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Roundup 12-5-2014

December 5, 2014

USF Med School – What Did You Expect?

To no one’s surprise:

The USF board of Trustees on Thursday approved a downtown location for the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute in a unanimous vote.


The next step for USF comes in January: the university must ask for state funding from the Florida Board of Governors it meets Jan. 21-22 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

The total cost of the new medical tower was estimated to be between $150 million and $163 million. USF believes it has up to $130 million already lined up, including state funding, so the university would need to raise more money from other sources.

We assume they will eventually get it.

And there were the beginnings of an idea for a plan for the future of the institutions around the main campus revealed in a Tribune editorial:

School officials say moving the medical school would make space available that could accommodate a major expansion of the university’s neuroscience research. It also would allow expansion of the College of Nursing, which is important considering the state is expected to experience a shortfall of 50,000 nurses in the coming years.

The downtown project also would free up space that could allow the construction of a joint research building with Moffitt Cancer Center and a new Department of Bioengineering facility.

It also would allow the university to give new focus to microbiology, biodefense and infectious disease, expanding both clinical work and research.

Setting aside that at one point the nursing school was to move, but now apparently it won’t (or will it), that is the beginning of a concept of a plan.  On the other hand, it raises a simple question: if the downtown med school is supposed to be a big draw for all these researchers and companies in biomed and make us a hub, who is going to do all that stuff on the main campus and if all this research is going on the main campus, what will be drawn downtown?

In any event, as we have said from the beginning (in addition to this being a done deal and it is over hyped), we get that the Lightning owner wants an anchor for his project (that is only good business), and we have no problem with that. (Apparently, his bigger plan will be unveiled on December 17.)  And we like the idea of the med school move if there is a real plan (though not having an adjacent hospital is a problem) – but we have not seen a real plan.

Once again, it is not the Lightning owner’s job to have a plan for USF and affiliate institutions. It is the public officials’ job to do it and not do this (note that the Times edited the linked article to remove this quote – something they often do with hype-tastic quotes.  No matter, we saved a copy of the original):

“We would act as an economic development anchor for Tampa,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical school, “for one of the biggest urban projects in the history of this country.”

Yes, it would be an anchor.  As for being one of the “biggest urban projects in the history of the county,” there are bigger projects both being built and planned in Miami right now  (see subsection “– Aside: So What Does a Billion Dollars Get You These Days?”) not to mention this in New York and a bunch of others.  It is fine to say the Lightning owner’s project is a major project and could really change downtown Tampa, but we need to deal in facts.  (Much more of that and it will be difficult to take other statements, like potential ideas for how to deal with the main campus and their effects, seriously.)

Regardless, the move is probably going to happen,  The bottom line is this: if it turns out as hyped, great.  But if it doesn’t, don’t be surprised. And in any event, the real driver of the development in that area of downtown is the Lightning owner (with his bigger project and push for a corporate HQ) and how much and in what he decides to invest, not the med school or public officials.

Economic Development – The Time Is Now (As It Has Been For a While)

Those who watch the Daily Show know there is a running joke that whenever the show takes a week off, something big happens.  Last week, we felt the same way about economic development news.

— Warm, Low Tax Area Seeks Lonely, Cold, Overtaxed Corporation for Long Term Relationship

As is widely reported, this area (and Tampa specifically) is seeking out a major corporate HQ, preferably for downtown.  Recently, there was a presentation on how CEO’s see us:

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has made the relocation of a major brand name headquarters to Tampa Bay a big priority.

Perception of the region from CEOs with no connection to the market and CEOs that run local operations of companies based elsewhere has changed dramatically for the better, new research from San Diego-based Barry Quarles and his firm, Market Enhancement Group, shows.

He briefed EDC investors in person last week about the data.

“As we create websites and brochures and take people to dinner and lunch we know a little more about what is going in their head and how they view this marketplace,” said EDC CEO Rick Homans. The data follows on a similar set of questions asked in 2002, so it is comparison-rich.

Twelve years ago, the high cost of doing business here was a strong negative. Now, the area has a better rap, and even more critical is a pro-business attitude of local and state public leadership. That, combined with an absence of unnecessary rules and regulations and a lack of bureaucratic interference, dominated the perceived advantages of doing business here.

Tampa is rated No. 1 in areas where other markets are struggling, Quarles said, such as cost of living and expensive government.

Well, that is good.  Being business friendly is important, if a bit ambiguous.

