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Roundup 12-19-2014

December 19, 2014

Downtown/Channel District – The Lightning Owner’s Vision

At long last, the plan (or vision) for the Lightning owner’s land was revealed.

Jeff Vinik has finally unveiled his vision for transforming downtown: a $1 billion project that would add nearly 3 million square feet of space for people to ”live, work, stay and play.”

“We own the land, we have the capital, we have the vision,” said Vinik executive Jim Shimberg Jr. “We think this is the time to move this project forward.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning owner revealed his vision of Tampa’s urban future to the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday morning.

“We think Tampa desperately needs something like this,” Vinik told the commissioners.

That is definitely true. So, what exactly are we talking about? Here is the map going around:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

The yellow is the Lightning owner’s plans. (You can click here to get a map that magnifies quite a bit.)

Here is a snazzy video.

What is the big picture?

In all, the plan calls for 575,000 square feet of new hotel/meeting space, 250,000 square feet of retail, 1.1 million square feet of office, 660,000 square feet of residential, 330,000 square feet for USF colleges and more space for utilities and parking, totalling 2.9 million square feet of development, with a budget topping $1.07 billion.

Ok, the first thing is that is a lot of retail (among other things), which is great if it is filled.

Now some details. From the Tribune:

A concrete parking lot along the water will be renovated into a grassy park that connects to the existing Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park along the water that overlooks a new water taxi terminal to ferry USF medical school students to the nearby Tampa General Hospital. Next door there is a multi-use recreation dock for things like paddleboards.

A new hotel tower — already disclosed this year — will rise at the corner of Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, with a bridge that connects to the Marriott Waterside.

The plan calls for at least three towers devoted to office space, totalling 1.1 million square feet, roughly a third of the office space in the entire Westshore District.

Adjacent to the Arena, a new street will run north/south called Water Street North, devoted to mixed-use buildings and ground-floor retail space. A pair of USF medical education buildings and medical office towers will go in at the corner directly east of the Arena, with the school alone spanning 330,000 square feet, triple the size of a Super Wal-mart.

To the north, the plan becomes more flexible, Shimberg said, as that phase will be later in the development process. There are at least five towers labeled “mixed use.” 

And from the Times:

Several key details of the overall development plan, however, were revealed Wednesday:

Ok, before we go any further, some issues of the coverage.  First, we are going to address the use of “tower.”  Some in this area use tower to mean anything probably to build excitement. (Classic example is the 6-story Moffitt Tower  – we love Moffitt, but that is not a tower)  When we think tower, we think tall, not 8-12 stories.  8-12 story builds may be very fine buildings with great design, nice amenities, and good street interaction – but they are not towers.

And then there are issues of scale. Yes, 1.1 million square feet of office space is nice, but it is 1/12 of Westshore (if you go by Westshore Alliance numbers.  Not to mention only 1/8 of the space in downtown right now according to the Downtown Partnership.)  It is also the size of one major office building in most cities (take this in Houston or this in Denver).  Nevertheless, for a downtown that has not seen any major office construction in two decades, it is good.

Now, none of this has anything to do with actual project, it has to do with the coverage.  So, having said that, let’s get into what was presented about the project.

— First, the good stuff

– The Overall Idea

We really like what they are trying to do.  They are trying to make a walkable, vibrant urban area in what is now empty land.  That is great.

We completely understand that the project has to make business sense, and there is nothing wrong with that. It can be a good investment and help the city at the same time. In fact, if it did not make business sense, it probably would not help the city in the long run.

– Green Space/Waterfront

As part of their overall plan, a major feature of the plan is its focus on the water and the connection of Channelside to the Riverwalk by putting green space in the Channelside parking lot (which is now at least a leased part of the project land after a slightly odd Port Authority meeting.)  That is good. (The long term plans for Channelside the complex are still not known.)

– Transportation

There are intriguing ideas for transportation:

Transportation is a huge part of this. Beyond the street reconfiguration, SPP “is prepared to take a leadership role in the future” of the TECO Line Streetcar System, said Jim Shimberg, COO and general counsel, making it more connected to key parts of downtown and a more reliable mode of transportation.

