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Roundup 7-3-2014

July 3, 2014

Have a happy and safe 4th of July.

West Tampa – Yes and No

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the City’s plans for part of West Tampa, which is now called “West River” after the InVision Tampa thingy.

The price tag for one of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s big dreams could top $17 million, and he is ready to pay a premium to make it happen.

* * *

For more than two years, Buckhorn has talked about moving city utility trucks off 12 acres near the Rick’s on the River restaurant.

That would let City Hall market the land to developers as part of a much larger redevelopment of a 120-acre area being called the “West River.”

But relocating those 272 vehicles and 250 employees won’t come cheaply. The costs include a proposed $941,000 real estate deal in which the city could pay 60 percent more for a piece of land than the value estimated by two appraisals.

It’s worth it, Buckhorn said Tuesday, because redeveloping the city’s truck yard will stimulate development in the larger West River area north of Interstate 275.

“I look at public money as seed money that will bring private capital to the table,” he said. Most of the West River area, he said, “will be developed by private developers, not by the government. The return on investment for what I put in is significantly multiplied by the private development that will come after.”

The city’s water and wastewater operations yard is at 2609 N Rome Ave., two blocks south of W Columbus Drive. That, Buckhorn notes, is just a block from the Hillsborough River, with great views of downtown. The West River plan suggests it could be a good spot for midrise apartments.

In early 2012, Buckhorn said the cost to move the water and wastewater operations from Rome Avenue could be $10 million.

Now the total is expected to be at least $17 million. That includes $2.17 million to buy nearly 8 acres for a new Water Department operations hub on N 40th Street, plus $15 million to design and build new operations facilities for the Water and Wastewater departments.

We have decidedly mixed feelings on this.  We have no problem with moving the facilities and developing the land, provided it is proper development, not the standard Tampa settling.

We also understand the investment argument.  On the other hand, it is a bit odd to pay 60% over assessed value for the new land.  (Of course, Tampa has a history of interesting land deals involving public entities, like this.) The question is even bigger because the City is still running a deficit.  Why would the City pay so much?

Buckhorn said the fact that there’s an existing business — a vehicle repair company called American Hydraulics — that needs to be moved drove the purchase price above the appraisals.

“It’s not a vacant piece of property,” Buckhorn said. “It’s a viable business that we have to pay to relocate, which is why the purchase price is a little bit higher.”

Maybe, but probably not 60%.  And, remember, the City is already running a deficit, and this move will cost a lot of money.  But never fear, the City says it will make it up:

Council chairman Charlie Miranda asked what would happen to the N Rome Avenue land and whether the city would make a profit selling it for development.

That city intends to make some money selling the Rome Avenue site and its redevelopment should generate $1 million a year in property taxes, said Bob McDonaugh, administrator of economic opportunity.


No developers have approached the city about the Rome Avenue site, officials said.

For now, officials can’t say what the site might be worth, and it might not even be sold. Instead, it could be developed through a public-private venture.

In any case, Buckhorn said it might be 18 months to three years before officials seek development proposals.

So no one is asking for the land (at least not publicly) and there are no firm plans for it (great).  So here is an idea (which we have mentioned before): instead of spending the money on that lot now, focus on North Boulevard Homes and the area closer in to downtown and do it right, then move north as demand and development possibilities indicate.  With more development nearby, the value of the land will only go up, and the City can recoup more cost of the move and more tax revenue.  Maybe no one wants to develop the land now.  It is not a priority lot. It can wait. Why the rush?

As the Times said in an editorial:

The most troubling aspect is the supposed sense of urgency. The truck yard is not the best use of this land, but it’s not stopping development, either. Developers have talked for a decade about turning the land into condos or shops. Vacating it now without a buyer creates the worst of both worlds: The city would have to buy land to move the trucks even as it loses out on rising property values for land it already owns. And having the property sit vacant would make the city look desperate to take the first offer that came along.

The Buckhorn administration is right that the trucks have to go, but there are many questions to answer and no compelling argument for moving forward today.

Like we said, in the long term, we have no problem with the idea (provided it is done right), but do we really need to do it now, before we have any idea how much money may be recouped through selling the land and taxes from a possible development.  The answer is plain – No.

