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Roundup 4-10-2015

April 10, 2015

How Many Mega-Developments Can We Support?

Regular readers and casual observer both will likely have heard of the Lightning owner’s well publicized intention to build a big development in downtown Tampa.  This week, it was revealed that the owners of land in Carillon (in Pinellas County) that was previously put forward for a Rays stadium are considering buildings a quite large development there.

LeClair, chairman of Echelon LLC, in 2012 proposed land in St. Petersburg’s Carillon Park as a site for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. The Rays never engaged with Echelon, and the developer is now planning to build Echelon City Center on the site: 2.8 million square feet that will include office space, apartments, retail and a boutique hotel.

The plans are for a dense, urban development, to maximize the usable land. The developers are able to build towers on the site because they have already received a variance approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build up to 250 feet. Major League Baseball requires stadiums with retractable roofs to allow at least 200 feet above second base for pop-up balls.

“That was a game changer for me,” said Chris Eastman, chief development officer with Echelon. “What that allowed me to do was plan smaller footprints and taller buildings. It increased the density.”

Those taller, denser buildings also allowed for a park in the heart of the project — green space for future workers and residents.

“It’s that town center development, but with a real city feel,” Eastman said.

Eastman is projecting a five- to seven-year buildout and development costs between $600 million and $700 million. Each piece will be market-driven, which is why the project will begin with a 14-story apartment tower slated to break ground this fall. Demand for apartments — and therefore, available financing — remains strong.

That tower will include 16,000 square feet of retail space, which Eastman is marketing. The tenants that fill that space will likely be service-oriented retail. The remaining 156,000 square feet planned throughout Echelon City Center, mostly on the ground floor of the proposed residential buildings, will be destination retail and include upscale bars and restaurants.

Mike Talmadge, an executive vice president with Echelon, is marketing 500,000 square feet of office space for lease. Those towers, at 20 and 22 stories, won’t break ground until a company signs a lease for at least 125,000 square feet of that. Lenders and investors won’t back an office development that’s purely speculative in Tampa Bay.

And here are some renderings:

1. Apartment building

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

2. Office Building

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

3. Site Plan

From Business Journal – click on map for article

4. 3d site plan

From Loopnet – click on diagram for listing

What is there to say about something that is still merely a concept? The layout within the project itself appears nice (assuming what is presented is actually built), though it is still within an office park which is not very urban and the road network around the office park is a bit of a mess (we do not think the Pinellas Express will fully fix that either).  It would be a much nicer if Pinellas was actually building transit and this development could become a true, centrally located, urban-ish hub, but alas that is not to be (at least not yet).  So we like the idea behind the project but wonder about it being a small island of urban-ish development in an already built up area of sprawl.

The other question is how will this project and the Lightning owner’s project do together?  Can they coexist as presented?  Are they going to draw the same crowd or something totally different?  Do both plans indicate that this area has really changed its mentality on how to plan and build and what is desired and acceptable? Or are they just isolated?  It will be interesting to see.

Economic Development – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Again

There was an article in the Times regarding sports tourism – a very vaguely defined term that appears to include basically anything regarding sports – that caught our attention.

Sports tourism — whether it’s hosting Super Bowls or Final Fours or youth tournaments — is big business. Amateur sports drove 20 percent of the 760,400 room nights booked in Hillsborough County last year — and that doesn’t include the pro teams.

* * *

“We host everything from amateur motocross to all-star games and combines to the NCAA events to Super Bowls,” said Hills­borough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, “and everything in between.”

Great.  So can we move on to something more important now?

In 2011, Hillsborough hosted 114 amateur events that resulted in 89,764 room nights sold. In 2014, the county hosted 119 amateur events that accounted for 150,419 room night sales.

That’s a jump of 68 percent in the past four years — yet the number of events has remained steady. Higgins attributed that success to his agency being more selective in what events it pursues.

Hagan actually thinks the county is losing ground in terms of sports tourism to other counties with bigger and better venues, like Manatee’s Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch. It has 22 athletic fields on more than 140 acres.

