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Roundup 1-2-2015

January 2, 2015

Hillsborough County Courthouse – is this 1985 or 2015?

There was, somewhat out of the blue, news about a new Hillsborough County Courthouse.

Court administrators, who were looking at building a new county courthouse on Falkenburg Road, have now expanded their options to include downtown Tampa after hearing concerns from judges, lawyers and business owners.

A new courthouse is needed to replace the aging courthouse annex — three buildings adjoining the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse on Twiggs Street. The annex buildings are more than 50 years old, crowded and ill-designed for 21st-century court proceedings.

“We have a very decrepit, nonfunctioning building currently,” said Mike Bridenback, court administrator for the 13th Judicial Circuit. “There is something that needs to be done and we have to get this ball rolling.”

So what is the case for Falkenburg Road (other than the County’s obsession with putting everything on Falkenburg Road a la some bizarre 1980’s planning concept)?

Bridenback has been directing a $50,000 study that began in early 2013 and was focused on Falkenburg Road, 10 miles east of downtown Tampa, as the site for a new courthouse. The land under consideration is already owned by Hillsborough County and wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Plus, the proposed site has room for expansion and plenty of parking.

“Parking certainly would be an advantage out there,” Bridenback said. “Obviously, if you built it downtown, you would have to address the parking issues by building additional garages.”

Another advantage of the Falkenburg site is that the county jail is nearby, meaning inmates could be transported to and from court a much shorter distance.

(ed. $50,000 study?) First, it is not like the jail is on Falkenburg. (see where it is here)   The inmates would still have to be transported on SR60 (and there is never traffic there, right).  [correction: A reader pointed out that there is a jail on Falkenburg Road – here.  We stand corrected. We are not sure the amount of traffic to and from court from the Orient Road jail versus the Falkenburg jail. That being said, we still think the Courthouse should downtown for the reasons below.] Second, setting aside that the Edgecomb Court building was probably too small even when it was built (typical Hillsborough County planning), the “decrepit” buildings next to it (which have been renovated over and over) are also on county land (and were also poorly planned).  Why the County seems incapable of reusing land in valuable locations it is wasting is beyond us.  Though, it should be noted that the County has a long history of messing up courthouses, starting when the demolished the building

From Tampa Pix – click on picture for website

that is now the county seal (apparently, just to emphasize the bad decisions made by the County government)

From Wikimedia – click on picture for website

Then there is this:

But critics of the plan say it doesn’t make sense to split the court system in half, with criminal courts, the state attorney and public defender offices in the eastern part of the county while the civil court system remains downtown in the Edgecomb building.

“I really wouldn’t relish the idea of having two separate campuses — the civil courthouse in downtown and a criminal courthouse by the jail,” said Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, who will become the circuit’s chief judge Jan. 1.

Putting the courthouse outside of town would also split operations run by Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank. The clerk’s office handles record-keeping and other services for both civil and criminal courts.

Frank said she told Bridenback she didn’t want to split her offices and favored a downtown site.

“We have enough problems with the way it is now,” Frank said. “We need to have everybody as consolidated as possible, especially as I’m trying to cross-train so we have unified the existing system.”

Others argue that courthouses have historically been located in a county’s largest city. Many law firms locate their offices downtown to be in close proximity to the courts. Restaurants and bars nearby also benefit.

Right.  Falkenburg does not make sense.  There is quite a bit of empty or underused land downtown. (Here is the area around the courthouses.)  In the race to be cheap, the County will end up making the courts less efficient and probably cost everyone more money, as well as hurt development prospects.  We do not need planning from the 1980s anymore.

In other words, there is no reason to move the courts.  Just build a proper courthouse downtown with a proper plan for the future and expansion.

Transportation –  The County Channels Ray Guy

Speaking of Hillsborough County,

In March, the public will learn how Parsons Brinckerhoff — an international consulting firm hired by the Hillsborough County Commission — proposes to fix local transportation problems.

Why exactly is Parsons Brinckerhoff making a proposal rather than the TED group?  Because.

Almost everyone who lives in Hillsborough agrees getting around is a chore. Business leaders go further, asserting that snarled thoroughfares hobble the county’s economic development efforts.

Still, with an estimated $8 billion in unmet transportation needs, people disagree on the fix — and whether a sales tax hike is necessary to pay for it.

The county paid Parsons Brinckerhoff $900,000 for a report incorporating information gleaned from public meetings and engineering studies completed by a working group of elected local leaders.

Of special interest is how the company addresses mass transit. County leaders have been talking for two years about incorporating some type of rail system from the West Shore Business District to downtown Tampa.