Water-based transportation is a big part of the plan, Shimberg said, and could include water taxis, high- speed ferries and electric boats taking doctors and medical students between Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

That is all good (except the lack of a plan for the USF med school’s associated institutions). Maybe they would like the streetcar to be less heritage and more real transportation?

Team Vinik also wants city and county officials to help get downtown’s struggling trolley system on the right track — and extend that track to the north end of downtown, by the museums. The trolley needs to run more frequently so more people will use it, Vinik said, but service was cut because ridership was low. The mayor echoed that goal.

And

The streetcar system that runs between Channelside and Ybor City has struggled to attract riders but is seen by Vinik and Buckhorn as a cheap way to provide transit links to Tampa’s business district and central downtown. Another option would be to replace the tourist-friendly streetcar with a vehicle designed more for commuters.

It’s unclear how those changes would be funded but Buckhorn said establishing the streetcar as a reliable robust transit system could also help convince residents about the benefits of mass transit.

(It should be noted that the streetcar runs through some essentially empty areas that this project will fill.) We are all for all of that.  And it makes sense, especially when considering this reality:

Feldman thinks one drawback of Vinik’s plans is that his 24-acre site is not in the prime downtown core and lacks the spectacular river and bay views of some current buildings.

“Now it’s more an edge place,” he said. “The true walkable downtown means you can walk from one building to the next and some of the buildings in Vinik’s site may be (at) a problematic distance. You’re going to have to get in your car.”

Feldman says that will change as Tampa continues to grow.

“There are areas in New York that used to be on the outer edge of the city, now they’re prime real estate. Ultimately I think (Vinik’s) location will improve as the city fills in but right now it’s frontiering.”

Extending the streetcar and making it more of a transportation system while building this project will help make downtown more complete and connected.  Assuming it goes near museums, performing arts center, and Curtis Hixon Park and is done in a way that allows easy future expansion, such as to the Heights (it would be nice if the Heights projects were properly connected to the project and Ybor), rather than just being a limited circulator (in other words, it is real transportation, not a glorified downtown shuttle), it will help the project AND help the city.  Because it is a demonstration of transit, a major investment, and important to downtown and the project, any streetcar extension needs to be done right. (And maybe now, with such a big project and the investors, is the time to revisit the issue of the CSX track crossing both to Ybor and potentially to downtown.)

– The Money

And, of course, that there is the financial wherewithal to really get it done.

“It’s a great situation because we do have the financing to complete this project,” Vinik said.

Which is key. As noted in a Tribune editorial:

Plenty of plans to reinvigorate downtown Tampa have been pitched over the years. But none have had the resources and the bold vision that distinguishes this plan.

Aside from the possible exception of Harbour Island, that is pretty much true – especially the resources part.

– Recruitment

As noted previously, the Lightning owner will be actively trying to attract business to downtown.

Vinik is also chasing a big corporate relocation to help launch the office component of his plan. That will require more public investment in the form of incentives from Enterprise Florida and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to attract new companies.

But Vinik himself will be a part of that push. He vowed to travel the country to sell corporations on the joys of Tampa Bay life — great weather, friendly folks — that the former Boston resident discovered when he moved his family and his businesses down here.

“I’m going to talk about why I live here and why this is a misunderstood place,” Vinik said. “People up in the Northeast don’t have a full appreciation of that.”

This all makes business sense for him, but that does not detract from how good it is for the area.

– Openness

And one thing we really like is that there appears to be an openness to ideas on how to improve the project:

“This is our vision plan,” Vinik said. “This is not a master plan.”

That’s why he’s asking for public input to “crowdsource” his project and help shape the final details through a new website, tampawaterfront2020.com.

If they really are open to those ideas, that is a great thing. So give them a suggestion here.

— What we wonder about

– Roads

One thing we wonder about is the rearranging of the roads.

