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Roundup 9-5-2014

September 5, 2014

PTC – Newspeak for Old Policy

The PTC/Ridesharing silliness goes on and on.

Both sides in the battle between local regulators and ride-share company Uber are taking their fight to the public, despite claims of an imminent compromise.

Uber sent an email blast to its riders last Tuesday urging them to contact Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist telling him they “want access to safe, affordable, and reliable rides like Uber.” Crist’s office said it received more than 750 emails by the end of the day.

That salvo came one day after the PTC put up the first in a series of billboards warning people to “be cautious of illegal transportation providers.” The billboard along Interstate 4 near 50th Street cost $4,000 — paid for by revenue from regulatory fees and fines — and will be up for 30 days, executive director Kyle Cockream said.

From the Times – click on picture for article

That is a good use of resources?  The issue is why the PTC is making ridesharing illegal in the first place.

In any event, where do we stand on a potential agreement?

These public campaigns started a week after the PTC made an attempt to compromise with the ride-share companies by suggesting they charge customers at least $30 and make them order a ride at least a half-hour in advance.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett called the suggested compromise disappointing.

“Frankly, it’s anticompetitive and it’s anticonsumer,” Bennett said. “Really what it does is restrict the competition, protect an industry that does nothing for consumers, and make it harder for folks to get an affordable ride and move around the city easily.”

Bingo.  The minimum pricing does nothing for consumers.  It just protects the cab companies. Period.  As long as that remains (in any form – for limos, too) the PTC is not really making an attempt to come to any agreement or represent the interest of consumers.

Bennett said the company hopes to reach an agreement with regulators within a matter of months that would allow it to operate legally in the area.

Crist said he is reluctant to believe Uber’s assertion that an agreement is imminent.

“I would like to believe that, but I will believe it when they sign on the dotted line,” Crist said. “Because I’ve heard it before, and every time we hand them the pen, it’s something else that we’ve got to change.”

Maybe they don’t sign because the PTC is not acting in good faith or with the interest of the consumers in mind.

Crist, who called the technology “innovative, forward-thinking and ingenious,” said he is supportive of Uber providing consumers with another transportation option, but it must find a way to do so within the regulatory framework that governs for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough.

“And at this point, I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t think they want to operate legally,” Crist said. “By operating illegally, they don’t have to meet our high standards. They can cut the prices, steal the fares and make more money.”

So he knows that ridesharing is a good technology – he just wants to stifle it with the same protectionist, cartel supporting rules that the PTC has promulgated for years. The Commissioner would be much more believable if the PTC dropped the minimum pricing which has no logical benefit to the public and is hardly a “high standard.” (and note this article about how, at least in areas where it is more prevalent, Uber customers have far lower wait times than cab customers)

Until it drops its unjustifiable requirements, especially minimum pricing, (as far as we can tell, the only justification ever given for minimum pricing is to protect the cab companies See “PTC – Crony Capitalism Hillsborough Style” ), it is clear the PTC is more interested in protecting vested business interests than protecting the public, all rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

Port – More on the Cruise Conundrum

There was another Times article on the issue of growing cruise ships not fitting under the Skyway.  The basic crux of the article was that there is a need to balance between trying to save the cruise industry in this area and protecting the environment – specifically the Bay and Gulf waters for both environmental and economic reasons.

In July, a Florida Department of Transportation study said Tampa Bay’s cruise ship sector — which supports up to 2,000 jobs locally — could disappear in the next 10 to 15 years.

The options for saving that $380 million-a-year economic engine are daunting:

One of the more realistic but still challenging options would be to build a $700 million cruise port on an artificial island off the Pinellas coast, west of the bridge.

But that option would require tens of millions of federal dollars to dredge a new channel in the bay — and dredging is a job for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps of engineers maintains the nation’s navigational waterways, including the 70 miles of channels in Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Port Authority asked the corps to explore whether there would be “federal interest” in improving Tampa Bay’s cruise ship operations.

