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Roundup 10-17-2014

October 17, 2014

USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun

This week, there was more on the push to put the USF med school in downtown.  While the explanation of the real plan and how it would work for the entire med school ecosystem was pretty thin, there were statements, like that it

is a game-changer for the University of South Florida and the city of Tampa and will attract industry leaders and medical experts from around the world. . . [and that they will make it] a national center for transforming medical education and create a hub for biomedical research in the downtown area.

Oh, wait, that was about CAMLS.  About which:

Officials say that tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, radiology technicians, anesthesiologists, residents, emergency medical personnel and others who require medical training are expected to travel to Tampa to visit the center. As with many economic forecasts, the numbers aren’t precise. In January of 2011, when dirt was first broken, a story on USF Health’s website reported “some 60,000 health care professionals are expected to visit Tampa each year.” That figure has been readjusted down to 30,000 annually (with as many as 10,000 of those professionals coming from the Bay area), but according to figures from USF, CAMLS will still have a $5.7 million impact on the Tampa Bay economy.

* * *

Although CAMLS hasn’t been open for a full month yet, everyone associated with it expects it to grow. Deborah Sutherland says in fact that Trammell Crow and Colliers Arnold are developing the lot across the street from CAMLS for a hotel and mixed use retail area, which could also house more of the office components of the current structure. But don’t call it “CAMLS II,” since that’s what officials are calling a possible project in the works in Panama.

Of course, that part about the complex across the street did not happen because of lack of demand, and the person who led that effort now works with the Lightning owner’s development group.

Here is the info on the med school:

”It will have a tremendous impact . . . It will be a magnet for people to come to downtown.”

Making the argument for it:

Civic leaders also hope [it] will help the convention center and hotel, . . . performing arts center and a marketplace and hotel already on Harbour Island. The latter two have so far not been successful.

Whoops, that was the aquarium in 1989.

And about the convention center, which seems to always need help (including from the Lightning owner’s planned hotel), when it was built  around 1990, there were claims that it would allow Tampa to host the biggest conventions, including political conventions.  There was a political convention, but only after there was an arena built nearby to actually host the event.

And let’s go back to CAMLS for a minute:

To much of the public, the details of what takes place at CAMLS have taken a back seat to its potential as an economic driver for the Tampa Bay area. During the Tampa mayoral campaign in the winter of 2011, the facility shared center stage with high-speed rail as a touted instrument for economic renaissance.

Indeed, that was how it was sold, but not how it functioned.  It is a good facility, but not the driver of an economic renaissance.

The point is this – we are not opposed to the convention center, the aquarium, CAMLS or potentially moving the USF med school.  Each one is a potential element in building a solid downtown.  However, each one was sold as being the solution to downtown’s issues.  They were not (though the final consensus about that usually came years after the hype).  The convention center lacked (and apparently lacks) enough hotel rooms nearby  and is too small for the largest conventions (and cannot readily be expanded).  The aquarium (which we love for a number of reasons but view realistically) sadly has underperformed, though it has gotten better. (see here and here) And it has many competitors, including the one that will be built in Clearwater.   CAMLS may have been cutting edge when built, but it was obvious that other facilities would be built in other locations to compete with it.  And none of it was part of a comprehensive plan to make them work well together.

It is true that a city is built in steps.  Each step should add to the whole, eventually making it a thriving, enjoyable place.  We get that the idea to move the USF med school is part of that – which is why we do not reject the idea out of hand. (In fact, we like the idea provided the relevant questions have proper answers.)  However, if it shows anything, the history of downtown efforts in Tampa shows that when these steps are executed without a real plan – not a 4 or 8 year plan – but a real, long term plan, they fall short and you should not believe the hype.

Frankly, the USF med school idea, while looking like it is a done deal, also looks like it was spur of the moment idea.  There is as yet no evidence that it is well thought out.  There is no public explanation of how it will work and what will happen to the related, existing institutions. That is why we keep saying the case needs to be made, though we doubt it will be because:

Buckhorn said Tuesday that local players, including top administrators and trustees at USF, have “lined up” behind the idea of putting the medical school not only downtown but on Vinik’s property.

“We are focused on that downtown site, as I think everyone else is, too,” Buckhorn said.

Details — should USF lease or buy? What other parts of USF Health might come, too? How big would the building be? — are “to be worked out between Jeff and Judy,” the mayor said, “but I think that’s eminently doable.”

So they are on board with what exactly? It does not matter because we are told they are on board.  Why discuss it?  (The “local players” were on board with the other projects discussed in this segment, too. That did not make the excessive predictions verify.)