Nor does it hurt that people like the Lightning owner are investing in the area. (Apparently, his project has already drawn interest.) Often times, money likes to follow money.  Yet,

But the consultant also shared executive perceptions that show this area has some gaping holes to address.

“Transportation is your greatest vulnerability,” warned Quarles, who heads Market Enhancement Group. It’s the latest reminder that the mass transit referendums rejected earlier this month in Pinellas and Polk counties will need to be reconsidered to make them more appealing to tax-wary area voters.

Well, that is no surprise – and it is a gaping hole, especially to attract up and coming talent who want that urban environment.

Other than that, the reports did not really list any other findings about perceptions.  This area is cheap and easy to get business done (which really has been the case, even if not always perceived as such, for a long time.  And if it was so hard to do business twelve years ago, why wasn’t that reported?  Really, the mayor back in 2003 was hardly anti-business.  And it does not seem from these articles from 1999 and 2000 that it was hard to do business in the area.  Maybe the big change is not in local government.)  On the other hand, transportation is a mess and unlikely to get better soon. Moreover, there is no discussion about schools, amenities, talent pool, etc.

In other words, we are not sure we learned much.  Then there was this:

As much as 13 percent of the respondents are very likely to move to establish new headquarters in the next three years. Another 15 percent are somewhat likely. They are heavily concentrated in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

So, yes, there is opportunity out there –especially, unsurprisingly, in colder states.  Of course, that opportunity has been there for years.  It is well past time to take real advantage of it.

— 20 Years On

Then again, not taking advantage also has been the case for a long time, so why hasn’t it happened?

There was some discussion, if tangential, in the last few weeks. It all started with a column in the Times a few weeks back about the Tampa Bay Partnership about its 20 year anniversary.

The Tampa Bay Partnership has had moments to shine and reasons to hide in two decades. In recent years there’s a growing drumbeat that the partnership mission has become muddied and its leaders turned gun-shy — even as other area economic development groups boast of newfound “swagger,” pursue outsized ambitions and deliver concrete results for the economic community.

The partnership’s membership, which has ballooned to eight counties from Sarasota to Citrus to Polk, has grown unwieldy and fractured. Its bold plan to webcast days of live, pro-region business interviews under the “Front Row Tampa Bay” name during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa proved expensive, reached small audiences and generated little value.

The group’s recent priority to raise money and support for mass transit referendums — from Hillsborough’s first try in 2010 to this month’s Greenlight Pinellas and a similar initiative in Polk County — all ended with voters delivering crushing defeats.

Setting aside that the same columnist praised “Front Row Tampa Bay” back in 2012.  (Whether that is part of the long-standing Tampa Bay tendency to overplay “achievements” before determining that they are not actually achieving much – something that plagues us politically and otherwise and is part of the reason things have not happened – or just a change a heart, you can decide.), this is not the first time criticism has arisen, just the most pointed expression of it.  Others have said the same things behind the scenes.  We will summarize this quote as “the main regional economic development organization has underperformed.”

The column continued:

That may be why a call for change at the top is growing. Few business leaders sense the partnership’s marketing message, whatever it may be these days, makes Tampa Bay stand out in a competitive crowd of aspiring metro areas. Rogel counters that it’s hard to make a big noise with a small marketing budget.

Fueling the debate is the strong perception that a new crop of leaders recently recruited to run major area economic development groups or key businesses — namely Joe Lopano at Tampa International Airport, Rick Homans at Tampa/Hillsborough’s Economic Development Corp., Santiago Corrada at Visit Tampa Bay and Paul Anderson at Port Tampa Bay — has delivered boffo results with new international flights, a boom in company relocations, record tourist visits and strong shipping numbers.

While one can weigh the accomplishments of the different leaders listed above in different ways, the point is valid (especially for the airport).  There has been new blood that has changed the approach locally – in fact, especially with the airport, the new blood has pushed a more complacent local establishment to raise its ambition and game – which is all good.

One thing that has not happened in the last 20 years is that a major HQ has not moved to this area.  Another thing that has not happened is that this area has not become a hub of technology or other high wages jobs.  And, of course, transportation has not really been addressed (while other major metros in the state have moved forward).  Moreover, planning is still questionable.

None of this is exclusively the fault of the Tampa Bay Partnership or its leadership. Some of it has nothing to do with the Partnership. (For instance, it should not have taken 20 years to get the political officials to actually consider acting regionally, which they still do only intermittently.  And planning is still a mess.)  On the other hand, the Partnership has held itself out as an organization that wants to deal with (actually lead on) these issues, so the failure to achieve them is also a failure of the Partnership to achieve its goals.

