Economic Development – An Announcement
Though the news had been leaked before, it was announced that Big Brothers/Big sisters is moving its HQ to Tampa.
That is good. So how many jobs?
As noted above, it is a small win. It is also of note that the HQ is going to Westshore (not downtown). Of course, that has to do with donated space, build out, etc., so it is understandable. Anyway, it is a start, we suppose.
Economic Development – Where Do We Stand?
There was a piece in the Business Journal about Mercedes moving its North American HQ to Atlanta that at first seemed a bit odd.
Mercedes is planning to invest $100 million in a new 200,000-square-foot office campus in the metro Atlanta area — a deal that considered Florida, Texas and North Carolina, reports the Atlanta Business Chronicle, a sister news organization.
Tampa is in hot pursuit of a corporate headquarters right now. The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has publicly declared a goal of attracting one, and another major player is also on the hunt: Jeff Vinik.
First, we like the aggressive tone. Why not try for BMW or Audi? We have nothing against that. Indeed, it appears that Mercedes looked at Tampa – which is good (and explains the Business Journal article) – but decided on Atlanta.
To make the discussion a bit more relevant to the Tampa Bay area and to see where we stand in our effort to attract major companies let’s look at what the Atlanta Business Journal said about the reasons behind Mercedes’ decision to move.
Atlanta’s strategic location puts the city in between Mercedes’ largest U.S. production plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and the Port of Brunswick, it’s largest import facility. The relocation “helps us to optimize our footprint in the United States,” Cannon [the Mercedes Benz USA President and CEO] said.
Atlanta landed the Mercedes headquarters from a short list that included Dallas and the Charlotte/Raleigh region, because of the region’s “top-shelf” infrastructure (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) and its quality of life.
And what the head of the EDC said about Tampa’s effort:
But in the end, Mercedes wanted to be near other corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Homans said, because of the quality of the workforce it could draw from there. It also valued the worldwide connections of Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
We can’t do anything about the present location of the factories. Port Tampa Bay wants to import cars, but we doubt they will overtake an east coast port for cars coming from Europe. TIA is working hard to develop routes, but obviously Atlanta has a better assortment of flights (another reason, aside from tech, that a nonstop to San Francisco is important).
As for workforce and quality of life (aside from Mercedes’ level of suprise at seeing the area indicating that all those years of messaging have not been effective in getting the word out), there are a lot of good things about the Tampa Bay area, but we still need real transit, much more urban development, urban/suburban trails (walking and bike) to real destinations like the beltline in Atlanta, and more amenities. We need to offer the best quality of life (which, even with all the natural assets we have, we still have a way to go) to get the best talent and build the workforce (if for no other reason – though there are other reasons – than to balance out some of the other deficiencies listed above.) This is one more example of how the way the area is planned/built and talent/economic development are tied together.
That is not to say we cannot attract these A-list companies. The fact that Mercedes looked at us is a sign we should keep trying. But we should also know where we stand and what we really need to do to consistently compete and succeed.
Transportation – Streetcar Desires
When the Lightning owner unveiled his plan/vision, there was talk of extending the streetcar into downtown and making it a more useful form of transportation. While this expansion should have been considered regardless of the Lightning owner’s plan/vision, it does fit into the bigger picture of that plan/vision.
Coincidentally or not, soon thereafter there was news of a study done for HART regarding extending the streetcar. (you can find the study here)
As development plans get cranking in downtown Tampa, the county’s transit authority is armed with a new study that shows what it could cost to extend and upgrade the streetcar system through the heart of the business district.
The Tampa Historic Streetcar Extension Study, commissioned by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit System, has determined it will cost anywhere from $37 million to $60 million to extend the streetcar from the Franklin and Whiting streets station, north along Ashley Drive, to Tampa Street and Florida Avenue and eventually to the Marion Transit Center on Marion Street.