We are all for the Lightning owner’s outlined project concept.  We think it can really change downtown, assuming the actual product resembles what is advertised.  If it is built, we plan on enjoying it.  We get why he wants the USF med school as part of his project, and we get why he did this:

Jeff Vinik wants the University of South Florida to build a new medical school on his downtown property so badly that he’s willing to give the school an acre of his land to seal the deal.

* * *

The land that Vinik has proposed donating to USF is “about an acre,” Freeman said, at the corner of Channelside Drive and S Meridian Avenue, across the street from an arena parking lot Vinik owns next to the Tampa Bay History Center.

That is both a nice move and also a private business decision to benefit his project.  That’s fine. Our concern has nothing to do with that (though that choice of specific lot seems a bit odd).

Our concern is crystalized in this comment on downtown Tampa from 1985 coverage of the opening of Harbour Island:

The overall development of downtown Tampa is just as important to Smith as Harbour Island.

He was one of the original members of the Tampa Downtown Development Authority and was its chairman from 1978 through 1980 during the time after leaving the sports authority and joining Harbour Island Inc.

Smith said trips were arranged to other cities for businessmen, who paid their own way, so they could see what was going on in other areas.

“They had to believe that it could happen here,“ he said.

“The one thing that is going for us is that Tampa was a late bloomer. No one had a chance to mess it up before its time came. I think we have benefited from other people`s mistakes.“

Sound familiar?

The problem is that the downtown med school idea is being sold solely on the basis of predictions of economic development, and, as demonstrated above, we have seen that movie before and it did not end that well (like this).  If everything we had been told over the years by local officials had been true, downtown would not need the USF med school as an activity center in the first place (and the Tampa Bay area would be a “usual suspect” on the List of the Week). Such rhetoric should not be relevant to the decision.

The threshold question should be whether moving is the best thing for the USF med school and associated institutions.  It may or may not be, but that has not been part of the discussion.

We don’t care about the hype.  Give us the details of the full plan and why it is best for USF and the entire biomed ecosystem of the Bay area.

In other words, make the case.

Economic Development/Downtown – Long Live the CRA

This week, the County Commission approved extending the CRAs.

The deal comes via the renewal of a city-county agreement authorizing Tampa’s community redevelopment areas, or CRAs, and also must be approved by the City Council.

Tampa has CRAs in seven parts of the city, including downtown, the Channel District, Ybor City and East Tampa. Along with extending the life of several CRAs, commissioners agreed to the creation of an eighth in West Tampa.

The decision was not controversial. Commissioners described the CRAs as a targeted way to steer property taxes generated by growth back into a select list of areas where redevelopment is a priority.

* * *

Under an agreement that goes back to the 1980s, the county agreed to turn over 100 percent of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds to the city for use on CRA projects.

As proposed, however, the downtown CRA would be extended through 2043, but the county’s total contribution to future CRA projects would be capped at no more than $50 million.

Not only that, but that money would be committed only after city and county officials entered into a separate redevelopment project agreement, which would be negotiated between now and next May.

The project agreement would spell out the agreed-upon uses for the money. If there was no agreement reached, the county would not contribute any of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds.

That’s all fine with us.  Like we said last week, it is not clear that the County would use the money particularly well.

CRA’s have their uses.  The bottom line is that they should not be judged when they are authorized, they should be judged by the outcome of the projects they fund.  Time will tell.

Economic Development – Building Something

There was news about construction rebounding in Tampa.

The last 12 months have been a banner year for construction in Tampa, with builders pulling permits for more than $2 billion in projects.

That’s a record, city officials said Thursday, that surpasses the previous high mark of nearly $1.8 billion worth of permits issued in permits during 2007 at the height of the real estate bubble.

For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the numbers were more encouraging than surprising.

“We knew we were trending this way,” Buckhorn said from Pittsburgh, which he was touring with members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “What’s exciting for us is that we have gotten to this point this quickly, which tells me that we are really accelerating out of the recession.”

When it comes to the total number of permits issued, the total for fiscal year 2014, which ended on Sept. 30, was 34,500. That’s below the 39,066 from 2007.

Still, Buckhorn said the upward trends in both the numbers of permits and total values of residential and commercial projects show that Tampa is growing. The pace of the growth, he said, convinces him that changes he’s made to make City Hall’s permitting faster, more efficient and user-friendly have paid off.

Well, that is good, but the article did not really give useful information about how good.  Because costs are subject to inflation and a change in the value of a dollar, rather than looking at plain dollars, it is better to look at constant dollars.  Luckily, the Federal government has this handy website to help you look at inflation. If you plug in $2000 in 2014 dollars (you can’t do billions), it says that is about $1740 in 2007 dollars.  So, adding a few zeros, it can be determined that building permit values are around the peak.  Whether it is a record or not is not material. (The article was sufficiently vague so that exact comparisons cannot be made.)

