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Roundup 4-17-2015

April 17, 2015

Transportation – Where Is the Station?

In 2013, there was news about a proposed multimodal station in the Westshore area.  The station would be near the interstate to take advantage of the use of the median for transit and to have a connection to the airport. (See “TIA Transit Link – Forward Planning?”  and “How Many Things Can You Jam Into a Highway Median – Part II”) At the time, the favored location was the old Charlie’s steakhouse property on Cypress.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Last week, that seemed to change:

For a time, state transportation officials considered a spot at Cypress Street and Manhattan Avenue a perfect location for a futuristic mass transit hub.

Now, that deal to purchase the Charley’s Steakhouse and Doubletree hotel property is very much “off the table,” and the state will look elsewhere, said Paul Steinman, the District Seven Secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation.

The proposed center, which would have gone up between the interstate and West Cypress Street, is not yet funded, but if it is constructed, it would be used as a hub for a people-mover from Tampa International Airport, as a bus depot for those using Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and possibly as a future depot for light rail heading to Pinellas County. It could also include some commercial development.

But those plans have changed now.

Steinman spoke early Friday morning to a forum of development and construction executives, and said his office thought they were close to a deal for the Cypress Street site, which he said might be worth $40 million. Then the current landowners caught wind of the state’s preference.

“They doubled their request,” Steinman said, “and there is no way the State of Florida is going to pay for something way out of line like that. I basically told them ‘I appreciate your time, but we will be looking at other locations.’”

The landowners could not be reached for comment.

Even if they did not hear from other sources, they probably got wind from the news articles.  In any event, setting aside the issue of using eminent domain and the fair value for the land, where does that leave the multimodal center?

As for where those other locations may be, Steinman declined after the forum to give specifics. But at least one other potential site is also off the table: Jefferson High School directly across Cypress Street from Charley’s and the Doubletree.

Steinman said he met with Hillsborough County School District officials, and said they demanded the state pay for a complete relocation of the school, which he said was not feasible either. Whether or not the state would use eminent domain to force the school district to sell the site, Steinman declined to say, but instead said the state is looking elsewhere.

Um, ok. So why doesn’t the state use its power to get the Charlie’s property?  Or it could coordinate with the new owners of the Austin Center (though the Charlie’s property is better in terms of access to the highway median.)  In any event, nothing is imminent.

The state is in something of a holding pattern about mass transit because Pinellas County and Hillsborough County have not come to a decision or consensus about whether to use so-called “Bus Rapid Transit” or some other method like light rail.

No surprise there.  Nothing is actually planned in terms of transit anyway (though the airport, the local outlier in terms of planning, has plans).

Really, the real problem is the inability of local officials to get any sort of useful transit plan.  Yes, we know there is the Go Hillsborough process, but that is the result of the failure of the TED committee to actually do its work in a timely fashion (and lack of political will).  There is no guarantee Go Hillsborough will accomplish anything useful either.

Miami just opened another connection to its multimodal station.  Orlando is working on one.  Aside from the airport, we are watching others move forward.

Transportation – Who Needs the PTC?

Speaking of transportation, a while back, the PTC board members were talking about reform.  Of course, nothing happened.  Now, it seems that maybe the state will reform the PTC, an organization it created.

Nestled in this year’s 99-page omnibus transportation bill is a single paragraph that would give the governor power over Hillsborough County’s taxi and limo regulators.

If passed, the provision could ease the way for Uber and Lyft, ride-booking services hailed through a smartphone app that want to operate freely in Florida.

Language in the bill (SB 1554) would allow the governor to appoint a majority of the Public Transportation Commission, four of its seven members. The city of Tampa would get one pick and the county two. The board currently has no members appointed by the governor.

The bill does not mention the board by name, but the way the provision is written, it would affect only Hillsborough County, county commissioner Victor Crist said Friday. 

Whether that change would make a difference is contingent on who is appointed, but it is something – which you can tell from the reaction from the PTC.

The Public Transportation Commission current includes three county commissioners, two Tampa city council members and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City. Each member serves a 2-year term.

If Brandes’ language is approved, Crist worries that the governor’s future appointees to the commission will be “major donors, which will happen to be, guess who? Lyft and Uber.”

Really?  That is the argument?  Because the PTC does not presently favor any specific companies?  As noted in this Tribune editorial:

There may be room for an argument about whether Uber and Lyft, the popular ride-sharing services, should be defined as traditional taxi companies or as technology companies that use smartphone apps to connect drivers with customers.