Of course, because it seems quite clear that there is no reason to do this dance now, and despite no real discussions of the merits and no real planning, City Council performed its traditional rubber stamp role.

Oh, the old Tampa DNA.

Transportation – Inertia Is Not the Answer

While we await word on a new plan for Hillsborough transportation, the Chairman of the HART Board has taken the traditional HART stance:

The chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board of directors said Wednesday that he thinks time has run out on the chance to get a referendum on new taxes for county transportation projects on the 2016 ballot.

HART Chairman Mike Suarez said he doesn’t think enough progress has been made to engage voters and identify projects for a referendum that has a chance of passing by then. The ballot question would create a new countywide sales tax to provide funding for road and transit projects.

“If they’re looking at 2016, I think the boat has sailed on that,” said Suarez, who also serves on the Tampa City Council and on a countywide group of elected officials focusing on transportation issues. “There’s no way we’re going to put out a referendum and get the kind of synergy that Greenlight (Pinellas) has.”

Pinellas County voters will decide a similar referendum in November that, if passed, would implement a sales tax to expand transit services.

Planning for that referendum began in 2009, Suarez said. Hillsborough, he counters, has dedicated less time to its own referendum and does not have the same community involvement that Pinellas does.

“I think we need more time,” Suarez said during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board. “2018, I think, would be better for us.”

Quite the strong kick of the issue down the road. (It is World Cup time, after all). Of course, HART wants to kick the can down the road because then it would avoid changes to HART.  But that will solve nothing because HART as it is now is part of the problem (and what has it really done since 2010 – or even before – to prepare Hillsborough for a real transit system?)  Doing nothing then saying we need a delay because nothing has been done is an odd strategy, even if it is all too common in the Tampa Bay area.

The County Administrator disagrees with the HART Chairman:

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said the policy leadership group, which includes Suarez, “absolutely will be ready for a referendum by 2016.” The policy group recently voted to approve a larger transit role for HART — a move that Suarez was resistant to, citing the lack of authority for the group to make such a decision.

Merrill said he was not aware of any other members of the group, which includes county commissioners and elected officials of the county’s three cities, that share Suarez’s concerns about the 2016 referendum.

We agree that there is enough time, though it will be tight and require a lot of work, which we are not sure the Transportation for Economic Development (TED) committee will do.  For instance:

Suarez’s comments come on the heels of an announcement by the transportation leadership policy group to postpone a key meeting, originally scheduled for today, until late August.

The policy group was supposed to finalize a list of proposed transportation projects that could include rail, expanded bus routes and roadway improvements. The group cited scheduling conflicts as the cause of the postponement.

Delay does not increase our confidence.  As noted by the Times:

The next meeting of the policy group has been rescheduled for Aug. 12. This means the group won’t talk about a new tax until the final two weeks of the primary campaign season, which includes candidates running for two County Commission seats.

Pretty embarrassing.

The Mayor of Tampa is right when he says this:

“There are scheduling challenges during the summer, we all recognize that, but we still have two years before 2016,” Buckhorn said. “I think two years is plenty of time to do the work and to make the case to the public that there are significant benefits to a robust and vastly improved transportation network.”

Indeed (though he really has not contributed much to the public discussion of actual plans). The question is not time – it is whether the group has the political will and the leadership qualities to actually do what needs to be done.  Past performance do not give us hope, but they might surprise us.

In sum, the elected officials have the time.  Do they have the guts?

Transportation – Greenlight Pinellas Polls

Greenlight Pinellas released some polls.  Here and here are links.

As we have said before, the only poll that counts is in November.  Until then, there is no way to know how accurate any poll is.

Port – The Great Cruise Ship Conundrum

So, it turns out that the FDOT has been looking at the problem of growing cruise ships and the Skyway Bridge.

Port Tampa Bay’s cruise ship business could go from thriving to shriveling without a plan to get the newest and largest of these floating cities past the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway.

The Florida Department of Transportation is preparing this week to release the results of a study examining four options to address the issue: do nothing, replace the Skyway, build a cruise ship terminal near the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line in Tampa Bay to avoid the bridge issue, or build a drawbridge at one end of the Skyway with a new channel for the giant ships to navigate.

