Hillsborough County Schools – A Glimpse Into the Future
The big news last week involved the removal of the superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools. There was a consistent theme in the coverage:
In political and business circles, the reaction to the board’s 4-3 vote to terminate Elia’s contract has been overwhelmingly negative. The prevailing wisdom is that Elia is a good school leader with the title of state Superintendent of the Year to prove it, that a board majority was being petty, and that the move was rash, costing taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract.
But some parents blamed Elia for the struggles schools have in serving special-needs children. “I am actually happy,” said Amanda Taylor, who was so frustrated about her daughter’s situation that she called Elia “EVILia” in a Facebook campaign.
Civil rights leaders including Pheneger, concerned about disproportionate numbers of black students being disciplined, were looking for a more aggressive response to the problem instead of the sluggish task force effort now under way.
Elia, 66, was a key part of Tampa/Hillsborough’s economic dream team, the business and education leadership group that has become so influential in selling this metro area to corporations looking to expand or relocate. Elia also won business kudos for helping shape education to better prepare students as a relevant future workforce.
“A school system committed to high-quality standards and working with the business community to ensure development of a qualified workforce is the most important asset a community can offer,” Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans said. “It’s the foundation of everything we do.”
Robust support for Elia from the business community ran wide and deep at Tuesday’s School Board meeting where the superintendent was ultimately fired. Kathleen Shanahan — CEO of Tampa’s Uretek construction company, former chairwoman of the State Board of Education and former chief of staff to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — circulated an online petition, capturing 1,100 signatures to retain a “world-class superintendent.” The Tampa Port Authority took the extra step to approve a resolution supporting Elia. A “stunned” vice president at Tampa’s Caspers, a major operator of McDonald’s, told the board the real firing “will happen at the ballot box.”
The response, from leaders in business, political and educational circles, was no less impressive. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Rep. Dana Young and others rose to her defense, saying it would be damaging to the community and economy if the board dismissed one of the top superintendents in the nation. Kathleen Shanahan, CEO of a Tampa-based construction company and former chairwoman of the State Board of Education, circulated an online petition.
Leaders in business and politics told the board how Elia isn’t afraid to make decisions and that her leadership and guidance is sought throughout the Tampa Bay area and the state. She has emerged as a leading voice in calling on education officials to get a handle on the testing that is suffocating our classrooms. She’s invested in programs for the disadvantaged.
We could discuss the merit or lack thereof of the move, but there is no point in that. Clearly, a strong school system is very important to the area – for economic development, but, even more importantly, for the students. However, the deed is done, and we are not going to get into it.
There is one really interesting thing that is of a broader significance to the future that did not get covered much. If you look at all the quotes above, there is one striking consistency – political (of course the school board is political, too, but never mind) and business leaders, groups which have traditionally (though, of course, not exclusively) been centered in South Tampa, supported the superintendent. Now, look at the election maps for the two Nov. 2014 school board races involving school board members who voted to remove the superintendent:
It would appear there is a disconnect between the political and business leaders in Hillsborough County and the residents of most of the county. The real question is why their message did not seem to have much resonance or influence with most of the county. To know that requires really knowing the rest of the county.
Frankly, it is not your father’s Hillsborough County. The demographics and population distribution have changed.
The school district affair seems to indicate that the political and business leaders of the County need to develop a better outreach and understanding of the county or face the prospect of not getting much done. Just as with the Tampa-centric transportation referendum, the center of electoral and political power in the County has moved (and not just to east county – the northwest is also not in synch with South Tampa). Tampa may be the economic center of the county, but it is not where most people live – or vote. That needs to be recognized and dealt with or there will be more and more replays of this kind, which does not serve anyone.
City Elections – The Editorial
There as an editorial in the Times regarding the Tampa city elections summed up in the headline “Editorial: Tampa elections too vital to skip.” The basic message of the editorial was thus:
With Mayor Bob Buckhorn facing only nominal opposition from a write-in candidate, Tampa voters might be tempted to skip city elections in March. But there are serious issues facing the field of candidates for City Council, and the outcomes in this election will shape the city and region during a critical time.
