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Roundup 1-16-2015

January 16, 2015

Transportation – The County Channels Ray Guy, Cont.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the County (and presumably the Transportation for Economic Development Group, since to large degree it is the same thing) outsourcing their transportation plan.  This week, there was more detail:

After a four-month delay, Hillsborough County is finally ready to start gathering public opinion about the county’s transportation future.

It will be a massive undertaking, consisting of 28 public meetings where residents can talk about what transportation improvements are needed in their communities or along their commutes. Four of the town hall meetings will be over the phone. Residents also will be able to comment via email and social media.

The public outreach effort was supposed to start in September but was delayed because county commissioners decided to hire transportation consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop a list of projects and their estimated costs. County leaders hope the outreach program will garner crucial public buy-in for a transportation package funded by a new or increased tax.

“We’re going to listen to the community; learn what their needs are,” said George Walton, executive vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff. “Then, (ask) what are the tools and techniques to address that problem? That’s where our technical expertise comes in.”

The whole exercise will take eight to 10 weeks in February, March and April and cost about $280,000. When it’s finished, Parsons Brinckerhoff will translate the information from the public into a package of projects totaling billions of dollars. They will likely include sidewalks, roads, trails and buses.

A light rail system has also been discussed although some leaders think a rail proposal might be too costly and mobilize opposition to the package.

So does that mean that the final package is partly predetermined or does it mean that rail can be part of the package?  It is unclear from the article.

In any event, the TED group was not content with 28 meetings and voted to add even more:

Twenty-eight public meetings were proposed to collect the thoughts of Hillsborough County residents on what should be done to fix gridlocked county roads.

That wasn’t enough.

On Wednesday, county commissioners and other members of the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group voted to add eight meetings to a public outreach effort that will stretch from mid-February to mid-April.

The information gathered in the 36 meetings, and via telephone and online surveys, will be used to craft a broad transportation plan with $6 billion in road, trail and transit projects.

* * *

The newest commissioner, Stacy White, was the first to push for more meetings.

White, who represents all of eastern Hillsborough and part of the southern area, said the two meeting sites in his district, one in Brandon and the other near Sun City Center, were not enough.

White said people in the FishHawk Ranch community in Lithia are not likely to drive to Brandon for a meeting at supper time.

“I’m not even sure I can see citizens from Apollo Beach going to Sun City Center for one of those meetings,” he said.

White said that at a minimum, two more sites were needed in his district, and preferably one in FishHawk.

Commissioner Victor Crist, who represents the northern part of the county, said meetings should be held in New Tampa, where he lives, and Thonotosassa. The upper-income families living in New Tampa have commutes to Tampa of an hour to 90 minutes and are interested in transportation options, Crist said.

The transportation policy group’s other members — the mayors of the county’s three cities and the chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus line board — did not speak up about added meetings but voted for White’s motion to add eight. 

A couple of immediate reactions: First, how can it be that there were no meetings scheduled in all of New Tampa?  If that is the case, what does it say about the consultants? Second, if they are interested in transit, why hasn’t anyone proposed anything to serve them? As for Apollo Beach and Sun City Center, we would not be surprised if people did not want to travel between them given the inexplicably inefficient road system connecting and within them.

More broadly, we are all for public input, as long as it is actually considered.  So what will the public outreach consist of?

The meetings will be a two-way street, with consultants and county officials mostly listening but also providing facts and figures when needed, said Beth Leytham, a Tampa public relations executive hired by Parsons Brinckerhoff to handle communications.

* * *

The county will be divided into eight districts with a town hall meeting planned for each, Leytham said. Telephone and digital meetings also are scheduled to draw more comments and feedback.

The eight original districts will be consolidated into four larger geographic regions for workshops based on the findings from the first meetings.

The results will be analyzed by Parsons Brinckerhoff, which will produce an “Issues and Opportunities” report. With that information as groundwork, another set of meetings will be held using the 8-4 district format.

