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Roundup 7-25-2014

July 25, 2014

Channelside – Ending With a Whimper and a Payout

For those familiar with litigation, it should come as no surprise that the Channelside complex lease/ownership/bankruptcy/auction saga ended with a settlement before the judge ruled on the issues.  The basic outline:

♦  Port Tampa Bay will pay $1.9 million to purchase the mortgage on the complex.

♦  Vinik will still pay $7.1 million for the lease on the property. But he will pay more elsewhere. Though financial terms are not spelled out directly in the papers, Vinik was also “able to negotiate a settlement of pending litigation relating to the Lease Assets,” and he obtained “rights to certain plans” that Liberty had for the site. Obtaining that lease was largely the goal of the Liberty/Convergent pair of developers who sued in bankruptcy court, claiming they had a pre-existing deal with the Irish bank that held the lease on the property.

♦  All sides of the dispute agree to pay their own attorney’s fees.

So the Lightning owner gets his property, the Port gets their “owner,” and Liberty got their money.  How much that cost the Port (and thus the public) in legal fees is not clear from the reporting.  In any event, that is now over.  Let’s see what is proposed to fix the mess that is the complex itself.

And in more news, the Lightning owner closed on more land downtown.

We sure hope he knows what he is doing because with so much land he can really make or break downtown.

Economy – The Latest on VC

This week there was the latest report about venture capital funding, which should give a window on whether our economy is changing.

Venture capitalists are pouring money into companies at levels not seen in more than a decade, nearly hearkening back to the dot-com era.

But Florida continues to largely miss out on the party.

Nationwide, venture capitalists put $13 billion into 1,114 deals in the second quarter of 2014, according to the latest MoneyTree Report being released today by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The quarterly analysis, based on data from Thomson Reuters, marks the highest level of venture capital funding since investors put $13.1 billion into deals in the first quarter of 2001. For the first half of the year, total investment reached $22.7 billion, the highest first-half total since 2001.

Less than 1 percent of that money, however, is directed to companies in Florida, which is on track to becoming the third-biggest state in the country this year.

Florida investors closed on just 13 deals totaling less than $113 million in invested capital in the second quarter. That’s up 57 percent from the first quarter, but down 15 percent from year-ago levels.

That is less than 1% to Florida, which has about 6.2% of the US population (using figures here)  At least one local company did ok:

The biggest Florida deal was out of Orlando: $50 million going to software firm Kony Solutions. Second biggest was in the industrial energy sector with $26 million going to AquaVenture Holdings in Tampa.

The Orlando Sentinel tells us:

Statewide, Florida companies received $113 million from more than a dozen deals in the period, down 32.7 percent from the 2013 quarter, figures show. Nationwide, Florida ranked 14th in the second quarter, while California ($8 billion), Massachusetts ($1.15 billion) and New York ($1.05 billion) led the way.

Nationwide, venture-capital investment rose 34 percent in the quarter to $13 billion, the largest total since the first quarter of 2001, according to MoneyTree. The report is published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on Thomson Reuters data.

However, do not fret:

Mark McCaffrey, global software industry leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Florida shouldn’t be disheartened. To the contrary, he sees the state on the rise.

“I do hear Florida’s name coming up a lot,” said McCaffrey, who is based in San Jose, Calif. “You’re seeing some larger deals.” Among the state’s strengths is its diversity, as companies in software, media and entertainment, industrial energy and biotech are all drawing investors.

McCaffrey said the latest quarterly report was skewed in part because it included the biggest deal in MoneyTree’s tracking history, a $1.2 billion deal out of Silicon Valley. Moreover, he said, many of the California companies drawing investor interest have operations in Florida — so funding is flowing south whether or not that’s reflected in the MoneyTree report.

So California is drawing the big money (In fact, LA County drew 3 times as much as all of Florida).  Fine.  We are getting money tangentially, which leads to the question of how many of those California companies getting funding have facilities in the Tampa Bay area of any decent size?

