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Roundup 5-15-2015

May 15, 2015

Economic Development/International Trade – A Region?

It seems that regional officials may have finally decided that the area needs to market itself as an area:

Comparing the merits of Tampa to St. Petersburg may be endlessly fascinating to baseball fans, but it makes a lot less sense to foreign corporations sizing up the economy of one of the top 20 metro areas in the nation.

As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it at an International Town Hall held Friday at St. Petersburg’s Hilton Carillon Park hotel, “The days of us marketing our respective cities at the expense of someone else are over – over.”

Buckhorn stood on a stage next to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to kick off a now annual event highlighting the Tampa Bay region’s strides toward becoming a major player in international trade.

An alliance of business leaders, tourism promoters and government officials on both sides of the bay scored a big win two years ago with the announcement of new air service on Panama’s Copa Airlines, Latin America’s leading carrier that has linked the Tampa region to dozens of cities in Central and South America.

The newly-dubbed Tampa Bay Export Alliance then made an unprecedented joint trade mission to Chile in December, which yielded about $9 million new trade deals between foreign businesses and 14 local companies which attended.

On Friday, the group hailed the promise of new trade in Europe this fall with the start of non-stop flights from Tampa International Airport to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airlines, connecting travelers to destinations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

* * *

At an event held earlier this week at the Tampa Club, Hillsborough County development officials didn’t stick to talking points about downtown Tampa, the port or the new Riverwalk when describing the area to a business delegation from Panama.

“It was all about Hillsborough and Pinellas County, about downtown Tampa and St. Pete and Clearwater; it was the whole region as one – seamless – and it makes a huge impression on people,” said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

(Funny how the airport is in many ways driving the initiative.) And that is positive because:

A major impetus for forming the export alliance a year ago was the recognition that Tampa Bay area businesses actually lag way behind similar sized metros in export sales.

A study by the Brookings Institute ranked Tampa 88 out of the 100 top metro areas in the country for exports and local leaders hope the new partnership will bring the local market closer to the average.

“A lot of our companies are small, they’re 20 to 30 employees, and they’re happy. They’re making great sales and all of that. So, this is helping to find those few that say, ‘Okay, I’m doing well, but I want to double it,” Meidel said.

Well, we understand that you have to be average before you can be good, but we are a top 20 metro so we should be a top 20 export region.  To be blunt, 88th is awful.  It is well past time that the region markets itself as one region – but why is it limited to Hillsborough and Pinellas (as is indicated on the Alliance website)?  Why not market the whole region (including Sarasota and Manatee)?

And that regionalism is an accomplishment well into the age of globalization shows just how much work our local political culture really needs.  On the other hand, no matter how late in the game and not comprehensive, it is a start.

Now, if only we could have regional transportation policy.

International Trade – Cuba Competition

Speaking of international trade:

Leaders in business and government across the Tampa Bay area are scrambling to cash in the coming normalization of relations with once-taboo Cuba.

On Tuesday, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sends a 38-member delegation to the island nation for its third meeting there with government officials. In January, a delegation of leaders from Pinellas County’s private sector travelled to Cuba to meet with officials, as well.

The trip comes on the heels of resolutions adopted by the Tampa City Council — one offering the city as the site for a Cuban consulate and the other offering to host the signing of an accord restoring diplomatic relations.

What’s more, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, has emerged as a leading voice in Washington and adviser to President Barack Obama on normalizing relations with Cuba.

Well, leaders in Tampa except the Mayor.

Still, Tampa by no means stands alone. Other Florida cities are working quietly to improve their own relations with Cuba.

As the Tampa delegation heads to Cuba today, the island nation’s top diplomat in the U.S. — Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. — will be in Florida to meet with leaders from neighboring Manatee and Sarasota counties.

* * *

A ferry operator now licensed by the U.S. to operate between here and Cuba says he’d prefer Port Manatee yo [sic] Port Tampa Bay

“Manatee’s port is a gem,” said the operator, Jorge Fernandez, CEO of Havana Ferry Partners. “And it is three hours closer to Cuba than Tampa’s.”

That’s fine with us.  If the Port in Tampa can’t or won’t get the service, we are fine with Port Manatee getting it.  It is the same bay, even if, the previous item notwithstanding, some cannot seem to see that.  But there are others who also want the business:

Pensacola is another city Tampa may want to keep an eye on.

The group from the Panhandle city that visited Cuba this spring “was the best delegation I have been part of and I have been on over 100 in 17 years of working to normalize relations,” said Albert Fox, president of the Tampa-based Alliance For Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Cuba was very impressed with Pensacola.”

* * *

Already, ports in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale have regular cargo lines that travel to Cuba. Tampa does not.

But:

The Tampa chamber delegation heading out today will tour Mariel but doesn’t include a representative from Port Tampa Bay.