* * *

The county hired Parsons Brinckerhoff for nearly $900,000 to come up with a transportation package that a majority of county residents will support and vote to finance. County leaders say they chose the firm based in part on its past success in designing transportation plans that won approval from voters in other states.

In truth, hiring consultants and outsourcing a plan is the same old operating procedure for local government. (And we have been to multiple transportation meetings/workshops that came to naught.) In fact, the TED group hired a consultant to hold public meetings, then promptly completely ignored the meetings.  Now, not so promptly, the County/TED hired another consultant to hold meetings. (Apparently the County is not strapped for cash for transportation.) Hopefully, this effort will be more fruitful. (It would be hard to be less.)

The real question is, if this was going to be done, why was it not done first?  Why did the TED group take all that time just to end up outsourcing the process and why do all these they feel the need to rely on consultants to interpret what the public wants?

In any event, that is a whole lot of meetings in not a lot of time.  We are curious what they will conclude.

Downtown – Step One

This week, the City Council (of course) approved funding for redoing the roads and utilities around the Lightning owner’s project.  Why did it come up so fast?

The City Council will consider the request when it meets as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The agency decides how to spend new property taxes generated inside downtown’s 870-acre community redevelopment area, or CRA.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s staff has asked to walk the item onto the agenda because Vinik and city officials hope to present a united show of support for the redevelopment plan. Next week, the Florida Board of Governors meets to recommend whether to allocate funds for a key part of Vinik’s vision — a new downtown medical school building for the University of South Florida.

“Hence, the urgency,” Chief Assistant City Attorney Salvatore Territo said in a memo.

Ok. What is the actual request?

As proposed, Vinik’s land development company, Strategic Property Partners, would design and construct the new infrastructure, which has a total cost estimated at more than $29.9 million. The work entails doing nearly $2.7 million in roadway construction, including:

Vinik’s plans also include $4.9 million in major drainage work for the area, $4 million to bury electrical and other utility lines underground and out of sight, nearly $1.3 million for landscaping and other amenities, $980,000 for traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, plus water, sewer and other improvements.

The city would reimburse Strategic Property Partners for part of the costs after the work is done and the new roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, storm sewers and other features are turned over to the public.

But the city has written several limits to its reimbursements into the proposed agreement.

First, the city would put no more than 20 percent of its downtown CRA money into Vinik’s project.

Also, the work would be done in phases. The first would focus on roads and other work needed for the medical school building and USF Heart Health Institute.

For the second phase, no city reimbursement for infrastructure would take place until Vinik’s development team has started pouring concrete on more than $10 million in private construction that would end up generating new property taxes.

* * *

Finally, the city would cover only half the reimbursable costs. Presumably, the county would cover the other half.

First, City, County, whatever.  It is all from really the same pot of money.  We are ok with the investment and the protections (though the $10 million trigger is not really a lot when you look at the scale of the project).  Unlike many other local investments, this is not just for retail, is not for sprawl, and will benefit a truly mixed use project and other people moving through the area and nearby, as well as make the area more attractive. (Our only concern is still that the flow of traffic in and out of downtown is not necessarily aided by some of the changes to the roads. If you are going to do it, just do it right.)

Built Environment/Economic Development/Downtown – There is Competition

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s plans, as we noted, despite the hyperbole of some (notably not the Lightning owner) about those plans, there are a number of projects around the country with some similar characteristics (and even size).  Recently, local media has picked up on that.

Vinik may be the “toast of Tampa”, as the Boston Globe called their city’s expatriate this past week. But he is hardly the only rich fellow with grandiose makeover plans for a city’s downtown. It seems Orlando and Las Vegas are but two of a handful of cities that, like Tampa, have rich sugar daddies with strikingly similar visions of remaking tired and sleepy downtowns into upscale, go-to communities teeming with an enviable mix of progressive business headquarters, university gravitas and entrepreneurship amid inviting housing and entertainment offerings — all in a walkable urban scene.

Isn’t that today’s gold standard for any major downtown city wants? Vibrancy. A sense of place. Amenities that embody a “live and work and play” environment.

