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Roundup 5-1-2015

May 1, 2015

Transportation – What You Are Likely to Really Get

There was an editorial in the Tribune regarding the Go Hillsborough process that provided some insight into what are likely the real thoughts among officials regarding the possible referendum and what you might get for your money.

Citizens in Tampa are, understandably, far more interested in mass transit than those in South Hillsborough, who want better roads.

In 2010, the transportation plan included a major rail proposal. It passed in Tampa but failed because of opposition in the unincorporated county. This time, there will be greater focus on county needs and on quick, economical ways of improving traffic, such as synchronizing lights.

Improving transit options still must be a priority. But it is unlikely rail will be the centerpiece. The initial focus is more likely to be on bus rapid transit and other economical means to serve people who don’t want to be dependent on a car. Using CSX lines or modern streetcars may prove to be more effective and smarter economical strategies than a new rail line.

We still believe rail should be part of the community’s future, but citizens have shown their wariness. Better to start with a less ambitious plan and build support.

First, we are not clear why the County can’t start synchronizing lights now. (Just like why it could not plan or budget properly.)

Second, the above portion shows the confusion that still exists regarding what might be in the referendum.  First, it says a new rail line will likely not be involved.  It mentions BRT, but there is no real BRT in Tampa right now and Metro Rapid, while nice, has not spawned any urban development. Where will the BRT go?  Will anyone ride it?  Will it spur any development?  How will it connect to anything else?

Then it discusses using CSX rails (presumable for rail transit), which would be a new rail line (though not a newly laid rail line) but still not connect downtown and Westshore and the airport. (And will CSX actually agree?  And will the state provide the insurance or indemnity like it does for other areas?)  And while changing the rolling stock on the streetcar is a good idea, if the problem is support in the County, it is not clear how even having a decent streetcar downtown will build support in the South County or Northwest County (which generally gets nothing in these plans) for rail since a streetcar will never get to them anyway – only full rail transit might.

Third, it is not clear that the reason the referendum failed was specifically the rail element.  It was certainly a factor for some, but others just did not want to pay.  Others did not trust local officials to deliver (because they haven’t delivered before). And HART and County Commissioners’ equivocation was not a source of confidence.

The fact is that if you read the editorial you get the distinct impression that basically the plan will be pave the county, add some buses, expand the streetcar a little, declare victory and go home (or to the next political position).  That may provide some localized fixes to some localized issues, but it is not going to do anything regarding competition with a Charlotte, Denver, Phoenix or Portland (or even Orlando).  Maybe that is the best that can be had given the political culture (and low wage economy) we have, but, if that is it, it really is not even a half measure.

Economic Development – Another Mystery?

The Business Journal is reporting the following:

A mystery company is looking for sites in Tampa Bay that could accommodate half a million square feet of office space and potentially bring thousands of jobs to the region.

Real estate sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal, said an economic development consultant representing the company has been in touch with brokers and developers throughout Tampa Bay. The consultant has visited the region and has engaged with the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Tampa Bay is one of several markets in the running for the deal, sources say, and the company is looking to make a decision within the next few months. The identity of the company and its industry aren’t known.

So, no word on if, where (though sounds like they are looking at Hillsborough), what, who, etc. In other words, just wait and see.

Downtown/Channel District – Wither MOSI

As part of their aggressive push for their development, the Lightning owner’s team has brought up moving MOSI:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s development team has begun exploring the idea of moving the Museum of Science and Industry to Vinik’s $1 billion development near Amalie Arena downtown.

“We’re really at the very beginning of the conversation,” MOSI interim president and CEO Molly Demeulenaere said Monday. “There are some very exciting things that could take place if MOSI had the opportunity to relocate to a more urban area, but you don’t just pick up a $120 million infrastructure and move it.”

There’s no definite or decided plan to leave the museum’s home near the University of South Florida on E Fowler Avenue.

Still, both parties are intrigued by the prospect that a move — facilitated by financial help from Vinik — could benefit everyone.

“This will be a vibrant district,” said the Lightning’s Tod Leiweke so, “Can we help them attract more visitors and more donors and give them a chance to dream?”

Yes, said Leiweke, who is CEO both of Vinik’s hockey team and his downtown development company, Strategic Property Partners.

A downtown MOSI has been suggested by many of the experts SPP has consulted with, especially David Dixon and Jeff Speck, the well-known urban planners hired by Vinik to design a pedestrian-friendly, business, entertainment and residential district along downtown Tampa’s waterfront.

Those planners talk about the need to attract families, kids and grandparents to the downtown project, not just millennials.