But there is no denying that the companies are far more popular with the public than the traditional taxi services, which have operated under the same rules for generations.

For that reason alone, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission should rethink its determined effort to force Uber and Lyft to operate like the traditional taxi companies and limousine services it regulates. The free market votes every day, and time and again the public is choosing Uber and Lyft over traditional taxis.

* * *

It’s understandable that the county’s legislatively created PTC, which regulates taxis, tow trucks and ambulances and approves fare rates, is disoriented by the new companies. But rather than conspire against them, the PTC needs to adapt its 20th-century rules to the 21st-century technology behind the phenomenal growth of these companies.

Yet, there are no signs that the PTC has any intention of entering the present century.  In fact, it behaves – and, as we have noted many times, essentially argues in court – as though its purpose is simply to protect the taxi industry.

As we said, the efficacy of any change depends on who is appointed.  The present system clearly does not serve the consumers, it serves specific companies.  To argue that changes would only serve specific companies is a bit funny.  Here is the board chairman in 2013 on the problems with the PTC:

To hear him describe it, Crist quickly learned that the inner workings of the agency were a mess. “Over time it’s become very exclusive, staff-driven, short-sighted and unreceptive to the consumer, and a little too close to the industry it serves.”

As has always been the case, the problem with the PTC has been created by the PTC.  It can always fix it.  It just does not want to.  If there are changes that weaken the power of present members, they have only themselves to blame.

International Trade – Building a Gateway

Despite the reticence of some (for various reasons – some noble, some cynical) regarding the developments between the US and Cuba and Tampa’s part in them:

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to volunteer Tampa to be the place where history is made.

More on the idea:

Tampa’s leaders are expected to extend an invitation to host any signing of agreements between the United States and Cuba as official relations continue to warm between the two nations.

On Thursday, within a week of Saturday’s historic meeting in Panama City between President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the Tampa City Council will vote on a resolution urging Obama to choose Tampa as the site of any signing ceremony.

The resolution also calls for the agreement to be named “The Tampa Accord.”

“If and when that accord is signed, Tampa is the right place for it,” said City Councilwoman Yvonne Capin, who introduced the resolution. “It has been well established that no city in the U.S. has stronger historic ties to Cuba than our city.”

Capin said she is confident the resolution will pass, noting that earlier this month the city council unanimously passed another resolution supporting the establishment of a Cuban consulate in Tampa.

She is also confident an accord between the two nations is in the making. One roadblock was removed Tuesday with Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.

“It seems like the next step, now that the two presidents met in Panama,” Capin said.

The Obama administration is already aware of Tampa’s desire to host such a meeting — and seems to have some interest, said Bob Rohrlack, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack brought the idea to the attention of U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker when she was here as keynote speaker for the March 30 forum, “Tampa at the Forefront of Historic Change.”

Well, not all of Tampa’s leaders.  (The Mayor is noticeably absent.)  In any event, as anyone who knows Tampa’s history knows, Tampa has a long connection with Cuba:

Tampa was Cuba’s first major U.S. trading partner, exporting livestock such as cattle to the island nation in the mid-1800s.

Tampa later hosted the first major wave of Cuban immigrants in the late-1800s and early 1900s. They came for work in Tampa’s cigar rolling industry, then the largest in the world. Tobacco used in those cigars came from Cuba.

Tampa was also a supporter of the Cuba’s successful fight for independence against its colonial ruler Spain in the late-1800s. Tampa residents fought alongside Cubans and raised money for the cause.

And when Cuba’s beloved freedom fighter and poet Jose Marti wrote the order for the war to begin, he did so from Tampa and had the message smuggled onto the island inside a cigar rolled in Tampa.

Of course, whether there is an agreement or not, and the terms thereof, is up to the Federal government. However, if there is an agreement, why not sign it in Tampa? (It is certainly more fitting than New Orleans, which is also seeking a consulate and now has flights. And note Atlanta and Houston want consulates, too.  Why should they have the connection over Tampa?)  There is no more logical place – including Miami.

“The Tampa accord would provide an opportunity for Tampa to gain free media exposure worldwide,” Carlson said. “It would be the most high profile and important event to occur here in decades.”

Not to mention a great opportunity to show that there are other Florida cities in Florida with long-standing ties to Latin America. And, while the legislature may be making noises against a consulate, that does not represent the future interests of Tampa and the Tampa Bay area.   It is in our interest that, if relations are reestablished, there is a consulate here.