Anyway, another appraisal:

Jamie M. Grooms, a venture-capital expert in Gainesville, said Florida’s investments often fluctuate because of the internal timing and funding cycles of the venture capital firms that do business here. Florida also has a way to go before it has a “critical mass” of investment-worthy companies similar to what’s found in San Francisco and Boston, he said.

“Our pipeline of companies isn’t deep enough yet to attract large numbers of the big venture-capital firms,” said Grooms, chief executive officer of the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which works with UCF and other state universities in creating startup companies.

“We’re definitely seeing more and more companies in the pipeline,” he said. “And as they develop and mature, they’ll attract more venture capital, which will help flatten out those fluctuations we see in the survey.”

The reality is that the trend pretty consistent.  Sure, a small number of companies here get VC funding and there is some increase in funding (sometimes), but it is hardly a real change in the structure of our economy, especially in the Tampa Bay area.  Maybe someday, but not today, hype about the economy notwithstanding.

Transportation –For It While Against It

The Tribune had an editorial about their endorsements for various primary races.   While the endorsements do not really concern us (we are more interested in actual policies) there was something in the editorial that shows why transportation progress in this area is so difficult.

The next commission also will need to respond thoughtfully to the transportation strategy to be proposed this year by a task force made up of leaders from the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Only two commission seats — District 4 and District 7 — are being contested in this year’s Aug. 26 primary election (early voting is Aug. 14 to 24).

So let’s look at the contested race involving an incumbent:

Higginbotham supports the multi-government transportation task force’s efforts, though he believes improving roads and the bus system should be the priorities.

He would support rail only if he thought the routes made sense and especially if private dollars were involved.

That strikes us as odd.

We are all for a rail plan that makes sense.  But remember that this Commissioner sits on the Transportation for Economic Development committee, and the Committee has not even issued its proposal yet.  Given that, one would assume that the Commissioner would make sure the proposal made sense and then support it.

If the Commissioners are just going to go through the motions of coming up with a plan then opposing it (notably, not the first time that would happen), is it any surprise that it is so hard to move forward?  Hopefully, he will refine his position.

Transportation – HART Gets It Right, Sort Of

Following our policy of pointing out when someone makes a good point or does something right, we give you the HART board:

The regional transit board gave a unanimous thumbs down Monday to a plan that would focus most early transit expansion in downtown Tampa. That plan, board members said, could leave people in the rest of the Hillsborough County standing on a corner waiting for a bus that won’t be coming.

Rich Clarendon, senior transportation planner for the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented a plan to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board outlining a study that calls for possible light rail and expanded modern street car service that might use existing freight tracks to operate. It also looked at connections to the planned transit station on Interstate 275 in the West Shore area. The study was a joint project of the MPO and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

So, what did HART do?

Instead of giving that plan the nod, the HART board voted to ask Hillsborough for funding to hire a specialized planner that can look at all transit needs throughout the county.

Clarendon was asking for a HART recommendation to include the downtown study in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.

It is imperative that county, state and federal officials all work together to plan transit’s future here, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the HART board. “How is this integrated into what the city and county are doing? We need to work on one plan. We can’t have every agency having its own little plan.”

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who also sits on the transit board, said he didn’t readily see how this downtown plan would “connect with everything else.”

And that is right (giving the benefit of the doubt to the two comments above) – while we have no problem with rail, there needs to be one, comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan for a real transportation system.  Even if some aspects of it may be good, why is the MPO even presenting a plan (especially a partial one) when the Transportation for Economic Development plan is going to come out in a month of so?  Why can’t the County entities just wait and properly coordinate?  Good for HART.

Why they got it “sort of,” and not “all,” right is this:

HART’S existing Transit Development Plan would double transit throughout Hillsborough County, said HART board member Karen Jaroch. This plan, she said, “would eat the entire apple of a 1-cent sales tax,” something that is being considered to fund expanded transit and roadway expansions in the county. The sales tax would require a referendum.

In other words, for the same reason they were right to not back the MPO right now, they should not be planning independently.   Yes, a plan to provide one aspect of transportation should not eat the whole proposed sales tax.  On the other hand, HART’s existing plan (and board) may soon become irrelevant so HART should put aside any plan for a few months and wait for the TED committee. The above quoted comment is not consistent with the reason for questioning the MPO in the first place.

