Port – Developments
The Port Tampa Bay board approved buying new container cranes.
Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson wants to expand the port’s share of cargo containers, which are a more lucrative cargo than the bulk cargoes, like phosphates and ammonia anhydrous, that dominate the port’s business.
That is true, though many of the ships cannot be handled in Tampa, regardless. (All part of that annoying bridge thing) In any event, a good move. Hopefully it will pay off.
– Inadvertent Truth
Even more importantly, there was other interesting news about the Port that revealed more about our local political culture. A little confab was held by FDOT to talk with Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee and help them get along. You can read here how that went. What was more interesting was this:
The comment is very odd because, back in 2011, after some Port tenants complained about the last director, the Board came to his defense:
And see here. Then, they gave him a two year extension:
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman first proposed only one additional year. After her motion failed on a 3-3 vote, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed the two-year contract. It passed 4-2, with Murman and fellow board member Patrick Allman voting against.
If the Board thought he was doing such a bad job and was in a hurry to replace him, why didn’t they inform the public, who at least the elected officials serve? Why did they keep publicly saying he was doing a great job and then rewarding him? Didn’t the Board know that performance was not acceptable? Isn’t that the Board’s job?
Let us be clear: we think the present director is an upgrade. The concern we have is with lack of oversight and accurate information from the Board, especially the elected officials. (Maybe this is the Commissioner/Board Member coming clean on mistakes in the past; if so, we applaud her.) Far too often we are told everything is great, our agency leaders are great, all the policies are great, our area is the conqueror of all – then, out of the blue, it is not. (Like the whole cruise mess, planning in the area, and, it should be said, the previous airport director)
We understand that issues arise over time and that sometimes change is necessary. What we don’t need is puffery and hiding problems. We don’t need vapid cheerleading. And we don’t need officials who call stagnation progress and small achievements “game changers.” We have had that for decades, and it has held us back. We need the facts and dealing with issues like adults, otherwise known as “leadership.” (Thankfully, many of our present agency leaders – like the airport and, to a large degree, the port – now seem to do that. At least, as far as we can tell right now. And the County staff appears to be trying to deal with transportation, despite the best efforts of some elected officials.)
We need dealing like adults to be the rule, rather than something notable. And don’t expect real progress against our competitors until that is the case.
Transportation – TED is a Mess
There was more news about the Transportation for Economic Development committee. First,
Starting after Labor Day, local government leaders will hold a series of meetings in all corners of the 1,000-square-mile county. The purpose of the gatherings will be to get feedback from the public on a long list of road, trail and mass transit projects. The list has been 14 months in the making.
County Administrator Mike Merrill, speaking Tuesday to the county’s transportation policy leadership group, said the purpose of the meetings will not be to “sell’ the project list, but to ask residents, civic and business groups to critique it and suggest changes.
Merrill said the outreach program, which will include a social media blitz, will last through mid-October. Then the results will be brought back to the policy leadership group, which consists of the seven county commissioners, the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities, and the chairman of the HART bus system.
So where to start? First, it is good to get public input. Second, they are way late on getting public input. Third, who is going to be at these meetings? Why does staff have to bring the results back to the elected officials? Aren’t elected officials interested enough to finally personally go get the input they should have gotten long ago?
At some point late this year, or in early 2015, the leadership group will decide whether to hold a referendum in 2016 to raise the sales tax by a penny. If it passes, the tax hike would produce $6 billion over 30 years for transportation.
Those discussions will be fun.
The emphasis on public outreach is an outgrowth of lessons learned from the failed sales tax referendum in 2010. Proponents of that effort felt that large portions of the county were left out of planning when transportation projects were developed and the residents were unclear about how the tax would benefit them.
We definitely are in favor of having a specific list of things to be done. People should know what they are being asked to pay for. Of course, it seems the lesson has been learned, if it has been learned, quite late in the game. On the other hand, we cannot wait forever – even if some want us to.
“Timing is crucial,” said Crist, who faces re-election this fall. “I’m not sure we have enough time to sell this, and I’m not sure we have time to really do the leg work that needs to be done to generate the voter buy-in to get this passed.”
And if that time is conveniently after someone can’t run for their present office again, that is just a coincidence. And just what leg work are we talking about? It is not like the Commissioners are out in the public seeking a conversation (rather, they have hidden from the public meetings). And if leg work needs to be done, maybe the committee members better get on it. Not after the Greenlight vote. Not after the New Year. Now.
That is true, so better get on that, too (though we are not sure exactly what those legal issues are). Of course, in a perfect world the County commission would not have waited for years before getting back on an issue that never went away.