Finally, it needs to be said that there is also a connection between the Cuba issue and connections to Latin America:

Mr Obama’s staff doubtless thought that their boss would be greeted as a hero at the latest summit in Panama, to be held on April 10th and 11th. At Latin America’s insistence, this is the first such get-together (they started in 1994) attended by Cuba. Partly with an eye to that, in December Mr Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic and some business ties with Cuba. This is a huge step towards lifting America’s 54-year-old economic embargo against the island. And while many Latin Americans dislike Cuba’s Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl, the country’s current president, they dislike the embargo even more.

We often hear that we must show we are an inclusive area to attract high paying jobs.  In the same way, showing that we are future-focused area can do nothing but help push efforts to connect to Latin America.  Those who are looking out for this area’s economic development would clearly see that.  If there is going to be business between the US and Cuba, Tampa should be firmly involved.

Downtown – Food Talk

Over the years there has been much discussion about the need for a grocery store downtown.  Despite many rumors, nothing has happened.  This week, the Lightning owner addressed the issue:

If a big grocery store chain won’t commit to building a store in the Channel District, then Jeff Vinik has a plan: Build his own.

After all his research into residential and office development, Vinik said he’s found a common theme of chicken-and-egg. Residents want to have a grocery store nearby before they’ll move into a neighborhood, and grocery stores want to have residents nearby before they commit to building a store. And if there’s one thing that Vinik said he’s heard loud and clear from all his surveys and research, it’s that residents want a grocery store right there in the new district that will soon have dozens of new offices, restaurants and residential units.

“If necessary, I’ll read a book on the grocery business, and we’ll go into the grocery business ourselves,” Vinik told a breakfast forum of development officials gathered by the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “You must have the amenities to attract people.”

Indeed, you need amenities to attract people.  (Transit comes to mind, though that is not for him to do.) It is not clear whether his comments are an attempt to motivate grocery store chains to get on the ball or he really means to go into the business.  Either way, good for him. (It is also worth noting that Duckweed is apparently planning a Channel District location – See here, the April 11th entry. We wish them well.)

Additionally, there was an update on the schedule for the Lightning owner’s project:

During Friday’s meeting, Vinik also gave updates on his schedule for construction.

By this Thanksgiving, he hopes to begin “turning dirt” for infrastructure both underground, and above ground to start re-arranging some of the streets between the Crosstown Expressway and the water. Then, assuming the state Legislature gives final approval for funding, the University of South Florida medical school can begin work to move into the new district and Vinik can begin work building an adjacent medical office tower.

Time will tell.

Harbour Island – The Manor Lives

The long saga of the Manor project on Harbour Island reached a new stage.

A judge has ruled that the city did not break the law by approving an apartment tower on Harbour Island but also criticized the city for failing to give neighboring residents enough chance to weigh in on the project.

The Manor at Harbour Island, a 21-story tower with 340 apartments, was initially approved by city planners without a public hearing because it did not require a zoning change. That decision was upheld by a hearing officer, prompting a group of about 30 neighbors to sue the city in February seeking to overturn the decision.

Their chief concern was that the tower will not have its own parking, instead relying on a proposed “sky bridge” for access to an existing parking garage across the street. That unconventional arrangement is not covered under city land regulations, the lawsuit claims, and should have been treated as a “substantial change” subject to a public hearing.

❖ ❖ ❖

But in a recent ruling, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Claudia Rickert Isom said the decisions by the city staff and the hearing officer were in keeping with the law and within city procedures.

So far, so good for the developer.

But the judge also questioned whether the city’s review process was fair to people who had no chance to air their concerns about traffic and parking before the tower was initially approved.

Those concerns include whether the 560 parking spaces needed for the new tower will overwhelm the parking garage and whether daytime workers in the area will use it in the evening.

“The process denies access by impacted residents to either City Council or the Mayor to address legitimate concerns about traffic congestion and pedestrian safety,” Isom wrote. “Perhaps this case highlights the need for a change to the review and permitting process.”

Perhaps, but we doubt much will change.

In any event, the plaintiffs can still appeal.  We shall see what happens.

Port – A Win

There was news about imports at the port.

In 2013, Brazilian aerospace company Embraer S.A. shipped a limited run of components for its Phenom 300 light business jet through Port Tampa Bay to be assembled in its Melbourne facility.

It took a while, but that experiment has finally paid off for Tampa: Embraer is now sending monthly shipments of aircraft parts through the port.

