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Roundup 4-3-2015

April 3, 2015

Downtown/Channel District/Built Environment – Some Perspective

There were a few articles on downtown last week.

— Progress, But How much?

First, the Business Journal had a look at downtown residential projects.

There are roughly 6,800 people living in about 4,980 residential units in downtown Tampa and the neighborhoods that ring the urban core — the Channel district, Harbour Island — at the end of 2014. There are 1,389 units under construction and another 2,900 in various stages of planning, according to data from the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

The partnership data includes 500 units in Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar, mixed-use district on the southern fringe of downtown, which is subject to change as his real estate team finalizes a master plan for the development. Projects in the works in Harbour Island, the Channel district, North Hyde Park and Tampa Heights are also counted.

But Tampa is behind its competitor cities in urban residential units. Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, had 24,300 residents as of the end of 2014, according to the Downtown Memphis Commission. A 2014 study commissioned by the Nashville Downtown Partnership of mid-tier cities projects downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, to have 15,894 residents by the end of 2015.

Austin, Texas, another chief competitor for jobs and talent, is projected to have 13,536 residents in its downtown. Nashville, Tennessee, according to that same data, is slated to have more than 8,100 residents by the end of 2015.

Even if all of the units planned come to fruition, Tampa still will be behind those cities — they have thousands of units under construction and proposed, too.

That is an unusually straight-forward look at what is going on.  Here is a nice little graphic (without Encore or Harbour Island) from the article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Of course, having projects built is better than not having them built, but, as we have long said, we are still playing catch-up and other areas are not just resting on their laurels. Be happy for what is going on, but keep it in perspective.

— Design Matters

One thing the article did not address was the quality of the projects and how projects must interact to create a truly attractive, vibrant urban area, which is important because,

Companies looking to move or expand their operations tend to choose cities with a steady supply of young, educated workers — many of whom want to live in a walkable, urban environment.

“If we aren’t able to attract the best and brightest, we have no future,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has made attracting downtown residential development a priority of his administration. “It’s not the shiny, glittery part of downtown that drives me. I know if we can’t create the environment the next generation wants to come to and raise families, we have no future.”

It is not just quantity, but quality, that matters. Last week we discussed proposed projects downtown and noted:

You can see that the retail [in the Grant block project] is basically all on Franklin (with a little store on the southeast corner with a few feet of frontage on Florida).  The frontage on Florida (facing the Floridan) will be essentially dead space.  We understand that it is hard to put retail along the entirety of all frontage, but other projects, like Skypoint and Element, have done a better job trying to address more streets, so it can be – and should be – done (not necessarily exactly like those two projects, but something better).  We are not clear why that is ok with that, but, hopefully, the Lightning owner’s team will take note and not repeat the mistake.

So, yes, it is good to have projects being built.  However, without some care and attention to detail, the City is going to end up with projects that it will partially rue in coming years.

* * *

On the other hand, past waves of development in downtown have shown that the City should be very careful about what gets built. (Just go to Tampa Street south of Jackson and see how vibrant – or, rather, not vibrant – the street is even with the large office towers.)  We do not just want buildings; we want good buildings that serve to truly develop the downtown area.  Walk by Element or Skypoint and you can see they do that. (Are they perfect? No, but they still help not just add residents but to enliven most of the streets around them.)

See “Downtown/Built Environment – Developments

Over the weekend, there was an article in the Times regarding an interview with the Lightning owner’s urban designers.  What they said was very interesting:

Your job is to design the ground floor — the sidewalks, public spaces, benches, foliage, store fronts and other pedestrian amenities — for Vinik’s project. What does that entail?

Jeff Speck: We need to give the architects that will be (designing) the individual buildings in the project a firm understanding of what their urban obligations are. Where they put their buildings and how those buildings meet the street.

The way we like to say it is we’re trying to create documentation that will ensure that the construction of the private realm creates an ideal public realm, that everything that’s done as a private building makes building the public spaces a better experience.

David Dixon: When you build a new urban district every building has to help each other create that public realm.

That is true, and not just for new districts.  It applies to other areas, as well.

