Transportation – Slow Hillsborough: The Results Are In, Partially
After much time and money has been spent to determine the way forward on transportation in Hillsborough (with more of both to be spent), and even though the process is not over, there are some results.
— A Firm Grasp of the Obvious
In an article which at one point was listed on the Tribune landing page as “Hillsborough residents: Fix existing roads first” we learned:
The 1,000-plus people who participated in county-led transportation meetings this year gave a narrow edge to paving and maintaining existing roads over new or expanded mass transit and building new roads.
Actually, the big surprise is that it was not really a victory:
“What was interesting after halfway through this process is that countywide, the consensus is the same: maintenance of roads; either expanding or building new roads; and mass transit — those three got the most votes. They were very close,” Merrill said.
Right, so why has it taken years to get to the obvious. Most people have to deal with roads – that is all they are given here (and the most used transportation in most places). Many want better transit. We knew that. So now that we have confirmed that, where does the process go?
The next phase of the process, which runs through May 21, involves asking participants what they are willing to pay for, Merrill said. They will be asked to fill out a comment form that first asks them to circle revenue options, such as increasing the sales tax or raising gas taxes by 5 cents — the most allowed by the state.
The bottom part of the form asks what share of any new tax revenues should go toward each of the top four priorities decided in the first phase of meetings: repaving and road maintenance, new and expanded roads, mass transit, and intersection improvements.
Well, someone has to make a choice since the elected officials won’t. (Actually, we have no problem with the basic question. Though just using “transit” is problematic because it could be anything and will be the source of all sorts of future debates. We also have a problem with the fact that this survey is at the tail end of the process.)
— There Is no Money
There is also this:
In the category that Go Hillsborough participants said mattered most, repaving roads, the county is spending just $8 million year. Merrill said it should be spending $24 million annually to keep the repaving program from getting behind.
It would be interesting to have a detailed explanation of how the failure to fund all that came to pass, but nevermind.
Not everyone is convinced on the need for new revenue.
County Commissioner Victor Crist said that before citizens are asked to increase their taxes, the county should look at cutting 10 percent from the budget and putting the money toward roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham told The Tampa Tribune last week that he is working on a plan to find $80 million to $100 million for repaving and other road maintenance without raising taxes. He wouldn’t give details but said the plan might meet some resistance because it would require cutbacks to other programs.
“I feel like we can fund a lot of our concerns, especially road issues, within our means,” Higginbotham said. “We’re working on a proposal … that will make a major dent in road repair, (traffic) light synchronization and intersection improvements.”
We have nothing against efficient government (we are for it, actually), but there is no evidence that there is so much fat and overspending in the County budget (that the Commissioners routinely pass) that there is no need to find new money to fill all the needs that have been previously ignored – as well as future needs. Question: if there is so much fat, why was this trimming not done in all the years the present Commissioners had a vote on the budget? Nevermind.
And don’t forget the real picture:
. . . said Commissioner Ken Hagan. “Do the math: There’s somewhere around $8 billion in unfunded needs with no possible way or revenue source to fund our needs. Any other possible remedy would only be kicking the can down the road.”
There is no way to cut the budget fat and get $ 8 billion dollars. And kicking the can down the road will only lead to us falling further behind.
— Let’s Do Nothing Some More
Now, some are complaining that Go Hillsborough has not been enough of an outreach.
About 1,400 people attended 26 meetings since February to weigh in on the future of transportation in Hillsborough County, Bob Clifford of consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff told a group of county and city leaders who have been discussing transportation for the past two years. The consulting firm will conduct 10 more meetings before composing a draft of a community transportation plan by May 26.
Frankly, it appears that some of the Transportation for Economic Development group (now referred to as the PLG), simply want to wait for someone to tell them what to do (or to do nothing) rather than decide anything. There is never going to be a full consensus (though from the article above it seems there is some consensus) in a county of over a million people. That is why the plan has to have more than one element. But, to those complaining, enough already:
— After the Talking Shops
So after the outreach, where should the process go?
County Commissioner Ken Hagan told other members of the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group that he wants the group to make a final recommendation on projects and financing in June. The county commission could then begin taking steps for a referendum to be held in November 2016, he said.