That extension would include improvements required to upgrade the system to accommodate modern streetcars or light rail transit cars. And with a billion-dollar downtown development vision unveiled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik this week, the time is right to have that information, said HART Executive Director Katharine Eagan.
“We had not taken a fresh look at what was going on around the streetcar line and what was going on downtown,” in more than a decade, Eagan said. Others have considered what could be done and what it might cost to upgrade the county’s transit system as the downtown area develops further, but HART had not, she said.
Well, not exactly the same costs. The study looked at four different alignments for extension: on Ashley, on Franklin, on Marion, and on Tampa/Florida (we will get to those in a minute). First, from page 13, is the chart of the costs of extension based on alignment:
Pdf, pg 13. So, basically, the top end is about $60 million though it can be done (without upgrades) for about $40 million, which in the greater scheme of things for a system that really works is not that much.
Moreover, the study looked at upgrading the tracks and other infrastructure to make the streetcar more modern and useful. The cost of doing that can be found on page 19, in this chart:
Pdf, pg 19. Once again, the upgrades would be worth it if the system actually functions as a real transportation system rather than a tourist attraction AND is built in such a way that expansion is possible and logical (especially to areas like the Heights and/or across the river if that ever actually gets redeveloped).
Now, to the possible alignments. (It should be noted that the alignments all look to double track the route as much as possible so one train do not have to wait for other trains to pass by. On the other hand, the potential alignments also put the track in the road so the trains will be slowed down a bit by traffic. Finally, there is no provision in the study for crossing the CSX tracks, which is always an issue).
The best way to look at the alignments is to actually look at the alignments, so here they are:
Ashley Drive alignment
Franklin Street alignment
Marion Street alignment
The first thing we will note is that, while the Marion alignment is in many ways easiest because of the existing transitway, it is farthest from the more interesting and developing parts of downtown. Anyone who has been around the transitway as it is now knows that putting the rails there will not maximize the investment. To attract riders, the streetcar should go where people are or want to be, not just where it is easiest to put.
The Ashley alignment goes to places people want to be, and has some appeal. On the other hand, as the map makes clear, it is on the edge of what is now downtown. Ideally, there would be a decent number of people and destinations a few blocks from the station on both sides of the stations, which is not really the case with this alignment. So, yes, there is some appeal to an Ashley alignment, but there is also a downside.
The Tampa/Florida alignment brings the streetcar closer to the most people and destinations. In that way it is appealing. On the other hand, it appears the track on each road is single – probably one way. That makes trips and/or walks longer and not as appealing.
Finally, the Franklin alignment runs between the Tampa/Florida alignment, so its catchment area is about as large. It is also likely a double track, which is good. And it is the least expensive option.
One of the downsides to the Franklin alignment is that the plaza between One Tampa City Center and the Hilton, which is one of the few and nicer plazas downtown, would disappear. It is also farther than some other alignments from destinations like the Straz and museums (though only a block or two). And it is not clear that a train down Franklin would enhance Franklin, which is finally emerging as the type of pedestrian friendly street so many have wanted for so long. On the other hand, there is not much traffic on Franklin, so cars will not get in the way of the streetcar and slow it down.
Given what we know now (and that can always change), if we had to choose, we would go with either the Franklin or Tampa/Florida alignments. (Probably Franklin first) And if it is rebuilt for modern rolling stock and so that expansion possibilities are built in, expanding the streetcar could form the core of a potential future system.
Nevertheless, it is not clear where the money for any expansion will come from (though the County does not seem to have trouble finding $15 million for playing fields, $6+ million for Bass Pro Shops, and other money for other subsidies) or how fast something might happen. But something needs to happen because the current streetcar system is lacking.
The intent of the $35,000 study, which was preliminary and did not include information on ridership or traffic impact, was to provide some data and pave the way for future discussions and studies, said Steven Shukraft of HDR.
Part of the problem with the streetcar, board members said, is that it has no clear leading force at its helm. HART is in charge of operating and maintenance, but the right-of-way is owned by the city and the streetcar is managed by the Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc. Board.