* * *

The corps issued a report in February that said there could be a “national economic development” benefit to streamlining shipping traffic through the bay. That’s because when cruise ships enter the bay’s channels, no other ships are allowed in.

For safety reasons, the Coast Guard decided that the channels are too narrow to allow cargo ships to pass, overtake or meet cruise ships. Depending on the weather, ships could spend four to 12 hours at sea waiting for cruise ships to enter or exit the bay.

The corps estimated how much a cruise port west of the Skyway would have saved in the past decade if it kept cruise ships out of the bay: $90.6 million. Going forward, the report said a cruise port could save $10.1 million annually in fuel and other costs.

So that sounds a little promising . . . maybe.  Is there a catch?

The corps of engineers report offered a potential site for a Pinellas cruise port: just north of the center of the Skyway, on the seaward side of the bridge.

That location is right on top of the last part of the 400-square-mile Tampa Bay estuary that is untouched — and undeveloped — by human beings. It’s called Lower Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Sierra Club chair Kent Bailey said dredging a channel and building an artificial island on top of the marine ecosystem there, right next to the island beaches of Fort De Soto Park, would hurt the bay and the economic activity that depends on the bay.

“Traditional dredging … creates an environmental dead zone,” he said. “Creating a dead zone in one of the most sensitive and valuable parts of the bay is very shortsighted.”

In July, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council released a report that, for the first time, measured the economic impact of the bay itself.

Planning director Avera Wynne said the study wasn’t meant to address the cruise ship issue. But its conclusion — that the clean, or “healthy,” waters of the bay annually produce $22 billion of GDP for a six-county region — is now part of the conversation.

Well, that is a catch.  What does the Port have to say?

But Tampa Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson said everyone needs to take a breath.

No decision is imminent, he said. The port’s top leader asked everyone to keep an open mind: Time and technology may present solutions that haven’t yet been considered.

“There are numerous other options,” Anderson said. “We don’t have anything in our minds as to what those options are.”

Nothing in mind?  That is a bit odd.

But Anderson, the port’s CEO, said his agency in no rush to make a decision.

He also said he was disappointed that the FDOT report offered a limited number of expensive options that have stirred up a lot of emotions in the bay area.

“There are other options that (the FDOT) didn’t look at,” he said, “and I wish they did.”

Anderson said options that the state did not consider include ideas like floating cruise ship docks. Such a project has been pitched in Grand Cayman as a way of avoiding having to dredge 22.1 million cubic feet of sea floor to build a new cruise port.

That sounds like an option. . . though we have no idea how viable.  A tunnel is also an option, though we do not know the cost, and there is the question of whether to incorporate it in the Skyway or just remove the Skyway.

In all honesty, we are not sure what the solution is. It is all quite a mess – and a constant lesson that when we plan and build, we need to plan and build for future, as well a present, needs.  If the Skyway had just been built a little higher, none of this would have been an issue.  And the longer you wait, the more expensive and/or harmful the lack of forward planning and action will be.

That should be remembered when planning for transportation and transit (and anything really.)

TIA – Proactive

Part of proper planning ahead is being proactive.  Once again, the airport is showing how.  It has a plan for dealing with the future needs and a plan for its execution, including this:

An audit team will monitor every dime spent for a billion-dollar Tampa International Airport master plan, scheduled to begin in earnest this fall.

Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and administration for the airport, told the Hillsborough Aviation Authority Board Thursday that he’d rather audit every step of the way than discover when it’s all complete that something went awry, financially.

“We’ve heard the horror stories about years after a project is complete, there is a tremendous error discovered,” Illustrato said after the meeting. “We’re trying to ensure that doesn’t happen here.”

An in-house audit team, including a new employee the airport plans to hire, will oversee the auditing process, said Laura Tatem, director of internal auditing for the airport. “This is a significantly large project with large monthly expenditures.” This auditing process will “deter mismanagement and improper billing,” she said.

