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Roundup 4-18-2014

April 18, 2014

PTC – Innovation Hillsborough Style, Part II

As you may remember, last week, Lyft began operating in Hillsborough County. (See “Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style” )  This week, it was Uber’s turn.   Of course, neither got approval from the protectionist, price-fixing, anti-competitive PTC.  So, the PTC responded.

Inspectors with the Public Transportation Commission that normally police the area for “pirate,” unlicensed taxi drivers spotted several of the pink mustaches on cars downtown this past week, stopped the drivers, and issued them warnings. Their crime: Picking up customers for the start-up ride-sharing service Lyft which uses the mustaches to make them stand out and — along with the similar service UberX — is trying to crack into the long-established and deeply regulated taxi and limousine marketplace with a new business model.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to take the high road on this,” said Kyle Cockream, the incoming executive director of the PTC. “We’re not here to hammer anybody.”

Some local politicians may want stiffer penalties to come, but for now the dispute mirrors other legal fights across the country. Both Lyft and Uber fall into what they say is a new category for transportation — somewhere between asking a friend for a ride and calling a taxi.

Good, don’t hammer anybody, especially since your regulations are questionable at best. (And the price-fixing PTC surely can’t appreciate that there is a price war going on in this new transportation segment. See here and here. Can’t have competition in Hillsborough County.)

You may also remember that last week we noted that at least one County Commissioner on the PTC does not want Tallahassee to change anything about the PTC (see “Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style”).

PTC chairman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said that while he is not against making some changes to allow new technology, any decisions should be made in Hillsborough instead of Tallahassee. 

So what was his response to giving warnings to Lyft?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist represents the county on the PTC, and said he wants to work with Lyft and Uber, but they must follow the same rules as taxi and limo companies.

“If they continue flouting our rules and regulations, we may have to exercise our rights under the law,” Crist said. “There are many new companies that want to come in and set up shop. … We invite that, but they have to understand there are certain steps they have to take and certain rules and regulations they have to follow.”

That clearly sounds like a reform plan.  In fact, it sounds like all the other reform plans put forward by the PTC members – namely nothing.  How exactly do you propose working with Lyft or Uber when the PTC policies are completely opposed to what they do?

Instead of exercising your rights under the law to punish innovation, why don’t you exercise your rights under the law to change rules that are anti-competitive, protectionist, and price-fixing?

Since the members of the PTC have done nothing to reform, we have to they have no plan to reform, which is completely unacceptable.  If they do not want the PTC abolished, do something.

Transportation – SR60 Calling

This week, we learned that FDOT is looking at SR60 in eastern Hillsborough.

The time will come when State Road 60’s rural swath won’t be so rural, state road officials say.

Traffic on the ribbon of pavement between Valrico Road and the Polk County line will increase 54 percent — some 71,000 vehicle trips per day — by 2040, Florida’s Department of Transportation estimates. Unless that 12.3-mile segment is widened to six lanes, it will not measure up to its designation as a major east-west corridor and evacuation route, transportation officials say.

“It’s not going to be built anytime soon, but at least we can look at the impacts,” said Kirk Bogen, environmental management engineer for the DOT. Bogen estimates it will be five to 15 years before any construction gets under way.

The decision to pursue the project was based on growth projections, he said, which could include conversion of farmland to subdivisions and businesses along the highway. For now the area is dotted with strawberry fields, mobile home parks, farm stands, and a sprinkling of older houses and new construction.

Some people are not so happy:

Hillsborough County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which orchestrates future transportation plans, objects to the state’s plan.

The area east of Dover Road is rural and would remain so in the county’s blueprint for future growth, according to a letter the MPO sent to the state road agency earlier this month. Also, there is not enough demand for the project and there are higher priorities in the Brandon area where traffic is chaotic, said Lisa Silva, an MPO planner.

We have decidedly mixed feelings about this.  We actually have nothing against the state looking at SR60 to plan for the future.  On the other hand, we completely agree with those who say the state should focus on fixing the roads where there already is development.

The real problem with this whole situation is that the County cannot be trusted to stick to anything in its plans.  Far too often, a developer wants to contradict or build outside designated areas in the plans, and the County has happily gone along with it.  That is a major reason our transportation system is such a mess.  Our local failure to plan is as much a failure of political will to stick to any plan as it is a failure in the planning (which is also influenced by County politics).

So, yea, go ahead and look at SR60, but don’t do anything.  Maybe the County Commission will someday actually stick to a plan.

Transportation – More Talks on the TIA-Downtown Bus

As has been noted a number of times, the Airport Director would like an express bus from the airport to downtown.  This week, there were reports of more discussions.

Like many transportation issues in the Tampa Bay region, creating a swift, convenient, 9-mile bus connection between the airport and downtown Tampa has evolved into one that’s become complicated and lengthy to resolve.