So how do you go about designing a “great district” that will also be pedestrian-friendly and encourage people to walk?

JS: We’ll be designing the public infrastructure. The trees. The lighting. The benches. A simple example is retail. Retail only works (to encourage walking) when it’s continuous. You can’t have retail and then an office and then retail and then somebody’s house.

The vision plan envisioned certain retail locations, but it didn’t lay out the rules that if you’re on the north side of street X, you have to be retail. So our plan will have rules in place like that.

Even down to the square footage that a store can use?

JS: I don’t think it will say what every square footage needs to be. But for example, if you’re going to interrupt retail with something else, like a lobby, the lobby can only be so long or else people won’t shop across from it.

So don’t just believe us, believe the experts (and believe your eyes because if you have walked around many cities this all becomes clear quite quickly).  Design matters and having entire blocks be essentially dead on the street (like he proposal for the Grant block) is no way to build a vibrant area – whether that area is all new or an old area you are trying to transform.  (By way of example, the Aurora project just north of the Selmon Expressway being built right now on a lot that connects the Lightning owner’s land to the traditional part of downtown has no street interaction at all. See “Downtown/Built Environment – One Building Rising”  Nor does this recently announced proposal.  Why?  How will that help downtown become a vibrant, walkable place?)

As we said last week,

If built, these buildings are going to be with us for decades.  It is great to have development and by all means build, but design matters.

We are glad the Lighting owner’s project will address these issues.  The question is whether the City will get other developers to do so.  If we are serious about creating a City that is truly vibrant and that attracts the best and the brightest, we have to address these issues downtown and elsewhere.

Transportation – Not Going Anywhere Fast

There was news about regional transportation this week.

— The Problem Restated

First, there was an article in the Tribune about new rankings regarding congestion:

During afternoon rush hour, 53 percent of commuters in the Tampa metro area are mired in gridlock. In the mornings, 34 percent sit in traffic. This region ranks 11th in the nation for congestion, according to the 2014 TomTom Traffic Index released Tuesday.

That is not particularly surprising given the relative lack of highway miles in the region (even with lanes opening on 275), the lack of good planning, the ridiculous policy of trying to force everyone onto a few, overburdened arterial roads, and the lack of real transit.  So, other than being really annoying to the people who already live here, why does this matter?

“Congestion costs us time, money and quality of life,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “And when corporations look to the Tampa Bay area as a potential site for relocation, they go through an extensive metrics system of the strengths and weaknesses of a community from schools to tax structure, to quality of life. Tampa always falls short in an otherwise pretty competitive report card in the area of transportation.

“We can stick our head in the sand and pretend it is going to fix itself, magically. It’s not,” Buckhorn said. “Transportation hasn’t been funded adequately for decades and it has caught up to us.”

So we all know how Hillsborough is going about trying to deal with this, given the utter lack of money:

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group, made up of all seven Hillsborough County Commissioners and the mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, is marketing a plan to maintain and expand roadways and bridges, build a more robust county bus system that could include express bus service and maybe even add light rail, including an upgraded downtown streetcar system.

And trying to get a referendum on the sales tax increase.  But:

Trust is a huge issue in determining the fate of future transportation here, said community activist Terry Flott, who lives in Seffner and often travels downtown through rush-hour traffic to get to government meetings.

“A lot of people are openly supporting the plan, but I don’t think people trust the government enough at this point to say what they will do,” when they go to the polls, Flott said.

“It’s all going to boil down to a vote of trust,” she said, “but people don’t trust government to do the right thing, to have a plan and stick to it.”

So how do you overcome those issues?

Doing nothing is not an option, Buckhorn said. “We can address the trust issue by laying out how the money is going to be spent, where it is going to be spent and the conditions upon which it will be spent. People need to recognize we’re all in this together. Even if you aren’t getting the sidewalk fixed in front of your house, you are getting the intersection a mile away fixed and that is going to impact your life.”

It is true that results do matter, yet doing nothing while talking a lot has been the preferred option for decades – probably part of the reason there is a lack of trust. It is not clear anything has changed.