But Team Vinik will also seek taxpayer funds to help pay for fixing the street grid, stormwater work, landscaping and streetscaping. His firm will propose spending $25 million to $30 million on that and then be reimbursed by the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA, which allows property taxes to be reinvested into the area they came from.

“We think the return on (public) investment will be very high,” said SPP’s chief operating officer, Jim Shimberg Jr., who was Tampa’s city attorney before joining Vinik.

We are ok with spending on infrastructure if the project gets built and the public spending is mostly for TIF money for downtown (and is reasonable, of course). And we have no problem with fixing some of the roads.  Making the area roads more grid-like for the most part is fine with us.  The real issue is what is the plan for Platt/Channelside and Brorein.  While the present diagonal swirl on Brorein may be a bit odd, if you look at the map above, there is not logical way to get lots of people from the heart of the development out of downtown, which is a bit of a concern for a live, work, play and entertainment district with an arena.  We love the transit ideas, but that is not going really do it.  For success, this project must draw people from beyond downtown and it needs to be laid out so they can get in and out relatively easily or they may not come as much.

– Density

And while we really like the overall concept, we are actually kind of surprised by the lack of density, especially in some parts. While renderings are known for not being really to scale, look at this rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article/gallery

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article/gallery

There is a cluster around the forum, which is good.  Behind that are some giant parking garages.  The rest of the area, while planned for vibrant streets (which is very good) is much less dense.

Of course, the vision is denser that what is there (or more accurately, not there) now, and you have to start somewhere and develop the area.  But, from what is presented, it seems that a lot of the land could be used better – to be more urban.  There is a massive amount of parking in big, free-standing garages. While you need parking, as far as we can tell, none of it is under buildings where it would not take up huge amounts of land. (no, not underground, under the main building like many buildings downtown).  We think that would be a better use of the land and allow for more future development.

Of course, if the first stages are successful, the less dense areas could be changed. We know it all has to make business sense, but hopefully denser will make more sense. And since this is a vision plan, not a master plan, hopefully, that will be one of the changes made.

Bottom Line

We think a Times editorial summed it up well:

This development is the most ambitious ever for downtown Tampa, and it presents many public benefits, from a boost in jobs, wages and taxes to the opportunity to build a more livable, sustainable and exciting city center. And it would build the critical mass necessary to bring a grocery, better mass transit and other vital amenities to downtown at the very time that more people and industries nationwide are returning to the urban core.

Still, there are many details to answer: How would the project be affected if the state rejects or delays a downtown medical school? How would local government and Vinik’s private investment group divide the cost of improving public services and infrastructure? How would the city keep Vinik to a reasonable timetable on the build-out? And how does the project affect the emerging debate over what to do with Tampa’s working port?

Vinik’s proposal puts into play a city vision for the Channel District that dates back for decades. It gives new life to a historic and underused part of downtown where the waterfront has as much to offer the public as it does to Vinik’s group. The city should continue to work with him, and Vinik should continue his commendable efforts to solicit public input on his still-evolving vision.

So this is the thing.  We really like the conceptual framework of the project.  What we hope is that the early stages are so successful that they decide to add to the density while maintaining the walkability and pedestrian friendly concept.  Either way, if built, it will significantly change downtown for the better.  We just want them to do what they want to do, but do even more of it.

Downtown – The Lightning Owner Strikes Again

Even while getting ready for the rollout of the vision/plan, the Lightning owner added to his holdings downtown:

The holding company for Vinik’s real estate endeavors, Strategic Property Partners, said Friday it had closed on a four-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Florida Avenue and Whiting Street, bordered by Morgan Street to the east and Brorein Street to the south.

* * *

The site is entitled for [] 450,000 square feet of office space and 350 hotel rooms.

Which makes business sense.  Really, why not buy more?  Especially when the guy who got the previous use entitlement is on your team now?

Tampa developer Bob Abberger, who joined Vinik’s real estate development team in September, had targeted the site for a mixed-use office tower with hotel rooms. Stymied by the recession and a stagnant office market, Abberger and his team were never able to put together enough tenants to prelease the tower, and the deal never came to fruition.