“Great districts feature great institutions,” Leiweke said. “We’ve got two of those now in the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center, and folks outside our group have said that it would be fantastic if you can make something like (MOSI) happen.

“All we’ve done is raise our hand and say ‘MOSI, this would be a great discussion for us to have,’ ” he said.

It is an interesting idea.  MOSI’s location has always struck us as oddly out of the way, especially as it creates no spin-off effect and that all the other museum type institutions were downtown.  On the other hand, there is a question of how much it would cost to move, who would pay (we do not think the taxpayers should, though, in theory, if the present land can be sold to finance a move, we would be ok with that) and what exactly would be in the new location (IMAX?).  Because none of that is clear, it is hard to say anything other than it is an interesting idea.

One odd thing in the coverage is this:

MOSI sits on 80 acres owned by the county that could be repurposed for a mix of commercial, residential and university uses. Maybe a corporate headquarters could anchor the new development or serve as “the center of a new innovation district,” as County Administrator Mike Merrill put it. 

This is a strange idea.  The Lightning owner’s development is trying to attract a headquarters and become an innovation district.  It seems odd to move MOSI so that its old Fowler location would compete with the new downtown location.  Not that there need be only one HQ location or innovation area, but still.

West Tampa – A CRA?

There has been news of ongoing public meetings regarding a West Tampa Community Redevelopment Areas.

In the 930-acre area north of Kennedy Boulevard and west of Armenia Avenue, almost half of the roughly 9,300 people living there make at or below the federal poverty level. The average family income in the area is $18,000, way below the $43,000 city average. The average home value of $121,000 lags well below home prices in other parts of the city.

Indeed.  Which leads to the question of whether any plan will help those people or just gentrify the area. (Fixing up the area is fine, but those people also need help.)

The city’s long-term plan to bring jobs and economic development to the area includes designating it as a community redevelopment area. It would also establish a tax increment financing district so it can set aside a portion of property taxes for street improvements, lighting and other projects in the area.

That plan advanced Monday as officials unveiled a draft redevelopment plan for the area. Highlights include more parks, plazas, bike trails and public art and the addition of sidewalks. It also raises the possibility of a west river trail along the Hillsborough River from Columbus Drive to Bayshore Boulevard.

To spur economic development, incentives would be offered for developers who build on vacant or polluted parcels. Incentives also could be introduced for homeowners who rehab their properties.

City officials also hope to lure employers back to Armenia and Howard avenues and bring more restaurants into the area.

“Main Street at one time was an important commercial spine,” said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic development administrator. “Over time, many of those businesses left. It would be nice to re-establish that and have community-based businesses there.”

And all that is fine (especially the trail/riverwalk along the river) – we have no problem with it.  The real questions are about actual implementation (will the City fix a few things then just settle?) and whether there is anything to help the people with the very low incomes, because this:

Some redevelopment is underway in the area, including the Jewish Community Center and Federation’s $26 million project to convert the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory into a new campus. The city also has approved a plan to renovate Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Also underway is the Tampa Housing Authority’s relocation of residents from public housing projects North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune Towers. In their place, a mix of commercial and residential buildings is planned that includes affordable and workforce housing.

That demolition will open up parts of the west bank of the Hillsborough River, land expected to be coveted by developers.

Does not seem to (maybe they could work at the restaurants). A park with a history walk is not a substitute for good incomes. And average income can be raised by replacing the present residents with people who make more money, but that does not really solve the problem. (And, as the Mayor has said, as goes West Tampa so goes South Tampa)

Moreover, fixing a few things is not a replacement for having a good plan and code and sticking to them.  If the land is so desirable, there should be strong rules to make sure whatever is built it built properly for the long term interest of Tampa rather than just to have a ribbon cutting.

We get that lifting a community is a complicated task.  Some of the ideas are good.  Nothing wrong with them, but they do not really address the low income issues at all.

We will just have to see what the full plans are.

Port – Building

The Port is moving forward with some projects:

The Tampa Port Authority board voted Tuesday to move forward with the second phase of an $18 million project meant to lure back ships carrying fresh food to the port.

* * *

The container project will provide the newest and best way to get goods from this country to ports of call to the south and to bring in fresh food and get it shipped by rail or truck to the southeast and the Midwest, said Raul Alfonso, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for the port.

Eventually, this project will include a new refrigerated warehouse to hold goods until they are shipped out to various destinations across the country.

The work getting under way includes site work on 19 acres, building 17,500 linear feet of railroad to connect with CSX and relocating a road.

The project is funded by Port Tampa Bay with a matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Food coming into Port Tampa Bay was once a lucrative part of the business there. The port even had its own banana docks. But the last major importer of bananas weighed anchor and moved its operations to Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1997.