In 2012 alone, Hillsborough lost two soccer tournaments that cost the county more than 15,000 room nights. So Hagan spearheaded a proposal to build a $15 million amateur multisport complex with 16 to 20 fields. His fellow county commissioners approved it in January, and the county is waiting for proposals and looking for a private partner.

This appears to be an article to make the case for paying $15 million for soccer fields.  As we have often said, we do not care if a tournament is in Pasco, Manatee or Hillsborough.  It is pretty much the same to us.  Even more importantly, it is silly to cannibalize the market between local counties.  If Manatee has a great soccer complex, fine.  Hillsborough should focus on something else – which brings us to this:

The long-delayed demolition of the 58-year-old Friendship TrailBridge is back on track and could occur this year.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a budget amendment Wednesday that includes $6 million for demolition of the former Gandy Bridge span connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Added to money previously appropriated, the county will have up to $10 million to spend on the demolition.

Which is funny, because:

The old Gandy Bridge was converted to a recreational trail in December 1999. More than 500,000 joggers, cyclists and fishermen used the trail annually. But in 2008, engineers discovered some of the bridge’s structural steel and the concrete around it were eroding. Fearing someone would get hurt, authorities closed the bridge.

(That is a whole lot of people using the bridge).  The estimates to fix it in 2008 were thus:

Preliminary estimates of the cost of repairing the partially closed Friendship Trail bridge range from $11 million to fix both ends of the structure to $82 million to knock down the bridge and build a new one.

So, of course, the County Commission decided to demolish it, because who could find $11 million between two counties, and maybe FDOT, to have a nice trail that 500,000 people use when you could spend about as much to knock it down and have nothing?

And who would ever consider that if you connected the bridge by trails to both ends of the Courtney Campbell Causeway trail (and maybe to Bayshore), you would have a quite unique trail system – especially if you wanted to have marathons and other events – not to mention providing a really nice amenity for the actual residents that would really make the water central to our area. (We wouldn’t even complain if you put really cheap plastic planters on it)

But that would be innovative, forward-looking, and regional – three things with which local government is not well acquainted.

Downtown – Riverwalk

Last week we discussed the Riverwalk tentatively.  This week, we made a more detailed examination. First, as we noted last week, overall, the Riverwalk is nice – if a bit hot.  The canopies are great but there are not enough.  Furthermore, when one is walking in the segments on land, there are not enough shade trees.  Sadly, this is a common occurrence and makes us wonder if the designers of projects never actually visit Florida or only do so in January or February.

We hope the experts brought in by the Lightning owner hang out in Tampa in June and July before they complete their plan so they can understand that this is not California.  It rains, is very humid, and gets very hot.  We need shade and awnings. They need to plan for people walking and sitting in Florida – and not just tourists.  Otherwise, whatever they plan will not be the success it could be.

The second thing we noticed was that the garbage can-like bases for the canopy arches are not, as we originally thought, that weird, cheap, 1980’s cement box.  In fact, they are really cheap plastic boxes that have already gotten strange marks all over them (like someone through a very sugary drink).  And that is not on one box, but basically all of the planters and bases (all cheap plastic).  That is very disappointing.

We do not think that perfect should be the enemy of good in this case – if there would be no Riverwalk without the crappy plastic boxes, we would take the Riverwalk and deal with the boxes – but we doubt that is the case. (Look at riverwalks in San Antonio or Jacksonville  In fact, it is almost never the case – at least not here.  And it is definitely not the case on the canopy bases.

We need to learn from that mistake.

Transportation – Contemplating HART

This week HART was thinking:

The county’s transit agency began a three-month process Monday of reshaping its goals and budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including placing more emphasis on collaboration with other agencies.

Board members for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority discussed its vision and core values as part of crafting a new strategic plan. While CEO Katharine Eagan presented a comprehensive view of the organization’s current objectives — continuing to be an employer of choice, transportation agency of choice, and change agent for the area — board members chimed in with other objectives they’d like to see highlighted.