However, a battalion of local transportation and economic development interests are pursuing a new service as an alternative to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit’s Route 30, which takes 42 minutes along Kennedy Boulevard between the airport and downtown. That compares with perhaps 15 or 20 minutes on a direct run, depending on the number of city stops.

(That they all become complicated tells us a lot about local officialdom.)  In any event, discussions are ok as long as they are focused and do not get sidetracked.

Some now view the bus proposal as a pilot project for how HART should approach transit to include a focus on business and community development, in addition to moving people from one place to another.

So much for that.  We find it hard to understand why it is not clear that getting people from where they are to where they want to be, in and of itself, helps develop business and the community.  Getting people from where they are to where they want to be should be the focus.  If people want to go from the airport to downtown and the other way around, just provide the service – permanently.  That will cause development.

But we digress:

If sufficient demand were shown for a direct downtown-airport service and HART had plentiful resources, it’s possible a new bus route might have been created months ago.

But like any metro transit agency, HART is not a revenue producer and covers only a little more than 25 percent of operating costs with fares.

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In addition, because HART relies on federal grants for a portion of its operating and capital grant revenue, it must comply with stringent federal regulations ensuring service to low-income neighborhoods isn’t stripped to provide other routes.That assurance also benefits employers who rely on employees who don’t have cars to get to work.

So HART has neither the equipment nor budget to simply start a new service, which frustrates some — like Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Mark Sharpe, who in recent months has sought ways to create new and innovative service.

Ah, Hillsborough exceptionalism returns.  For some reason, other cities seem to have no problem have an airport-downtown connection, but HART is special.  So what are the discussions about?

Following the failure of a 2010 county referendum to add a penny to the sales tax to create a light rail line and enhance bus and highway mobility, a consultant’s analysis showed running rapid-transit bus service between the airport and downtown would cost $1.8 million to $3 million for operations and maintenance annually, depending on frequency of service and the number of vehicles.

So officials from the Downtown Partnership, the airport, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority and HART are holding discussions to develop ways to create and finance a direct airport-downtown route.

In addition, service from the airport to Brandon and Pinellas County is being considered.

If a new airport route is successful, it could serve as a model to look beyond the typical lengthy time period and bureaucratic restrictions HART faces in creating a new route.

Setting aside that it is completely unclear what exactly “rapid-transit bus service” is, why did they not come up with a plan for how this could be done when they did the study?  Anyway, what are they considering?

The latest thought emerging from the discussions is that rather than a conventional HART bus, airport passengers might be better served by some sort of shuttle vehicle that would accommodate baggage, provide Wi-Fi connections and make stops at various downtown hotels, rather than a central location such as the Marion Transit Center.

Fine with us.  On the other hand, we are not sure about how that fits into Brandon or Pinellas service, and we are not even going to get into the so-called bus rapid transit discussed for a later phase near the bottom of the article.

One thing that does become clear from all this is that HART, as current constituted and with its current limited outlook, is definitely not ready to be the go-to agency on transportation in Hillsborough County.

Economic Development – Hillsborough Style

Over a year after Hillsborough County approved subsidizing its model for economic development, the Bass Pro Shop might finally actually start construction:

More than a year after Hillsborough County officials approved a $6.25 million subsidy to bring a Bass Pro store to Brandon, construction is about to begin.

David Verardo Development said Monday a ground-breaking for the project will be April 24 at the Estuary shopping complex across from the Westfield Brandon mall. Also headed to the center is the area’s first TopGolf, a sport entertainment complex.

Bass Pro is scheduled to open in spring 2015. Construction is well under way on TopGolf, which is expected to open late this fall.

County commissioners in February 2012 voted 6-1 for the subsidy for road improvements, with Commissioner Kevin Beckner voting against it.

The money will pay for roads needed to access the property, normally the responsibility of developers. The funding will not go directly to Bass Pro.

Since it is buying the land, we are not so sure Bass Pro Shops is not directly benefitting from the subsidy, but whatever.  And why did it take so long? (Amazon made its announcement later and started sooner. )

Interestingly, in an article regarding the thoroughly unsubsidized Dicks Sporting Goods in Westshore Mall, we learn:

Dick’s new opening comes as a string of sporting goods stores are either entering the Tampa market, or adding new locations. Gander Mountain opened a location just west of Tampa, and Bass Pro Shops plans a massive location in Brandon, likely with fishing pond and museum-sized aquariums. Meanwhile, other stores are scouting sites in Florida, including REI, Cabella’s and Academy Sports + Outdoors.

Seems like the subsidy was entirely unnecessary.  Too bad, despite all its hype, the County Commission does not have faith in the allure of this market.