Tatem said her team will issue short reports or memos as the projects progress.

Is it perfect?  No.  Nothing is, but it is an attempt to catch problems quickly and fix them. (Unlike the Hillsborough County homeless housing program. See “Hillsborough County – Watching the Money”).  Just another way the airport is showing how to do major projects responsibly. (Maybe they should give a seminar to the TED group)

— And One More Thing

It also gives us the opportunity to bring this up (and, yes, we know there is work to get express buses to downtown, but what other choices are there right now?):

Costs related to the master plan in 2015 are associated with design work and road work that will be done in preparation for larger projects like the planned People Mover. The new train will transport passengers from the airport to the Westshore business district where it will connect with a new consolidated rental car facility planned for that area and with an intermodal transit station the state plans to construct alongside of Interstate 275.

Everyone knows that the People Mover is so popular with the vast majority of people of all stripes in dealing with the airport.  And that system went in before the airport was anywhere near as busy as it is now and has only been expanded.  And, when the airport expanded, it probably would have been cheaper to go to moving sidewalks (like with the long-term garage) or some other technology, but the airport stuck with the plan (except with the budget garage, which is now, properly, going to replace buses with the People Mover).  And everyone (including FDOT) is behind the further expansion of the People Mover (which is nothing but a slightly modified version of the “19th Century” rail technology and, at best, is a mid 20th Century technology) – even when connecting to the intermodal station quite a distance away and even when it could all be done with buses.

That should tell you something.

Economy – Looking at Exports

This week, there were reports about new figures from the Federal government regarding exports.  First, the headline of the Times article: “Florida trails smaller states as an exporter of goods.”  Then the headline of the Business Journal web post: “Tampa metro scores big on national export report.”   So which is it?

Florida, which is on the brink of becoming the third-most-populous state in the country, ranked seventh overall nationwide, the data showed. It was far behind leaders Texas (where exports supported 1.1 million jobs) and California (800,000 jobs) and also trailed Washington, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Louisiana.

Ok, not proportional to our size, but not so bad, maybe.  Anything more detailed about the Tampa Bay area?

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area was the 43rd largest export market in the United States in 2013.

Merchandise shipments from the metro area totaled $6.7 billion last year, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration.

More than one-third of that total, or $2.4 billion in exports, went to Mexico. Other top export markets for the Tampa metro were Canada, with 8.8 percent of the total exports; Brazil, 5.4 percent; China, 4.4 percent; and the United Kingdom, 2.3 percent.

Computer and electronic products were the top export sector, comprising 38.2 percent of the Tampa metro exports in 2013. Chemicals made up 21.7 percent of the local exports, followed by transportation equipment (5.2 percent), machinery except electrical (5.2 percent), and food and kindred products (4.2 percent).

That sounds good, but the Tampa Bay area is a top 20 metro area, so still punching below our weight, as it were.  Who had more exports than us? Well, here is the Top 50:

  1. Houston; 2. New York; 3. Los Angeles; 4. Seattle; 5. Detroit; 6. Chicago; 7. Miami-Fort Lauderdale; 8. New Orleans; 9. Dallas-Fort Worth; 10. San Francisco-Oakland; 11. Philadelphia; 12. Minneapolis-St. Paul; 13. San Jose; 14. Boston; 15. Cincinnati; 16. San Antonio; 17. San Juan, PR; 18. Atlanta; 19. San Diego; 20. Portland, OR; 21. Washington, DC; 22. El Paso; 23. St. Louis; 24. Greenville, SC; 25. Peoria, IL; 26. Salt Lake City; 27. Phoenix; 28. Memphis; 29. Cleveland; 30. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT; 31. Charlotte; 32. Pittsburgh; 33. Hartford; 34. Indianapolis; 35. Riverside-San Bernardino; 36. Louisville; 37. Milwaukee; 38. Austin; 39. Nashville; 40. Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX; 41. Kansas City; 42. Davenport; 43. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; 44. Providence; 45. Baton Rouge; 46. Baltimore; 47. Sacramento; 48. Columbus, OH; 49. Lake Charles, LA; and 50. Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA

At least Denver and Orlando were not ahead of us, though pretty much every other usual suspect, plus a large number of other places were.  Of course, there is the small matter of a number of inland and much smaller metro areas being ahead or near us.