The streamlined process may have helped (and we like the Accela website), but an improving national economy probably did more.  There is likely much pent up demand being met and, if the Lightning owner moves forward, that value should still go much higher.

The article makes the comparison with past performance in Tampa.  The other relevant comparison – in many ways far more relevant – is with other cities.  It is hard to get overall numbers for specific cities, but we did find that Denver had $1.8 billion in projects under construction in downtown alone in 2013.   Whether that is building permits or not is unclear.

We also found this handy census bureau website that provides information about “Annual New Privately-Owned Residential Building Permits” for cities.  The following chart has numbers from the website for 2013 residential permits (note: the website had only numbers for Mecklenburg County, not the city of Charlotte)

Austin $1,255,616,970
Charlotte-Mecklenburg County $1,128,299,563
Denver $822,919,653
Nashville $640,751,000
Orlando $421,733,511
Portland (OR) $467,259,584
Raleigh $525,894,535
Tampa $337,936,110


Conclude from that what you will.

Economic Development – A Look at Reality

We were gratified to see a recent column in the Times that, as we have done many times, looked at per capita metro area GDP numbers.

At first glance, Tampa Bay’s $115 billion gross domestic product, a measure of this metro area’s economic output of goods and services last year, seems quite respectable, growing 2.3 percent in 2013. After all, the nation’s 300-plus metro areas combined averaged just 1.7 percent growth.

* * *

It’s only when we take a closer look that the cracks in this metro area’s GDP start to show.

Measured per person, Tampa Bay’s GDP badly lags many key metro areas that routinely are considered direct competitors or have similar GDP numbers.

* * *

Also, the pace of Tampa Bay’s GDP isn’t improving much over time. Over a dozen years, from 2001 to 2013, Tampa Bay’s GDP per person rose a mere 3.1 percent. (Notably, Orlando’s per-person GDP actually fell 4 percent in that same period but still remains bigger than Tampa Bay’s.) Meanwhile, Indianapolis enjoyed a 5.2 percent bump, and Cleveland soared by 12 percent in the same period.

These are not subtle differences. They represent startling gaps in the quality of regional economic output.

As we have noted before, it is startling, as is the lack of broad discussion of this reality over the years. The column then notes the low wages in the area and looks at causes of our poor performance:

Why does this metro area suffer such weak numbers? Here are five likely reasons.

  1. The recent obsession with reporting record tourism numbers feels good in these harder times but also reminds us that the jobs being created in bulk — and that helped drive down the unemployment rate — tend to be lower-wage opportunities.

  2. The severity of Florida’s recession discouraged much of the earlier economic development efforts to pursue higher-wage jobs in manufacturing and biotech. The once-common pitch by economic leaders describing Florida tourism and agriculture as the state’s industries of yesterday is rarely heard these days.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and Tampa Bay officials have done little to revive policies to attract higher-wage, higher-skill jobs at a time when any job is still considered a plus — especially in an election year.

  4. Tampa Bay’s tri-city metro structure — split among Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — remains inefficient and tends to impede larger-scale economic initiatives that could benefit the region as a whole.

  5. While this metro area remains economically diverse, it boasts few significant corporate headquarters. Only three of Florida’s 14 Fortune 500 companies are based in the Tampa Bay metro area and are split among the three larger cities. None of the three ranks among the Fortune 100, and none shows a propensity to serve as significant regional leaders in the economy.

We have a few issues with this list, but the overall themes are about right. The column concludes:

Given such dour trends, Tampa Bay may want to remove the rose-colored glasses long enough to rethink how to get back in the economic game. It’s a game that’s certainly not going to get any easier in the years to come.

As regular readers know, that has long been a Tampasphere theme, and we could not agree more.  Far too often reality is drowned out by all the hype.  The more people who are discussing these realities, the more likely we will get some solutions – which is the ultimate goal.

PTC – They Just Don’t Get It

After, thankfully taking a week or so off of talking about the PTC, it is back.

Regulators who oversee Hillsborough County’s for-hire vehicles want to create a countywide transportation smartphone app similar to ones used by Uber and Lyft — only without including those ride-share companies in it.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Public Transportation Commission heard pitches from two companies proposing the agency get its own app featuring legal transportation options — such as licensed taxi and limo companies and buses — rather than the ride-share services currently operating here against the rules.

“We’ve developed an app that does everything theirs do, except it complies with the law,” said Tom Smith, who presented an app nearly identical to Uber’s called Click-a-Ride.