Pedestrian Safety – The Best We Can Hope For With What We Have

This week, there was much discussion about pedestrian safety focusing on Hillsborough Avenue.

A signaled crosswalk is just one potential solution to pedestrian safety problems plaguing Hillsborough Avenue, a topic that brought together representatives from local agencies Tuesday morning.

State and city officials said a plan was in place to put in the crosswalk and signal in the area where two Middleton High School students were struck and killed over the past three years.

The announcement came during a meeting to explore traffic problems and solutions on a dangerous stretch of the busy six-lane road hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation with officials from the city, and the Hillsborough County school district and sheriff’s office.

“There is no one magic silver bullet that’s going to solve this,” said Paul Steinman, secretary of the transportation department’s District 7, at the start of the meeting.

* * *

The department has spent millions of dollars on pedestrian safety education programs and road improvements along Hillsborough in recent years, Hsu said. Workers have added raised medians, crosswalks and “yield to pedestrians” signs.

State transportation officials are working with Tampa Electric Co. to improve lighting along the road and with city officials to add the signaled crosswalk in front of Meridien Point Apartments, which will take 16 months to complete.

City transportation Director Jean Duncan said there have been a lot of heavy hearts about the recent crashes on Hillsborough, but officials have been working to make improvements for years and will continue to do so.

It’s true – there is no silver bullet given how the area is laid out.  One could talk about pedestrians not crossing at crosswalks and other potentially risky behavior, but that still does not solve the problem.  Given the number of fatal incidents and the nature of the road, it seems that a signaled crosswalk is the best solution.  We are not going to quibble with that.

But that does leave the question of the nature of the road?  We understand that the area in question has needed economic redevelopment for a long time, and we do not begrudge it any redevelopment that occurs.  However, the redevelopment that came was suburban style development which is quite unfriendly to pedestrians. (See the area here) There is no logical and efficient way to walk.  Given that, it should come as no surprise that there are problems now.  It could have been done better.

That should be a consideration when redevelopment is proposed.

Downtown – Goings On

During the State of the City address, the Mayor made reference to five possible residential towers under construction downtown.  We knew of three – Skyhouse which is under construction, The Martin which was rumored to be starting months ago and now is rumored to start soon, and the Residences at the Riverwalk/Straz.  We were unsure of the other two, though thought they may be the rumored buildings on Harbour Island.  This week, an 83 degrees media article seemed to lay out the referred to buildings, which are the aforementioned three, plus a Crescent development almost done on Bayshore and a building at Encore, neither of which are really towers (seven or eight stories are mid-rise, not towers).

In any event, back to the original three.  We know about Skyhouse.  What over the other two?  First the Martin:

Developer Ken Stoltenberg, whose Grand Central helped jump-start the first wave of redevelopment in the Channel District, is almost ready to break ground on his newest venture, The Martin. Completion is anticipated in late 2015.

In other words, it will go up if and when it goes up.  As for the Residences:

At the earliest, a groundbreaking will come after June to avoid disruptions to the Straz’ center’s Broadway show series. A lawsuit filed by a Skypoint condo owner also is pending based on objections to the tower’s height. 

We knew it was going to wait until after the Straz season, so that is consistent.

In sum, we are still waiting.

Built Environment – Encore and the Grocery Store, Cont.

Last week, we discussed the Housing Authority’s rejection of a suburban style Walmart grocery store at Encore. (See “Downtown – Good for Encore”) In that discussion we provided a few links to information on more urban Walmarts.  As a comment to last week’s edition, a reader provided a link to an article on a plan for a Walmart with apartments over it.  (Thanks for that).

We also wanted to point out that Sarasota has a Whole Foods in its downtown that has a garage, not a surface parking lot.  There is no need for a surface parking lot for a downtown grocery store.  People use the Target at Dale Mabry/I-275 even though they need to go to a garage.  They will use a downtown grocery store, even if there is a garage.  It is likely that the key factor would be if there is a charge to park.

Ybor – No Deal

It seems that a deal to build a hotel on City property that was put out in an RFP is not going to happen.

After offering $650,000 for a city-owned parking lot in Ybor City, a prominent hotel developer now is looking to build somewhere else in the historic district.

In December, City Hall put out a call for development proposals for a third of a block it owns at E Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway. It got two responses.

The best, officials say, came from the Liberty Group, a Tampa-based hotel investment, development and management company with $300 million in assets. It proposed an $11.3 million hotel with 70 guest rooms and suites, interior lap pool, ground-floor lounge and rooftop bar.

Recently, however, Liberty president Punit Shah told the city he was considering taking his project to a bigger site elsewhere in Ybor.

* * *

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Shah said his company has made no firm decisions.