In any event, that leaves us with really having to do something and needing money (probably in a referendum) to do it.

— Then Again, Not Now

But then there was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Mayor’s views on a transportation referendum in 2016.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the region’s biggest cheerleaders, is not optimistic about the chances of a successful Hillsborough transit referendum next year.

“If the election were held today in Hillsborough, it would lose and it would be, I think, defeated just as badly as the Pinellas referendum was,” Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Monday. “That’s sort of the reality with which we’re working. Can we change that dynamic over the next year and a half?”

He answered his own question a few moments later: “My sense is even if we went in 2016 we’d lose, so do we have a fallback position for a project, particularly on the transit side? Because for me as mayor, I’ve got to have those mobility options because I can’t build more roads to get myself out of this ditch.”

First, we do not really know anyone’s position on transportation except that there is no money for it.  That is the point of the referendum.

Why is Buckhorn so pessimistic about Hillsborough’s chances?

“My sense is when (voters) walk into that polling booth, they are not yet secure in their economic existence, that it’s still for the average person a rather fragile environment,” Buckhorn said. “I just don’t think they’re comfortable enough yet forking over more money to a government or governments that they’re not sure can deliver on what they say they’re going to do.”

So much for the economic boom times (how do like that low wage economy now?).  It may be true that people are not feeling financially secure, but probably more important is the second part – they do not think they will get what they pay for.  That is more an issue of leadership and governance.

Of course, if 2016 is no good, when would a good time be?  Remember, there is no money.  And how does that all square with the comments above about having to do something?

In any event, going back to that fall back plan idea:

Buckhorn said a good example of a “fallback project” would be a system connecting downtown Tampa, the city’s West Shore area and Tampa International Airport. That, he said, would give voters a tangible example of mass transit at work.

We agree that that should be the first connection of real transit (though it does nothing for the inadequate roads and planning).  However, where exactly would it go, what would be the technology used (buses/rail/something else), and, most importantly, how would it be funded.  Even a fall back needs a full plan.

“If history is any indication in Denver and Phoenix and some other places, once that happens they start clamoring for it to come to their neighborhood,” he said. “That may be more attainable.”

Indeed they did start clamoring, but there are a few missing details.  Phoenix had multiple failed referenda before they got one passed to fund their rail.   Denver’s history is a little more ambiguous with a referendum on transit passing in the 1970’s setting the stage of growth in the system and eventual rail and a referendum on expansion was first defeated before eventually being approved. The fact is that it usually takes a number of bites at the apple to get a referendum passed.

The point is this: there needs to be funding and a real plan.  If you can build real transit from the airport to downtown without raising taxes, we are all for it.  That should be a big part of the discussion.  However, given our traditional dysfunction regarding transportation and that we still are dealing with generalities not details, we are not going to get to excited.

– Not Here

Just to emphasize the problem, there was also news about the proposed ferry that seemed to emphasize the government paralysis on transportation:

A new analysis of potential locations for a high-speed ferry terminal in south Hillsborough County shows that most of the sites pose environmental challenges such as sea grasses or heavy manatee traffic

The sites that would cause the least environmental damage are owned by Port Tampa Bay, phosphate giant the Mosaic Co. or TECO Energy Co. — all of whom have declined requests to allow a ferry terminal to be built on their lands.

The study’s conclusions could present more problems for Hillsborough County’s plans to launch ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base. The project got off to a fast start with enthusiastic support from county commissioners and MacDill employees who stand to save time and money by taking a ferry straight to work over the bay instead of winding around it in their own cars.

It is not unusual for proposals here to bring much enthusiasm only to fade away, but, as you read along, remember that the County Commission gave this proposal enthusiastic support.  (Unlike their firm determination to tear down the Gandy rather than spend the money to fix it and make it part of a trail system. )

So what did the study say?

The Scheda study concluded that the Schultz Preserve had the fewest potential environmental impacts, except for two sites at Port Redwing in Port Tampa Bay, the Mosaic property and land owned by TECO near the Big Bend power plant. According to the report, the preserve has no wetlands, just a few, narrow patches of sea grasses, and no record of manatee mortalities caused by boats in the vicinity.