Not to diminish the potential of Tampa’s Vinik project (online at tbtim.es/vinik). But knowing that various projects of Vinik’s magnitude already are under way in other U.S. cities offers perspective that the impressive plan for a 40-acre redo of a piece of Tampa, stretching from the convention center east to the Channelside Plaza retail shops, is perhaps not as unusual as this aspiring metro area might wish.

We agree – including the part about not diminishing the potential for the Tampa plan.

The hot phrases now in development are “mixed use” and “live/work/play” and “24-hour neighborhood.” Apartments over restaurants, offices over shops, hotels over nightclubs and everything mixed together. Your living room may be mere yards away from Starbucks. And where the customers want to live, the developers are right there to build. The amazing thing is the vast, vast expanse of Jeff Vinik’s 2.9 million- square-foot Tampa project is just one of several that scale underway.

♦ Avalon in Alpharetta, Georgia, may span 2.4 million square feet, with much of it opening this year.

♦ The Spring District project in Bellevue, Washington, may span 5.3 million square feet.

♦  The $1 billion Brickell City Centre project in Miami may span 5.4 million square feet.

♦  The Seaport Square project in Boston may span 6.3 million square feet on 23 acres, with offices, residential, retail and hotel space.

Similar projects are underway in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and Minneapolis is building an entire section of downtown with new office towers, residential blocks and skyways to Vikings Stadium.

That is in addition to the projects we highlighted previously and highlighted in the first quote above.

One thing to note is that, while “mixed-use” and “live/work/play” may be catch phrases now, the ideas go back decades (just look at the original plan for Harbour Island) and have been implemented in many projects already.  That is not to detract from the idea – it is a good idea.  But, as noted in the articles, it is not a unique idea.  There will be competition for the same businesses from other projects in other areas – many of which are more developed overall.  In fact, the Lightning owner’s plan is needed here less for its innovation and more because such a development will help us try to keep up and compete with other areas that already have live/work/play areas and are building more (and usually more efficient ways of getting around).

And, given all that, we agree with the conclusion of a Times article:

And Vinik? In financial and pro sports circles, he’s a national name given his successful track record running Fidelity’s Magellan mutual fund, running his own hedge fund and more recently owning the Tampa Bay Lightning. The commitment of billionaire Bill Gates’ investing arm to help back Vinik’s project adds immediate credibility.

But Tampa Bay should prepare itself for some downs with the ups of Vinik’s project. At some point, things will seem too slow. Promised relocations or proposed construction may not happen. And Vinik himself should be ready to confront inevitable second-guessing about a project that will take many years to emerge, much less mature.

Risky? Sure. But where would these aging city downtowns be without guys like these?

Indeed.  Hopefully, he can stick to and enhance the plan, then pull it off.  (But we hope everyone else will just keep the hype in check.)

Economy – The Jobs

The ADP report of private sector jobs for December is out:

After a mediocre November, Florida rebounded by adding a robust 21,700 private sector jobs in December, according to a report released Wednesday.

* * *

The monthly report from payroll processing company ADP shows Florida still firmly nestled as the third-best job creator in the country behind Texas (up 31,100 jobs) and California (up 29,000 jobs).

Well, Florida should be third, as the third biggest state.  On the other hand, that is quite a gap in the number of jobs, and Texas, the second biggest state is still overperforming (we’ll see what happens if the oil price keeps dropping)

Keeping with a hallmark of the prolonged recovery from the Great Recession, more than 80 percent of jobs created in Florida were in the lower-paying service-providing sector. Among select industries: professional and business services added 5,000 jobs; natural resources/mining and construction was up by 3,800 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities rose by 3,300 jobs and manufacturing was virtually flat, up 200 jobs.

The overall number is good, but that low wage habit seems hard to kick.  We need to do better.

Economic Development – From Small Things

There was an interesting item in the Business Journal about the Gasparilla season:

A small but determined group of advertising executives is banding together with Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist to organize an interactive technology festival timed with the popularity of Gasparilla season.