“I’ve consistently advocated over the past two years that we’ve had these PLG meetings that we have a measured and methodical approach,” Hagan told the group. “But I’ve got to tell you, I feel it’s time to bring this in for a landing.”
Hagan said he foresees the county commission taking a final vote in September or October to put a sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot. That will give business groups more than a year to plan and carry out a campaign to promote passage of the sales tax. No public money can be spent to promote a referendum.
Hagan noted that in 2010, when the last transportation sales tax referendum was placed on a county ballot, commissioners passed an ordinance in May for an election five months later. The proposal for a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax hike failed at the polls. So did a similar ballot measure in Pinellas County last year.
First, commissioners will vote to have the county attorney draw up an ordinance calling for a referendum. That could happen soon after County Administrator Mike Merrill presents his fiscal 2016 budget on June 17.
Perhaps most importantly, Hagan said, the commission will also pass a resolution that will list all the projects to be funded if the tax is approved. That list and a recommended source of money will be presented at the policy group’s June 11 meeting by the county’s paid consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Ok, though we still are not sure why the group outsourced all the planning. And while it might not be as much of a rush as some others, it is still a rush because the “PLG” did not do its job in the first place. And there is no guarantee there will be a referendum.
Putting a sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot is a highly political choice. Though voters will make the final decision, the county commission’s five Republicans will face fierce headwinds from the more conservative members of their own party.
Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who strongly supports a referendum next year, said the vote would probably fail if held today. Too many county residents have yet to fully recover from the great recession, Buckhorn said, and are not ready for higher taxes.
Still, proponents of a referendum say they think the votes are there to get the issue on the ballot. They give credit to the Go Hillsborough process for educating thousands of voters about the budget constraints that prevent the county from dealing with traffic gridlock now.
“At this point, I’m just moving forward in such a way that I’m listening and analyzing,” White said. “But I am far from reaching a decision on what I can support with respect to the plan and a revenue source.”
Merrill said he hopes some kind of substantial transportation plan is passed. But even if a referendum fails, as it did in 2010, Merrill said the Go Hillsborough process has been a good thing for the county and democratic government.
The process is only as good as what it produces. If it fails to produce something that can pass AND actually fixes (or goes a good way to fixing) the problems, then what was the point?
As for a referendum and taxes, let us be clear: we have needs that are unfunded. It is irresponsible to continually kick the can down the road. The bill will only get bigger. Just as deficit spending is irresponsible because it burdens our children, so is constantly not addressing needs. The cost of any improvements just keeps rising. And the failure to keep up with other areas will leave our children with the choice of living in an area with lower salaries and fewer opportunities or leaving. Moreover, if you have to build something, you should have the money to pay for it.
There is a caveat – any money raised for specific transportation uses should be used for that specific transportation. There can be no bait and switch. As was indicated in surveys after the 2010 effort, the lack of trust in local government is one of the biggest problems with getting any referendum passed.
— And One More Thing
And here is another thing – the system of development in this area is bad for the middle class.
Over at Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund breaks down how the rich and poor really spend their money, using a great new dataset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that splits Americans into income deciles (ten equal-sized groupings). But the stats also show how the middle-class spend their money, and when it comes to annual transportation expenditures, the results are pretty alarming.
But as Ehrenfreund notes, something screwy is going on with transportation. In this case, the numbers show that middle-class Americans spend a much higher share of their total household annual expenditures on getting around, compared with the poorest and richest groups. Instead of gentle downward slopes, the transportation shares are closer to a bell curve (with the sixth decile added in for emphasis) . . .
You can click on the quote to read the whole article, but the basic point is this – this is an area with lower average incomes that is based almost exclusively on sprawling development and roads. That is economically for the middle class. In fact, it makes their life harder and more expensive and then fails to provide the needed services (like paving the roads) to maintain that way of living. (Which may be why Millennials – and others – are looking for other choices, whether downtown or in the suburbs). And the never-ending transportation review process (and accompanying lack of leadership and vacillation from the elected officials) will only leave us further behind other areas.
Transportation – FDOT and the Streetcar
There was news about the streetcar.