(To paraphrase Dean Wormer: “Rare, slow, and expensive is no way to run a transportation system.”) Most of those observations are true, including about working with partners (though why not have the County involved, too – after all, Tampa is in Hillsborough County – and putting some TIF money in the pot?)
We have no idea why none of the problems were addressed before, including the CSX insurance fee. At least people are talking about it now. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
Transportation – Never Ending Story
There was an article in the Tribune regarding FDOT’s five year plan:
For a moment, drivers breathed a sigh of relief. The fixes improved the flow of traffic where Interstates 4 and 275 meet, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. But it was just an interim fix.
Anyone who goes through that interchange hopes it was interim because it is not very effective.
In its five-year plan, updated each year, FDOT is proposing to add $23 million in 2016 to purchase right of way around that convergence so it can eventually rebuild the roadways with more lanes. The five-year plan also includes $20 million for some right-of-way acquisition at the I-275/State Road 60 interchange, which also must eventually be rebuilt so traffic can flow more smoothly.
There is no construction funding earmarked for either rebuild project at this point. “Right now, we are working on the time frame,” Hunt said. “The good news is when we do rebuild them, they will last for 50 years.”
It is true that most of the fixes to roads in the area are interim fixes namely because they have not fixed the roads. It is also true (though it is not clear why), that there is no money for right of way acquisition right now to make more needed fixes to the roads (or funding for the fixes).
What we think is not likely to be true is that, when rebuilt, the roads will be good for 50 years. The fact is that as long as growth continues (especially with no real transit and the sprawling nature of development) the roads are almost always going to be behind the need. (In fact, even with transit the roads will likely be behind, though not as much.)
In any event, what else is in the plan?
“There are a number of projects that have been priorities for a while and we like seeing them get funding, including the advanced traffic management system” ($2 million in 2016) that will synchronize traffic lights inside and outside of downtown Tampa, studying the interstates to accommodate managed lanes for mass transit and bus replacement money for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (FDOT added the standard $4 million in 2020), said Rich Clarendon, senior planning manager for the MPO.
All of Tampa desperately needs some light synchronization. (As for the other thing – there is no real mass transit in managed lanes – just buses, not even real BRT in dedicated lanes. Just say you want to see if you can run buses in the Lexus lane.) What else?
There are also a few concerns, Clarendon said. For example, the FDOT plan calls for engineering and design for three corridor projects in the urban area: State Road 580 (Busch Boulevard) from Dale Mabry Highway to Nebraska Avenue; Hillsborough Avenue from Memorial Highway to I-275; and State Road 574 (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) from 40th Street to I-4. Safety and operational improvements would benefit the community, Clarendon said, but widening without consideration for safety is a concern. The MPO is simply seeking more information on FDOT’s intent, he said.
After hearing of the concern, Hunt responded, saying FDOT’s No. 1 priority is safety. “We’re not going to do anything that isn’t safe for the traveling public.” That being said, state roads are for regional movement, she said, so the focus is also on moving goods. Bike lanes and pedestrian crossings are better suited for local roads, she said.
It sounds like being able to cross the major arterial roads that criss-cross the area and cut neighborhoods off from each other is not important and forget about biking anywhere except your immediate neighborhood. We hope that is not what was actually meant.
The five-year plan also lists planning and design work for three corridor projects outside of the urban core area: US 92 from Kingsway Road in Seffner to Thonotosassa Road in Plant City; SR 574 from McIntosh Road in Dover to U.S. 92 in Plant City; and U.S. 41 from SR 674 in Ruskin to the Manatee County Line.
Clarendon said the MPO staff believes there are other highway segments identified as higher priorities, due to congestion predictions, and the MPO staff wants FDOT to explain why less congested areas got priority.
Hunt said studying these corridors is just one way FDOT looks ahead ‘to see what should be teeing up next for funding.” It does not mean these projects will take precedence over more congested areas, she said.