Both Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, neither who face election this year, spoke in favor of putting the tax question before voters as soon as possible, with 2016 being the goal.
“Life is about making an effort and not being afraid to fail,” said Sharpe, who is leaving the commission due to term limits. “I don’t think we’ve rushed. I think we’ve been a little slow in acting. … HART’s going to run out of money. And they may well run out of money while we talk and decide what we’re going to do.”
Yes, especially about the effort part. No need to worry about failing because our transportation infrastructure is already failing.
We actually have concerns about whether this group can actually get a proper referendum plan ready for 2016. That is not because there isn’t time but because a number of them do not seem serious about the project. The staff seems serious. Many people in the public seem serious. Some decision makers are serious – but a number just seem scared, and not of failure but of having to make a decision (which is funny for people referred to as “decision makers.”)
As said in a Times editorial:
At least Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill has brought something from the ashes of the 2010 vote with virtually no help from his elected bosses. Now these same leaders want county staff and contractors to go out and read the tea leaves so they can write a proposal that is politically safe.
The leadership group needs to reclaim its mantle and start shaping a vision for the transit package that offers something new. Giving critics two months to pick this bloated plan apart while backtracking on proposals to energize HART is not moving forward in a smart fashion. There is plenty of time for Hillsborough to prepare a viable transit plan for voters by 2016, which would get a boost if Pinellas voters approve Greenlight. But Hillsborough leaders need to focus more on creating a robust vision for future transit and less on timid political calculations that are likely to bog down the effort than lift it up.
Exactly, except until they lead, they are just elected officials.
— Post Script
The Times had another interesting nugget from a County Commissioner who is running for a new seat and has been quite equivocal about the referendum:
An opponent of the 2010 referendum when he represented conservative east Hillsborough’s District 4, Higginbotham now says he will support whatever is proposed by a transportation policy group comprised of local elected officials.
We shall see if he true to his word.
— And Another Thing
Finally, there was an article in the Tribune regarding various transit agencies around the country and HART. The article goes through a number of different systems and we are not going to get into them. (You can read it here) One thing we will point out is this:
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority covers a 1,000-square-mile county with 165 buses — a number that places HART 94th among 100 major metro areas in the United States. Fewer buses means fewer routes, less frequency and longer travel times from home to work, school or errands.
The system also has few of the smaller circulator buses that would improve links among the main routes. Because of those drawbacks, critics say, HART serves as largely a last resort for people who can’t afford cars or don’t drive.
And note remember that one HART Board member, representing the Tea Party on behalf of the County Commission, thinks that HART is one of the best run transit agencies in the country. See “Transportation – A Muddle”
That is all quite telling about both performance of HART and attitude to transit.
Transportation – Can the PTC Ever Really Change?
Three is more news from the PTC.
The agency that regulates cabs and limos in Hillsborough County made its first attempt Wednesday to compromise with ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber, which have been operating illegally for months as they expand here.
The Public Transportation Commission proposed two changes in hopes of accommodating the companies. But the changes still force Lyft and Uber to charge customers at least $30 and make them order the service at least a half-hour in advance.
It seems that the PTC just can’t give up being protectionist and price-fixing.
The ride-sharing companies were placed Wednesday under a new “non-luxury limousine” category. But since there is a minimum $60 fare for limousines, and a requirement that customers order the service at least an hour in advance, a second recommendation involved cutting those minimums in half.
How generous. What it really shows is how stupid the limo rules are.
Anyway, what was the logic behind this offer?
The transportation commission is hoping the changes, which it says are the first in an ongoing series, will be viewed as a good-faith effort to find a common ground, PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said.
Hardly. Anything else?
“We’re trying to make a model for these non-metered vehicles that are on the street where people call in with an app,” said Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who serves on the PTC. “We’re hoping to reach a compromise while at the same time protecting the public.”
Sure. Minimum pricing and making getting timely service impossible is definitely protecting the public, if by the “public” you mean cab company owners. If you mean anyone else, pretty much not.
Sadly, the PTC just can’t seem to shake what seems to be its original purpose – protecting cartels. If they want to reform and strike a deal – start with having background checks and maybe car checks, eliminate the minimum fees across the board, and see what happens.
— One Other Thing
It seems that Miami and Miami Beach now feature the electric free shuttles that we briefly had that many years ago until the PTC killed it to protect taxi interests. Consumers are surely thankful for the PTC’s protection.
Parks – What Is and What Should Be
In the last few weeks there has been a lot of news about parks around downtown Tampa.