The city said Wednesday that FDOT will provide the money for a feasibility study on extending the streetcar throughout downtown Tampa and into Tampa Heights. The study will evaluate “potential ridership, environmental impacts and economic development opportunities as well as refine capital and operational costs,” the city said in a statement.
FDOT’s funding will be available in July, at the start of fiscal 2016. The city will provide $250,000 in matching funds. Once the study and planning process is complete, the city will evaluate pursuing additional state and federal dollars to assist in construction.
That’s fine. It should be studied and FDOT giving the bulk of the money is a bit of a surprise. Of course, it is more time passing by when it all should have been done a while ago.
As the Business Journal article pointed out:
The streetcar is crucial to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans to build a billion-dollar, mixed-use district on the southern fringe of downtown Tampa. Between Vinik’s plans and other developers’ projects, thousands of new residents will be added to the urban core in the next five years — and there’s no efficient mode of transportation in and around downtown Tampa.
Transit is key to revitalization and economic development, say champions of urban renewal. A vibrant downtown requires more people than cars, and an efficient transit system creates the kind of city in which young, educated workers are clamoring to live.
That is true, but, as we have noted before, real transit includes going to areas really outside of downtown, which even an expanded streetcar will not provide – especially if the rolling stock is not changed. The present cars are just not efficient enough for expansion outside of downtown/Ybor. They are really not even good enough to make what is there now efficient. To really get be useful, transit has to be effectively connected with other areas of residential and businesses hubs, like Westshore and the airport.
But, at least, it is a start.
Economic Development – A Loss
We often note that the culture of this area involves much hype which is not met by actual accomplishments. This week, we had another example involving the quest to make a medical hub in this area suffered a loss this week:
Draper Lab, an MIT spinoff lured with much fanfare to expand to both Tampa and St. Petersburg in 2009, is shutting down most of its operations here, saying its initial plans to grow in Florida aren’t working.
Draper’s arrival in Florida six years ago coincided with a burst of premier medical and high tech research firms that included the likes of Scripps Research in Jupiter and SRI International in St. Petersburg. Their recruitments seemed to herald a new era both for Florida’s high-tech image and for higher-wage jobs.
Now the pullback of highly regarded Draper is considered a blow to the prestige of the University of South Florida, which had partnered for years with a Draper bioengineering facility on its Tampa campus. For USF to attract an enterprise started at MIT was a signal to many that the university had become capable of playing in the big leagues of science and technology.
Setting aside that other areas of Florida were much more successful in recruiting facilities and that not everyone was buying that satellite facilities of organizations was really turning Florida into a high tech hub, why are they leaving?
In Tampa, Draper employed a few dozen, with a similar number in St. Petersburg who, for now, remain on the Draper payroll while potential buyers are sought for the specialized manufacturing building. The company initially had hoped to grow its local work force to 165, but that effort fizzled.
“To date, Draper has been unable to recover its investments in the Tampa area related to the Draper Bioengineering Center at USF,” said company spokesman Eric T. Mazzacone. “Moving forward we will continue to seek opportunities to work with USF on biomedical related efforts.”
Note that they never got to even 165 employees even though they have constantly been mentioned as part of our tech future:
Unable to reach even half of its goal for creating high-paying jobs in the Tampa Bay area, New England-based Draper Laboratory, after seven years, says it is pulling most of its operations out of the area.
After the company’s arrival in Tampa Bay, Draper’s CEO, James Shields, and marketing executive Len Polizzotto visited frequently to reinforce their support for their Florida expansion. But when both men turned 65, company policy required their retirement. Shields was replaced by a new CEO who ordered Draper to consolidate many of its distant operations back to the home office in Massachusetts.
Those are both good reasons for pulling out. It should be noted that, in addition to great fanfare, it cost a lot to bring Draper to the area:
Draper initially was drawn here with an incentive package of up to $30 million that included money from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the city of St. Petersburg, USF’s Research Foundation and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council as well as matching funds from the state. Some of those funds will likely be returned by Draper depending in part on whether it lays off its St. Petersburg employees or is able to find a buyer of its semiconductor operation that will also continue to employ Draper’s workers.