In other words, people should vote – and they should. Of course, what we really wonder is why Tampa elections are in March, six months after a general election. That seems more like a measure to drive turnout down. If you want turnout (and save some money), why not have the elections during the general election?
Economic Development – The Local Scene
As part of a series of articles on geekwire.com, there was a profile of Tampa’s start-up scene. It went over the usual high points, like the beach, weather, and plans of the Lightning owner. However, we think the real point was this:
Burke, who co-founded KiteDesk in 2011, wants to hang in his adopted home town. But he, too, feels the pull of money centers such as Boston, New York and Silicon Valley, and he said the company would consider relocating if the right financial backers came along and requested a move. “We would go anywhere to make the company a success,” said Burke, adding that it can be a struggle for entrepreneurs to raise capital and attract talent in Tampa.
Asked what Tampa’s technology community needs most, Burke paused for a second — skipping the most frequently cited issues of venture capital and developers — before noting that there’s no direct flight between Tampa and the San Francisco Bay Area.
“If we are going to get investors from the West Coast, they are not going to spend eight hours in transit,” he said. There are signs of progress on this front as well, with the Tampa International Airport embarking on the biggest expansion in its history last fall, a massive $1 billion overhaul that officials say will help put the city on the world stage. (For what it’s worth, there is a direct flight between Seattle and Tampa).
Of course, that answer is all about the venture capital. And, in reality, what he is talking about is not a start-up scene, but a port-start-up scene. In other words, developing a full-fledged tech scene. The beach and weather may make the area attractive and redeveloping downtown may help attract talent (though transit would help –note that San Diego has beaches, weather, downtown and much other urban development, and transit – plus flights to San Francisco), but, in the end, the key to keeping companies here will be money (and talent, which goes to money and lifestyle, to form a cluster that will develop and maintain a full-fledged tech scene.). Of course, we want the money to come here. So far, that hasn’t happened as much as needed.
As has always been the case with this area, most of the ingredients for success are here. The question is whether they can be supplemented with the last few elements to put us over the top, and that comes from dedicated work (like at the airport) and a real change in the political culture that goes beyond just welcoming jobs (everyone welcomes jobs) and becomes really willing to take political chances and leadership (not outsource it) on crucial issues, like transit and the nature of development in the area.
Economic Development – Another Thing We Need
Which brings us to the comments of a major local business leader last week:
To lure a major company headquarters to Tampa Bay requires a strong community brand; a great talent pool, infrastructure and schools; and a vigorous transit system, local real estate professionals heard this week.
Tampa has the talent pool and the great schools, but it needs to work on the infrastructure and must start to build a robust public transit system, said John Sykes, founder of Sykes Enterprises, a company whose headquarters towers over the Hillsborough River in the cylindrical building that bears his name.
A young, well-educated talent pool will insist on public transit that will take them from their doorstep to the office, the doctor and the ball game, Sykes told members of the Real Estate Investment Council, meeting Wednesday at the University Club in downtown Tampa.
“Infrastructure, movement of people, schools, business climate and even our government has to be efficient and effective,” Chuck Sykes said. “These are the drivers as we think about why companies want to be here. They will fall in one of those buckets.
He showed the group a chart listing some pluses and minuses of relocating to the Tampa Bay region. Quality of life, low cost of living and talent rank high. Transportation infrastructure ranked low, reflecting the region’s traffic congestion. “When you think about infrastructure and rail, whether you believe it or not really doesn’t matter. The Millennial generation wants no car or one car and they want to be able to jump on transit.”
And he’s right. Moreover, transit also is key to making the Lightning owner’s project – which is held out as key to the start-up scene – a success. Once again, all the elements of economic development are tied together.
Ignoring the built environment, transit, transportation, schools, availability of investors, or any aspect risks hamstringing the entire effort to raise the local economy. Companies can go anywhere. Talent can go anywhere. To get them to invest, you have to show you are also willing to invest and provide what they want. (Of course, Texas, that bastion of socialism, is busy building rail and other transit all over the place.)