Yes, we are more regional, especially in tone, though not nearly regional enough in fact. (Cooperation on the airport expansion is a start, as is the trade mission to Chile this week.   Yet, has anyone seen a regional transportation plan other than the completely ignored TBARTA ideas or even a real proposal to for cross-Bay transit?) Yes, we have grown and changed, but there is really no question we are still followers, not creators, of economic development and city-building fashion. We can (and should) do much better.  Some of that has to do with organizations like the Partnership, but much is more about local (especially elected) officials.

In the event, the aforementioned CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership then resigned.

Stuart Rogel, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, is stepping down after 20 years at the helm of the multicounty economic development and advocacy group.

Partnership chairman Brian Lamb said chief operating officer John Schueler will assume day-to-day activities as needed while a national search is launched to identify a new CEO.

In revealing his plans Wednesday, Rogel, 60, insisted he was under no pressure to leave. Rather, he said he felt the time was right to part ways, both for his family and for the partnership. “I had a great run. Loved every minute of it,” he said in an interview. “But who the heck stays anywhere for 21 years?”

The partnership, which was created by local business leaders in 1994 to market Tampa Bay as a single metro region, had been on the losing end of a number of recent campaigns, including mass transit initiatives in Pinellas and Polk counties.

The reason for his resigning is not relevant. What is relevant is what will happen now.  Regardless of past performance, the change in leadership is an opportunity to refine the approach for the present circumstances and take advantage of the new blood.

Lamb, who runs Fifth Third Bank’s bay area operation, said Rogel also leaves the partnership in strong financial shape. He credited the outgoing CEO with a string of successes, including helping to attract notable companies to the area, establishing relationships with site selection experts around the country, marketing the area as a prime business destination, and taking on difficult regional challenges such as transportation and water.

The partnership, Lamb said, will remain focused on several key initiatives: marketing the region, improving its workforce, solving transportation challenges and securing the future of Major League Baseball here.

He declined to give a timetable for the executive search but said it will include candidates who have held leadership roles in high-performing economic development regions.

Here are some suggestions about the next CEO.  First, that person should be an independent actor and not be beholden to any political actor.  The Partnership is supposed to be regional.  The leader should be regional.  In other words, use the airport director as a model: pick someone who already has a high level of achievement somewhere else and who will bring fresh ideas and elevate everyone’s game (and especially push local officials).

Second, the person should be paid a competitive salary, but that salary should be reasonable and contingent on performance.  It is fine to pay for talent, but keep the eye on the prize.

There is opportunity to accelerate positive change.  It should be taken.

— And One More Thing: Insecurity Watch

Though, in all the coverage, there was this:

On Friday, the partnership’s community luncheon will feature a “Legacy of Leadership” theme and praise the businesspeople who chaired the group over the past 20 years. Brian Lamb, Fifth Third Bank’s top area executive, also gets officially welcomed as the 2015 chairman. Next November, SunTrust area chief Allen Brinkman — now coming off a year chairing Tampa/Hillsborough’s EDC — follows as the next partnership chairman.

After wrapping up a year of can-do “swagger” at the EDC, Brinkman says he wants to try to revive some of that confidence at the Tampa Bay Partnership. The partnership can be a powerful group, he says, but it has lost its voice.

“We’ve got to get back that one voice, to say we are here to do business.”

Says Brinkman: “My mission will be to give it that swagger.”

Please, no. (The idea that what this area needs is supercilious pompousness just won’t go away.)  Confidence is fine, but, as we have noted a number of times (See “Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Swagger City”  and “Economic Development – Show Us Your Supercilious Pomposity” ), swagger is not confidence.  Nor is swagger competence or achievement.  Swagger is a sign of insecurity.  Swagger is the old Tampa Bay DNA.

As they say in sports, act like you have been there before – or at least that you deserve to be there.

Transportation – Election Aftermath

As noted above, transportation is a major negative for this area in terms of business recruitment.  Coincidentally, the first information of what led to the failure of the Greenlight proposal is coming out (also coincidentally, from the Tampa Bay Partnership).  First, from the Tribune:

The proposed 1-penny sales tax hike was the overwhelming reason cited by Pinellas voters who rejected the Greenlight plan, an exit poll commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership found.