— Waterworks Park
First, Waterworks Park opened. We actually made multiple visits – to see what was there and to see if people were enjoying it. It is nice.
We could quibble about some of the layout, like how the view of the river from the splash pad is not very good, how some of the materials used looked good new but, given other projects we’ve seen, will probably need a lot of upkeep to keep looking good, and how the historical marker/bust is kind of off the main Riverwalk and does not have a sidewalk (ADA issue there), but we won’t. (Though we encourage the City to address some of the drainage issues of the main lawn that were obvious after a good rain. It will not be good if the lawn does not drain well.) It is nice, and kids seem to love the splash pad area, which is no surprise.
It is good that it is finally done. It probably would have been done long ago if the recession had not killed plans for The Heights which now seem to be back on track, but so be it. (It certainly was in the plan. And see here )
“We created an anchor on that end of the river that will stimulate private development,” Buckhorn said. “The investment that we’ve made in this park will trigger tens of millions of dollars of private investment that will take place, that will add to the tax base, that will create jobs, that will create a destination.
In that the investment is good and that there was nothing there, the Mayor is right. Many have worked to get something done there over the years, but it is finally done.
One thing we do wonder about is the “pavilion” (which blocks downtown views) and lawn. While the splash pad was quite popular, the lawn seemed like a lot of space unused (and had the aforementioned drainage issue). We understand the desire for a space for events, but, really does every park need a great lawn/show area?
We think that, if the Heights ever actually get developed and all the parking lots that now face the park as a result of the City’s previous policy of settling for poor designs ever get developed, it will really work. (Right now it is a relatively isolated place.) Of course, that is the key in any urban park – what will go around and frame the park – and that remains to be seen. While Ulele looks nice (not sure about the different grass behind the restaurant and in the park, though), the area needs much more, and denser, development to really make the park the urban oasis it can be. We shall see.
— Riverfront Park
There was also news about the proposed redo of Riverfront Park. Not surprisingly, it seems that was no consideration at all to leaving any of the mounds (we assume the designers were told they could not retain them), even though every the media continues to highlight mounds in all the pictures of the park – because they provide a real vista and unique experience.
So what is planned for the park, according to reports?
The top floor of the river center could include a community room, park planners told residents Tuesday night at Blake High School. Because the park generally slopes down to the river, visitors could park on the high ground near Laurel Street and walk right into the second floor.
Planners say the boathouse would be big enough to store all 100 rowing shells now housed by the nonprofit Stewards Foundation at its current facility at the park, plus dragon boats now stored at Rick’s on the River, rental canoes, kayaks or paddleboards.
The Boys & Girls Club would stay, and the plan includes tennis and basketball courts, a large athletic field, playground, splash pad, a dog park and a realignment of Laurel Street to the north to make more room for parking.
This is a map of the preliminary plan (so probably the plan):
This is what the park looks like now.
There is good stuff there – the renovated sports facilities are nice. We are sure the splash pad will be popular, if a bit formulaic.
We do not have a problem with a new boathouse/community building (the existing rowing facilities definitely need to be improved), though, as planned, it seems placed to block views of the River in many ways. And we are not sure the river really needs a little rowing practice area that takes away land from the park and pushes pedestrians away from the main part of the riverfront. We suspect there will be far more people just walking around the park than using the little lagoon to learn how to row. It is a cost/benefit issue.
And there is the question of connecting the park to the bridge at Cass Street to make it really part of the downtown park system (we would love a pedestrian bridge over the river but understand there are a number of issues with that – not even considering the cost – so good connections to the existing bridges and making them more pedestrian friendly is crucial to making the river central to the area).
Strangely, from the drawing, the view of the river from the street and neighborhood will be blocked entirely by trees, play area, tennis courts and boat house. If that is the plan, clearly at least the big mound, which sits essentially at the apex of the great lawn/play area, could be fixed, retained and integrated in the playground/splash pad area, making this splash pad different than all the other ones being built around town and providing even better vistas of downtown. It also seems a lot of space it taken up for parking, which is odd for an urban park, and it is done inefficiently, wasting land. We assume the parking is for the benefit of rowers, but it takes up a lot of space.
Then there is the “great lawn.” We have no problem with the open space (in fact we have advocated for it). But aren’t Curtis Hixon Park and Water Works Park already set up for shows already. What is the exact purpose of the specific way this lawn is laid out? This leads us to wonder if park plans are a bit formulaic. Yes, there are nice elements that can be repeated, and the boat house is nice – if possibly not in the optimal place (why not just put it where the boat house is now?), but just repeating the same steps in every park (lawn, splash pad, history walk, etc.) while removing what makes them interesting detracts from each of them.
