County Commissioner)

4 State appointees

FDOT, District 7 Secretary (non voting)

MPO

The current Board consists of 14 representatives:

Voting Members

4 Hillsborough County Commissioners

3 Tampa City Council members

1 Plant City City Council member

City of Temple Terrace City Council member

1 HART Board member

1 Hillsborough County Aviation Authority director

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority director

Tampa Port Authority director

Non-Voting Member

Hillsborough County-City County Planning Commission

PTC

As best as we can figure, because the County website does not just provide a list of members (surprise)  so we had to look at the minutes and, low and behold, not everyone is a regular attendee to the meetings.

3 County Commissioners

2 Tampa City Council members

1 Plant City Council member

3 PTC Administrators/Staff

Aviation Authority

3 State appointees

Mayor of Tampa

1 Hillsborough County Commissioner

Port Authority

Mayor of Tampa

1 Hillsborough County Commissioner

5 State appointees

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission is led by ten citizen appointees from all four local jurisdictions, and two ex officio members.

As you may have noticed, there is a lot of overlap – especially involving elected officials.  Given that, you have to wonder what the problem is.

So what will Hillsborough County do?

While no one is trying to eliminate any of the groups, both Murman and Sharpe are in favor of making one of them stronger.

They, along with some other members of the Transportation for Economic Development group (which includes county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities) suggested that HART may be the ideal agency to oversee the building and operation of new roads, expansion of bus service and planning for commuter rail.

The change would most likely require a restructuring of HART to include more elected officials and planning experts, though no details have been worked out.

“We just want HART to go beyond simply managing buses and take on a broader mission,” says Sharpe, who also serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, HART and TBARTA.

As we have said before (see “Transportation – Hillsborough Looks for Someone to Handle Transportation” ), HART makes some sense, but so does this:

Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, who serves as chairman of HART and as a member of the Transportation for Economic Development group, isn’t convinced that would solve anything.

“No transit agency anywhere in the country has the kind of power — implementation power — they are talking about,” Suarez says. “(HART) is doing very well in terms of our budget and in what we are able to provide. We don’t have dollars to expand service now, we don’t have the capability to do more technology. Those are problems we need to solve and having a new, different organization doesn’t solve that problem.”

Instead, he suggests, the Transportation for Economic Development group, which he joined two months ago, needs to focus more on what it hopes to accomplish.

“I wish I knew more about what we are trying to do because I don’t think it has been fleshed out yet,” Suarez says. “We haven’t talked about how we are going to make things work.”

Exactly.  You actually have to know what you are doing before you can figure out how to do it.  And, so far, no one has said what they actually want to do.

So where is the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group in the process?

That hasn’t stopped others in the group from moving as quickly as possible. The group hopes to present a plan for the future of transportation in Hillsborough sometime this summer, despite not knowing exactly what that means or who will see it through.

The fact is that, looking at all the transportation agencies above, the County Commission is the one organization with a hand in every pie. Its members are by far the majority of the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group.  It is also the one organization that can place a referendum on the ballot, and it controls most of the money. (Of course, the City of Tampa also has a hand in most organizations, but the city tax idea is going nowhere.)  It is fine, probably necessary, to talk about structure, but until the County Commission comes up with a plan, this is all going nowhere.

And then there is this comment:

Regardless of who is responsible, early success will be key, Murman says, to bringing on board voters who rejected attempts to fund transportation projects in the past.

“They’ll need to be successful quickly,” Murman says, “to gain credibility in the community.”

Because 1) it is essentially the County that will have to decide on the responsible agency and 2) the County that will essentially be coming up with a plan (even though it does not know what it will be or how it will be run), we think what she should have said is that the County Commission, of which she is a part, (in concert with a few other elected officials) will need to be successful quickly to gain credibility in the community.

Especially given the Mayor’s lack of a stated plan, the main address for transportation plans in Hillsborough County is the County Center, and that is the bottom line.  No amount of talk will change that.