County Commissioner Sandra Murman wants more emphasis placed on collaboration with other agencies, such as the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. Not only is this necessary for improving efficiency and effectiveness, but also for attaining essential funding for the agency, she said.

“The agency doesn’t operate in isolation anymore,” she said. “We need to strengthen our partnerships so we are also getting a piece of the pie.”

Reasonable enough, though the HART Board has not played well with others in the past.  Moreover, it has not operated in isolation for a while now, even though it acted as though it stood alone.  In any event, cooperation is good – if they can pull it off.

Board member Kathleen Shanahan said she would like to see priorities rearranged, with the efforts to be the leading transportation agency of choice receiving the most attention.

That’s fine, though we are not clear what that means.

Much discussion centered around the agency’s limited bus availability outside the city, especially around south county. Feedback from a series of public meetings held by Hillsborough County staff show that residents in those areas are requesting more bus service, Murman said. However, providing that has proven difficult due to the size of the county.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where we can serve every square inch of the county,” board member Karen Jaroch said.

It is true that it is difficult to serve every square inch of the County, though providing better service, especially to underserved areas with potential for ridership growth, may be a something to examine (unless you are philosophically opposed to transit). And, if you are not going to serve “every square inch” of the County or those areas with tens of thousands of people, where is the focus?  Then again:

As for the budget, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Seward said the goal is to maintain the current level of service and provide limited enhancements.

In other words: There is no money. Don’t expect much.

Built Environment/Westshore – What Sells

We have discussed Westshore and how, despite some talk of making it walkable, it is not anywhere near a walkable neighborhood.  We have also discussed some of the newer apartment developments in that area.  Finally, we have often lamented the utter lack of real transit in Hillsborough County.  We recently ran across an item that seems to highlight all three of those things:

Ground has broken for a new 374-unit luxury apartment community on 5.3 acres in Tampa’s Westshore area.

Crescent Communities is bringing Crescent Westshore to the thriving business and retail district currently lacking a distinctive living option.

* * *

The design of the property provides residents with top-notch amenities including two resort-style saltwater pools, an outdoor grilling area and a sports courtyard with a full-sized bocce ball court. The community will feature studios as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment homes.

“Crescent Westshore will have an urban feel, with a mix of on-site amenities and neighborhood conveniences that reflect the way people live today,” Curran said. “We’re excited about the potential of Crescent Westshore to raise the bar for luxury apartment homes in the Westshore District.”

So far, so good (for the most part).

“Westshore is an exceptional part of the City of Tampa,” said Crescent Communities Senior Vice President Jay Curran. “In addition to being one of Florida’s top employment centers, Westshore provides fantastic amenities for its residents, including restaurants, shopping, sports and easy access to the major roadways and bridges that take you to other areas in the city.”

More than 4,000 businesses reside in Tampa’s Westshore district, with nearly 100,000 employees and 12 million square feet of office space. Crescent Westshore, located at the intersection of West Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue, will provide residents with easy access to Westshore’s International Plaza and Bay Street mall, containing destination retailers and restaurants such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Apple, Burberry, Crate & Barrel, Fleming’s, Brio and Capital Grille.

* * *

Residents of Crescent Westshore are just minutes from Tampa International Airport and less than a mile north of the I-275 exit to Lois Avenue, with convenience to downtown Tampa, its workplaces, and cultural and entertainment venues.

Not one word about walking, trails, etc. Just driving.  Just another sign that fixing Westshore will take a lot of work.

One intriguing development is the sale of the Austin Center complex on the east side of Westshore.

Redstone Investments has closed on the Austin Center in Tampa’s Westshore district.

The Austin Center is five office buildings on North West Shore Boulevard totaling 300,000 square feet. They were developed in phases, beginning in the late 1960s, by Tampa civic leader and Republican fundraiser Al Austin, who died in May 2014.

It is a central location with much potential, but:

Fogarty said it was too soon to comment on any future plans for the property — in real estate circles, the site is looked at as a prime redevelopment play. For the foreseeable future, he said, it will remain an office park. Redstone will take over the leasing and property management. There’s about 60,000 square feet available, though it isn’t contiguous. Lease rates range from the high teens to the mid $20s, depending on the location within the park.