The company is sending parts for two kinds of planes now, according to port officials, and in 2016 plans to send components for two additional models.

Embraer is one of the world’s top business jet manufacturers. Last month it sent the first shipment of this new cargo line to Tampa from its headquarters in São José dos Campos, Brazil.

* * *

Now Embraer has restarted that service and expanded it: The company has already started delivering segments of its Phenom 100E and Phenom 300 aircraft.

In 2016, the company will start delivering segments of its new Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 aircraft.

The plane components are being delivered by NYK RoRo of Tokyo, one of the world’s largest auto shipping companies. RoRo is shorthand for “roll-on, roll-off,” for the kind of ships that can quickly roll vehicles down a ramp and onto the docks.

Last month’s Embraer shipment to Tampa was the inaugural call for the new NYK RoRo shipping route, which also travels through ports in Brazil, Mexico, Aruba, Venezuela, Curacao and Argentina.

That’s important to the Tampa Port Authority for another reason: It shows future customers that the port can handle other roll-on, roll-off cargoes such as Mexican-made cars and trucks.

That is definitely a reason it is good.  Additional service is always good, as is showing that the service can work well.  There is another point, as well: these imports show that the port can get business from companies closer to other ports (in this case Port Canaveral).  That is definitely a win.  Now we need many more – and some of the actual manufacturing, as well.

Downtown – 20 Years of the Aquarium

There was a piece in the Times regarding the 20th anniversary of the Florida Aquarium (of which we are fans).   The article was fine, but what caught our eye was a picture of the Aquarium under construction.

From the Times – click on picture for article

The desolation around the Aquarium under construction is amazing.  Thankfully, that has changed.  It shows how far we have come (and how far behind we were 20 years ago when other cities were already starting to work on their downtowns and transit).  That is clear progress. And, even better, expectations are much higher – at least among many.

One other thing the picture shows is how much a blank canvas the southern end of downtown was at the time and how mistakes like the poor design of the Port Authority garage and Channelside Plaza wasted opportunities to build a truly urban area on the first try and need to be redone.  Even with the positive developments, those mistakes hold back even more development.  Hopefully, that will not happen again.

Downtown – The Tale of Kiley Gardens

Those who have been around for a while know that when first built Kiley Gardens, the once park-like space between Curtis Hixon Park and the office tower, was a rather renown space.  Then it was turned into this exceptionally inviting (especially in the hotter months) space:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Now, with the City spending so much time and money on parks and focusing on the river, some are pushing to rehabilitate it.

It has been 15 years since the bubbling fountains of Kiley Garden were shut off and almost a decade since its hundreds of trees were removed, turning the urban oasis into a flat checkerboard of grass and concrete.

Still, the park’s former glory continues to draw attention.

Photos of it as it looked in its prime are part of a travelling exhibit on display at the Center for Architecture in New York, honoring its namesake and designer — the late Dan Kiley, considered one of the most influential Modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. The exhibit runs through June 20 then moves on to Dallas.

And later this year, a European architectural journal will name the original Kiley Garden one of three premiere landscape designs of the 1980s. The article appears in the winter edition of the Journal of Landscape Architecture, published by the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools.

This new international recognition, coupled with the popularity of the new Tampa Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Park, have emboldened local fans of Kiley Garden to renew their push to restore its former glory.

“People around the world want to remember Kiley Garden but in Tampa we want to ignore what it used to look like,” said Chris Vela, an architect and head of the volunteer organization Friends of the Kiley Garden.

“If the city wants our Riverwalk to stand out among others in the country, bring back what most experts consider to be one of the most beautiful landscapes ever designed.”

So why was the park basically ruined?

One reason the park was stripped down was to preserve the parking garage beneath it. The park’s floor doubles as the garage roof but drainage and waterproofing was faulty. Water leaked in, raising fears of a collapse.

So the flowing water was turned off and the trees removed to repair the damage.

That makes sense. There were leaks and repairs should have been done.  However, there is more to the story.

It opened in 1988.

“It was gorgeous” said Vela with Friends of Kiley Garden. “I remember running under the overhead canal as a kid and thinking it was amazing.”

But by the early 1990s, the water damage emerged. What’s more, Kiley’s design called for dwarf crepe myrtles but the city planted full sized ones.

The city could not keep up with the trimming, Vela said, so his organization formed to take care of maintenance there.