Among the other highlights of the five-year plan are: funding ($1.7 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019) for a transit regional fare box which would enable HART and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to have interchangeable passes; $3.7 million for the purchase of two gantry cranes at Port Tampa Bay, which will be used to off-load containers from newer, wider ships; $200 million over five years for Tampa International Airport’s new automated people mover; $1.7 million for design work in 2017 for the new interchange design in Pasco County for SR 56 and Interstate 75.
FDOT has deferred construction on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County from 2019 to 2020 to address pedestrian and transit issues before the road is reconstructed, Hunt said. “Reconstruction of U.S. 19 significantly improves movement for freight and passenger vehicles, but has created pedestrian and transit issues. There are less opportunities for crossing” the street, she said. Hunt said FDOT will study how to address those issues, then incorporate that information in to the construction plan.
So, while the plan could be much better, there are some good things in the plan, especially at the airport and port. And, the fact is, you can’t really blame FDOT for just going ahead with road plans they like and not funding transit when there is no local plan that has passed for transit and local planning is not very good. The main problem with transportation planning in the Tampa Bay area is the Tampa Bay area, not FDOT. If the local officials had the will to plan properly and comprehensively and to be creative in moving forward with mass transit, FDOT would probably go along.
Rays – The Development Rights
As we noted a few weeks ago, the proposed deal between St. Pete and the Rays to allow the Rays to look for stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough was rejected, which we found disappointing. Thankfully, that has not yet been the end of the issue, though it still could be. The issue that ostensibly caused a rejection was development rights for the Trop land:
“Last night, City Council clouded this issue. To be clear, the city retains one-hundred percent of all development rights once the Rays leave Tropicana Field. The team is only entitled to development rights while they play at the Dome. What council was asking for was one-hundred percent of the development rights while the Rays are still there. If an opportunity emerges to redevelop the land before the Rays vacate, we would discuss that situation with the Rays at that time. Five members of Council sought to preclude any development rights for the Rays. By voting no, they did just the opposite, guaranteeing the Rays fifty percent of development rights through 2027.”
That is reasonable. But the stated issue was this:
Kriseman’s deal gave the Rays three years to find a new stadium site and possible financing. If the team decided to move, they would sign a “termination agreement” to cover Trop operations during the three or four transition years it would take put the new ballpark in place.
With the western edge of downtown finally catching fire, a hotel on an outlying parcel is not the only option. Theoretically, five or 10 or 20 of the Trop’s 85 acres might come into play for apartments, condos or even office buildings while the team is still playing in St. Petersburg.
On Friday, developer Craig Sher said “it is almost impossible to project” the Trop’s acreage value while the team is still playing but before they leave. Any major buyer would want certainty about the stadium’s fate, and a Rays deal in, say, Tampa could always fall through.
City Attorney John Wolfe said the Rays and city never discussed development rights during negotiations. It only came up a few days before the council meeting, when Nurse asked the city legal staff to clarify it.
Nurse, who voted to approve the agreement Thursday, said the rights issue does not need to be settled now. He could accept negotiating those rights when the Rays announce they are leaving and all the wind-down issues are addressed.
That is a quandary. Why it was not addressed in the original proposal is not clear. Obviously, leaving the Rays development rights if they stayed in the Trop would be an inducement to staying. Having the St. Pete have all the rights if the Rays are leaving also makes sense. The question is what happens in between (and whether the development rights issue is actually the key issue or an excuse to vote “no.”)
That is a fair question – and now very relevant since the proposal was rejected. Only time will tell (of course, time is still wasting).
North Franklin – Rumblings
If you have some time on Saturday, you may want to head to the North Franklin area. From 83 degrees media:
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10, the Franklin Street Better Block party will celebrate North Franklin’s future with music, food, arts and “pop-up” storefronts. It will be a day long demonstration of how two city blocks north of I-275, from Kay Street to Henderson Avenue, can be transformed into a complete, vibrant and walkable street.