We assume they have an idea of what they would like to do, though it is not clear from the reporting. Whether they do something transformative or not (and whether the City will just settle for anything proposed by the developer) remains to be seen.

Built Environment – Paying for Ugly

We also noticed something interesting in the Tribune:

But one thing Tampa Premium Outlets won’t have is a towering sign at the highway interchange.

Simon Property Group executives withdrew their request for a 90-foot pylon sign after Pasco County’s Development Review Commission rejected it. The county’s Board of Commissioners approved the mall’s overall signage plan Wednesday — minus the pylon sign.

A pylon sign typically lists a group of shops in a plaza or is mounted high above a store, so it can be seen from a distance.

Pasco’s sign ordinance prohibits signs taller than 30 feet, and county staffers said the proposed pylon sign was “essentially a 90-foot billboard.”

The situation isn’t unique to Pasco. In 2010, the Tampa City Council shot down a request from Ikea for a 125-foot pole sign on I-4. But Hillsborough County granted variances to Bass Pro Shops and TopGolf.

And though a project the size and magnitude of Tampa Premium Outlets might warrant a height variance, the unique configuration of the interchange makes it a moot point. In 2011, the Florida Department of Transportation extended the exit ramps for I-275 and I-75 a good two miles south of the interchange. The exits are actually located in Hillsborough County.

The county’s DRC said the drivers wouldn’t be able to see the 90-foot sign until after they had passed the exit. They agreed with staff members, who feared the sign could cause accidents.

The denial presents a marketing problem for the shopping center, especially since outlet malls tend to attract shoppers who travel from outside the area.

So, for whatever reason, Pasco said “no” to a huge, ugly sign – though we are not so concerned about that.  Tampa previously had said no to Ikea and people still get to Ikea somehow.

Yet Hillsborough County, which is  subsidizing the relevant development, said that big, ugly signs are ok.  If Bass Pro and TopGolf are such destinations, anyone going to them should already know where they are – they do not need a giant sign.  And the County does not need more visual pollution – too much has been approved already – and the taxpayers should not be subsidizing it.

Economic Development/Transportation – Another Way the PTC is Anti-Business

We ran across this interesting nugget from AP:

Business travelers are bypassing the taxi queue with greater frequency, choosing instead ride-hailing services like Uber Technologies.

A new report by expense management system provider Certify shows that 47 percent of the ground transportation rides by its users in March were through Uber. That’s more than tripled from the 14 percent of rides that Uber had just over a year ago in January 2014. In a few cities, Uber now tops taxi rides for business travelers.

* * *

In a few cities, Uber beats out taxis by a wide margin for business travelers. In its home town of San Francisco, 71 percent of rides expensed through Certify during the first quarter were for Uber; 29 percent used taxis. Uber also beat out all other forms of ground transportation in Dallas, accounting for 56 percent of the rides.

In Los Angeles and Washington D.C., Uber represented 49 percent of business travel rides. Taxis, limousines and airport shuttles still reigned in New York, Miami and Chicago where they took 79 percent, 77 percent and 75 percent of rides expensed, respectively.

Just focus on the trend that business travelers are tending to using ride-sharing services over cabs and limos.  (The article notes that some businesses have concerns about insurance and Uber – which is an issue the legislature is attempting to address, so let’s set that aside.)  Apparently, the politicians on the PTC board do not care about the preferences of business travelers.  Then again, the PTC’s manifest failure to do anything other than protect the taxi companies even when the trend is toward ride-sharing shows clearly that it is not for the interest of the consumers, the residents or the visitors to this area.

Hopefully, the legislature will render it irrelevant once and for all (though that is a big ask from the body that authorized it in the first place).

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

Just a few things of note: Orlando is getting Cuba flights.  Also, Miami opened a Tri-Rail station at their airport/Miami Central Station/Miami Intermodal Center project.