Notably, we will not know the plan for the land yet:

The site will not be part of the development plans SPP will announce on Dec. 17. 

And it wasn’t.  Hopefully, that will be denser development.

Rays – A Whole Lot of Nothing

The St. Pete City council voted on the proposed Rays search deal.

The St. Petersburg City Council Thursday rejected an agreement negotiated by Mayor Rick Kriseman that would have given the Tampa Bay Rays three years to explore new stadium sites in Hillsborough County as well as Pinellas.

Too many council members thought the deal’s compensation was too low and they did not want to risk the team leaving the area.

If they really did not want to risk the Rays leaving the area, they had an odd way of showing it – since by rejecting the deal the increase the likelihood.  In any event, it is not a surprise (just like the last Mayor’s strategy for the Rays).  Nor is this kind of detachment (also like the last Mayor):

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had warned council members this month that if they rejected this offer, baseball’s long-run future in Tampa Bay would be “doomed.” Sternberg said he would not negotiate another deal and he would not keep playing at the Trop. He would eventually sell the team to another owner, who would then move the Rays out of the region after 2027, he said.

Council members Charlie Gerdes, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse voted for the agreement. Council members Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Bill Dudley voted against.

The council did vote to hold a workshop to discuss building the Rays a new stadium in St. Petersburg.

Ah, a workshop to keep the Rays when the Rays have said for years they want to look around the whole area – and the owner says he really means it (and has acted like he means it).  Great.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The reality is that the majority of the St. Pete City Council would rather the Rays leave the Tampa Bay area than have them play in Tampa. (Not quite the highly touted regionalism). It is all just sad.

Economy – Low Wage, But a Glimmer of Hope

There was an interesting piece in the Times this week:

Compare the annual average pay from 2004 and 2013 and one-third of all U.S. counties have seen their pay decline, when the figures are adjusted for inflation.

But in Florida, three quarters of its counties suffered wage declines in that period, indicating the standard of living in Florida has declined even as most states show at least some modest gains. And states rich in energy jobs — like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Dakotas — show booming wage increases.

* * *

Just 17 of Florida’s 67 counties reported average wage gains, while 50 saw declines. The biggest drop appeared in Flagler County on the state’s east coast, where wages dropped 17.3 percent to $31,425 in 2013 from $38,013 in 2004. The biggest gain: rural Glades County, where wages rose 16.1 percent.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties showed slight wage growth over that decade, up 2.8 and 2.7 percent, respectively. Pasco County wages fell 2.5 percent, while Hernando dipped 3.8 percent. Citrus squeezed out a 0.9 percent uptick.

The Times links to an interesting Wall Street Journal map. (You can see it here)   Not even looking at growth, the map tells us that the average income in Hillsborough County in  2013 is $47,408, Pinellas is $42,494, and Pasco $34.540.  And Sarasota does not help: $40,567 (-1.4% growth)

While the map is by county and Florida counties tend to be larger than many other states, we can compare with some other areas.  For instance, around New Orleans, Orleans Parish had an average of $48,818 (7.3% growth) while nearby Jefferson parish had an average of $44,628 (11.2% growth).  Mecklenberg County (Charlotte) had an average of $ 58,362 (.8% growth), Wake County (Raleigh) had an average of $ 49,862 (2.2% growth) while Durham County (Durham and Duke) had $64551 (2.0%). In Texas, Travis County (Austin) had an average of $55,041 (1.4% growth).  In the Denver area Denver County had an average of $ 61,152 (2.8% growth), Arapahoe County has $ 58,021 (-.6%), Douglas County $ 55,853 (18.1%), Jefferson $49,561 (-.3%), Adams $ 47144 (1.5%), and Boulder $58,009 (-.5%).  And we can look at a huge county, like San Diego and see an average of $ 54,836 (4.9% growth)

We could go on, but you can play with the map, too.  There are a couple of clear points: 1) our wages are too low.   It is clear that other areas with smaller counties have more clearly delineated concentrations of higher wages, but overall, as we all know, our wages are just too low. 2) There is some positive from our growth numbers compared to what are often considered competitors.  On the other hand, growth is a tricky stat.  Yes, at least some parts of the Tampa Bay area are getting better, but how long until we catch some other areas?