No one at the port could be reached from comment Monday about why.

That is bizarre, especially given the Port Director used to be the director in Jacksonville which has service with Cuba (and the inaction does not seem to comport with the Times editorial that says the Port has expressed interest in the ferries to Cuba.)  Why should Jacksonville get the business not Tampa?  At least we have flights.

This summer, Orlando’s airport will begin competing in the Cuban charter flight business when it launches a weekly flight to Havana that may expand with demand.

So get ready for competition (for this and everything else).  We are glad that local business and political officials (with a notable exception) are championing this area and understand that the business will not just come here on its own.

The business is going to be there for someone, why should it go somewhere else?

Economic Development/USF – What to do with the MOSI land?

Now that the seal has been broken on the idea of moving MOSI to the Lightning owner’s project, there is already speculation about what to do with the present MOSI site.  Initial reports had speculation that the site could be used for a corporate HQ or innovation center.  Setting aside that the such uses would compete directly with the Lightning owner’s project, now there are other ideas.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan on Wednesday admonished those salivating at potential uses for the county land that’s home to MOSI. In the middle of his cross hairs was the University of South Florida, which Hagan believes covets the location for a long-desired football stadium.

Hagan said the university shouldn’t begin looking for a stadium until it proves its football team can better fill Raymond James Stadium, its current home.

“I know how special it is to have a stadium on campus, and I fully support looking for ways to have that occur, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, their performance and attendance must drastically improve before we can seriously talk about a stadium.”

That drew scorn from Commissioner Victor Crist, who said Hagan’s ongoing efforts to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Hillsborough County undermined his argument.

“As far as athletics, well, that’s not my venue, but one thing I do know is Mr. Hagan, you’ve been pushing for baseball, and frankly they haven’t filled their seats, either,” said Crist, a USF alumnus. “So the argument that USF football has empty seats I think is an unfounded one.”

Hagan retorted that Crist was right: “Athletics is not your purview.”

There are a couple of things going on here.  First, USF now plays at Raymond James, which gives money to the Sports Authority. Moving would remove that income stream, which may explain some of the opposition from the Commissioner on the Sport Authority board.    However, we think it is optimal to have a campus stadium for USF.

Another thing going on here is that a USF alum is trying to use county land for a USF stadium (while a UF alumnus  questions it).  While, as we said, we think USF should probably have a stadium on campus, we think it actually should be on the present campus. (You can see here that the athletic facilities use of land can be made more efficient like at UCF )  Why use a large plot of land with major frontage on Fletcher for a stadium that will be used a few times a year when there is a land on USF’s campus – yes, it might be a squeeze, but that’s how universities do it.  Make USF’s campus more campus like – which it needs to be.

Third, why should the County give up this large plot of land for something that will not make money for the County?  USF is a valuable asset for this area, but it should not govern this area.  This land has better uses that could provide economic stimulus throughout the year, rather than for just a few days. (Assuming the County does not just settle for some crappy development).  If MOSI moves, the land should be saved for a good use.

Going back to the potential move of MOSI generally, the Times had a good editorial about the concept.

The prospects are exciting, as a move could make Vinik’s development and MOSI more attractive and durable. But there also are implications for residents, taxpayers, schoolchildren, the university and the region’s economic base that need much more vetting.

First, how would moving help MOSI financially and further its mission? Its current 80 acres is twice the size of Vinik’s entire footprint. Visitors are familiar with MOSI’s central location, and its proximity to USF and a nearby industrial park creates all sorts of opportunities for MOSI to play a lead role in attracting new jobs and sponsored research. What about the A-rated, on-site elementary school that serves hundreds of students from the surrounding low-income areas? A move would require MOSI to rethink its mission and priorities. That’s not a bad exercise, but this involves more than packing up and moving.

Second, how would MOSI help downtown, and vice versa? A downtown facility could bring another “wow” factor, jobs and investment to the city center. Having MOSI next to the other downtown museums also would add critical mass as a cultural destination. But would MOSI gain or lose an audience? It drew more visitors last year (525,387) than three downtown venues combined: the Glazer Children’s Museum (200,000), the Tampa Museum of Art (85,000) and the Tampa Bay History Center (81,369).

Finally, if MOSI moved downtown, what use could Hillsborough make of the county-owned property? That has to be a factor in the discussion. Rather than earmark the land for a USF football stadium or other specific use, the county needs to examine the void it would create by relocating MOSI. Taking one step forward by moving the museum downtown should not come at the expense of taking two steps back in north Tampa. The last thing north Tampa needs is more underutilized property.

In other words, like with the USF medical school, if there is a move, there needs to be a real plan (and that, in our opinion, should not include a stadium on that particular lot).