Transportation – More Noise in Pasco

A few weeks ago, we noted that the opposition to the proposed Pasco toll road was not based on the fact the proposal was for a private toll road.  Rather, it has far more to do with the idea of the road itself. (See “Transportation – Of Roads, Rails, and Running for Office”   That was further confirmed by a public meeting in Pasco this week.

Finally, the meeting was opened to the public and, one by one, folks lined up 30 deep to address the officials.

Much of the criticism was leveled at them.

“The presentation was very demeaning,” Land O’Lakes resident Susie Hoeller said, leading off the comments.

Another speaker, Paul Zalon of Trinity, blamed officials for allowing unrestrained growth, thereby requiring more roads.

“You are approving all of these communities and shopping centers without any thought,” he said. “Transportation is a regional problem. Why are you dumping it all on Pasco?”

But most the talk seemed aimed at sending a message: Don’t build it here.

“These people are invested in this community,” said Jason Amerson, summing up many in the crowd. “We don’t want you gambling away our property rights in the name of so-called progress.”

Setting aside that property rights are not at issue (and the Tribune article quoted him as saying “property values” ), yes, there is a failure of planning in Pasco (and the area generally) – namely, the infrastructure is completely insufficient and the buildings are way too sprawled out.  And, yes, the original failure was when the Veterans was built in Hillsborough but not connected to I-275.  Then, Pasco failed to build the long planned east-west road before allowing all the development to fill up the space.  Nevertheless, the road is needed, and the opposition is not just to this plan.

All it took was one mention of the projected “20-lane highway” along State Road 54 for Pasco officials to lose control of their town hall meeting Monday night.

Opponents of the proposed elevated toll road took over. They booed. They yelled. They demanded to be heard.

“Why are you dumping this on Pasco County?” one man asked.

Good question – 1) because Hillsborough screwed up 20 years ago and put its faith in the planning acumen of others (though it is not like Hillsborough had planning acumen), 2) because Pasco had planned an east-west freeway for decades but it never happened, and 2) because where the hell else is it going to go to help traffic on SR54.  (What alternatives are the opponents of the road proposing?)

Pasco officials tried, to no avail, to explain why the road is needed.

“This roadway doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” Gehring said. “It comes in a community that’s growing from 500,000 people to 600,000.”

But the moment he showed the photo of a 20-lane superhighway, the crowd started yelling “Scare Tactic!”

“Name all the places in the country that have a 20-lane road!” one man shouted. 

We don’t know about 20 lanes, but the intersection of SR 54 and Bruce B. Downs is already 10 or 11 lanes in each direction.  And, you may want to look how far the buildings are set back from the road.  What do they think that right of way has been saved for?

One the other hand, we do not care if the road is elevated or not. We would be fine, given all that land, if the road was more like the limited access with frontage roads US19 in Pinellas. (Or the work that just began on Gandy in Pinellas.) Regardless, some road is needed whether there is mass transit or not. (And it needs to be recognized that Pasco County is not developed in a way that favors local mass transit – as opposed to commuter transit to denser areas with park and ride.)

The real issue is that the opponents don’t want any solution – they claim there is no problem – and, if the past is any indication, they will probably get what they want.  Eventually, traffic will get so bad that the same people will be clamoring for a solution – which will likely, since the development pattern is so sprawled, be the same solution they now reject.  But in the meantime, there will be no solution and their property values will suffer because of the poor transportation and the poor planning of the development already in Pasco. (Just ask Bloomingdale.)

If Hillsborough had not been so short sighted, this would not even be an issue.

— One Last Thing

And one more thing, the ring road around Orlando goes through a number of counties and involves a FDOT and the Orlando-Orange County Express authority even though much of it is not in Orange County (for instance see here)  that have all worked together to get it built over decades.  Nothing like that happens here – and that is a major reason why our regional transportation infrastructure is so poor.

Downtown Tampa – Maybe

There are rumblings that a big tenant may be moving back to downtown.

Executives at Syniverse Holdings Inc. are on a tight timeline to make a decision on whether to renew the company’s 200,000-square-foot lease at Highwoods Preserve in New Tampa or build something in the downtown or Westshore office markets.