Executive Director Vinny Tafuro and Crist explained they’re building the conference around the Gasparilla music and film festivals, also in March, in an attempt to entice more attendance at the new Gasparilla Interactive Festival, a speaker series and technology expo.

The organizing group is small and admits it is in the early stages, but an event like this could help bring attention to Tampa Bay’s emerging tech sector.

Setting aside that the main Gasparilla parade is in late January or early February each year (this year it is January 31) so having “Gasparilla” events all the way in March has always been a bit odd, we like the idea.  Of course it is small – it is just starting.  But you have to start somewhere.

Finally, the article called it a “mini-SXSW,” which is not exactly accurate.  SXSW has many features, sort of like all the Gasparilla events magnified, all held at one time (or at least a greatly condensed amount of time).  Nevertheless, it is fine if the Tampa idea is inspired by SXSW.  Hopefully, it will grow.  But it would be nice if all the Gasparilla events were in a more condensed timeframe.

USF/Economic Development – Moffitt Rising

There was news that the Moffitt Cancer Center is looking at expansion.

Moffitt Cancer Center officials are considering a plan to replace the pressed-for-space hospital with a new building that would be more than twice as tall.

* * *

Hemmed in at its current location, Moffitt won’t be able to get additional land from the University of South Florida, which has no more to give, said Kolosky. So the main option under consideration is tearing down the nearly 30-year-old hospital and replacing it. Chief executive officer Alan List said the new building would have 12 stories — more that double the current five-story facility.

Construction plans would need to be creative to keep the hospital fully functioning while the new facility is being built. Those details have not been worked out, but Kolosky said the hospital would not close to patients during construction, which could take two years.

Kolosky said the new hospital plan depends on whether Moffitt can raise enough money from the state and private sources. But he also said Moffitt has to take some action to deal with its bed shortage.

* * *

Officials expect to decide whether to pursue construction — and funding — later in the year, likely after the new outpatient facility is up and running. Getting money from the state would require help from the state Legislature.

The idea is new enough that Moffitt officials had not discussed it with Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who is the House majority leader and one of the center’s top supporters in the Legislature. She said she wasn’t sure yet what state funding might be available, but she had little doubt Moffitt needs to expand.

* * *

If Moffitt does end up pursuing a new hospital, the Tampa Bay area could have two major health care-related construction projects under way around the same period of time. The University of South Florida wants to build a new medical school in downtown Tampa. The Florida Board of Governors will consider the medical school project later this month.

We are all for expanding Moffitt (though, of course, we wish there were fewer people who needed its services).  We also have no problem with it going up instead of out.  That is a natural development for a growing area.  We hope they get the money.

The one thing we will note is that Moffitt is right next to the quite squat USF Med School. (You can see the site here)  The USF Medical School, if USF gets its way, will move downtown.  One of the justifications is that the move would open up room for other facilities on the USF campus.  If you look at the map, there are a number of surface parking lots around all the facilities.  Assuming the USF med school is moved (and really, even if it isn’t) and given all the surface parking, there should be ample room for expansion.  Not that the expansion should be a squat building – as we said, we are all for going up – but there is room for a number of facilities in that general area if they are built properly.

Historic Preservation – Lacking

There was an interesting article in the Tribune that reveals a bit about how local government worked/works:

The craftsman bungalows, granite curbs and Queen Anne style homes that give Hyde Park its distinctive character are also a fixture of the adjacent Courier City Oscawana neighborhood.

The homes, mostly built when the Hyde Park enclave was being settled between 1886 and 1933, helped put the neighborhood in the Hyde Park Historic District that was added in 1985 to the federal National Register of Historic Places. But Courier City Oscawana was left out when, three years later, city officials drew their own boundaries and created a local Hyde Park historic district that places tougher criteria on whether to approve requests to alter or demolish period homes.

The result has been that some 34 period homes from the neighborhood east of Howard Avenue and south of Kennedy Boulevard have been legally demolished since 1988. The most recent was a 1910 bungalow on South Melville Boulevard that met the wrecking ball late last year.