But in October, George Walton of Parsons Brinckerhoff seemed to take a step back from light rail, saying his group’s study would instead lay out “fixed guideways” that could support rail or high-speed bus service such as bus rapid transit.

The March unveiling of the Parsons Brinckerhoff plan will come two years after commissioners recommitted themselves to finding transportation solutions. Less than two years earlier, Hillsborough residents overwhelmingly defeated a 1-cent sales tax increase proposed for transportation improvements.

In other words, it took 2 years for the County (and the rest of the Transportation for Economic Development group) to outsource the transportation issue. Do they have no idea what this area needs?  It is also strange that the County had to recommit itself to finding transportation solutions – as though that obligation ever went away.

No need to wonder why we are behind other areas in so many categories.

North Boulevard Homes – Almost Moving Time

It seems the first steps to demolishing North Boulevard Homes may be coming soon:

There’s been talk for more than three years that Tampa’s oldest public housing complex is due to be torn down, but now residents of North Boulevard Homes have been told to expect a move as soon as next year.

The first moves could start in April, with relocations taking about 18 months. The notices went to residents a few weeks ago.

North Boulevard Homes, built in 1941, and the neighboring Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments, have about 820 apartments and are home to 2,000 or more residents.

The relocations are part of an ambitious 10-year plan to redevelop what the city and Tampa Housing Authority are calling the “West River” area.

In place of the public housing, local officials want to create a new community with twice as many homes, both subsidized and those renting or selling on the open market. With a broader mix of incomes in the neighborhood, officials expect Main Street to attract more stores and more customers.

But first, the relocations.

Yes, you have to move people out before you can demo anything (obviously).

As for doubling the units, the actual plan is not to double the units on the land that now has public housing.  It is more complicated than that (and not nearly dense enough, but why ruin a talking point).  We already addressed this in “Master Planning – Something in the West River.

In any event, what is the schedule?

To help pay for the West River plan, where total construction costs could reach $350 million in the long run, City Hall and the Tampa Housing Authority plan to apply for a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant in February.

If history is any indication, Buckhorn said, federal officials could announce which cities win the grants in the fall.

The grant would help pay for infrastructure at West River and could help bring in other financing. At Encore Tampa, the mixed-use community that is replacing the Central Park Village public housing complex, officials have used a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant to arrange for another $78 million in financing.

But officials don’t plan to wait on the grant to proceed with relocations and demolition at North Boulevard Homes.

The housing authority has budgeted about $1.7 million to demolish the 85 squat, concrete-block apartment buildings on the site. That work could start in 2017 or 2018.

So, don’t expect anything major to be built on the site soon.  Then again, it has been the desire of many to do something in this are for decades, so taking a few more years is ok – if it is done properly.  While the Housing authority and City are quite late to the game, it is good that at least it is being addressed.  Hopefully, it will to a good project and not to traditional Tampa settling.

Transportation – Pasco Looks At Taxes

Something to file in the category of unexpected:

Pasco County doesn’t start collecting its renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax until Jan. 1, but transportation planners already are looking 10 years ahead to determine if more small change can return big dividends.

The plan — theoretical at this point — is to cease paying for road improvements with Penny for Pasco after 2024 and to seek a separate 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax exclusively for transportation, including transit.

The strategy is included in the county’s 2040 transportation plan, adopted unanimously by county commissioners and city officials sitting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization earlier this month. It calls for $1.6 billion in new sales tax revenue, or nearly a quarter of the $6.65 billion in local money for future roads and transit. The tax would require voter approval, something that has been difficult to achieve in neighboring counties. Voters rejected similar sales tax plans in Pinellas and Polk counties in November, four years after Hillsborough County voters did likewise. Officials plan to try again in Hillsborough in 2016.

If the scenario plays out, the county would set aside $100 million for transit on U.S. 19 and $480 million for transit on the State Road 54/56 corridor. Transit, however, does not exclusively mean buses. The money could be used to build additional highway lanes for buses or commuters in high-occupancy vehicles.

So Pasco wants to get in the transit money game. At least they are trying to find money without really raising taxes.

On the down side, the money already is used for schools and economic development (just recently) and, apparently, the people involved in those efforts were not really consulted on this idea.

So, good for not just thinking about trying to slap a new sales tax that voters will overwhelmingly reject; not so good for not having broad consultations.

And, of course, we have no idea what they actually want to do with the money or if it makes sense.

But at least they are thinking.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere . . .

Given that it is the Holiday Season, and the way the holidays fell on the calendar this year, we decided to devote the rest of this week’s Roundup to looking at what is happening in other places.

— Streetcars

There was some talk when the Lightning owner’s plan was revealed of expanding the streetcar.  While we will get into more details about Tampa’s streetcar at a later date, there was some interesting news about other streetcars, namely an article in a Milwaukee (where there is a debate about streetcars) outlet about Cincinnati, which is building a streetcar after much debate.  We are not going to get into the whole article, which you can read here.  But there are a couple of things to point out:

“More than any project in decades, the streetcar kerfuffle has fueled unending drama and controversy: a symbol of progress for proponents and of profligate spending for detractors.”

That quote did not come from Milwaukee, although it would certainly apply. It came from a blog written by Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld earlier this year. Sittenfeld was referring a seven-year debate over a proposed $133 million streetcar system in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ll let Sittenfeld take the Cincinnati story from there…

As you might guess, the saga follows.

It seems the debate is the same everywhere, including that economic development argument, which leads us to this about GE putting almost 1800 jobs (300 hundred of which are new) in downtown Cincinnati:

Here’s what lured GE to the Banks

Making an impact on the city, parking, the ability to draw young talent and the streetcar were among the factors that led General Electric to choose the Banks over other potential sites in Mason and Oakley for its U.S. global operations center, company and government officials said June 23.

Just note, that when people say that transit and urban environment is attractive for companies, it is more than just rhetoric.  But, unlike the Tampa streetcar, to be attractive, a transit needs to actually be useful – which means more service, faster service, better prices, etc.

— Mega Projects

So the discussion of the GE lease got us wondering about the Banks project and other urban projects.  Here is the website for the Banks.  It is a bit vague about the size of the project (especially if you exclude the two stadiums), though it seems to be $600 million.

Then, the New York Times ran an article on this  even bigger ($1.3 billion) proposal in Vancouver, Washington (which is near Portland, OR.  You can see it here and zoom out to see where it is in relation to Portland.) .

From The Oregonian – click on picture for article

We have no idea how serious this project is but it sure has a nice image gallery. We like the urban ambition.

In any event, we just wanted to give some context and perspective to local news on what a billion dollars buys and what are the biggest urban development projects in history.

— Office Towers and Usual Suspects

With all the hype about the boom (and “towers”) in downtown Tampa, we thought it could be useful to have a little more perspective by looking at a snapshot of one of the usual suspects – this time it is Charlotte:

He’s talking about a resurgence of high rise construction in Charlotte. But what brought him to town on Monday was one particular project: A high rise office tower about to be built. 

300 South Tryon will rise 27 stories at the corner of South Tryon and 3rd Street.

* * *

The Governor’s comments come at the end of a strong year for uptown. Romare Bearden Park and BB&T Ballpark opened, and one high rise apartment complex after another has begun construction around the Uptown area. But McCrory and city leaders say an office tower is different. They say it is what attracts new businesses and creates jobs. 

* * *

In fact, at least two other office towers are expected to break ground in 2015. Smith says they’ll be a competitive advantage for Charlotte’s efforts to lure other big companies to town.

(And, yes, a 27 story building can be called a tower.) And this:

The ceremony marks the first new office tower to break ground in Charlotte in more than seven years— a relative eternity in ever-growing Charlotte, which constructed more than 6 million square feet of new space from 2000 to 2010. The building will include 630,000 leasable square feet of new office space, room for a boutique hotel and the site of Babson’s new headquarters when it opens in 2017.

In other words, this one building will have about 2/3 of all the office space in the Lightning owner’s plans.  And Charlotte has a couple more planned for groundbreaking this year (who knows if they will actually get built).  Tampa hasn’t had an office building built downtown for two decades.

Yes, Tampa is progressing, but so are other places – and they tend to be ahead and moving faster.  Even if the Lightning owner’s plans – as positive, ambitious, and potentially transformative of their immediate location as they might be – are built as laid out a few weeks ago, we will still be behind other areas.

— Of Bowls, Bits, and Hacks

This year was the first year that Bitcoin in the name of the St. Pete Bowl.  Early reports show the game did well on TV and otherwise, though apparently the Trop did not take Bitcoin, which is a slightly odd.   And there was this about the actual field all those viewers saw.

In any event, that is all good (except about the Trop and the turf).  However, last week there was also this:

South Florida non profit technology group Blockchain Beach will be hosting its inaugural Miami Bitcoin Hackathon. This three-day event at The LAB Miami in Wynwood starts with a reception and registration event on Friday, Jan. 9, and ends with an award ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 11.  Coders will be competing from around the tri-county area for prizes and awards in a number of categories relating to Bitcoin and crypto-currencies technology development.