That is quite the incentive package, which invariably leads to a question regarding incentives to lure companies and facilities to the area. On the other hand, that is the game that has to be played (though not necessarily that much money). In any event,
Rick Baker, St. Petersburg’s mayor in 2009, had celebrated the grand opening of Draper’s manufacturing site with area leaders. Told of Draper’s exit plans on Monday, he said he was disappointed but urged the area not to be discouraged.
Indeed, while disappointing, it is not a tragedy. We are not discouraged specifically by Draper leaving. Such are the ways of business. And we do not put all our hopes in a project for 165 jobs nor do we listen to the hyperbolic statements of elected and economic development officials. We do not buy that small investments (no matter how prominent the investor) are a panacea. And we are well aware that neither Silicon Valley nor the Texas Medical Center (or much smaller clusters for that matter) were built in a few years.
Frankly, we are more discouraged by this area’s inability to solve its transportation issues and comprehensively change its planning and economic development strategies. We are discouraged by the fact that while we are drawing more Millennials and some higher paying jobs, other areas our outpacing us. (See List of the Week I) And we are discouraged that rhetoric still passes for achievement.
And, for local companies, there is always this:
St. Petersburg startup SavvyCard has managed to raise $3.7 million, mostly from local “angel” investors — often family and friends. “This has been very difficult and time consuming because Florida is in a difficult early-stage capital market,” concedes CEO David Etheredge, whose startup wants businesses to adopt its sophisticated online business card system. “But we’re succeeding despite this.”
Venture capitalists invested $13.4 billion in 1,020 deals nationwide in the first quarter of 2015, according to Friday’s MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. How much of that showed up in all of Florida in that quarter? Less than $90 million — less than 1 percent — spread over 19 deals.
Yes, funding remains scarce for area startups. But the reality is that Tampa Bay’s startup scene is getting stronger now that several years worth of — let’s call it entrepreneurial infrastructure — has been put in place and the depth of startup activity dramatically increased.
It is great that there are startups, but they need access to money and talent – both of which are far more accessible in other areas. And what we really need are not just startups, but actual successes going beyond startup status, staying local, and building a bigger economy. Of course, everything is connected – a place like Draper Labs was supposed to help spinoff new companies (startups) and draw talent.
So, the idea of having startups and bringing in outside companies and institutions is ok, but has not really panned out yet. Hopefully, it will. But remember, we are not alone. Every other area in the country is trying to do the same thing – and pushing forward with transportation plans (most far ahead of anything here) and development (many far more advanced than here). They are all trying to attract Millennials and high paying jobs. Are we really in the best position we can be to compete?
And finally, Draper Labs is another cautionary tale: just because there is a lot of hype when something is announced does not mean it will actually lead to anything. We don’t need pep rallies. We need achievements.
— One More Thing
Tangentially, yet in a way not, at the intersection of med-tech and international trade, we came across this:
Though hospital officials back in Buffalo were unable to confirm the deal, Reuters is reporting Roswell Park CEO Candace Johnson signed an agreement Tuesday with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) to develop a lung cancer vaccine with a clinical trial in the United States.
Do with that what you will, but isn’t Moffitt a lot closer?
Downtown – The Tribune Property
There was news this week that the Tribune property on the west side of the Hillsborough River is under contract for sale.
The Tribune’s building at 202 S. Parker St. will be sold to a developer who is planning a residential project there that could possibly include commercial uses, according to multiple sources who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal.
Under contract is the 4.4-acre riverfront site that is home to a nearly 60,000-square-foot building occupied by the Tribune and its printing presses. (See map below.) The sales price is believed to be $19 million — close to the $18 million Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik paid for the 4-acre Southgate site in downtown Tampa in December.
That is an intriguing prospect. It is definitely a good lot – on the river, near bridges to the main buildings downtown, close to Bayshore and Publix (and a good spot to start a riverwalk on the west shore of the river). So who is the mystery buyer?
The developer rumored to be pursuing the project is The Related Group, a South Florida residential developer that has been active in Tampa in recent years. Related is planning a tower on Harbour Island and built and sold off the Pierhouse in the Channel district.