Combine the new rail loop with expansion of the Panama Canal and two new gantry cranes coming to the port to off-load containers and it could mean a lot more business for the port, Alfonso said.

“This project is not just about fruit,” he said. “It is part of our container strategy to attract new business for the port. It will provide better solutions for importers and exporters.” Eventually, he said, the port hopes to have the capability to move containers from a ship right on to rail cars, but that is something that will come as the port builds up more client ships bringing goods into Tampa.

More facilities are good, and we think building the infrastructure is a positive step.  (Though the history of the fruit facility seems a little different in this article from 2009.) We also thought the Port was going to wait until it already had contracts in place.

In any event, just how much the facilities will increase business is not clear .

Downtown/The West Shore – Another Potential Project

Following news that the Tribune building may be sold to the Related group, there was news of another proposal for a nearby lot:

Altman Development of Boca Raton proposes to put the project just south of the triangular block that’s home to Mise en Place and the Oxford Exchange.

The site is bordered by Grand Central Avenue on the north, W Cleveland Street on the south and S Magnolia and S Cedar avenues on the west and east. Currently, most of it is covered by parking and three small office buildings.

Developers say in plans filed at City Hall this week that the project’s location will fill a need for multifamily housing near the university and downtown. As proposed, the project would include 236 one- or two-bedroom apartments and 36 efficiencies, which would need an estimated 458 parking spaces. Exterior drawings show stucco-finished buildings ranging from five to about seven floors.

Altman also proposes to build a 526-space garage — big enough to allow for agreements with other businesses to use some of the additional spaces. Entrances to the garage would be along Magnolia and Cedar avenues.

A public hearing on the proposal is expected to be scheduled for mid-August.

(Specifically, it is at 504 Grand Central.) Based on the article, nothing is going to happen for a while.   In any event, from the handy Accela database, this is the site plan:

From public records – click for bigger version

And these are the elevations:

From public records – click for bigger version

(Note that the height is listed as 72 or so feet)

Nothing special, but we are fine with this kind of development (though it would be good if there were some retail, and it could be a little denser allowing for further development.  Also, we are a bit concerned about all the proposed projects being able to find buyers/tenants, but so be it.  Overall, it appears to be ok for the location.).  One thing this clearly does show is that the City should not be settling for one story, sprawling development on Kennedy or anywhere nearby (nor should it allow large projects to have large surface parking lots).  Clearly the market it supports better than that.

One other thing is that unfortunately, the University of Tampa has chosen to make the north side of Kennedy relatively isolated from the rest of the city by erecting a large wall with almost no gates.  While it may make the campus more “campus like” it really isolates the University and does not help enliven that part of the City generally.  It is an urban campus.  It can and should be better integrated.

Downtown/Ybor – Selmon Greenway

The Selmon Greenway is about to open, from 83 degrees media:

A new paved path running below the elevated east-west toll road between the Tampa Riverwalk and 19th Street promises to be the beginning of the city’s next exciting mobility project. The Selmon Greenway provides foot commuters a shaded path through the heart of downtown Tampa and will serve as a vital link between the downtown and Ybor City.

Locals can get their first official look at the Selmon Greenway in early May during Tampa’s annual Jane’s Walk event. Celebrated internationally in recognition of urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk will be held on May 2 and coincide with the Tampa RiverFest. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. at Joseph Frye Park, where the Tampa Riverwalk and Selmon Greenway intersect. 

We are not sure how much is actually green because this is one of the pictures included in the article:

From 83 Degrees Media – click on picture for website

In any event, it is a fine idea to have a shaded path for people to get around.  The only thing is we wish the Riverwalk (and any future Riverwalk and streetscaping) keeps in mind that this area is hot (and wet) and areas need shade much more than they need palm trees to make anything truly walkable.

Ybor City/Channel District – A Connection?

We have long wanted Ybor City and the Channel District to be connected.  It is logical and it is necessary.  Now:

A Tampa developer is laying the groundwork for a multifamily development between the Channel district and Ybor City.

Phillips Development & Realty LLC is seeking to rezone 1400 Channelside Drive, a 7.64-acre site owned by TECO Peoples Gas, for multifamily development.

You can see the lot here.

It is an intriguing location. The first thing you can see is that it is right between the streetcar (with a stop) and the CSX/Amtrak rail, near Union Station. The lot does not exactly connect to developments in Ybor or the Channel District, but it is close.  There is a lot of potential for the any project on the lot if 1) it is built as a truly urban space and 2) it has roads going through it and interacts with its surroundings rather than being an isolated development.  In other words, if it is a real urban development rather than a suburban development, even one masquerading as being urban, it could be cool.  Notably: the developer’s website shows a number of projects (here and here) that show that it has the ability to do go projects but also has many that are not so good.  So they know how to do it right if they want to – the question is do they want to?