Pinellas voters did not believe mass transit improvements would benefit them and were unconvinced that any overall benefit to the county was worth the hit to their pockets, according to the survey of 400 voters conducted by Frederick Polls in the two days following the Nov. 4 election. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.

Even the pledge to eliminate the transit property tax did little to make the new sales tax more palatable, with 80 percent of Pinellas “no” voters viewing the tax swap negatively, the study found.

That level of resistance to raising taxes for transit likely will worry Hillsborough County leaders in 2016 when they are expected to put a mass transit plan before voters.

* * *

The study also skewers some immediate post-election hopes that voters would have approved a half-penny sales tax hike for a scaled-down version of the plan that did not include the controversial light rail link.

That proposal barely moved the needle from the level of support that Greenlight garnered at the election, according to the poll. 

Now, the Times:

Survey results released Thursday cast doubt on the theory that the light rail component doomed the plan.

More than 90 percent of the voters who rejected Greenlight Pinellas did so because of the sales tax increase, according to a survey commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership. They would not have voted yes even if the light rail had been excluded, said the 400 voters surveyed Nov. 5 and 6.

* * *

About 55 percent of those who voted no blamed light rail for the decision, Rogel said.

When voters were asked if they would support a half-cent sales tax for only bus improvements, support remained virtually unchanged at 38 percent.

The Yes on Greenlight campaign emphasized that many homeowners would break even or save money as part of the so-called tax swap, but the survey showed many were skeptical. About 78 percent of the no voters had a negative view of the tax swap, a potential sign that voters didn’t trust leaders to fulfill that promise, Rogel said.

First, it appears that rail was not really a main issue at all.  While some may be fixated on opposing it, paying for anything seems to be the issue.

Second, none of that is surprising in an area with the lowest average income for a major metro area and where housing is not very affordable to the average resident.  Even if people want to improve transportation, they have personal concerns that come first. When you market yourself (de jure or de facto) as low-cost and recruit jobs with low wages, it is not surprising that many of the people you attract want to maintain that low cost and maximize their low wages.

Consequently, it is harder sell many of those people on the higher cost for investments, regardless of whether they are needed or not.  You have to have a very good message with good marketing and create trust in officials to get the job done, and that apparently was not the case. (It should be considered that the culture of excessive hype with less than optimal results contributes to this lack of trust.)  A plan will not succeed just be local officials say how great it would be.

A sales tax may pass at some point.  However, it seems pretty clear that, like the Orlando area, local officials should start looking for alternative funding sources for transportation improvements.  (We suggest that a first step is to stop subsidizing retail and sprawl.)

That being said, backing off of fixing the obvious transportation problems by taking the traditional “incremental” approach (as is hinted in the article), which is what we have now, rather than dealing with what needs to be done will just leave us with more of the same and relatively less competitive. It will also indicate that local government really cannot get done what needs to be done. We need to get the issue worked out.

Whether local officials are creative enough to get there – and to build enough trust among the electorate – remains to be seen.

Transportation – HART Goes Transparent

While it does not directly affect service, HART is making a nice move.

Hillsborough’s transit agency voted Monday to move a large amount of its financial information online in an effort to show the public the board is spending its dwindling money in a responsible manner.

The move goes beyond posting the budgets required by the state. It includes expenditures, monthly financial reports, vendor information, payroll, wire transactions and more. 

Credit where credit is due.  It is a good move because more information to the public is good.  And

HART board member and County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the transparency initiative will help show the public that HART is doing the best it can with its resources, despite being “strapped for cash.”

“A lot of people think it’s so easy to do stuff because you have so many millions of dollars, but what they don’t understand is where all that money goes,” Murman said. “You are providing that transparency so people understand that every dollar that comes to HART is being spent frugally and wisely.”

We won’t go far as to say every dollar is being spent wisely, but HART is not flush with cash.  It will be good for people to see that, though it might be lost on some who will see numbers in the millions and do not really know the costs of running a transit system.  In a separate but related note:

There was also discussion about splitting the Finance, Governance and Administration committee into separate governance and finance committees, allowing the latter to delve further into potential revenue sources.

HART continues to look for ways to increase its revenue sources to keep operating without a massive shortfall. Much has been made of a potential 2016 tax-for-transportation referendum, similar to those that failed in Pinellas and Polk counties in November.

Yet, HART should look for alternative financing because:

Board member Josh Burgin, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, has long warned against relying on revenue from a potential tax that voters could reject.