Hopefully, anything they plan will be far better than PierHouse, though we would assume it is given the location, the price, and the ability to build a relatively tall building in that location.
In any event, the sale is not finalized. Even if it is, it may take a while to get anything built there because the Tribune would have to move and Related has another project on Harbour Island to do. Nonetheless, assuming Related builds something more akin to their normal projects than PierHouse, and starts a western riverwalk, this is all good.
And, at least Tampa has moved on from what used to be there:
Ybor City – A Private Development Moves Forward
We have noted that the City seems determined to sell public property in Ybor despite the fact that there are many moves for private development projects. This week, a hotel project moved forward:
The as-yet unnamed hotel would redevelop a block-size parcel in Ybor City on the northwest corner of East Seventh Avenue and North 15th Street, potentially adding a 180-room property with a budget that could top $50 million. The sensitivity of building something to that scale in a neighborhood known for its colorful history was not lost on the project backers.
That’s great. And another reason the City should wait to sell property.
Meanwhile, In St. Pete
While Tampa keeps up its quest for a downtown grocery store,
ARC Group is planning a 50,000-square-foot retail center with a 32,000-square-foot grocery store for 700 Central Ave. There will be three levels of parking above, according to plans submitted to the city.
At least the grocery stores in St. Pete are a proof of concept for Tampa (including putting parking above stores).
More on St. Pete – The News That Isn’t News
This week, we learned that a former Mayor of Tampa is moving to downtown St. Pete.
First, he is still working in Tampa. Second, so what?
Note: at one point he shocked people by moving to New Tampa, but (from a 2000 article):
Less than a year after moving into the Reserve, a gated community in Tampa Palms, Greco decided to return closer to downtown. The 20-mile commute, loathed by many in New Tampa, simply became too much for his hectic schedule of meetings and appearances.
The real news is that downtown St. Pete probably has better transportation connections with much of South Tampa than New Tampa does. The former Mayor’s interest in a change of scenery is nothing new. Nor is Tampa/Hillsborough County’s failure to develop a proper transportation infrastructure.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week is CBRE’s Top 50 Tech Talent list. What is tech talent? The press releases tells us:
“Though highly concentrated within the high-tech services industry, tech talent is not limited to any one type of company and can be found across all industry sectors. In fact, more than 60 percent of tech talent jobs are located outside of the core high-tech industry and these workers help generate innovation and advances that can boost the whole economy, including the commercial real estate market,” said Yasukochi.
So they do not mean just what is normally thought of as tech jobs. In any event, the top 15: Silicon Valley; D.C.; San Francisco; San Francisco Peninsula; New York; Seattle; Boston; Baltimore; Austin; Atlanta; Dallas; Orange County; Chicago; Raleigh-Durham; and Oakland. Some other notable cities: Salt Lake City (25); Portland (26); Kansas City (30); Charlotte (31)
Florida cities include Tampa at 36th, Orlando at 47th, Ft Lauderdale at 48th, and Miami at 50th. While 36 is better than other Florida cities, it is really just below average (and not very good).
The report also has two more lists: Top 15 of Where is the Talent and Top 15 Top Talent Momentum Markets.
The Where is the Talent top 15 are thus: DC, NYC, Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Seattle, LA, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Francisco Peninsula, Phoenix, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
The Top 15 Momentum Markets are thus: San Francisco, San Francisco Peninsula, Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, Orange County, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Oakland.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is tied to the first, the Consumer Electronics Association Innovation Scorecard. Actually, it does not really have a list. It ranks states in terms of their innovation qualities. While you might think that has something to do with technology, it doesn’t:
The scorecard evaluates all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., according to the conduciveness of their legal, regulatory and overall business environments to welcome and encourage innovation in 2014.
Based on that, Florida is an Innovation Leader. Of course:
In other words, Florida is a leader because it is cheap. On the other hand, it got C-‘s in all the major categories for high tech: tech workforce, attracts investment, and grants STEM degrees.
To tell you how much this ranking has nothing to do with high tech, Alabama was an Innovation Leader, as were Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Dakota. While Massachusetts was an Innovation Champion, California was an Innovation Adopter. . . because Lord knows there are no innovations there.