So, yes, there is some progress.  But it is nowhere near time to pat ourselves on the back.  We still underperform. (maybe the Lightning owner’s project will at least catalyze some faster improvement.)

Economic Development – Announcing an Announcement

There was some odd, but seemingly good, new this week.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is planning to announce a corporate headquarters relocation on Jan. 7.

In an email to EDC investors Thursday, CEO Rick Homans wrote that “Tampa will be welcoming another venerable national organization to our community next month.”

The email is an anomaly for the EDC. Notification for such announcements is not usually provided weeks in advance. It offers no indication of the size or magnitude of the deal and whether it is a state, regional or U.S. headquarters.

Ok. The Times had this, which makes it even odder.

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said it will announce the relocation of an organization with international reach to Tampa at an event to be held Jan. 7 at the Tampa Convention Center’s rotunda.

The initial news was revealed in an email the EDC sent to its investors on Thursday. EDC officials would not identify the organization.

“Organization?”  Does that mean nonprofit?  It is all quite strange.

Early January should be quite interesting.

Channel District – Another Proposal Moves Forward

Another proposed building for the Channel District is moving along:

Not every upscale apartment project going up in downtown Tampa is a tower.

In fact, one of the splashiest will be an eight-story mid-rise in the heart of the Channel District.

New architectural renderings filed Thursday by developers of what’s tentatively called the “Channelside Residences” structure show an eight-story, sleek, modern building at the site of the now-empty Amazon Hose & Rubber warehouse at the southeast corner of Kennedy Boulevard and N. 12th Street.

The project will ultimately have 300 residential units with on-site parking and about 5,000 square feet of retail space, said Truett Gardner, the land use attorney who handled rezoning the property from commercial to residential. The plan is for a particularly upscale development, as the project shares the same architect that designed the upscale Crescent Bayshore apartments, Miami-based MSA Architects.

Tampa City Council approved the project unanimously on Thursday, which lets the developer proceed with engineering details and construction permitting.

It looks like this:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We have no idea what makes it “one of the splashiest.”  It is fine (and the street treatment looks good in the drawing; we have no idea what the reality will be), but nothing exceptionally exciting (maybe, it is really cool inside).  In any event:

If all goes according to plan, the new project by Florida Crystals in the Channel District may break ground in mid-2015.

That is fine.

Harbour Island – Questions?

Speaking of proposals, demand, etc.

A group of Harbour Island condominium residents has lost a round in their battle against a planned 21-story apartment tower next door, but the fight isn’t over.

After taking evidence from both sides, a hearing officer has concluded that city officials followed proper procedures when reviewing plans for the Manor of Harbour Island, a 340-apartment tower proposed at 402 Knights Run.

The ostensible reasons for the argument are that the building will use another building’s parking garage and there have been some murmurings about traffic.  (Of course, the building will block present residents’ views, but that is not a stated reason.) Yet:

Nearby, a second tower on the other side of the Plaza is under construction, with an opening expected in early 2016.

But, back to the argument:

Despite the European architectural flourishes, some condo owners in the 20-story Plaza Harbour Island next door view Related’s plans with alarm.

They contend that the new project doesn’t comply with Harbour Island’s zoning and would create traffic problems and hurt the quality of life of residents who already live there. And they say the city should not have okayed the skybridge.

“The zoning on the island does not permit that parking arrangement,” said John Grandoff III, a land-use attorney who represents residents in the Plaza.

City officials should have reviewed the Related Group’s proposal as a substantial change to the existing zoning, Grandoff said.

But hearing officer Steven Pfeiffer disagreed last month, concluding that the project — skybridge included — is consistent with the city’s ordinance.