Commission executive director Kyle Cockream said he would put together a draft of a request for proposals from companies interested in creating the app, which he will present at the next board meeting. 

Of course, that misses the point.  It is not just the app.  It is the service, the cost, the price fixing, the lack of competition, etc.  And why is the PTC making an app?  Is it in competition with Uber and Lyft or regulating them?  Shouldn’t the cab companies develop their own app or is the PTC now their agent?

Meanwhile, there was a little hubbub about a recent transportation confab that included rideshare companies.  One cab owner (the same that worked to eliminate the independent, free electric shuttles downtown) sent a letter complaining.

Minardi concludes his letter by stating, “Simply put, you have leveraged public monies to support illegal business operations, validated breaking the law in Hillsborough County, and called into question the ethics of elected officials to support it. I believe you should publicly apologize to Commissioner Sharpe and Senator Jeff Brandes and retract your support of Uber and Lyft until they are in full compliance with the law.”

But Brandes says the only who should be apologizing are the regulators who are enforcing a system that he says no longer makes sense in 2014.

“I don’t see the point of the letter,” he said. “It just shows how these types of old-line industries are trying to keep competition out. They don’t want to compete on a level playing field.”

Pretty much.

But Minardi says when the PTC attempted to cut the minimum fares and minimum times over the summer, neither Lyft nor Uber were interested in that compromise. And regarding those companies’ insurance and background check policies that have come under severe scrutiny in jurisdictions across the country, Menardi says, “Whether you agree with the law or not, you follow it.”

Modifying price controls is not the same as eliminating price controls.  They should not have to compromise.  The PTC’s protectionist position is the problem.

Brandes says that there should no longer be any minimum fares, minimum times to ride in a vehicle and no caps on licenses to own or run a cab in Hillsborough County. “If the argument is that they feel there’s an unfair playing field, well, then let’s make the playing field level, and let them compete. Ultimately, consumers will decide.”


Instead, now the PTC wants to subsidize cab company apps, which shows the problem with the PTC once again.  It does not represent the public.  And, even though we have no problem with having background checks (we encourage it, actually), until the PTC eliminates minimum prices and other policies that favor the cab companies over competition and over the consumer, it is very hard to take what it says seriously.

Built Environment – Hyde Park Forward to the Past

There was news that Hyde Park Village might be getting renovated.

WS has not yet formally filed its plans to the city, and the conceptual renderings will likely change as they go through the public vetting process, Masiello said. He said it was too soon to attach a cost to the renovations. But so far, he said, the reaction from the surrounding neighborhoods has been positive.

The mostly vacant, 35,000-square-foot H building — across Snow Avenue from Piquant Epicure & Cuisine — would be demolished and rebuilt, Masiello said. Plans now call for a one- to two-story building in its place, possibly with a rooftop bar or restaurant. Snow Avenue will be widened, and on-street parking will be added. WS also plans to repair sidewalks and rework some of the public space in the village, to make it more enticing to pedestrians.

The renovations to the remaining buildings will focus on “freshening the facades” to make storefronts more visible, Masiello said. Retailers and restaurants will be able to remain open during that construction, he said.

There is nothing wrong with that.  You can check the article for renderings.

So what is the goal?

The redevelopment of Hyde Park Village could transform the property into the kind of signature urban district that attracts people from well outside of Tampa’s city limits.

WS Development, which has owned the property for just more than a year, shared its early-stage plans with the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Tuesday. The plans will likely change as WS goes through the public process — WS will file plans with the city in the next one to two months — but the overarching theme is a pedestrian-friendly district with highly visible storefronts.

If brought to fruition, those plans could attract cutting-edge retail, dining and entertainment concepts and become a regional shopping destination — think the Gulch in Nashville or Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood. Those types of neighborhoods help build a sense of place in a city and attract a Millennial workforce, thought to prefer urban environments and local shops and restaurants.

And there is the irony.  When it was first built, that was exactly what Hyde Park Village was. The problem is that the City then settled and allowed all sorts of poor development nearby on Swann that did not take advantage of what the original complex offered – which was a core of an urban walking neighborhood around which to build, connect down Swann to Howard and create a full district.  Instead, you got the Kash and Karry with its massive, street facing parking lot, some random playing fields with no streetscaping, and the Post apartments that belong in an exurb (though, in fairness to Post, they later built some pretty good projects in other places). That cut Hyde Park Village off from what was happening on Howard, which, in many cases, was no better design-wise but was contiguous and now is, at least partially, getting filled in.  The Hyde Park Village story just shows how easy it is for the City to settle its way out of quality.

We wish the owners luck, and we hope the City stops settling and starts actually planning (especially in relatively open areas like much of the land north of Kennedy closer in to downtown).