Less than half of the houses in the neighborhood are now historic, down from 69 percent in 1988, leading some council members and residents to fear that the neighborhood is losing its identity.

“We need to save what we have left,” said Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. “At this rate, I can see in another 10 years we’re not going to have any or we’ll have very few.”

City officials are unsure why there is a difference between the two districts, whose boundaries were drawn based on the concentration of period homes in the area.

What is clear is that it is far easier to demolish homes outside the city’s designated historic district. 

So the City does not know why it does not protect these houses?  Let’s see.  The houses tend to be smaller than Hyde Park.  The Howard corridor is right there (ironically, since the city keeps gnashing its teeth about all the business on Howard).  And:

Exacerbating the problem is that the Courier City Oscawana is zoned to allow the development of multi-family structures like small condo or apartment complexes, typically far more lucrative to developers than rehabilitating a period home or building single family homes. 

In other words, years ago the City made a conscious decision to favor tearing down the houses and replacing them with more taxable development – and that is fine for houses that are not historical and as long as the fabric of the neighborhood is not torn apart.

Fernandez’s office is working to extend the Hyde Park district to add in roughly 300 homes in an area North of De Leon Street and west of South Boulevard. That means a lot of leg work, meeting with neighborhoods and winning consensus for a designation that some owners say diminishes their property rights.

There are no current plans to extend the city district to cover Courier City Oscawana so little stands in the way of further demolition.

The bottom line is this is all part of the Howard conundrum that is the result of poor planning.

We have nothing against redevelopment.  We have nothing against denser development.  We have nothing against developing Howard.  The issue is that there is no consensus on how to do it, and it has been far too ad hoc.  We admit it is a hard to resolve all this.  What it should tell the City is that the City needs to do a much better job of planning and letting people know what will be there.  Then people can choose what they want and problems can be avoided (at least in some part).

List of the Week

Our list this week is the annual Milken Institute rankings of Best Performing Cities.  (For clarity, this year’s listing is named the 2014 Best Performing Cities list)  You can see the whole report here.   We will just focus on the major cities. (That list is here)

The Top 30 performing major metro are: San Francisco; Austin; Provo; San Jose; Raleigh; Salt Lake City; Houston; Fort Worth-Arlington; Dallas; San Antonio; Seattle; Denver; Boulder; Greeley, CO; Nashville; Portland;  Fort Collins; Laredo, TX; Lafayette, LA; Lubbock, TX; Baton Rouge; San Diego; Charlotte; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA; Grand Rapids; Indianapolis; Santa Barbara; Bakersfield-Delano, CA; Holland-Grand Haven, MI; and Madison, WI.

Some of those are bit surprising, though many are usual suspects.  And we are also not sure how well some of those Texas cities will do with a low oil price.  Nevertheless, one thing of note is the lack of Florida cities.  So are they close to the top 30?  Orlando is 56 (up from 98 in 2013); Naples is 60 (up from 83); Jax is 64 (up from 133); West Palm Beach is 70 (up from 163); Sarasota is 80 (up from 162); Miami is 85 (up from 144); the Tampa Bay area is 86 (up from 93); Ft. Myers is 88 (up from 164); Ft. Lauderdale is 92 (up from 129); Pensacola is 165 (up from 191); Daytona is 171 (up from 178); Port St. Lucie is 178 (down from 149); Gainesville is 182 (down from 124); Lakeland is 184 (up from 199); Ocala is 190 (down from 161); Tallahassee is 194 (no change); and Palm Bay is 195 (down from 177).

The only two categories in which the Tampa Bay area ranked higher than 50th is 1-year wage growth (46th) – though, as with all growth, when you start from a low base your growth will look better than those starting from a higher base and our 5 year wage/salary growth is a woeful 156th – and “number of high-technology industries with a location quotient (LQ) above the U.S. average of 1.0 during 2013” (25th).

The one thing we will say is that the Tampa Bay area is relatively consistent in performance and improving slightly.  It is also ranked in the top half.  However, as with pretty much all the Florida cities, it did not do nearly well enough – especially when you consider the number of usual suspects ranked in the top 30.

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