The decision will likely be based on return on investment, transportation officials say. And that has yet to be studied.

“The Tampa Bay region has enjoyed a significant amount of cruise ship traffic through mainly the facilities at Channelside in Port Tampa Bay,” transportation department spokesman John O’Brien wrote in an email. “This business generates a significant economic impact for the region and the State of Florida. For many years, however, the cruise industry has been building ships which no longer can enter Tampa Bay …”

The state agency sanctioned the study in April 2013 to review the options and get input from stakeholders, O’Brien said. 

Apparently, taxpayers are not stakeholders.

In any event, we knew all this years ago. (See “The Bridge, the Port, and ‘Thinking Ahead’”  It does not seem like there was much discussion by the Port Board about the issue since then.)  At least now, as the Port is master planning (why it is not before the Port did their master plan is a mystery), FDOT will tell us what they think.

Any idea what the Port Board thinks?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the Tampa Port Authority Board, said she is eager to see the new study.

She said she hopes it finds that the best option for keeping cruise ship business growing here is to build a new cruise ship terminal on submerged lands Hillsborough County owns in Tampa Bay, west of the Skyway.

“We are getting close to a million passengers right now, and that is a very significant increase over recent years,” Murman said. “We’ve got a great relationship with the cruise companies. I know ships are getting bigger and I don’t want to lose that momentum, because it’s a huge economic driver for our area.”

Indeed, we do not want to lose that.  There is an open question whether a terminal outside the Skyway will make sense or have a real return on investment. (Rebuilding the bridge could allow bigger ships into the Port, both cruise and cargo, which has a better chance to have return on investment, but we are not FDOT and bridges are very expensive.)

It should be noted that the cruise business is not just a niche business:

The port served 854,000 cruise passengers in fiscal year 2013 on five ships representing the world’s largest cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.

A report titled The Local and Regional Economic Impacts of the Port of Tampa, completed in 2013, states that the cruise ship industry was, at the time, providing 1,984 jobs and had a “total value of economic activity” of $379.7 million.

Local businesses and suppliers to the cargo and cruise industries at the port, according to the 2013 report, made $933.1  million in local purchases and were responsible for generating $90.9 million in wages and salaries.

The real question is why the Port Board, if it had an opinion, was not very vocal about it – why it did not rally the region to push FDOT in a specific direction. (If it did say something, it was sure quiet about it.) Why is it waiting for FDOT to tell it what to do?

Other regions go fight for what they want.  They push and lobby, then push some more.

Just hoping is not enough.

Channelside – Enter the Lightning Owner

Because the whole story is so tedious at this point, we are not going to get into it at length.  However, in the auction process that happened this week, the Lightning Owner made a bid for the Channelside complex.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik just jumped back into the race to control Channelside Bay Plaza.

The owner of the Lightning controls CBP Development LLC, which according to court records has the highest starting bid for Channelside in the auction coming on Wednesday.

CBP bid $7.1 million, records show. That is now the highest offer on record for downtown Tampa’s dilapidated outdoor mall.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett confirmed that Vinik controls CBP Development LLC and has put in a bid for Channelside. But the Vinik spokesman declined to answer any other questions.

More than 60 potential bidders signed the confidentiality agreement required to participate in the Channelside auction. That allowed potential buyers to examine Channelside’s records before the sale.

But according to court records, just three turned in bids.

Those three were reported before the auction as the Port, the Lightning Owner, and Liberty/Convergent, which is suing the Port.  (There was an interesting article on Convergent in the Tribune here)

The Lightning owner’s proposal apparently brings back the Channelside Live idea that he brought up years ago:

The circular centerpiece for the new Channelside Bay Plaza would feature a large screen and be capped by “Channelside Live” signs. CBP’s renderings showcase an entertainment complex heavy on open-air and glass elements, including a glass bridge with tubular supports that connect to the parking garage, glass skylights and an opaque glass box lit from the inside.

The group would not specify what retail, restaurant or hotel brand names it has in mind as tenants. Nor would it say how much it would invest, beyond pledging to spend more than the minimum $8 million estimate that consultants pegged it would cost just to fix the site.

An endorsement by the port board is viewed as crucial since it controls the land under the site But a green light from the port is just the first of several steps toward determining Channelside’s fate.