In a way, it is a chicken and egg question. Does the talent arrive and drive the change or does the change need to come first to draw the talent and money, such as to really build a startup scene?
His message is right, but will it get through – not just with voters but with officials.
The Economy – Unemployment
The state’s unemployment rate continues to drop:
The Tampa metro area had slightly better news. The unemployment level stood at 5.5 percent for December, according to the report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. That is down from 5.9 percent in November and from 6.0 percent in December 2013.
Breaking it down further, Hillsborough County fared slightly better than the state, experiencing a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 5.2 percent in December 2014, from 5.7 percent in November. The rate was 5.8 percent in December 2013.
And that is all good (though some counties did better than others). But there is a consistent issue:
Income disparity is growing faster and there is a higher percentage of low-wage jobs being created in Florida compared with most places in the United States, according to a pair of reports coming out this week.
- A whopping 61 percent of job openings in Florida pay less than the estimated living wage for a single adult, according to an analysis by the Alliance for a Just Society, a network pushing for racial, social and economic changes.
- Between 2009 and 2012, the top 1 percent of Florida wage earners saw their income rise 39.5 percent while the bottom 99 percent saw income fall 7.1 percent, according to a study released Monday by EARN, the Economic Analysis and Research Network in Washington, D.C., a national, progressive coalition. That gives Florida the fourth-highest income disparity between average wages of the top 1 percent ($1.49 million) and average wages of everybody else ($34,387).
That is not good. (And makes us wonder even more about variable rate toll roads.)
The Economy – Housing Market
There was also news about the housing market.
The answer is: pretty darn good. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller index look at 20 major metro areas, announced Tuesday, shows that amid a national slowdown in home price appreciation, Tampa Bay registered a healthy 0.8 percent gain. That’s the strongest monthly increase in November among home prices in 20 top metro areas.
Gains in home prices among some metro areas is not a given, despite the recovering economy. Of the 20 metro areas, eight reported monthly price declines in November, led by a 1.1 percent drop in Chicago.
Measured over 12 months, Tampa Bay still delivered a solid 6.8 percent annual gain in home prices. Only five metro areas, led by high-priced San Francisco’s heady 8.9 percent, topped Tampa Bay’s year-to-year increase, according to Case-Shiller.
And that is good, though, as always, growth numbers must be looked at in light of the starting point, and our was quite low. In any event, are there reasons for this improvement?
Start with a falling unemployment rate and some of the strongest consumer confidence measures since the recession. Sprinkle in the growing swell of baby boomers heading here from up North. Add in the still relatively cheap home prices in the Tampa Bay area, which add to their appeal among retirees and first-time home buyers.
We are curious, though we do not have numbers, about whether the increase is driven more by expenses house having a higher gain or a more broad increase in lower priced houses. Nevertheless, we will take it.
Port – Growth is Good
There was news about the Port and growth.
Some of the strides forward in 2014 included 17 percent more ships coming into the port, 22 percent more container cargo coming in, 45 percent more dry bulk products, including phosphate, going out and 200 percent more steel coming in, “a strong sign that the construction sector is coming back,” Anderson said.
That all sounds good. More ships and more cargo is good. Looking a little more closely,
Well, that is not as good, but at least there is progress.
The cruise business had more than 888,000 passengers travel through Tampa in the last fiscal year, and Anderson said he expects those number to remain strong, with six ships docking at his port this year.
That sounds good for now. We are not sure how much of the Port’s revenue is still tied up in cruise business (it used to be about ¼). And it is not clear if anything has really been done regarding the issue of new ships not being able to use the Port in the future and the threat to revenue. That was not mentioned in the reporting.
While we are not where we should be, we are moving in the right direction (subject to the cruise issue). And we like this:
At the annual state of the port event Tuesday, CEO Paul Anderson said that while both the cargo and cruise businesses grew in 2015, he and his team are focusing on the growth of the container and car business.