So is that lagging or scoring high?  You can decide for yourself.

Westshore – Keeping an HQ

Soon there should be a new building in the Westshore area.

Highwoods Properties Inc. plans to build a custom office development for Laser Spine Institute.

Laser Spine signed a long-term lease with Highwoods for a 176,000 square foot headquarters and ambulatory surgery center on four Highwood-owned acres in Avion Park, in Tampa’s Westshore district. Laser Spine will occupy the entirety of the property.

The $56 million project is expected to break ground this fall and be completed in the first quarter of 2016. Once it’s complete, Laser Spine will vacate 60,000 square feet in Harborview Plaza, also in Westshore. Laser Spine said Wednesday it expects to create 100 jobs and increase patient capacity by 25 percent.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That’s fine.  It is good to have expanding HQ’s retained in the area.  The only downside is that Avion Park is entirely unwalkable, but that is Westshore.

West River – Deals Being Done

This week, it was announced that land near Riverfront Park was changing hands.

A company controlled by Tampa’s SOHO Capital this week purchased the Oakhurst I and Oakhurst II projects that stretch for 7 acres along North Boulevard Street, just north of the University of Tampa, from West Cass Street on the south to West Arch Street on the north, and from Boulevard on the east to one block west. The sale price for the two parcels totaled $7.2 million.

“It is going to be managed in a stable way and will be business as usual for current residents at this point,” said Adam Harden, a development executive with Tampa-based SOHO Capital. “This property is a key gateway to downtown, and probably will be important to the future, potential east/west corridor … And this is an important site as you look at University of Tampa as a stabilizing factor on that side of the river. So we’re committed to do what it takes to make this a success.”

* * *

SOHO Capital is a growing player in the downtown and wider Tampa development scene. The company has housing, restaurant and office projects of various sorts from south Tampa towards Pasco County. The company also owns a large parcel almost directly across the Hillsborough River from Oakhurst called The Heights that includes the large “Trolley Barn” brick warehouse structure.

That parcel is directly north of the newly opened Ulele restaurant that opened to huge fanfare, and next door to the new Waterworks Park that the city just opened after a multi-million-dollar investment.

SOHO is redeveloping the warehouse and surrounding neighborhood into a mixed use, commercial, residential and restaurant neighborhood, helping anchor the northern end of the Riverwalk.

* * *

“Nothing should happen as far as the residents are concerned,” he said. “All residents will continue to receive the benefit of affordable housing through their existing lease arrangements.”

Harden of SOHO said he expects a minimum of three or four years before any real changes come to site, though over time, he envisions a dramatic overhaul, particularly in conjunction with the city’s plans. The area would still be a neighborhood, but it would also have apartments, student housing for UT, perhaps some restaurants, plus some “light commercial” uses, such as services for residents.

In other words, nothing is going to happen for a while, which is logical since the developer has the Heights property to redevelop first.  It will be interesting to see what actually happens there – whether it is truly urban and well designed and built or whether it becomes another example of Tampa settling. That will tell us a lot about the future of this new property.

Hopefully, something will happen on this land eventually and before another of the usual cyclical downturns comes and delays things more.  And when something finally is built, it should be quite dense (since, if the river is the center of downtown, this land is now considered to be part of downtown).  There should be no settling.

Rays – Rumblings

There was a column in the Times that says a deal for the Rays to look around Hillsborough and Pinellas may be coming.

If you recall, dreams of a new waterfront home in St. Petersburg were once abandoned by the Tampa Bay Rays, in part because critics said the process was too rushed.