Community activists with the Tampa Heights Civic Association are sponsoring the block party with support from The Beck Group and Tucker Hall. Other partners are CNU (Congress for New Urbanism) Tampa Bay and Urban Charrette.
The block party is a concept of The Better Block, a national organization focused on getting local communities involved in the future of their neighborhoods. The party is a “living charrette” with residents, business owners, investors, urban planners and architects sharing ideas and dreams that can spark plans and projects for future development.
“What we’re going for is a complete, active street and demonstrating what a future Franklin Street could be,” says Brian Seel, the civic association’s president and senior project engineer at The Beck Group. “But it’s not just a block party or a street market. It is a planning process as well.”
Sounds like a good idea to us. Located between the Heights and downtown, North Franklin is a relatively small area that is seemingly ripe for redevelopment (and really has been for a while). It would be nice if the streetcar expansion ideas included connecting to North Franklin and making more a part of downtown.
The one downside to the area that is not often discussed but that should be acknowledged are all the services for the homeless and needy around the area. While we understand that Tampa needs facilities to help the homeless and needy (and we are all for such facilities, know they do a lot of good, and that the facilities in the area do yoeman’s work maintaining and even enhancing – like Metropolitan Ministries – the area), we are also realistic enough to know that such facilities make some (hopefully not too many) people less likely to invest in an area. How to manage that is a question with no clear answer.
Bring the Noise
There was an amusing, short article on the Times website about overused words, particularly in business.
These are some of the key business words that made the annual Lake Superior State University list of words it would like to see “banished from the Queen’s English for mis-use, over-use and general uselessness.”
You can check some of the words on the list in the article. Then, the article looked at overused words in the Tampa Bay business scene:
Any regular reader will know that we complete agree with that. And don’t forget “game-changer.”
Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida
— All Those Thing We Want
A few months ago, we wrote about a UCF photonics manufacturing facility in Osceola County where USF was partner.
USF is a partner (which we understand since there is no facility like that here, though that brings up the question of why). So what is UCF collaborating on to build the Tampa Bay economy (aside from UCF building their own med school and large biomed complex, including a VA simulation training center, in Lake Nona to compete with USF)?
(See “Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida”)
This week, we learned that the project is getting more partners.
Five key research universities have signed up to support a project spearheaded by University of Central Florida aimed at getting a $110 million federal photonics contract that would be centered in Osceola County.
The photonics project is related to the recent awarding of a contract from Osceola County to Skanska USA to build a $70 million facility, the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, near Kissimmee. There are high hopes for the center, with some estimates projecting it could attract up to 80,000 jobs to the area over the coming years.
The article says that they are looking for Federal funding for part of the project (and, strangely, does not list USF as a partner.). Once again, good for them – tech and manufacturing. We have to wonder why the Orlando area seems to come up with so many more of these type of ideas than the Tampa Bay area.
— Training Camp
Speaking of tech,
The nonprofit group based in St. Louis works to give non-traditional job candidates opportunities in the field through apprenticeships and job placement. It will launch in South Florida with a $1.25 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.
LaunchCode’s South Florida director, Mariana Rego, is signing up companies that want to participate. Rego said she has meetings set with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance to jump start the program in Broward County and also plans to recruit companies in Palm Beach County.
You can check out the organization’s website here. It is notable that they say about 90% of the people who they place have no prior programming experience.
As far as we know, they are not in the Tampa Bay area (if they are, let us know). We could use this kind of program to both lift people’s incomes and increase our talent pool to draw more companies. (Yes, they are placing people into existing opportunities, but the larger the tech workforce, the more likely you are to draw tech business – or create your own).
One thing to note is that from the articles it seems that in almost all the tech promotion efforts in South Florida, the Knight Foundation plays a role. It would be nice to have similar support for this area’s efforts.
List of the Week
There is no list of the week this week. (We thought of using this list of worst winter weather airports , but it is really silly)