Adventures in Planning

There was an odd article in the Times this week:

For the first time, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission might ask local governments to consider the effects of climate change when strategizing for future growth and development.

The shift in approach would not be seismic. It’s just one proposed line in the massive comprehensive land-use plans for Hillsborough, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City that are up for review this year.

And it wouldn’t reference “climate change,” but rather the less politically charged phrase “climate adaptation.”

Here’s what the Planing [sic] Commission’s draft language for the section on coastal management in local comprehensive plans says: “Develop strategies to identify and address issues related to climate adaptation in cooperation with the (Environmental Protection Commission), the Planning Commission and other agencies.”

And what is the purpose of this proposed change:

The commission on Monday listened to a presentation from Charles Paxton of the National Weather Service on the potential affects [sic] of climate change on the region. While sea levels rise and fall constantly, the peaks are higher and levels are more frequently above where they were even 50 years ago.

As a result, “systems engineered in the ’70s may not accommodate events in the 2000s,” Paxton told commissioners.

Still unknown, however, is how high sea levels might rise. Projections vary, and the proposed language would simply provide an opportunity for local jurisdictions to review the science together and determine a prudent response, said Shawn College, environmental planning leader for the Planning Commission.

“That’s something that can and should be debated because the different level of response is going to have different costs and benefits,” College said. 

Reasonable enough, though, as noted in the article, what the Planning Commission does is not binding (which is pretty obvious in Hillsborough County).  The Mayor of Tampa said that was fine. Were there other reactions?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, one of five Republicans on the county board, said he was not necessarily comfortable with the proposal referencing climate change or adaptation. But he would consider a comprehensive plan that acknowledged the potential affects [sic] of rising sea levels when building critical county infrastructure.

“I believe that we can have a reasonable conversation about sea-level rise in a context such that it’s not highly politicized,” White said. “And there’s no reason that conversation must happen in the framework of talking about global climate change.”

For the purposes of this discussion, we don’t care if people think sea rise is caused by Poseidon waving his trident, as long as they plan properly for sea rise.

And along those lines, note that most of the rest of the world (including Texas, Utah, and Arizona – and even Oklahoma City) also understands that real mass transit (not just glorified bus service) is effective, useful, and desirable.  How you get to that conclusion is not important to us.  Just do the right thing.

Economy – Employment

Let’s look in to the employment market:

Florida’s briefly resurgent job creation has tumbled to the lowest point of the year.

The state added just 13,800 private-sector jobs last month, according to a report released Wednesday by payroll processing firm ADP.

That’s not only the Sunshine State’s weakest month so far this year, but far off 2014, when it enjoyed multiple months churning out 20,000 new jobs or more.

* * *

Seven of the 29 states tracked by ADP grew at a faster percentage pace than Florida in April, but since Florida is the third-largest state in the country, most of their gains are not as noticeable.

Continuing a pattern that has held up throughout the slow economic recovery, more than half of Florida’s new jobs are in the lower-paying service-producing sector.

Hopefully, just a blip (though the income level is still an issue).  At least we passed Texas.

Channel District – The Madison

There was more news on the Madison

Tampa-based Mercury Advisors has filed a substantial change request with the city that would remove two stories from the tower, add seven apartments and about 1,400 square feet of space. It would lower the building from 275 feet to 261 feet.

The current proposal would have 323 units in 21 stories and 38,233 square feet of retail space as well as 613 parking spaces. The retail space has long been speculated as a potential site for Publix Super Markets Inc., though the grocer has never confirmed that.

At more than 38,000 square feet, the retail space would be large for an urban Publix, though the figure could include a grocery anchor and some small-shop space. Most of Publix’s urban stores are around 30,000 to 32,000 square feet.

So maybe they have finally gotten financing and these changes are conditions thereof.  Maybe not.  This project has been around for a while without getting built, so we will just wait and see.

US19 – Clearwater Thinks Bigger

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding new planning rules for US19 in Clearwater.

The 7-mile stretch of U.S. 19 that runs through Clearwater has changed dramatically in recent years as the road has been reshaped into an elevated highway.

It only makes sense that the business districts alongside the road will have to change with the times, too.

To push that process forward, Clearwater is unveiling new zoning rules for its entire U.S. 19 corridor. Among other things, those rules will allow taller buildings alongside much of the highway.

The other big change: Along parts of the roadside that aren’t near major interchanges and are no longer easily accessible, more flexible rules will allow the construction of mid-rise office buildings, multistory apartment and condo complexes, and light industrial sites. The goal is to eventually replace strip malls and standalone businesses that are no longer an ideal fit for their particular location.

Setting aside that little strip malls are never an ideal fit for anything, good for Clearwater to try to think differently about what they want their city to be like. (Though we are not going to get carried away with their vision, it still seems car centric.)  In any event, what are the changes?