At this point, we cannot know what they want to do, but with the City’s track record of settling, we are only cautiously optimistic.

Downtown – An Easy Answer

From 83 degrees media:

As plans for the final phase of the Tampa Riverwalk project and a park move forward, the City of Tampa is looking to install a couple of new public art pieces designed to attract local residents and visitors to enjoy the beautiful waterfront walkway along the Hillsborough River.
 
The first piece would grace the final segment of the Tampa Riverwalk itself; and the other is for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park located at 1001 N. Boulevard. The Riverwalk project has a projected budget of up to $200,000 and the park $400,000. The City of Tampa is open to all ideas and artists.

* * *

“I do not think there is any preconceived notion about what the art should be,” Nigh says.  “From the technical and practical side, it needs to be safe and appropriate for the environmental conditions. Conceptually, the art needs to be impactful, contribute to the overall space and place, as well as provide an engaging experience where residents and visitors want to be, return to, and recommend to others.”

And that is all fine.  On the other hand, the City could have put the World Trade Center steel that now graces the Bayshore median (where very few people appreciate – or even notice – it) in MacDill Park – which would be meaningful, “impactful,” and contribute to the space and place.  It is not art – it is a memorial – but it would be fitting and people would actually see and be able to contemplate it and MacDill’s role in responding to the events which it memorializes.  It is not too late. It should be moved.

Pasco – Same Old

When it was built, the Wiregrass shopping center was held out to be a modern walkable shopping area.  It wasn’t – it was a mall without a roof (or a/c or ever awnings in most places).  It has a huge parking lot and no connection to anything around it (not to mention that outparcels were developed in the standard sprawling style.)  This week, there was news that there will be more development around the center.

County planners already have met with officials from Forest City Enterprises to discuss the expansion. Preliminary plans call for another 200,000 square feet of retail fronting on State Road 56 with a 248-unit apartment complex behind the shopping center.

Abbas Hasan, planning director for Forest City, said the shopping center would likely be smaller because of the amount of wetlands on the property. It could include a specialty grocery store or movie theater, in addition to the shops and cafes already on the drawing board.

Well, it makes sense that the shopping center would get urbanized eventually – especially after people saw how nice the walkability of the original was absorbed. And then there is Pasco’s much touted revised planning to develop in a new way base on lessons learned by from the sprawling, messy development that has come before.

“We’re in the conceptual planning phase now,” Kehoe said. “Our meeting with the county went really well. In the big picture, we hope to submit an overall site plan mid-year and hopefully start construction sometime next year.”

Kehoe said the residential uses won’t be mixed in with the retail, but it will be within walking distance.

“We have all these connectivity requirements,” he said. “We’re looking at doing a three or four-story suburban project. We feel like it’s a submarket that needs luxury rental product.”

Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Orlando Maglev

The Orlando maglev is apparently moving forward.

A few details have emerged about the planned $400 million Maglev passenger rail line connecting Orlando International Airport with the Orange County Convention Center.

EMMI LLC, the entity building the privately funded magnetic-levitation train system, is targeting July of this year to start construction along the 13.7-mile corridor between the airport and Orlando’s International Drive corridor.

Though environmental and construction permits would first have to be secured, the company still expects to begin limited operations in 2016 with full operations beginning in 2017 — contingent on the completion of the airport’s $215 million Intermodal Transportation Facility, which would house a Maglev platform.

* * *

Here’s a look at some of the details included in those meeting minutes:

We are not sure that is the best plan, but whatever.  Orlando is moving forward (at least it seems so – the maglev idea has been around a while and never gotten done) with more “fixed guideway” (real fixed guideway) while we are still having talking shops about whether we should expand not even real BRT.  And note the multimodal center at the airport.

— What A Billion Buys You

A billion dollar development proposed for Ft. Lauderdale has been scaled back because of local complaints.

After hearing concerns from residents, the developers of a $1 billion complex around the Galleria mall have scaled back their plans.

The original plan presented last fall by Galleria owner Keystone-Florida Property Holding Corp. outlined seven buildings with room for 1,600 luxury apartments or condos, 150 hotel rooms, retail and restaurant space. The tallest building was projected to rise 45 stories, the tallest in Fort Lauderdale.

* * *

Developers now have lowered the height and location of some proposed buildings — so that future occupants are not looking directly into houses’ back yards and so buildings are not blocking neighbors’ skyline views. The tallest building under the new proposal would be 38 stories high.