So, yes, in this case, HART’s board is generally right.  For that they get credit.  But then they should also be consistent.

Transportation – The PTC Keeps Chugging

It seems that despite claims that reform was coming and it would try to work out some way to accommodate ride-sharing, the PTC really hasn’t done anything.

The sides in Tampa’s hired-car wars have largely kept to a cease-fire in their legal and public relations battles.

But hardly any progress has been made in allowing the entry of smartphone-app based car services like Lyft and Uber into the Tampa market.

Kyle Cockream, executive director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, has been in talks with representatives from both companies, first in March and again in May, he said.

“We’ve discussed variances to some of the rules,” Cockream said. Those discussions haven’t yet resulted in action.

Not that we are surprised.  Did you really think that Hillsborough County would move effectively?

Contrast all that with Miami which gave initial ok to letting ride-sharing happen there. (and check this opinion piece about how taxi companies treat the drivers and how the apps give options to taxi drivers, which may account for the opposition in the protectionist PTC) or Colorado, which just passed legislation to accommodate ride-sharing, though apparently not all law enforcement got the message.

The PTC could have worked quickly, or even preemptively, on this issue if they were really paying attention (these services have been around for a while) and were acting for the benefit of the public.  Instead, the PTC still has done nothing to get with the times, let alone be innovative, in dealing with this issue.

Innovation is not just a matter of technology.  It can come up in all areas, including governance.  If this area wants to be an innovation hub, then it would be helpful to actually innovate when given the opportunity.  Then again, this is the PTC we are talking about.

Port – The Great Cruise Conundrum

As noted previously, there has been a fresh spasm of discussion of the threat to the cruise business (a quarter of Port revenue) caused by bigger ships.  This week, there were a few more reports which you can read here and here.  We are not going to get into a detailed discussion about them because there is no point as the State is going to do another study.

Port Tampa Bay isn’t anywhere close to deciding how to handle its cruise ship business in the future, Port Director Paul Anderson told the Westshore Alliance Wednesday.

“No decision has been made. We haven’t studied the options,” he told the group of business leaders. “We are so far out from doing anything.”

* * *

Without further study, Anderson said, no one can make a decision. And, he said, the numbers in the report are speculation.

Nevertheless,

Meanwhile, Anderson told the Westshore Alliance, the port’s cruise ship business should continue to grow over the next five to eight years.

Which means now is the time to come up with a solution.  Hopefully, the discussions now turn out not to be just another short period of discussions with no further planning. We’ll see what the State says and see what happens.

TIA – Copa Likes Us

It seems that the Copa flights to Panama City, Panama are doing well.

Here’s a good indicator of the strength of Tampa International Airport’s Latin American travel market: Copa Airlines will fly daily over the holidays.

Copa started flying four times a week between Tampa and Panama City in December. But the airport announced Monday that the airline will increase its Tampa flights to seven times a week from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2.

That is a good deal and shows the potential for such flights was here even when the previous airport director said it wasn’t.

It seems the one place where this area’s DNA has really changed is at the airport, and that is due to the Director and his staff.  Once again, the people to thank are those who fought the local political complacency pushed for the change when it was not popular.  Sure, now almost everyone is on board (which is good), but it was the people who defied local political inertia who allowed the change.  Hopefully, that change will rub off on others.

MacDill – Steady

There were a couple of interesting items about MacDill this week.  First,

MacDill Air Force Base will likely receive about $32 million in upgrades to accommodate eight new KC-135 refueling jets scheduled to arrive here over the next few years, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Castor, who hosted a bipartisan meeting between Tampa’s Congressional delegation and a top Air Force official on Tuesday, said that the delegation was advised about the needed infrastructure improvements by Kathleen Ferguson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics.

Ferguson advised that $32 million in infrastructure upgrades to prepare for the additional aircraft likely will be programmed in the next couple of fiscal years, Castor said in the media release.