“We are very interested in developing a new hotel in Ybor City and are actively considering several options, including the city’s parcel for which we were selected to purchase during the (request for proposals) process,” he wrote. “However, at this time we have not confirmed our final plans or determined the exact location for the new hotel.”

If the plan was what we saw previously, that is fine with us.(See “Ybor – First Glimpse of the Hotel”)   Public land is a resource that should not be given away lightly, especially if it can all be done privately.

Channelside – The Port Still Wants It

As the seemingly interminable Channelside saga goes on, the Port is making noise.

The board members wanted to make sure that CEO Paul Anderson and chief legal officer Charles Klug have the legal and financial firepower they need to prevail in the court case that will decide Channelside’s fate.

“I want to make sure the two of you have the authority to take the right action,” Murman said, “and if you don’t have the authority, we need to give it to you today.”

Both said they have what they need to continue litigation.

Ok.  So what next?

The port, which owns the land beneath Channelside but wants control of the building, believes it is the best choice to unify ownership and pick a new developer to refurbish the complex.

The board also wanted to make sure that Swindal, who once personally brokered a deal for the port to buy Channelside —a deal the same federal judge dismissed in February — can still act on behalf of the port to resolve litigation. But settlement talks seem far off, officials said.

If the port can buy Channelside, it will likely be for more than its last offer of $5.75 million.

Fine.  Just get it done.

CSX – Maybe A Little Quieter

Speaking of the Port, at the board meeting this week, CSX made a presentation, which led to a discussion:

The longstanding issue of CSX freight train horns awakening downtown Tampa residents at night moved a step closer to consideration by railroad and city and county officials on Tuesday — if not resolution of the problem that’s bedeviled some for years.

Bob O’Malley, resident vice president Florida for CSX, told Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman CSX would be willing to meet local government staff members to discuss prospects of a “Quiet Zone” designation.

* * *

The noise issue came to light at Port Tampa Bay’s monthly board meeting, following a presentation O’Malley gave on CSX’s new intermodal truck and rail terminal near Winter Haven that he said would pair with a smaller Tampa facility to create better transportation options for the state’s largest population growth corridor.

Buckhorn, who sits on the port’s board, raised the noise issue as an unrelated topic.

“I hear them all night long,” Buckhorn said. “Then people call us. A sleep-deprived constituent is not a good thing.”

Buckhorn added that with five new high rises under development downtown, the CSX noise issue is becoming urgent. The sound reverberates off downtown buildings, he said.

Murman added that residents on Davis Islands were reporting hearing train horns at 5 a.m.

We are not sure where the Mayor is that he hears downtown trains all night, but otherwise it is a fair point. If CSX can have a quiet (or quieter) zone in downtown, so much the better.  Of course, given that this issue had nothing to do with the Port, it makes us wonder if anyone bothered to raise also long standing issue of the ridiculously high insurance premium the Streetcar has to pay?  That would have been nice.

Coming Out Watch – Looking to the Future

Last week, while the Economist was discussing the property boom in Miami, it also had an article about inflexibility and failure of the US embargo of Cuba.  Interestingly, it had this nugget:

Despite their failings, Cuba’s new rules are a reminder of how inflexible United States law remains. Because of the 53-year-old embargo against Cuba, some Cuban-Americans fear they will be left behind as investors from Brazil, China, Russia and Europe move in. Already Tampa, on Florida’s west coast, is vying for a greater share of Cuban business when the embargo is lifted. “Every day we’re missing opportunity,” says Bob Rohrlack, head of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

The by-line of the article is “Miami,” but apparently they not only have to say Tampa is in Florida but tell people where in Florida.  So much for big events like the RNC.  In any event, the Chamber of Commerce appears forward looking.

And an aside, efforts to develop contacts in Cuba for the time when trade begins to open up have been going on for a long time.  In 2002, the then Mayor visited.   Business leaders and the Airport Director have gone.  So has a local Congresswoman.  As for the present Mayor, for all his talk of this being “our time,” we “don’t need permission from anyone,” and we are going to challenge Miami as the Gateway to Latin America, his policy is apparently being outsourced to Miami.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the Top 10 Cities to Move to in 2014. There is no methodology and we are not sure if it is the best place for meeting planners to move or for everyone.  With that caveat, here is the list.

Coming in first is Boise (which makes us wonder right of the bat), followed by Seattle, Ft. Lauderdale, Phoenix, Orlando, Minneapolis, Ft. Worth, Salt Lake City, Tampa (they felt the need to have the “Fla”, as they did for Ft. Lauderdale which makes you wonder what kind of meeting planners are behind the site),  and Houston.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    April 18, 2014 11:59 AM

    Regarding a shuttle bus from the airport and why it has not been addressed before. Simple, follow the money. Who benefits from lack of competition at the airport?

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