We are all for tying the area together, as long as it also ties into the rest of downtown (which LA Live does not do that well). Of course, it would be nice if somehow the proposal centered on the waterfront which is presently ignored and is not just something that could be built anywhere. (We’ve already tried generic entertainment trends with the Harbour Island Festival Marketplace – yes, it’s gone – and the poorly planned, waterfront shunning, Channelside complex itself.)  Whether that is the case is entirely unclear from the pastel-ly sketches in the reports, like this one:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Nevertheless, all that still sounds better than what Liberty proposed. And the theme was good, too:

Unifying the district — paving the way for Lightning fans to easily go from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to Channelside restaurants after a game — is a vision Vinik and his partners have had since arriving in Tampa four years ago.

“It was always contemplated that all of this would be connected somehow. It just hasn’t happened, and we’re intent on making that happen,” Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke said. “This could be something cool. This city deserves something better.”

“We can make it America’s next great waterfront,” added Jac Sperling, a sports financial adviser who helped facilitate Vinik’s purchase of the Lightning and is CEO of the CBP Development, the Vinik-controlled investment vehicle making the Channelside bid.

The governing board of Port Tampa Bay loved what it heard so much, it unanimously pre-approved negotiating a lease with Vinik’s group for the site. The port owns the land beneath Channelside and has long asserted a right to approve any sale.

So that tells you what the Port Board really wanted (like anyone was really going to fight with the guy who owns about a quarter of downtown).  And, not unexpectedly (especially since he could put up escrow to show he could pay for the renovation), the Lightning owner’s bid won the auction (especially because Liberty decided not to bid and may challenge the auction.) The Court must approve all this.

And even then, we have no idea what will really happen and how it will really tie into the rest of downtown.  We like the Lightning owner (he has been good for the Lightning) but he has no track record of developing in downtown Tampa so we withhold judgment until we have seen more. We shall see what happens.

Transportation – Raising Tolls

Interestingly, FDOT is raising tolls on state toll roads:

Beginning at 1 a.m. Tuesday, motorists using SunPass transponders will pay a little more to travel on most state toll roads and bridges, including those in the Tampa Bay area.

A 1.5 percent increase is being put in effect because of a 2007 state law that enables SunPass and toll-by-plate rates to be adjusted every year based on changes in the consumer price index. That will result in an increase of a penny or two at most toll plazas, according to a news release.

Cash tolls will not increase – which is not that relevant since most roads are going to SunPass/toll-by-plate systems.

Yes, the increase is small, but get ready for increases every year.  Why the prices are actually rising, and only rising for SunPass users, is a mystery to us.  The state should not just raise prices because it can.

Our concern is not this small increase – it is the impression that FDOT seems to not have any concerns that it keeps increasing prices and even has price increases as part of its transportation strategy.  And using the electronic system where you do not have to hand money to a toll taker makes it easier to nickel and dime (or penny) users who lack any real recourse other than to be shunted onto the entirely inadequate road system.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere

We ran across a couple of interesting pieces, one about All Aboard Florida and one about a private plan for rail between Dallas and Houston.   They are both worthy of reading and not too long.

The interesting thing is the focus on the private nature of the plans.  We have no problem with private plans for rail – depending on how much public money they want (preferably none).  One thing to note is that both these plans arise between cities that already have local transit – including rail.  All this will eventually form an integrated system.

And we will not be connected.

And if that is not enough, here is a Miami Herald article about another major Miami project/proposal that is basically bigger than everything proposed for downtown Tampa right now. (See also here and here) Of course, it may not happen, but there are enough such projects under construction or planned in Miami as it is.

List(s) of the Week

Our list this week is actually two parts of the same list: CNN/Money’s lists of most and least stressed out cities.

First, the most stressed out cities: first is NYC, followed by Detroit, LA, Riverside/San Bernardino, Houston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Memphis.

The least stressed city is Salt Lake City, followed by Rochester (NY), Raleigh, Minneapolis, Richmond, Buffalo, Hartford, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Sacramento.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    July 4, 2014 1:53 PM

    I have no knowledge in this area so I am going to ask the question: Instead of a bridge, why not a tunnel for the Skyway Bridge?

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