* * *

With Miami’s proximity to Latin America, and its existing infrastructure in banking and finance relations with South and Central America, Miami’s community leaders are focusing on bringing attention to the region amongst crypto-currency advocates and industry leaders. The Blockchain Beach committee, which is managing the event, have recruited participants from all sectors of the local fintech economy. Notable attendees to the event include representatives from a number of the leading crypto-currency projects, including Angel Leon of the “Open Bazaar” team, and Chris DeRose of the “Counterparty” project. As crypto-currency grows from its roots as a computer science “proof of concept”, and into a full-fledged remittance and payment industry, the organizers of the event believe that it is vital for Miami to remain competitive with similar institutions in New York and California.

So, yes, it is interesting to have Bitcoin in the name of a bowl game.  However, it really does not build the local tech economy.  Maybe St. Pete (or the whole Bay area) should have looked to take advantage of the game and held the kind of event that Miami is actually holding.

— Cuba

Speaking of other places doing what we should be out front on,

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is the first out of the gate to announce a high-level Cuba conference.

Knowledge@Wharton, the Wharton School’s online research and business analysis journal, and The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania announced Tuesday that Wharton will host a major conference for senior U.S. executives to gain insight into the legal and business challenges of doing business in Cuba as well as to formulate a strategic roadmap for entry into the market.

The inaugural conference, titled the “Cuba Opportunity Summit,” will be in New York City on April 1 and is expected to attract about 200 senior-level executives. The conference, which is planned to be a series, will be co-chaired by Faquiry Diaz Cala, president and CEO of Tres Mares Group, a Miami-based investment firm, and Mauro F. Guillén, director of The Lauder Institute, and a professor of management at the Wharton School. They plan to hold a second conference in Havana later this year, Diaz Cala said.

The conference series is targeted at U.S.-based and multinational companies formulating their board strategies on Cuba, in the wake of President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the United States will seek to forge diplomatic relations with Cuba. “The conference is aimed at CEOs and boards of directors trying to get their hands around the opportunities” and will likely include companies in the cruise industry, home building, tourism, transportation, technology and financial services, Diaz Cala said. For instance, “credit card processing will be one of the first things allowed, which could be pretty interesting.”

It does not really matter if you like the new policy or not, because it is the policy and this area should be ready to deal with and take advantage of it. If our institutions want to be world class, they need to be out front on events, even if some local politicians are not.

— Cruising

This week we learned that:

A leading cruise magazine has dubbed Port Tampa Bay as “Best Kept Secret Port” for its service, quality and excellence.

Porthole Cruise Magazine announced the moniker in its 2015 Editor-in-Chief Award list, which will be featured in the February 2015 issue.

Porthole Cruise Magazine bills itself as the nation’s leading consumer cruise and travel publication.

“While Florida in general has always been a hub for cruising, Tampa has made great strides in becoming a major player in cruising from the state,” said Bill Panoff, publisher and editor-in-chief of Porthole Cruise. “The city offers so much for cruisers to do before and after their cruise, and with more cruise lines now calling the port home, I guess it won’t be a secret for much longer.”

Which is all great, except while the Port is masterplanning something (probably real estate development) for what is now the cruise terminal area, no one seems interested in dealing with whether there will be cruises in the Tampa Bay area in a decade.  Yet, other areas, like Port Canaveral, are moving ahead.

The terminal will be used both for ships that are based at Port Canaveral as well as others making port-of-call stops here.

Johnson says Cruise Terminal 1 is “two terminals in one” because of the differing passenger traffic pattern for those two types of cruise operations. For example, passengers ending their cruise at Port Canaveral will go through exits toward the parking garage, while passengers making a port-of-call stop will leave via exits directing them toward the Cove and the seven-story Exploration Tower.

Also, the terminal is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships, as well as to allow passengers to board at various locations.

* * *

Cruise Terminal 1 is the first of four cruise terminals that Port Canaveral will need by 2022 to handle anticipated growth that is expected to elevate it to become the world’s busiest cruise terminal in terms of passenger volume.

Good for them – especially being prepared for the biggest ships.   East Coast ports get the cruises and get the containers.  We are well behind on both.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. gtdmouse permalink
    January 2, 2015 1:23 AM

    For the record, there is a jail on Falkenburg Rd. The jail you linked to is the Orient Rd jail, totally different jail.

    • January 2, 2015 9:24 AM

      Thanks. We stand corrected. Orient Road is the location you go when arrested.

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