Which is great.  Potentially even better was this:

Castor, a Democrat, was joined in the meeting by Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, David Jolly, Richard Nugent and Dennis Ross.

Look at that, we actually have a Congressional delegation that can meet and work together.  We are glad they work together on MacDill, but we need that cooperation on far more issues (say transportation) – like other areas of Florida (and the country) get.

In further MacDill news:

MacDill Air Force Base, the only military installation in the world home to two U.S. combatant commands, may be loved in the Tampa area, but it was tied for sixth best in the Air Force Times’ ranking of 68 Air Force bases.

MacDill, home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the 927th Air Refueling Wing, the Joint Communications Support Element and other mission partners, was tied with Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio were tied for the top spot in the Air Force Times’ rankings.

Los Angeles Air Force Base was rated the worst.

To determine its rankings, the Air Force Times wrote that it used resources like GreatSchools.com, Zillow, Realtor.com, and Sperling’s Best Places to evaluate statistics in a dozen categories: school quality, cost of living, housing costs, commissary size, base exchange size, size of on-base health care facilities, crime rates, commute times, pollution levels, climate, unemployment rates and sales taxes. It then assigned each category a score on a 10-point scale. 

Even though it did not get the full write up in the Air Force Times article. Sixth out of 68 is fine with us.

Public Art – How To Be Seen . . . Really Briefly and Without Effect

As some of you may be aware, there was a work of art kind of sandwiched into a parking garage entrance downtown by previous efforts to revitalize Tampa’s waterfront.

But by the end of this year, it will be cleaned up and moved to a place of pride closer to the front door.

The City Council voted Thursday to approve a $38,515 upgrade for the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome.

Agam is an Israeli artist with a global reputation as the father of “kinetic art” — art that appears to move.

But for years, Visual Welcome has been all but hidden on a stub of Twiggs Street between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the ramp into an underground parking garage. Its closest neighbors are a row of crape myrtles with hot pink blossoms on one side and 20 large, Army green trash bins on another.

It looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article (please note the truck is not part of the artwork)

So what is special about this piece?

One side features checkerboard and color block patterns. The other has color blocks and circles. As the viewer passes by, the patterns shift.

“With an Agam, when you look at it, if you move 2 feet one way or 2 feet another way, the whole thing can completely change,” said Dennis Carhart, the fabricator who originally installed the piece and who will restore it. “That’s what’s so cool about it. It moves.”

Ok, so it is the perfect thing to put near the Riverwalk downtown so people walking by can appreciate the changes and contemplate the art. And it is just the kind of interactive art that can help draw people the Arts District.  Awesome.  So where is it going?

In November or December, he will reinstall the sculpture in the median of Bayshore Boulevard, just south of the Academy of the Holy Names.

It’s a good spot, said City Council member Mary Mulhern, who said the Agam piece has never received the prominence it deserves.

The sculpture is meant to be viewed as people pass by, she said, so Bayshore is ideal because of its constant stream of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

In the median of a road.

So it will either distract most of the people driving by (that’s a good idea) or be ignored by them (which is more likely).  Moreover, in the median, pedestrians and cyclists going along the waterfront are not going to be getting anywhere near the art or interacting with it.

Bayshore has natural beauty, no doubt.  But art like this sculpture belongs in the public space downtown where it was intended to go and people can and will interact with it.  If you want the Riverwalk to be special, downtown to be walkable, and the Art District to be the center of the arts in the area, why not put the art in a prominent place there?

Coming Out Watch – Sort Of

There was a good article in the New York Times this week about proposed new regulations on cigars and the potential effect on the last cigar factory in Tampa. Interestingly, the headline was “After 150 Years of Rolling Them, Tampa Is Close to No Cigars” – so score one for the RNC.  On the other hand, the dateline was “Tampa, Fla” – note the Fla., which is certainly not used in this article on Miami.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

— Of Brazil and Latin America

Brazilian tourists are the largest group of foreign tourists in Central Florida (meaning Orlando area) these days.