We are not going to take a position on any legal issues.  We do not see anything wrong with the skybridge or parking arrangement, but there may be details of which we are unaware.  It will be interesting to see if the City can resolve the issue between a big, deep pockets developer and the Harbour Island folks, who tend to have strong influence in political matters.

Transportation – What Do You Expect?

There was a report in the Times about the most crash prone intersections.

Hillsborough County officials analyzed accidents from 2006 to 2010, including nearly 11,000 severe crashes that caused deaths or incapacitating injuries. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 31 percent of Hillsborough’s traffic deaths.

* * *

In Hillsborough, multiple intersections on heavily traveled, heavily developed Dale Mabry Highway were among the most crash-prone locations. Other dangerous roads were Fowler, Fletcher, Waters and Hillsborough avenues; and Bruce B. Downs and Brandon boulevards.

Hillsborough officials are studying several of the most dangerous intersections to see if anything can be done to make them safer.

This is the map from the Times report:

From the Times – click on map for article

The first thing to note is that Tampa does not appear included in the analysis. (We are not sure if it was or not, but we will assume it was not).  The other thing to note was that the worst areas for crashes are all along the intersections of major arteries.

Most of Hillsborough’s accidents occurred along major urban roadways. And nearly 35 percent of those crashes involved drivers making left turns. The next-highest categories were rear-end crashes and lane-departure crashes, which accounted for 26 and 18 percent of accidents, respectively.

“People are being too impatient, trying to make that left turn,” said Gena Torres, a senior transportation planner with Hills­borough County.

One common danger comes with four-lane roads with no medians.

“You want to make a left turn, but there’s somebody across the intersection who also wants to make a left,” Torres said. “It’s really hard to see if another car is coming. You end up inching forward to peek around each other.”

Of course, that makes sense because that is where most of the traffic is.  On the other hand, when you have a road plan that essentially forces everyone on to a few major roads and inhibits any other traffic with impediments like poor road connections and speed humps where there are connections, you should not expect anything else to happen.

The reality is that the County’s road plan is silly.  There are few, if any, alternatives to arterial roads, forcing traffic onto a few roads, making them more dangerous.  The way to deal with that is to have more of a grid, but Hillsborough County has gone the opposite route.

They can study traffic issues all they want (and maybe make a few changes that might make a few roads a bit safer), but the reality is that the County made this problem all by themselves.  There are not enough useful roads, and there are not enough well connected roads.  The roads that exist are not adequate for the traffic. (The County’s road funding issues are also of its making.) And there are no real alternatives to driving.

That is a (poor) planning choice.  Accidents are the result.

TIA – To the Bahamas

The airport is getting a flight to the Bahamas.

Silver Airways will begin twice-weekly flights from Tampa International Airport to the Bahamas in February.

The flights, according to an airport news release, will begin Feb. 14, flying to Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands on Saturdays and Sundays. The new route is expected to be popular among Tampa International Airport’s leisure travelers.

The lack of a flight to the Bahamas has always struck us as a bit odd.  While not as flashy as some other flights, we are glad the airport is getting more service.

St. Pete Takes on the Pier, Again

St. Pete is trying again to figure out what to do with the Pier. (Just think if they had kept the old – we mean old – one, it would be a huge landmark.).  We are not going to get into what we like and what we don’t.  It doesn’t really matter, anyway.  Whatever is picked will be challenged.  You can find the latest proposals here.  Some are quite interesting (even if we have some questions), others not so much.

One thing we will say – St. Pete is looking to find something really good through competition, not just anointing a designer out of the blue and then just following what they say.  Tampa could use a little more of that.

List of the Week

This week, we are not going to present a whole list.  We are just going to note that Ulele made the opentable.com list of 100 best restaurants in the US based on reviews. They rank a top 10, but we are not going to concern ourselves with that. You can see the whole list here.  (note: Ulele is the only restaurant in the immediate Tampa Bay area that made the list.  Maison Blanche in Longboat key and a Seasons 52 in Sarasota made it.)

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