Charles Lee, vice president of Audubon, said the report ignores $2.5 million in grants from the state and from the Southwest Florida Water Management District that were used to restore the preserve to native habitat. The land was purchased for $370,000 in 1995 by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Hillsborough County’s land conservation program, known as ELAPP.

Audubon is joined in its opposition by Port Tampa Bay officials, who say ferries using the Schultz Preserve would interfere with marine traffic from adjacent Port Redwing.

It is still not clear why the Port, which originally was for the ferry, changed its position.  In any event, any other sites?

Lee said the ferry project partners should concentrate on sites with the lowest environmental rating — those owned by TECO, Mosaic or Port Tampa Bay. But the three agencies reiterated Monday they aren’t interested.

Other sites in the study would likely draw opposition from environmental groups and scrutiny from the federal government because of potential environmental damage and proximity to manatee protection zones. For example, 13 manatee deaths related to watercraft have been documented in a channel adjacent to Williams Park, one of the sites studied. The park is adjacent to a manatee protection zone that requires slow boat speeds all year.

Another site studied, Alafia River Marina, has had 13 watercraft-related manatee deaths in a nearby channel. Also a concern at the marina is the effect waves from the high-speed ferry boats would have on the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bird Sanctuary, the report said.

Other sites in the report are probably too small.

Well, that is a mess. So what now?

The Scheda study will be part of a larger project development and environmental study that will take about a year to complete, said County Engineer Mike Williams. The county will hire a consultant in April to handle the study, which is required under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. The study will determine which site is used for the ferry terminal. 

Of course, there remains the possibility that there are no sites that will be found acceptable – which seems odd given how big the coastline is.  Really, other cities with active ports seem capable of handling having a ferries (Seattle and New York being just a few).  It seems completely bizarre that we have no possible location for a ferry stop.

We are not saying we are actually for the project – we are undecided for a number of reasons not relevant to this particular item.  But this is a transportation project the County embraced, that does not require extra taxes, that is a public-private partnership, and the fills an unserved need.  It is everything we are told transportation projects should be, and, yet, it is getting hung up (and it is not even clear why).  Is this the best that can be done, even when the government wants it?

And we still want to know why the Port changed its mind.  It looks like just another mysterious local government decision.  We hope there is a real reason and not just some backroom, local political reason.  However, until the change is fully explained, we cannot be sure.

— Conclusion

The bottom line is that, even with the public outreach, it is clear that we have not really made any progress in dealing with any of these issues.  There is much talking but little real progress.

Economic Development – Leaving for Success

This week, we were told about local startups headed to Jacksonville:

Inventing new products is only the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey. Getting those products in front of investors and potential customers is a huge next step.

Nearly two dozen Tampa-area entrepreneurs are heading to Jacksonville next week to take part in what is being billed as the world’s largest crowd-funding festival. One Spark Festival is a week long event pitting 555 startups against each other for crowd votes, crowd-sourcing and venture capital.

And while it’s almost always about the money for startup companies, the event, which takes place over 20 city blocks, both inside and outside of businesses, is also that big opportunity to get new gadgets and ideas in front of the public.

* * *

What Palmer could use and what he hopes to get at One Spark is face time with investors. “One Spark kind of kicked off our launching into trying to find extra capital,” Palmer said. “We’ve spent a couple of months improving our demonstration and getting a business model together. We’re using One Spark to reach out to other investment groups.”

Last year, 265,000 people showed up for the event. One Spark cofounder Elton Rivas had opened a shared working space in Jacksonville and had a successful consulting company for marketing products and services. He and two other entrepreneurs came up with the idea for the festival, he said.

“People invest in people first and foremost,” Rivas said. “We started our own crowd-funding campaign and raised $100,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter to have the first festival.” It started a groundswell and the event has grown, going into its third year, he said.