USF – Business Means Business

Besides the med school, there was other news about USF.

On Friday morning, USF officials unveiled the business school’s new name — the Muma College of Business — and announced that the couple, married now for decades, had donated $25 million. The money is part of USF’s ongoing “Unstoppable” campaign to raise $1 billion.

The announcement was made during an event in the rotunda of the College of Business building on USF’s main campus before a room full of faculty, staff and students.

“It’s a landmark day in the history of the University of South Florida and the College of Business,” USF President Judy Genshaft said. “It’s very unusual and special for a university founded in 1956 to receive this kind of gift.”

The donation brings to $41.2 million the total the Mumas have given to USF, making them the largest individual donors in the university’s history. Their name already was attached to the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center, home of the Bulls’ men’s and women’s hoops programs since it opened in 2011.

The gift comes a little over a month after USF Saint Petersburg received a $10 million gift from entrepreneur Kate Tiedemann and named its College of Business after her.

Nothing to say but “Great,” and “Thank you.”

Downtown – The Search for Groceries

There was an article in the Tribune about efforts to get a downtown grocery store.  It noted the attempt to get Wal-Mart at Encore, which the housing authority rightly rejected.  It also noted that the Lightning owner’s project might include a grocery store, though that project is, we have been told, a few years away.  As noted in the article:

Downtown could use a major grocery store.


Innovation, at Least Locally

We ran across something interesting in Creative Loafing. First, the issue:

St. Petersburg independent, non-corporate commerce has been growing by leaps and bounds, but Tampa has a long way to catch up to the city across the bay. Many blame the fact that commercial spaces downtown and in Ybor are owned by a handful of landlords who won’t let go until they can score a big return on their investment from a real estate developer.

“If you’re able to find it, so much money has to be spent on the building to make it work, and most of the time it doesn’t have enough parking,” laments artist and  Mishou Sanchez.

Indeed.  So what do you do about it:

Sanchez’s team at Mercado has developed a plan that would ostensibly provide much needed affordable space on a 3.25-acre piece of land by Nebraska and Columbus avenues, land owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

FDOT told Sanchez that it’s willing to lease it to Mercado for a reasonable rate, with the condition it’s a limited land lease and the buildings are non-permanent.

So, what would be temporary structures with a repurpose-ful, hip cachet? Shipping containers.

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

You can see their website here.

This is not a new idea (though we are not sure it has been used here, and we doubt it, or anything else really, is “hip”).   You can see an example here.

It could work, though we are not sure about the traffic at that location, but why not try it?

Snob City

This week both papers ran articles on the Travel  & Leisure list of snobbiest cities. (see here and here)  The list is a bit tongue-in-cheek as in “you have the right to be a snob,” listing Tampa as #5 and praising the Epicurean, Bayshore and Howard. (At least tt neglected the article where mayor(s) past and present discuss “high society” and “posers.” [ed. note: the link in this paranthetical was oringinally incorrect.  It has been fixed.)

In any event, the Tribune article had this:

The Big Apricot is five spaces behind the snobbiest city, the Big Apple. Tampa ranks between Boston and Dallas on the list.

The Big what?  It’s Big Guava, not Big Apricot.  The “Big Apricot” is the nickname of the fictional Metropolis in Superman comics.

C’mon, man.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is a follow-up to the best beer cities poll in USA Today.

Coming in first was Grand Rapids, MI; followed by Tampa; Asheville; Bend, OR; Fort Collins, CO; San Diego; Portland, ME; Portland, OR; Denver; and Burlington, VT.

Ein Prosit

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is’s 2014′s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for Your Wallet. The methodology is here.  They rank 150 cities, so we will stick to the top 43, because Tampa came in 43rd.

First is Orlando; followed by Grand Rapids; Madison; Boise City; Cincinnati; Reno; New Orleans; Austin; Lexington-Fayette, KY; Pittsburgh; Huntington Beach, CA; Modesto, CA; Brownsville; Santa Ana, CA; San Francisco; Denver; Spokane; Oakland; Salt Lake City; Fort Lauderdale; Garden Grove, CA; Springfield, MO; Des Moines; Worcester, MA; Providence; Rochester, NY; Seattle; Glendale, CA; Albuquerque; North Las Vegas; Tacoma; Milwaukee; Atlanta; Tempe; Fort Wayne; Omaha; Cape Coral; Sacramento; Jersey City; Tucson; Sioux Falls; Oceanside, CA; and Tampa.

Other major Florida cities: Miami is 46; Hialeah is 49; St. Pete is 65; Tallahassee is 73; and Jacksonville is 131.

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