Syniverse’s 11-year lease is up in 2016 and if the company is going to build elsewhere, it might be too brief a time frame for architecture firms and construction companies to get a structure built in time.

Discussions with as many as four sources close to the deal – none of whom would talk on the record – indicate that if the company builds, it will need at least 175,000 square feet, which could be as many as 16 stories on some of the sites being discussed for the wireless telecommunications firm.

Possible sites for Syniverse include the proposed downtown Tampa Southgate tower, in which the company would be the anchor tenant; the waterfront site at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street, where Syniverse would likely be the only tenant; and even possibly a site near International Plaza in Westshore.

While we are not huge fans of the street treatment and parking in the Southgate design (see here – but it is nothing that couldn’t be easily fixed if the developer wanted to and the City was not so eager to settle), getting a big tenant downtown would be a good thing.  It has been a long time since there was new office space downtown.  On the other hand, if they are going for new construction downtown, the timeline is very tight.  And Westshore is still very possible.

We shall see.

Gasparilla – Good Stuff, but Can We Tighten It Up A Bit

Last week, there was a nice article in the Tribune about the Gasparilla music festival.  By all measures, it is a success.

The eclectic music festival has been a smash success so far, growing from a surprisingly robust 6,500 attendees at the inaugural festival in 2012, to a near-capacity crowd of close to 10,000 people in 2013.

Now the bearded men, Gasparilla Music Festival board president Phil Benito, 37, and executive director Ty Rodriguez, 41, are preparing for yet another growth spurt. The festival gets expanded over two full days for the first time this weekend. The Flaming Lips headline Saturday, Trombone Shorty headlines Sunday.

* * *

The festival is a runaway success, with total revenue of more than $430,000 in 2013 according to IRS records, but nobody’s getting rich. The festival is incorporated as a 503c nonprofit organization. There are 13 board members, none of whom take a salary. Rodriguez is the lone paid employee.

* * *

Part of the festival’s appeal is that it offers more than just music. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on both days, the children’s program with arts, crafts and games, makes for an enjoyable family experience. Some parents will have a babysitter pick their kids up before staying to enjoy the evening headliners, Rodriguez said.

Good for them, and good for us.  We are all for this kind of event, and we are thrilled it is growing.  We need these kinds of events to build this area going forward.  Not only is it the kind of thing that attracts young professionals and other high paying jobs (people want things to do and go where those things are), it also just adds to the quality of life.

Of course, one of the biggest music festivals is Austin’s South by Southwest, which has grown far beyond just a music festival. (For instance, this year, the Jimmy Kimmel Show will be live from Austin during the festival – and there has been bad news this year) We are not there yet, but at least the organizers of the Gasparilla event are ambitious:

As for the future of the festival, Benito hopes it will start to draw people from around the U.S.

“Right now we don’t advertise a whole lot nationally, but with people seeing the Gasparilla Music Fest on these bands schedules year after year, we’re slowly cutting our niche. Ideally, we’d like to have 50 percent of the crowd traveling in, buying hotel rooms and spending money downtown. We want an economic impact.”

That’s the attitude.

We do have one question, though – when exactly is Gasparilla?  The parades start in January, and the events go to March.  It does seem kind of hard to make and market a big, multifaceted event out of something that stretches so long.

MacDill – Some Good News

With all the talk of defense cuts, there has been concern that, even though it is central to so much of the military, there could be cuts at MacDill.  This week, there was news that MacDill may stand to gain from consolidation.

MacDill Air Force Base is scheduled to receive an additional eight aerial refueling tankers under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, according to the Air Force.

If the plan is approved by Congress, the new KC-135 tankers would arrive in Tampa starting in October 2017, according to Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. 

Hopefully.  While we do not want anyone else to suffer the pain of closures or losing a base, it would be good for MacDill and the area.  We will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

A few weeks ago, the Times had an article about international investors looking to the Tampa Bay area, the premise of which was:

“Tampa is becoming as popular as South Florida with foreign investors, and many of the same retailers and companies in both markets,” David Sobelman, a managing partner of commercial real estate brokerage Calkain Cos., wrote last year in a report to investors. Tampa Bay, he added, is arising “as a more slow and steady alternative to the rest of the state.”