The number of residential units was reduced, too. Instead of 1,600 units, there would just be 1,250 to reduce density, according to the developer. The number of hotel rooms jumped from 150 to 163 rooms, and another commercial building was added to the blueprint.

The new price tag for the project: $750 million.

Developers are still emphasizing tree-lined streets, walkways and bike lanes that would transform the region into a community that’s more walkable, safe and easy to get around.

Of course, the Lightning owner’s project does not have similar opposition.  However, it should be noted that, once again, as much as we like his plan, there are other major development proposals all over the country.

— Looks Like This Might Be Designed Right

And in the category of completely out of left field or Ocoee, whichever is a stranger place for it:

The Ocoee City Commission passed the preliminary site and subdivision plan for the City Center West Orange project at its regular meeting April 21.

This project involves a 54.74-acre plot that is along Maine Street, east of South Bluford Avenue, north of West Colonial Drive and partially adjoins Lake Bennet.

In the one parcel on the lake among four parcels on the property, 15.84-acre Parcel 2, developers from Park Development Corporation proposed a 2.4 million-square-foot mixed-use commercial, office and multi-family development accessible by Richmond Avenue and Ocoee Town Center Boulevard extending from South Bluford Avenue from the southwest. The other three parcels will be reserved for right-of-way, open space, stormwater abatement and potential future development on the northern side of Maine Street.

Development is scheduled for three phases, City Planner Mike Rumer said, with the City Center built around a six-floor parking garage.

“Phase 1 will consist of a parking garage wrapped with retail on the bottom floor, a hotel, office space, restaurant, commercial, retail,” Rumer said. “Then above it will be a condominium apartment. There is a green roof atop the parking garage, which would be an amenity for the condominiums and hotel.”

That green space includes plans for a pool and perhaps tennis courts, according to renderings. Office space, restaurants and possibly other commercial space will be on the second and third floors and connect to an office building. The condominiums and hotels would extend from floor four to floor nine, with restricted access to parking and elevator levels for permanent residents in particular, and the top three floors would overlook the green space, said Jean Amm, Park Development Corporation senior vice president.

The rendering looks like this:

From WOTimes.com – click on picture for article

We have no idea if this will actually be built or built like laid out in the article, but it is Ocoee.  Tampa should take note.  If it really wants to be walkable it should look at projects like this one. (Are you listening Westshore?)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam Spencer permalink
    May 1, 2015 12:40 PM

    As a point of fact, there are existing CSX rail lines which would conceivably connect Downtown Tampa and the airport–or would at least come close to doing so.

    See this map: http://tampabaytrains.com/TampaBayLinesCsxEraTrains.htm

    The line into Drew Park stops at Hillsborough Avenue now, but extended into the Tampa International Airport property for many years.

    And of course there are already train tracks into Downtown Tampa.

    Westshore would be tougher, although that’s where a streetcar or new track could perhaps be supplemented.

    Commuter rail and rail transit systems throughout the country often share either rails or rights-of-way with the freight railroads. See Central Florida’s SunRail and the West Palm Beach-Miami Tri-Rail systems as two examples.

    CSX will sell its lines for the right price. That’s what they always do.

    However, we could always wait for Maglev. Just as we’ve been waiting on economically viable Maglev systems for the past 40 years (by the way, I predict that the Orlando Maglev system won’t get built). And flying cars.

    • May 1, 2015 1:17 PM

      What you say about connecting downtown to the airport is true but it is not a direct connection which is what is needed. any viable system has to connect the two directly. That could be done in the 275 median, but it would be a new line. Or it could be somewhere else that would actually encourage urban development.

      As for what CSX might do, that is up to them to say. However, they have made no definitive statement of which we are aware that they would sell. They might or they might not. We cannot even seem to get them to deal on the insurance requirements.

      As for maglev – yes, there are questions about whether it will get built, but SunRail is already there (on CSX lines). In point of fact, we have no objection to using CSX lines (with the added direct line) but that idea has been around about as long as Maglev in Orando.

  2. Sam Spencer permalink
    May 1, 2015 3:53 PM

    Definitive statement? No. But I suggest that would be a poor negotiation strategy anyway.

    It seems that Class 1 railroads are always interested in selling assets if the sales are accompanied by plums which benefit their core strategy of moving freight from Point A to Point B. Since the 1980s, CSX has sold 121 miles of their rail lines in Florida for commuter rail (providing, of course, that it kept the freight rights on these tracks).

    Perhaps someone should just telephone CSX’s Network Rationalization Department and ask for a price? http://www.csx.com/index.cfm/customers/non-freight-services/propertyreal-estate/short-line-leases-sales/

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