“We then found a tree broker would buy back the trees and with the money we could purchase the right ones,” Vela said. “Things were moving forward.”

In 2006, in preparation for the drainage work and waterproofing of the underground parking structure, the trees were removed.

Vela said he was given no warning. The trees were never handed over to his organization.

“The city knew we were moving forward,” he said. “I don’t why they did that.”

He asked permission to find other ways to raise money and replant trees but was denied.

(That City tree policy seem like it might be well established.)  So how much would it cost to fix?

Linda Saul-Sena, a former Tampa city councilwoman, said landscape architects have estimated a restoration project would cost $1.5 million. Saul-Sena speaks with some authority: Her film “City Visions,” about urban public spaces, won a merit award from the American Institute of Architects.

“That is such a minimal amount of money to bring an internationally recognized treasure back to life,” Saul-Sena said.

Vela with Friends of Kiley Garden has been given a higher estimate, around $3 million to $5 million.

Both projections include replanting trees and turning on the fountains and runnels. Neither includes bringing back the reflecting pools or overhead canals, which many agree would cost too much.

That is not excessive and includes some compromises. (Of course, you have to have the money.) Yet:

In a statement emailed to the Tribune, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman Ali Glisson said the city budget does not allow for any restoration work on Kiley Garden.

“Kiley presents some serious maintenance challenges,” according to the statement. “It’s not just restoration. It’s also ongoing maintenance costs. The city hasn’t done a formal review of what it would take to restore the fountains, irrigation, and landscaping in years.”

Given how little notable architecture/design this area has, it is surprising that the gardens have been basically left to desolate.  Then again, maybe that lack of interest in good architecture/design is why there are so few projects of note in the area. Of course money is an issue, but, if the river is so important and downtown is the heart of the city (and the area), surely revival of one of the only architecturally notable projects in the area, that also happens to be downtown and be on the riverfront, deserves to at least be studied.

List of the Week/Economic Development

This week’s list is also connected to the question of whether the area can support all of the local apartment developments with our low local incomes – Marcus & Millichap’s projected rent increases.

As noted in the Tribune article on the issue:

A rebounding economy and new apartments going up in the pricey urban core will contribute to a projected 5.3 percent increase in the average Tampa area apartment rent this year, according to commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap. That would be the 13th highest percentage increase in the nation and the largest in Florida.

The increase was even higher in 2014, at 5.8 percent.

Tampa renters will pay average monthly rent of $995, according to Marcus & Millichap’s Tampa Apartment Research Report for the first quarter of 2015. And while that’s a jump in price, it doesn’t even come close to some other major metropolitan area rents. In Denver, rent is expected to be $1,335 in 2015, up 9 percent over 2014. In San Francisco, apartment dwellers will pay about $3,040, an 8.5 percent yearly increase. And in Orlando, the average rent will be $1,030, a 5.2 percent increase over 2014.

* * *

Not everyone in the Tampa Bay area will see such an increase.

“Millennials with jobs, money and looking to move to the urban core will pay more,” said Kevin Schwartz, government affairs director for the Bay Area Apartment Association, which tracks rents each quarter. And millennials — 18 to 34 years old — prefer to rent. Land costs more in the urban areas, so rents in those areas will be higher.

Here are the projected rent increases:

Denver: $1,335/9.0
San Francisco: $3,040/8.5
San Jose, Calif.: $2,486/8.5
Oakland, Calif.: $1,962/8.1
Atlanta: $1,005/7.6
Portland, Ore.: $1,114/6.6
Seattle: $1,336/6.0
Riverside/San Bernardino, Calif.: $1,231/5.6
Phoenix: $868/5.5
Sacramento, Calif.: $1,087/5.4
Orange County, Calif.: $1,813/5.3
San Diego: $1,630/5.3
Tampa: $995/5.3
Los Angeles: $1,878/5.2
Orlando: $1,030/5.2
Fort Lauderdale: $1,384/4.9
Miami: $1,322/4.6
Nashville: $999/4.6
Jacksonville: $870/4.3
Louisville: $790/4.2
U.S. average: $1,219/3.4

While the average rents in this area are still relatively low, so are the incomes.  The growth in incomes is also much slower (say 1.3%) than the rent growth. That may very well lead to this area overall joining Hernando County on the least affordable rental market list.

While we love all the development, we have to keep in mind that long time policies in this area have kept incomes low.  Yes, people are working on changing that and hopefully it will bear fruit, but, once again, we need to know where we are to know where we need to go.

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