So it was agreed that a more deliberate approach was needed, and community leaders would take the reins. A blue-ribbon committee formed, and the first meeting was scheduled.

That was six years ago this month.

Of course, nothing happened because that blue ribbon committee determined that the majority of the best locations for the Rays stadium, financing aside, were in Hillsborough County and St. Pete was not going to have that. (The other was Gateway).

That was then.  So what now?

An agreement between the Rays and St. Petersburg that would allow the team to begin conversations about future stadium sites seems to be growing near, based on conversations with those involved.

Unlike a deal talked about under former Mayor Bill Foster, the latest agreement may not spell out the financial implications if the Rays leave Tropicana Field before its stadium use agreement ends in 2027. Instead, the team might be allowed to look at potential sites in Hillsborough County with further discussions in St. Pete to follow.

The impetus seems to be a need for clarity. That goes for the Rays, St. Petersburg and Hillsborough.

Clarity is nice, and the column lays out some of the issues:

It’s become clear Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is moving ahead with plans for development in downtown Tampa without a baseball stadium on his collection of properties.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other sites in downtown Tampa that might be suitable, but there is a risk of baseball being squeezed out if options aren’t explored soon.

Likewise, there is potential for redevelopment of the land where Tropicana sits. If it is inevitable that baseball will eventually leave St. Pete, it makes sense to line up a replacement ahead of time.

Jabil Circuit is in the market for a new headquarters, and landing a major high-tech firm on the Tropicana site could transform the western edge of downtown. But Jabil, or any corporation for that matter, can’t wait indefinitely for a decision on the Rays.

Another potential piece of the puzzle is a 60-acre plot of land in Tampa’s West Shore district, where Jefferson High and two other schools sit.

West Shore, along with downtown Tampa, were the two Hillsborough sites identified by that blue-ribbon committee as having the corporate base necessary for a stadium location. If Hillsborough officials decide that land is in play, it creates another potential stadium site that would have to be explored quickly before it is earmarked for something else.

In other words, things are coming to a head (including in possible financing, which is not covered here).   Of course, we have heard a lot of this before.  The bottom line is that, until something happens, nothing has happened.

Reuniting Ybor

It seems that work on fixing up 21st and 22nd Streets in Ybor is about to begin.

Plans to refurbish 21st and 22nd streets will transform them from part of the state’s rumbling truck route into scenic throughways that could actually reunite the long-divided Ybor City historic district.

* * *

For the better part of 18 months, traffic on both roads between Adamo Drive and Hillsborough Avenue will be slow-going, Florida Department of Transportation officials say. Work is slated to begin in early October and for much of the time, traffic on one road or the other will be down to one lane.

Once completed, both roads will be turned over by the state to the City of Tampa in a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly state, said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

At that point, the city can pass an ordinance outlawing commercial truck traffic on the roads, Pardo said.

It is a good idea, and we are glad it is getting done, though 18 months sure seems like a long time.

That reunion, said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp., could make the area more appealing to businesses considering relocating there, including developers seeking to build residential units.

“Our business recruitment and targeted industries haven’t changed,” Pardo said. “It will just be more appealing to locate there.”

Ybor City’s business plan targets residential, hotel, retail and restaurants for that area, Pardo said, as he traveled to meet with a developer this week on possible future residential for the area.

Fine.  We are not sure this change will be an engine for development, but hope it helps.  And how about offices? (You know – live, work, play) Any more details?

A big part of that plan was to create a shady, pedestrian-friendly zone, he said. The sidewalks will be shaded with 63 Washingtonia palms, 15 Medjool date palms, 70 lavender crape myrtles and six royal poinciana trees.

Ok. Stop right there.  Palm trees are nice.  They are iconic for sunny, warm places.  They are pretty.  One thing they are definitely not, though, is good for providing shade.  We understand that their roots may not mess with sidewalks like actual shade trees, but putting palm trees is not creating a shady zone. (And crape myrtles, while also pretty and providing some shade, will drop flowers everywhere, including on the pedestrians.) Of course, the City’s issues with real shade trees and palm obsession in Ybor is not new.