In any event, it is a decent first attempt, but definitely can be improved. As with many other parks, it has many things to recommend it, but it is a bit generic and does not even do the goal of opening the river to the neighborhood from Boulevard.
The point is this – we like the investment in parks, and we like much of what is being done. But, while people should get amenities, the parks should not be like chain restaurants. The things that make them special do not have to be removed to make them much better. The old and the new can be integrated to improve but keep continuity – just like adaptive reuse of buildings – though that takes real vision. And it will also take sustained maintenance to make sure that what happened to Riverfront Park in the past – the neglect and decline – does not happen again. (Now, we can’t wait for the plans for Horizon and Rowlett Parks.)
— Post Script
And, speaking about the neighborhood, there is the constant question raised by this:
Community activist Walter Smith II, president of the West Tampa Community Council, said neighborhood residents want a park that serves their needs. They’ve asked the city to build a swimming pool, but so far that request has been rejected.
Instead, the Civitas proposal expands on the park’s current status as home to The Stewards Foundation’s rowing program. Plans call for a boat house with a community center on the second floor that could house artifacts from Roberts City, the mixed-race community that grew up around the old Roberts & Son cigar factory more than a century ago.
The new design also does away with the earthen mounds integrated into the park by its original designer, architect Richard Dattner. In their place, there could be a riverfront great lawn, new athletic fields, sand volleyball courts and a small manmade harbor where novice boaters can practice. Laurel Street would be pushed farther north to open the northern end of the park to users.
That is always an issue and a hard thing to balance. It is not clear that the City has really addressed it at all.
USF Medical School – Where to Go
It appears that USF Medical School is looking to expand and, as part of that, examining various locations.
USF got $5 million from the Legislature last session to plan for a new medical school. Lockwood emphasized that officials are in early stages of planning but confirmed that downtown is on the list of potential homes.
So what are the considerations?
Expanding on land near its current campus off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard would be the easier, and most likely the less expensive, option. Moving downtown would be “exciting,” he said, and attractive to young medical students seeking an urban environment.
Another key selling point for downtown: It would put the school within walking distance of Tampa General Hospital, its primary teaching hospital — something that could raise USF’s profile as an academic medical center.
If USF Health were to move all its programs — medical school education, plus nursing, public health and pharmacy — it would require a roughly 460,000-square-foot building. And that wouldn’t come cheap.
In 2011, Frank and Carol Morsani donated $20 million toward the future construction of a new college of medicine. At that time, USF officials spoke of using that money to help build a $60 million, five- or six-story building that would include classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums and a full-time health clinic run by students.
Setting aside that any real location downtown is not really in walking distance to Tampa General, ok. So is any location favored?
We all knew the Mayor would want a downtown location. And, in fact, the idea of the Medical School downtown is intriguing, but there is a problem. The Medical school is not new. Yes, Tampa General is closer to a downtown location but for decades a whole ecosystem has grown up around the Medical School where it is – like Moffit and the Byrd Alzheimer Center (not to mention the VA which is physically connected to the Medical School). Where are they going to go? Does it serve the area or the University to move the Medical School away from those facilities? Does it help build a medical cluster? And there is another point – land. Where ever the Medical School goes, it needs to have surplus land to expand – contiguous to the facility. That is much more available on Campus than downtown.
So while it would be nice to have a facility downtown, just thinking about it, it would seem that leaving it on campus and building a medical cluster in that area seems more logical and beneficial (especially if you connect USF with rail). And maybe the City and County should work together and focus more on revitalizing that area.
We are not opposed to having the Medical School downtown (like the rest of USF, it probably should have been built closer to downtown decades ago – but it wasn’t), but now it does not seem to be the more sensible plan. That may change. We shall see.
Economic Development – Good
A local tech company is expanding:
Some of the jobs are already available, said Tribridge Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony DiBenedetto. Salaries for jobs at Tribridge average around $80,000, he said. “These are very high-paying jobs, well above the high-average salary.”
Recruiting and keeping young, tech-savvy professionals, not building more subdivisions, will move this area in the right direction, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, speaking during a press conference Wednesday.
That is all good. What are the details?
Forty of the new hires are expected this year, with 70 in 2015 and 90 in 2016, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The hiring is expected to drive a $1.8 million investment in IT hardware and facilities.
Hopefully, those expansion plans will pan out. That is a step forward. It is only a step, but you have to start somewhere.
Economic Development – Too Bad
This week it was reported that a corporate HQ move to St. Pete is now off.