Containers are among the profitable lines of business for a port. Terminal operators — and by extension, the port authority — make money by loading and offloading containers from ships as well as through storage fees.
We agree. In fact, it is always time to chase container and other business. We wish the Port success.
— In Other Port News
Finally, there was one other port related item.
Tampa Tank Inc. and Florida Structural Steel plans to construct a 120,000 square-foot building at Port Redwing and retrofit an existing 40,000 square-foot building there. The company will add 24 jobs at its headquarters in Ybor City and 84 jobs at Port Redwing.
The company that builds and exports steel petroleum tanks, some the size of a football field, has regional offices in Panama, Guatamala, the Bahamas and Colombia and ships tanks as far away as Africa and the Middle East.
Downtown – What to Call a Billion Dollar Development
It seems that the Lightning owner is looking for a name for his development.
When the Tampa Bay Lightning owner settles on a name, he’ll actually be naming the area for the first time. That part of downtown — a mosaic of barren lots and broken streets — has never had an identity.
Well, not exactly.
Once, it was part of Fort Brooke, the 1800s military installation that overlooked what would become modern downtown. Now those barren acres are the final vestiges of downtown’s industrial past, along with a 77-year-old flour mill that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
So, at least much of it was Ft. Brooke, but nevermind. So were there any suggestions?
Water Street is a historic road whose name disappeared when the arena was built in 1996. When the Tampa Bay History Center opened nearby in 2009, Kite-Powell said the center requested that Water Street be brought back. It was resurrected as Old Water Street.
Old Water Street is also a key part of the Vinik plan. The road will be extended north past Channelside Drive, and USF’s new medical school will be built near it. Under the Vinik plan, it could become a pedestrian thoroughfare.
“I think it would be a memorable name,” Saul-Sena said. “It has historic roots. It’s simple and straightforward. I also like the idea that adjacent to the Channel District is something that refers to water.”
Stork, the aquarium’s leader, also said water should feature prominently in the new name. He threw out suggestions like the Harbor District or the River District. The city’s new Riverwalk, after all, is being built to reconnect residents to the downtown waterfront.
Water might be a better foundation to build a new name on than the history of the area. Kite-Powell said there isn’t much history to draw from. The only other name associated with the area besides Fort Brooke — now bestowed upon a parking garage — is “Garrison” (Fort Brooke was a military garrison).
“Historically speaking — and I’m not endorsing or suggesting this in any way — but ‘Garrison’ is the only historic name you can give it that would be in any way accurate,” Kite-Powell said. “It’s not particularly inviting, though. ‘Garrison’ sounds like a jail.”
Well, you could use Ft. Brooke for accuracy. In any event, anything with “water” in the name sounds a bit generic to us, as noted in this Times column:
And we have to say the name “Waterside” is really not very inspiring, though it is very Tampa. Not to mention that it is already used in a largely empty “festival marketplace” in Norfolk. You can bring in the idea of waterfront without actually just saying “waterfront.”
Garrison or Ft. Brooke, despite making up part of garage name, sound more memorable – and relevant – to us. A little Spanish might be nice, but the only thing we could come up with is based on a nearby historical marker: Cabeza de Vaca. While memorable, we doubt it is really evokes the image the developers want to evoke.
Then again Meatpacking District, Gaslight District, or Fisherman’s Wharf (even French Quarter, really) are not really very catchy in isolation, and we doubt people branding a new area would choose those names. In all truth, as with most branding, unless it is something amazingly bad, the name will catch on if the product is quality. (Though Garrison doesn’t really sound bad to us.)
Transportation – A Hint
There was this interesting note in a Palm Beach Post blog:
In the December issue of Florida Trend magazine the executive editor’s column about All Aboard Florida makes a statement about its future that the express passenger rail service has yet to make publicly.
In his En Route column, executive editor Mark R. Howard says All Aboard will move “as quickly as possible to extend the train to Tampa and Jacksonville” once the Orlando train station is under construction.
That would be great. This area cannot be left out of a major transportation infrastructure system in the state. Though it seems we may be a bit down the list of next phases.