For all the talk of startup culture and developing our local economy, it still seems odd that companies have to go to a giant event in Jacksonville to get good facetime with investors and exposure.  It just goes to show that we still are not where we need to be locally.  As noted in a comment from local tech entrepreneurs to our Roundup last week notes:

If you look at every successful tech hub, one thing is consistent. The person advocating and leading the efforts isn’t a traditional economic development leader but a technology entrepreneur who has built multiple successful ventures, one who has a massive rolodex, street cred and who understands the economics of tech from startup to public company. This isn’t the normal EDC game and it changes daily. The traditional approach does not work and if we want to succeed disruption is required.

One Spark was founded by some local guys in Jacksonville, not government officials.   As noted, it is a festival – all at one time – with presentations, music, parties, etc.    A far cry from local efforts.

Rays – Whatever

The Rays stadium issue remains stuck.

Tampa Bay’s five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman decided Monday he doesn’t have enough City Council votes to forge an agreement that would allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore potential new stadium sites on both sides of the bay.

That keeps the team playing at Tropicana Field into an indefinite future, Kriseman said, and prevents the city from developing the Trop’s 85 acres.

“We are at a standstill,” he said.

On Friday, Kriseman had released a new proposal to allow a regionwide stadium search. It revised a version the council had rejected 5-3 in December, and Kriseman said he had hoped it would persuade at least two of the five negative votes to switch sides.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes had signaled that he was prepared to call for a vote at Thursday’s council meeting.

But after consulting with three key council members Monday, Kriseman threw in the towel, saying the proposal lacked enough support to pass.

“Unless the council changes its mind and is willing to move forward with this, the Rays do not have permission to look outside the city limits,” Kriseman said. “And for the purposes of (the Trop acreage), the really big piece of this, the city is really stuck. We either don’t do redevelopment until the Rays leave in 2027 or we have to turn over half the proceeds.”

So what do the opponents think?

Kornell and Dudley told the Tampa Bay Times they agree with Kennedy — that the Rays should negotiate exclusively for a while with St. Petersburg.

“I would do back flips to let them look in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County,” Kornell said. “But not in other places yet. Maybe we phase that in after a period of time.”

Except, that is totally unrealistic. Here’s why:

The average value of a major-league baseball team jumped nearly 50 percent in just the past year — to $1.5 billion. That’s the biggest year-over-year increase since Forbes, which values pro sports teams annually, began tracking MLB team values in 1998.

On the eve of a new season, the good news is the Tampa Bay Rays saw its small-market franchise value rise in 2014 to $625 million. That’s a respectable 29 percent bump in value in one year. Owner Stu Sternberg can’t help but be happy that the team he bought 10 years ago for $200 million and subsequently improved dramatically has more than tripled in value.

The bad news is the Rays’ pace of appreciation still trails that of most teams. The Rays’ $625 million valuation is less than half the league’s team average. And the Rays’ franchise value is the lowest of all 30 major-league teams, behind the No. 29 Miami Marlins at $650 million and No. 28 Kansas City Royals at $700 million.

In other words, from a business perspective, the City has almost no leverage. It makes more sense to sell the team and just take the money than to remain in a location that shows no promise for twelve more years.  Moreover, every day that goes by, the lease gets shorter, so there is no reason for the Rays to limit themselves. (See also this Times editorial.) And potential sites will get eaten up by other projects.

It may make for good politics to be stubborn, but it is bad for the area – and bad for St. Pete, unless the City Council want another decade of stories about how the Trop is empty then have the team leave.  But then again, it is just another example of the fear some St. Pete City Council members have that they cannot compete.

Downtown – The Riverwalk Grows

Last Friday, the latest section of the Riverwalk (the part under the Kennedy Street Bridge) opened, which is great. (And even better was the weather over the weekend so people could enjoy it.)

The city’s first Riverwalk was a modest wooden-plank boardwalk built in the area where Curtis Hixon Park now lies to mark the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

But then Mayor William Poe’s decision to carve out a small recreation spot on the riverbank dominated by railroads and warehouses laid the foundation for the city to, piece by piece, reclaim the river for its residents.

It took 40 years, six mayors and $33 million, but now Tampa can finally boast a walkable scenic waterfront that serves as a focal point for downtown and even, perhaps, an adornment to rival St. Petersburg’s famed waterfront parks. 