Finally, a few weeks ago there was some ambiguity regarding a tourism official’s claim that Hillsborough was #1 in some category  – the ambiguity being what category –  in tourism (see “Economic Development – Tourism is Good, But  . . .”).  Because of that we thought we would just toss this out for your consideration:

Orlando welcomed 62 million visitors in 2014, surpassing the previous of 59 million visitors set in 2013, according to Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism association.

* * *

In another record set during 2014, bed-tax collections hit more than $200 million for the first time in Orange County, Visit Orlando officials said — with 32 million room nights sold.

Contrast that with Hillsborough collecting a record breaking 1/10 of that amount.   Once again, we are improving but let’s keep everything in proper perspective.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is really just from the Gallup well-being report discussed in the Times. (You can get the report here.)  The report ranks metro areas based on the following criteria:

Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals. Apparently most Floridians have a plan. State ranking: No. 18.

Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life. Well done, Florida. State ranking: No. 10.

Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community. Florida could do better here. State ranking: No. 32.

Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. Who’s up for a walk on the beach? State ranking: No. 21.

Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security. Not so good, Florida. State ranking: No. 40.

The top 10 were as follows: Sarasota-Bradenton, Honolulu, Raleigh, Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura (CA), El Paso, Austin, Provo, San Jose, DC, and Winston-Salem.

There are a couple of surprises in the top 10 – including Sarasota’s high rank (and El Paso), but other than that, not much.

Here’s how Florida cities ranked: Sarasota-Bradenton #1, Ft. Myers #14, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-WPB #35, Orlando #41, Jax #53, Lakeland #80, the Tampa Bay area #81, Daytona Beach #95.

The Times noted this:

It is this last and lowest-ranked factor that is so troubling. Financial insecurity in Florida remains too high even as unemployment rates have dropped dramatically.

And that is true, but ranking so low cannot be chalked up to only one factor. Whatever, the reason, #81 is unacceptable.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2015 10:50 AM

    I think the Carillon area is starved for that kind of development. One of the main reasons people don’t live over there is because they are no amenities. This area does have one thing for it that Vinik doesn’t and that is publix is already there.

  2. April 10, 2015 12:18 PM

    I don’t find the Bradenton/Sarasota ranking at all surprising. For those who dare to cross the Sunshine Skyway would be surprised. In Bradenton you have a much more vibrant riverfront than Tampa complete with a skatepark, running trails, yoga on the water, a performing arts center, convention center, ampitheatre, aquarium, planetarium,museums, free day boat dockage, fishing piers, restaurants, Hospital, estuary, nightlife, 3 craft breweries, a brand new baseball stadium, farmers market, library, free wi-fi, beach volleyball art, multiple new and restored hotels, the Village of the Arts, and the list goes on. Bike and running trails connect virtually connect the entire downtown including the arts district and the subdivisions, and condos. This extends for 2-3 miles beyond the riverfront walk which was actually planned in conjunction with the community through a series of town hall meetings.

    Bradenton has IMG Academy, the IRC World Rowing Championships, hosting the 2014-2016 Modern Pentathalons, riverfront music and arts festivals that bring top acts from around the U.S. Speedboat races down the river, etc. Probably most important it has a sense of community and true diversity from school children through senior citizens of all races who happily coexist.

    The area boasts more philanthropy than any other in the state, has by far the most beautiful beaches in Florida and the only ones to have free parking. There is ample free parking throughout both downtown areas, free trolley service connecting visitors, bus service…and Uber. Restaurants to suit every taste and price point. Walkable downtowns with grocery stores, nine College and University campuses, two aquariums and a full calendar of public events for the entire year as well as the new UTC Mall which is larger than International Plaza and includes all the top stores.

    No city or community is perfect but much of the credit for the dramatic changes in Bradenton and Manatee County go to Sharon Hillstrom who leads the EDC and Johnette Isham of Realize Bradenton. They have done a truly amazing job of creating positive change in the community and insuring the community continues to recruit the right type of businesses, tourism and making the community a great place to live for everyone.

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