While foreign investors may be looking at the Tampa Bay area, there was nothing in the article to support the idea that Tampa is becoming “as popular a South Florida.”  However, we are not going to go through the article, because we found a good anecdote regarding a condo building in Miami to show the point.

1010 Brickell is 90 Percent Sold in only 90 Days Since Sales Launched.

Key International and 13th Floor Investments, the developers behind 1010 Brickell, are pleased to announce the 387-unit luxury residential development is 90 percent sold out. Key International Sales, the exclusive sales and marketing firm for the project, has experienced tremendous demand since entering pre-sales in December.

A strong market, energized by buyers primarily from Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, has translated in a buying frenzy at 1010 Brickell where only 39 available units remain.

(Just for frame of reference, the Element in Tampa is 34 stories and the Towers of Channelside are each 30 stories.) And this is just one building in Miami, where there are numerous buildings that would be among the tallest, if not the tallest, building in Tampa under construction now.  (We don’t know if Miami’s condo market is overheated, but we would take some of that overheating for a few years, especially given how fast Miami recovered from their previous overheating.)

So, yes, our economy is better and there are foreign investors, but, no, it is nothing like South Florida.  Period.

Built Environment – Embarrassment of Riches

This week, we start a new, occasional feature “Embarrassment of Riches,” not on Tampa’s architectural heritage (since most of it was inadvertently bulldozed), but Tampa’s architectural present, which is overflowing with gems.   We hope to highlight the best efforts taken in bringing superlative design to Tampa. While Tampa is replete with examples that deserve comment, the buildings featured in this feature will be only the products of the zenith of architectural innovation which are critical both to building the kind of city we want for the future and to attracting all the talent that economic development professionals and elected leaders seek.  As the Mayor has told us, as goes one neighborhood, so goes the City.  Every area is important.

This week, we feature a building in the burgeoning Westshore area, the largest office district in the area and one of the largest in Florida.  While in its early years, Westshore adopted a sprawling pattern, recently, we are told, there have been efforts to create a pedestrian friendly, walkable, urban environment.  If recent development is any indication, the area has made great progress towards that goal as best exemplified by the newest dining establishments to grace Westshore Boulevard.  Because it is on Westshore Boulevard in the heart of the district and was built after the push for walkability was well under way, this week we feature development occupied by our neighbors in Orlando, Darden restaurants. (And we are sure Orlando is jealous that we got this development.) While we do not have a picture of the entire development, believe us, this portion is representative of the whole and an exemplar of the new face of Westshore.  Moreover, this development screams 21st century walkability and the bustling, urban environment that are the hallmark of bustling business districts and tech hubs worldwide.  Without further ado, we give you the Longhorn Steakhouse on Westshore Boulevard:

From Westshore Boulevard – click on picture for larger version

Good thing the City did not settle.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is fitting for the season – Travelocity’s Top 10 Spring Break Destinations.   While we could guess, we have no idea what methodology they used.

Coming in first is South Florida, followed by Orlando, Phoenix, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Cancun, Los Angeles, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Maui, and Honolulu.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Forbes Most Affordable Cities 2014.  The methodology is explained here.  Notable among the methodology is excessive weight given to housing prices, which arguably favors markets that either got battered in the recession, that have low incomes or that are just not that popular, keeping housing prices down.

Coming in first is Buffalo, followed by Memphis, Cincinnati, Dayton, Knoxville, Akron, Grand Rapids, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Warren (MI), Toledo, Detroit, Birmingham, St. Louis, Virginia Beach, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Tampa, Syracuse, and Columbus (OH).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark Sharpe permalink
    March 14, 2014 8:42 AM

    I have asked the County Administrator & Attorney to prepare a succinct Mission Statement to be presented at the next HART Board meeting clearly articulating the objectives of a new and far more robust HART – Mark Sharpe

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