Setting aside that that is not exactly how it went down (The original planks were in front of the USS Requin submarine behind the Curtis Hixon Convention Center, said submarine coming to Tampa in 1972-you can see a picture of the waterfront in hte early 80’s here. It is hardly industrial. Much of the waterfront closer to the present convention center site and on the Garrison Channel was more warehouse/industrial.), it is an accomplishment.

“Forever more, Tampa will be a city that people view from the vantage point of the waterfront, and the Riverwalk has made that possible,” Iorio said. “That has changed the whole way we look at the city.”

Poe died in May. His widow, Betty Poe, and family members attended the opening.

Son William Poe Jr., said his father lived to see most of the project completed and that Riverwalk had helped repopulate the city’s downtown, a goal his father hoped to kickstart with that original wooden-plank boardwalk.

“He always talked about people living downtown because back then no one did,” he said. “He was so happy. He was grateful the funding was there and that mayors kept it going, especially Mayor Pam Iorio.”

It is also notable how long the quest for downtown residential and a focus on the river has been going on (so people have been looking to the river for a while).  In any event, it is nice that the Riverwalk has gotten so far.  It is a very nice amenity for the area.  And it is very nice to be able to walk down the river and around downtown, opening up the waterfront that the City has long allowed to be blocked off.  It really enhances the possible downtown experience.

Additionally, for the most part, the Riverwalk is quite attractive as built, and we think it will be quite heavily used.

— Just One Thing

We just have one thing to point out, putting on our “design matters” hat. (We are aware that some will say we are nit-picking, but so be it.  We will still say it in the hopes that the same thing does not keep happening.)

If you look at this picture of one of the gateways to the over the river portions of the Riverwalk, you see the arches.

From wslupecki’s photobucket – click on picture for account

The arches, which are attractive enough, naturally draw your eyes to their base and what look like some of the old 1970’s-80’s era mall ashtrays/garbage cans filled with rocks (and that beige, boxy theme recurs all along the new section).

The City spent all this time and money to create a really nice amenity and spent money designing and building these attractive arches and canopies and then put those things at the entrance of the most scenic part of the Riverwalk?  Why go cheap there – especially in the arts district, where the lights, railing, and most other elements of Curtis Hixon Park show a good amount of attention to detail? And while they are new now; what will those things be like in five years? It is like putting Pinto hubcaps on a Ferrari.  Sure, the car can still perform just as well, but why would you do it and what does it say?

We often say that only a small amount of effort can get you from ok or good to excellent.  It is the details that determine the difference.  And that attention to detail and difference it makes, over time and over the whole of a City cumulatively makes a big difference to your self-image and to the image others have of you (it is why the Lightning owner hired his urban planning experts.)  If you are going to do it, do it right.

The Riverwalk is great.  It really is, and we are sure people will use it. But certainly the arch bases could have been done more elegantly, to say the least (they were in other parts of the Riverwalk).  We can and should do better. Design matters.  If you want the best and the brightest, you have to pay attention to the details.

Channel District – The Martin

There was news about the Martin.

A long-awaited mixed-use tower in downtown Tampa’s Channel District is getting closer to breaking ground.

Daniel Corp., the Atlanta developer that was in talks with Mercury Advisors to pursue a joint venture on the Martin at Meridian, is out of the deal, according to real estate sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation.

However, another group is in talks with Mercury Advisors, sources said. Sources did not know the identity of the new group but say a deal is on track to close in the coming weeks.

We shall see.

List of the Week/Economic Development – What Millennials Want

Our list of the week comes from a Washington Post article about a Goldman Sachs report on what Millennials want. Why do we care?  Because they are the future.  So let’s go to the list:

Things Millennials Want:

Cheap Stuff

To Be Healthy

Athletic Gear

Social Media

Things They Don’t Want:

A House

A TV

A Car

A Luxury Bag

So what does that, especially what they don’t want, say about our economy, how our area is built, and our poor transportation?  And if we fail to change how things are done here, what does it say about the future?

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