“HART should next expect to see dramatic budgetary growth as a result of a near future tax increase proposal,” Burgin wrote in a letter that was read during the meeting. “The most likely scenario for increased HART funding through additional taxes is one where a half-cent tax is passed with a majority of the revenues committed to roads and a relative small amount is dedicated to HART.”

Indeed, thanks in part to the anti-transit advocacy of people like that Board member, they cannot count on a sales tax passing.  (see here and here)  In any event, they should have learned from other regions and gotten creative long ago, like this.  That is creative.

Transportation – Who Does The PTC Represent?

This blog is firmly nonpartisan.  We do not care about parties.  We care about policies, and we both criticize and commend people regardless of political affiliation.  (What we would really like is if everyone promoted good policies for the good of the area in a wonderfully bi-partisan and regional fashion.)

Additionally, we have made no secret of the fact that we think the PTC’s policies regarding ridesharing companies are not very good.  It is no secret that the majority of the County Commission and PTC is made up of Republicans, and the two most vocal Commissioners on the PTC are also Republicans.  Given that, it was interesting that the Tampa Bay Young Republicans issued a statement recently:

The Hillsborough County PTC is made up of numerous county commissioners and city council members. It is TBYR’s believe [sic] that since the PTC enjoys a quasi-autonomous rule over most transportation services they have resorted to fining, arresting, and ultimately shutting down businesses such as Uber and Lyft because of the stiff competition they create for taxies and limo services. The PTC has supported their bans by stating that these businesses are providing illegal taxi services; however, these companies simply connect people who are able and willing to give other people a ride.

This is why TBYR believes that this ban violates conservative principles by limiting consumer’s choice and impeding the free market to flourish. The exact language of the motion is as follows:

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans stands in full support of ride share services to freely operate in Hillsborough County, FL

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans feel the PTC is overexerting their power and incorrectly and unfairly attacking innovation, free enterprise and consumer choice & REJECT the actions of the PTC, its Board Members, and The Hillsborough County Commission to stifle the aforementioned

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans fully support the notions of free markets, consumer choice and competition & REJECT government interference in the free market place regarding the PTC’s actions

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans DEMAND the PTC cease and desist all negative actions on ride share services and allow the market to determine their fate

NOW, THEREFORE be it known that these are the sentiments and opinions of The Tampa Bay Young Republicans, the premier grassroots and politically active young professionals in Hillsborough County, FL and surrounding areas.

If even the Young Republicans reject the PTC’s ridesharing policy, who is for it?

Tampa Heights – Just Maybe This Time

It seems that the The Heights project in near the river north of downtown might actually get going early 2015.

. . . The developers are planning to begin construction on the first phase of the Heights, a 317-unit apartment building on a parcel north of Palm Avenue, in the first quarter of 2015. The building will be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments and will include a few three-bedroom units as well as 17,000 square feet of retail space.

Riverside Heights is a undeveloped parcel of land on the Hillsborough River, just north of downtown Tampa. It is entitled for 1,600 residential units, 400,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of retail space.

The apartment building will be masonry construction in four to seven stories. The developers have obtained letters of intent for portions of the retail space, Bruck said. A letter of intent in commercial real estate is a nonbinding outline of the terms of the deal and allows the company time to do due diligence on the potential site.

“Optimistically,” the building could break ground in February, Bruck said, concurrent with the closing of the construction loan. He declined to identify the lender.

After decades of plans, it is nice that something might get done.  We are not sure if “four to seven stories” means some of it will be four and some seven or they are not sure about the height.  Hopefully, the former.  We are anxious to see what they come up with (especially with the building not being a stick building.)

Downtown – What Do Big Sales Mean?

We recently wrote about the sale of One Tampa City Center.  Since then, the Wells Fargo building was also sold.  So what does this all mean?

Driving those deals is a multifaceted dynamic, investment brokers say. Higher prices and lower returns in bigger cities have created more investor in interest in secondary markets like Tampa, where investors still see potential for upside.

But investors have also come to believe in the market itself, besides how it compares to its larger counterparts.

“There’s no way anybody plunks down $70 million if they don’t believe in the market,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the capital markets group at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc. “It’s not just running from other markets. There’s increased demand for quality product in [central business districts] nationally, and Tampa has been a slower market to recover than others in the state in terms of the CBD. I think its time has come, and investors want to get out of ahead that.”

It means outside investors can think they can make a better return on buying in Tampa, which is good.  Does that mean a flurry of new office buildings are coming?