The new company, AAF Jacksonville Segment LLC, which was registered May 29 in Delaware, penned a June 11 agreement with All Aboard Florida that gives it the easement rights to shuttle passengers on the lines from Cocoa to Jacksonville. The agreement was filed June 18 in St. Johns County.
Nothing about a company for the Tampa Bay area – or any real discussion locally. And, while we very much want Tampa connected to the network, really, our local transportation infrastructure is still not well developed enough to take full advantage of an inter-city train. Nevertheless, hopefully, it will happen in the not too distant future.
Transportation – Some Interesting Reads
– Something about Streetcars
Since there is a renewed push to fix the streetcar, we thought it might be useful to note an article in citylabs.com about Atlanta’s new streetcar. The basic thrust of the article is that the streetcar in Atlanta is too slow and that many streetcar systems are not useful transit for locals and basically serve tourists or special events, examining why. We are not going to quote it, but you can read it here.
— BRT Stations
Citylabs.com also had this interesting piece about BRT station design. It goes through how to make BRT stations more attractive an effective. Once again, we are not going to quote it, but you can read it here.
The bottom line with both articles is that, if you are going to do it, do it right.
List of the Week I
Our first list this week is thrillist.com’s The 10 Sexiest Neighborhoods in America.
As there is no apparent methodology (really, how could there be any?), we will just give you the list.
Coming in first is South Beach, followed by South Bay (Los Angeles), Uptown (Dallas), Brickell (Miami), River North (Chicago), South Tampa, Soho (NYC), Buckhead (Atlanta), 14th Street (DC), and Back Bay (Boston).
So our SoHo beat the New York Soho. This is what the website said about South Tampa:
Have you ever watched a Florida State game on TV, looked at the sections upon sections of gorgeous girls in the stands, and thought “Damn, I shoulda gone to school there.” Well, you know where a good chunk of those girls move after graduation? South Tampa, a popular post-grad spot for ALL the big schools in the Sunshine State that is essentially Greek life for grown ups. The area encompasses neighborhoods that share an exploding restaurant scene, walkable bars, and new condo construction that’ve drawn the best, brightest, and — most importantly — hottest young people in Florida who just can’t stomach the idea of living in…. ew… Miami.
The irony is that the City Council and neighborhoods near the heart of social activity in South Tampa – Howard Ave – keep trying to remove the very young adult frat party environment that the website trumpets.
List of the Week II
Our second list is redfin.com’s predictions for the hottest neighborhoods in 2015. This is how they describe the list:
Now that 2015 is off and running, we know what you’re wondering: Which neighborhoods will everyone be lusting after this year? In 2015, it will be all about compromise. There are finally more houses for sale, and affordability is once again buyers’ top concern. They may give up on living in the trendiest ZIP code, but they won’t sacrifice convenience. As a result, the neighborhoods that are going to be the most popular this year aren’t suburban, but they aren’t quite urban either; they’re in a sweet spot where affordability and convenience overlap.
After two years of neighborhood predictions, we’ve got the hang of this. Of the 10 neighborhoods we predicted would be hot last year, eight were. Our 2015 predictions are based on a similar methodology: We looked at which ones had the biggest increase in page views and Favorites on Redfin.com, as well as the prevalence of Redfin Hot Homes in each neighborhood. We then asked our local Redfin agents in every market for their on-the-ground insights, and together we came up with the 10 hottest neighborhoods of 2015, as well as the five hottest neighborhoods in each of 27 metro areas.
Just so you know, they do not even bother to look at the hottest neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area, so don’t expect to be on the top 10 list.
The top 10 list is as follows: El Cerrito (San Diego), Dickinson Narrows (Philadelphia), East Atlanta (Atlanta), Little Neck (Queens, NY), Bohemia (Long Island), Curtis Park (Sacramento), Andersonville (Chicago), Woodridge (Seattle), Crocker (San Francisco), and Woodridge (DC).
Looking at the two lists, it appears that being sexy is not all there is to being hot.