So, overall, the plan is not bad, but drop the palms in favor of real shade trees, please.

List of the Week, Plus

This week we have a combination item/list(s).  First, the plus . . .

An article in the Tribune featured a Wallethub.com list of the best places to retire.

Even as Mayor Bob Buckhorn tries to shift the city’s economy toward tech-savvy young people, Tampa is offering older folks more reasons to come here than any big city in America, a new study says.

The city ranks No. 1 among the nation’s 150 largest on 2014’s “Best and Worst Places to Retire” from the financial social media site Wallethub.com.

Rounding out the Top 5 are Sunbelt cities Grand Prairie, Texas, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Scottsdale, Arizona.

At the bottom of the list are urban giants Providence, Rhode Island, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.

Cities are the focus of the study, not larger metropolitan areas. Tampa, with about 353,000 people, accounts for about 27 percent of Hillsborough County’s 1.29 million people.

Wallethub uses five criteria in arriving at its rankings, four of them given a weight of five points — Affordability, Activities, Quality of Life and Health Care — and one, Jobs, weighted two points.

Tampa isn’t tops in any one of the five categories but the city ranks No. 3 in Activities and No. 9 in Affordability. It’s tied with St. Petersburg in the Affordability ranking.

You can find the full list and methodology here. As the article notes:

But in his first term, Mayor Buckhorn has touted the growing appeal of Tampa — especially the downtown area — as a place for young professionals to live, work and play.

At a July conference in Los Angeles on how cities are reinventing themselves, Buckhorn hold a national audience he’s trying to shift the city’s “economic DNA” away from one driven by housing construction toward one driven by innovation and tech-savvy young people.

So, is there progress on that front?  Coincidentally, this week citylab.com had an article in which they crunched the numbers on the 20 best job markets for new college grads.

With the help of the economic and labor market data firm EMSI, we ranked America’s 100 largest metros based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures on full-time regular employment for some 320 occupations that require post-secondary education, including bachelors’, masters’ and doctoral degrees, as well as more specialized training. These jobs, in fields like nursing, engineering, business, media, and education, pay an average of $34.28 an hour, or $71,300 a year. Across the United States as a whole, 2.2 million such jobs were created from 2010 and 2014, of which the 100 largest metros accounted for 1.7 million, roughly eight in 10.

The rankings are based on five key factors:

So what did they find?

Coming in first was San Francisco, followed by San Jose, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, Houston, Raleigh, LA, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Des Moines, San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, and Columbus (OH).  Nary a Florida locale.

(The article provides more detailed information for those who are interested.)

Sadly, the list is so predictable, it is almost boring, as is our exclusion from it. (Though, every now and then we show up on lists.)

At some point it should be clear to all those involved (and that includes far more people than the Mayor – unlike many elected officials, at least he is out there consistently identifying the issue) that the incremental, sputtering approach this area has taken and, for the most part, is taking to our issues is not sufficient.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    September 5, 2014 9:04 PM

    In Re: PTC: Per Commissioner Victor Crist’s letter to the Editor on May 22, 2014, he states: “PTC is a free-standing, independent authority…” but he goes on to state: “Hillsborough County provides legal counsel, finance management and other technical support on an as-needed basis.” If PTC is independent of the government, i.e. self-supporting from fees collected, why is Hillsborough County providing any support? Does the PTC reimburse Hillsborough for the services provided? If the services are not reimbursed, why not? Does the “other technical support” include all the advertising on billboards and newspapers warning against ride-share companies? Are the attorneys for Hillsborough County providing legal services for the PTC to fight against the ride-share companies? Does that mean the citizens of Hillsborough County are paying directly or indirectly legal fees to support one type of business against another? “Today the concerns of outside special interests are unfounded”. Commissioner Crist is correct in that aspect. The special interests being protected are those already here and being protected the PTC.

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