While the aggregate sales numbers are impressive, the pricing per square foot on each of the towers is well below what it would cost to build them — giving the investors who bought them a sense of security that it will be years before they have to compete with a brand new building in the urban core.

“It’s very difficult to justify a new tower today,” Davis said, “although we are certainly seeing real rent growth and real absorption.”

In other words, no.  On the other hand, if the big push by the Lightning owner is successful in getting relocations, maybe there will be some office development downtown.  In any event, the market appears to be recovering, which is good.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont.

We have previously questioned the proposal for playing fields at HCC.  (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”) and noted that Pasco was moving forward. (See “How Many Playing Fields Do We Need? – Cont.”)  Well, the Pasco plan is still out there, even if it has some issues.

Retired baseball star Gary Sheffield told Pasco commissioners he would personally guarantee $3 million of his own money toward a youth baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch if that’s what it takes to get the financing in place for the $34 million project.

Sheffield and his business partner, James Talton, have spent nearly all of 2014 trying to raise the $23 million to match the county’s $11 million contribution. Commissioners gave them a 90-day extension in July. On Tuesday, they set a drop-dead date of Dec. 5 to guarantee at least $3 million for the design and permitting of the park. They’ll decide on Jan. 13 whether to accept the deal or terminate the contract.

The HCC idea has been quiet, but, then again, it came up without any real discussion, so that does not mean much.  And then, Hillsborough County, which needs to develop high wage jobs, infrastructure, and a host of other things, still wants more fields.

Two years after pledging $15 million for an amateur sports complex, Hillsborough County commissioners are ready to start searching for land and seeking bids from companies interested in building and operating the fields.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the project at their meeting Dec. 3. Commissioner Ken Hagan, who started pushing for a multifield complex several years ago, said he wants the county to look at different scenarios to get the best deal possible for taxpayers.

“The thinking is the private sector can likely construct this facility cheaper than the county can do it,” Hagan said. “Everything will be on the table, from land purchase to design and building to maintaining and operations.”

* * *

The project has been delayed for two years while the county negotiated a deal with Tampa Electric Co. for lighting at the complex. The company has agreed to install and operate the lighting and allow the county to pay back the costs over a 10- or 20-year period, Hagan said, reducing the county’s upfront costs.

So, $15 million up front (does that include paying TECO back?)  What else?

“Based on our review of other complexes and studies, it will be a revenue producing asset,” Hagan said. “But it will not pay for itself. That’s why we need to come up with an advantageous model to allow us to minimize our yearly operation costs.”

In other words, it will operate at a loss.  So who knows how much more it will cost?

We have nothing against having playing fields and tournaments.  We are all for lifestyle amenities.  But what do we get out of the investment?

Communities across the state have built or are planning to build multipurpose complexes to attract large amateur softball, baseball and soccer tournaments. Sports economists say the tournaments boost community sales tax and bed tax collections as families plan trips around their children’s sports interests.

Ok.  That’s fine but how much will we make in sales tax?  Where is the real analysis?

The real question is whether playing fields are where Hillsborough County should spend its money now.  Is that the priority?  Does that get us to better paying jobs and improved transportation?  Do we really want to pay for that or use the money for something else?  And do we want to compete with other local counties?  Does it really matter for the area if fields are in Wesley Chapel, as opposed to Seffner or Gibsonton?  How much will it really bring in to the county?  How much of the money will be just local kids going to local tournaments?

Never mind that, the County Commission just wants to move forward.

If we had surplus money or a company was going to take all the risk on land that has no better use (or County land with no better use that can be leased to the company and no other cost to the taxpayer), we would have no objection. But this involves taxpayer funds while the County keeps telling us it has limited money.  So the question remains: How many playing fields do we need?

List of the Week

Because local media is now highlighting a wide variety of lists (like this in the Business Journal on ports  – they like the Port and most other major ports in Florida and around the Gulf – or this from the Times about beautiful people  – there are attractive people frequenting bars in south Tampa), we are trying to find more practical lists.

Because of all the talk about tourism and hospitality (like this from the Tribune ) and seeming focus on tourism as economic development, this week our list is’s list of 10 best cities for waiters.

Coming in first is Seattle, followed by Burlington (VT), Boston, Spokane, Bellingham (WA), Honolulu, Worcester (MA), Olympia (WA), Napa (CA), and Santa Fe.

Notably, the average waiter salary in the best market for waiters, Seattle, is $29,410.

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