George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando, said the state and Central Florida are looking for ways to capitalize even more on a recent surge in Brazilian visitors.

Speaking at a luncheon at GrayRobinson on Monday, Aguel noted that international visitors are surging in Central Florida, and that Brazil recently passed the United Kingdom as the No. 2 foreign market for visitors here.

“As you know international visitors stay longer, and spend more,” Aguel said.

He said Brazilian soccer star Kaka’s arrival in Orlando should boost the foreign interest.

“We are talking about how we can leverage Kaka’s presence here, and increase our connections with Brazil,” Aguel said.

Mark Wylie, ‎president & CEO at Associated Builders and Contractors, asked about All Aboard Florida, the planned high-speed train, and its impact on tourism.

“Our opinion is that it’s great, for both South Florida and Orlando,” Aguel said. “They are already looking at how they can position with our tourists to get them down there. We just want to see more Brazilians to come to Orlando.”

Not sure how much of that is bleeding off to the Tampa Bay area, which is only an hour away, but we are sure it will not get here by train, since we will not be connected to the rest of the state that way.

Speaking of Brazil, it seems Ft. Lauderdale might be getting flights to Brazil to add to its Latin American flights and Orlando may get more.  (Miami and Orlando already have flights to Brazil.)

In other news, it seems from this article that the New York Times still thinks Miami is the gateway to Latin America. (No “Fla” in the dateline there either)

This all goes to show that while it may be a laudable goal to someday be THE Gateway to Latin America, that is very far off (if it ever happens).  The goal now should be to become A gateway to Latin America, which is doable though we are starting from a position quite far behind others.  That is reality, and it should be honestly acknowledged.

— SunRail

In more Orlando news, SunRail is apparently exceeding expectation, even with its limited hours:

SunRail ridership, he said, is a little fewer than 4,300 daily, the number that the system was supposed to hit by the end of its first year of operation. That has resulted in some rides running at or near capacity, especially during the afternoon Thursday and Friday, when more leisure passengers tend to board. Early in the week, the trains are not as crowded.

The solution, Olson said, has been to add a third car to the usual two-car, one-locomotive set. Typically the extra car goes on the 12:30 p.m. southbound train from DeBary, which tends to pick up more of the additional late-week passengers.

(Note how, unlike roads, capacity is added by simply adding a car to the train.)  In fact, SunRail is already looking at expanding service, as long as it can be funded – which is responsible. Being Orlando, we assume their various delegation will get that worked out.

— All Aboard Florida

Speaking of trains, All Aboard Florida released renderings for its planned West Palm Beach station here while the massive Miami station proposal got county approval with groundbreaking set for September.   And that does not include the state funded station near Orlando airport.

By contrast, a recent meeting in Tampa about the (vaguely) proposed multimodal center in Westshore drew worries from neighbors., which you can read about here.  Just so you know:

The proposed center, which would go up between the interstate and West Cypress Street, is not yet funded, but if it is constructed, it would be used as a hub for a people mover from Tampa International Airport, as a bus depot for those using Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and possibly as a future depot for light rail heading to Pinellas County. It could also include some commercial development.

Nothing is final yet, FDOT officials said. And the public still has time to comment on the project through July 28. Go to www.fdotd7studies.com or call Project Manager Elba Lopez at (813) 975-6403.

Feel free to send a comment.

It Could Be Worse, Cont.

As bad as the hype-tastic and other assorted comments from elected officials in this area can be, from time to time, it needs to be noted that it could be worse.  At least local officials stay generally on topic, which is not always the case everywhere. For instance, just read this  article about an Australian MP. (note: it is kind of adult content) [Note: after posting, it came to our attention that when you click on the link you get an error message that the story had been moved.  When you get that, just reload the page and the article should appear.  The URL is right.  We have no idea why the Telegraph‘s site is behaving that way.]

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ list of Most Creative Cities 2014. The methodology can be found here.

Coming in first is San Francisco, followed by Boston, Nashville, Austin, NYC, Portland (OR), LA, Seattle, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, DC, Richmond, Miami Beach, and Charlotte.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

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