A “manufacturing business enterprise company” was considering moving its national headquarters to St. Petersburg, but the relocation depended on that company acquiring another firm, and the merger fell through at the last minute, said county economic development director Mike Meidel, who got word of the development Friday.
“They pulled themselves out based on the fact they didn’t have the merger they wanted to make the deal happen,” Meidel said. “Of course it’s disappointing when you’re trying to get additional jobs, but there’s a lot of deals in the pipeline, so it’s not devastating. We’ve got plenty to work on.”
The city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County were asked to each give $80,000 as a local match for tax refunds to the company. The state had committed $640,000. The County Commission was set to approve its share Tuesday, but the item was pulled from the agenda.
The company, whose identity will remain confidential for two years, planned a $1.8 million capital investment. Its roughly 80 new employees would have had annual salaries of about $85,000. The tax refunds would have been paid only after the company met performance measures in the agreement.
The company was also considering New York and Texas for its new home but had a keen interest in St. Petersburg, Meidel said. There is some hope that the company will come calling again if it finds another partner, he said.
That is too bad. Hopefully, it will work out eventually.
Rays – Carillon Going, Going . . .
There was an article in the Times regarding the proposal for a Rays stadium in Carillon.
We don’t know how bold it was, but it was a St. Pete solution.
“We’d like to keep the window open, but we can’t afford to keep it open much longer,” LeClair told the Times. “We tried to help facilitate the baseball discussion and it played out the way it played out. We can’t sit around and wait for baseball to make a decision. We’re moving forward.”
And that is fine. It is a business decision.
The real problem is that the then Mayor of St. Pete ignored the fact that the Rays wanted to look in the whole Bay area and forced this idea, so it never really was going anywhere. This is just another example of how St. Pete’s approach to the Rays issue has been completely unconstructive. We hope that changes with the new Mayor, but we haven’t seen anything yet.
Put It in the Arts District
We recently wrote about the City’s plan to put an artwork in the median of Bayshore Boulevard and suggested that it would be better placed on the Riverwalk – preferably in the “Arts District.” Well, it turns out that some residents of the Bayshore area don’t want the art on Bayshore.
“The size, illumination and placement of this artwork will be a distraction from the serenity and beauty of this area,” Bayshore Terrace resident Bree Fulcher wrote to City Councilman Harry Cohen on Tuesday. “The display would severely impact views from the building, especially for units like mine that face the bay.”
Yes, exposure to car exhaust.
Bayshore is scenic, which does not mean that it is a good location art, especially this art. As we said before, this piece belongs downtown.
Frankly, we find the City’s approach to art quixotic. It pushes for the Riverwalk and the Arts District. It wants to scrub the seawall of a decades old tradition and put colored lights. It spends a bunch of money streetscaping Zach to make it the “Promenade of the Arts” even though there is basically nothing having to do with the arts actually on the road. Then, it wants to take (very colorful) art that is already in the Arts District – though in a bad location – and near the Riverwalk, and, instead of making it a useful part of the Arts District, it wants to put it where fewer people can really take the time to appreciate (just like putting the WTC steel in the Bayshore median instead of in a park dedicated to the military, like MacDill Park, or emergency workers). Fortunately, there is still time to do the logical thing.
The good news: Bayshore is a long and winding road with enough median for everyone, says City Council member Harry Cohen. “The key with these things is finding the right spot,” he says. “In a city that is hundreds of square miles, we can find the right spot.”
And the right spot is on the Riverwalk downtown.
Meanwhile, Outside Florida
The first article reports on how Denver went all in for transit and is transforming itself. You should read the article for yourself, but here is a little nugget on how it got funding for its program:
Ten years ago, Denver’s new mayor (and current Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper began to ramp up a campaign to convince voters to approve an ambitious expansion of the region’s embryonic light rail network. A similar plan — fuzzy on such key details as routes and cost — had been defeated in a 1997 referendum. In 2004, the region’s voters approved $4.7 billion of new debt for the FasTracks program. The plan, to add 121 miles of new commuter and light-rail tracks to the region, 18 miles of bus rapid transit lanes, 57 new rapid transit stations, and 21,000 park-and-ride spots, was approved 58-to-42, precisely reversing the results of the ’97 referendum. (The pricetag has since risen to $7.8 billion.)
Sound familiar? Local officials should take note.
They should also take note, as should those who want improved transit, of the article on Austin that discusses the problems of how to plan proper lines and the risks of splitting transit advocates and hurting the overall effort. It makes interesting reading.
List of the Week
Sorry, there is no list this week.