The new zoning rules are still being tweaked, and Clearwater’s City Council will vote on the final versions later this year. Developers who follow the city’s blueprint will be allowed more density per acre, leading to taller buildings. The new rules will set up three kinds of zones along the road:

Regional centers: These are major commerce hubs like State Road 580, where Westfield Countryside mall is located, and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, where Clearwater Mall is.

Here the city hopes to foster an urban redevelopment pattern characterized by taller buildings along pedestrian-friendly streets. The maximum height for buildings is to be 150 feet — perhaps 14 floors — unless the building is next to a residential area.

Neighborhood centers: These are second-tier U.S. 19 crossroads such as Curlew, Sunset Point and Belleair roads. The city views these as local shopping and employment destinations. Buildings here will be allowed to be up to 70 feet tall.

Corridor areas: These are places along the road without direct access to interchanges. Here, the city hopes to foster a wide range of job-creating development — including office parks and light industry — instead of some of the small-scale retail sites that currently exist. Buildings here can up to 130 feet tall.

“About the only thing you can’t do in the corridor is heavy, dirty industry,” Delk said. “We’re going to give you lot more latitude with your piece of property out there.”

Frankly, most of that makes sense (though we are not completely sold on height limits.  We doubt many projects will push them and we don’t really see why they are needed).  At least Clearwater is moving away from the flawed idea that Pinellas is “built out.”  While most of Pinellas’s land may have something built on it, very little of it is the best (or even an efficient) use of the land.  There is no reason Pinellas cannot be built more logically and densely (of course, real transit would have helped that).  While there may be some issues with the Clearwater plan, at least it is thinking.

Once again, there is no reason to be wedded to the flawed and silly development patterns of the past.  We can, and should change.  Watching all the sprawl centric development being built on Dale Mabry and so many other locations in Tampa and Hillsborough, we hope they take note.

Transportation – If You Really Want Good Bike Lanes

There has been a lot of news about bike lanes in Tampa recently (Hillsborough has them on some roads, like Dale Mabry, but they are pretty much a joke).  The Tampa lanes are a start – though the way the roads are striped (like Platt) is quixotic.  Additionally, when you are driving, it is difficult to tell the parking spaces from the no parking areas because the stripes are not sufficiently distinguishable (the no parking stripes should either be in a different color or slant towards traffic rather than away to make the difference clear – or Tampa could learn from other cities and paint the curbs to indicate where there is parking and no parking).  However, if you really want to encourage biking:

This fall, San Francisco will become one of the elite few cities in the United States to build a raised bike lane.

The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency will oversee the construction of an elevated pathway on Valencia Street in the southern Mission District. The curb-hugging lane will be raised about 2 inches above the road surface, and will measure 6-feet wide with an additional 5-foot “buffer zone.” The city will follow up with a handful of other raised lanes next year, all planned for areas with high rates of bicycle injuries.

Since the entire Tampa Bay area has high rates of bike injuries, we think this would a great idea and set us apart in really encouraging biking.  Yes, it would cost money, but think of it as an investment – and doing something very well.  Something to consider.

And once protected lanes are built and start intersecting, maybe Tampa can learn from Salt Lake City:

Salt Lake, as I reported last year, has steadily been upgrading its non-automobile transportation system across the board. Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration has introduced a veritable buffet of new options, including a robust light rail network and a growing bike-share system, as well as a low-cost multimodal transit pass for city residents. Now, Salt Lake will be the first city in the United States to implement a protected intersection for bicycles (h/t to Streetsblog USA for highlighting this story). The innovative design will keep cyclists on two intersecting protected bike lanes safe and separated from motor traffic as they move across one of the city’s notoriously wide junctions. It is due to be completed this fall.

I looks something like this:

From CityLab.com – click on picture for article

If biking is actually going to be a priority, we should develop and implement the best practices available.

Rays – Nothing Happening

A while ago, it seemed like something would happen regarding the Rays stadium search.  Then the St. Pete City Council stopped that, with some City Council members waxing about how the Rays should stay in St. Pete, etc.  Then last weekend, the Rays played the Texas Rangers

The attendance this evening was listed as 8,701. That has to be among the worst since the new ownership took over, possibly the worst since the Rays changed jerseys and dropped the devil. That’s very bad, Thursdays against the Rangers be damned.

Then there was this:

The Yankees won 11-5 in front of an announced crowd of 10,619, the smallest to ever see the Yanks play at the Trop.

Do with that what you will because we are pretty sure St. Pete will not do anything useful.

List of the Week

Our list this week is really a study: FDI Intelligence’s American Cities of the Future.  The report looks at various categories and has overall scores.  This is compiled in Top 10 lists.

The Top 10 Overall North American Cities of the future are: San Francisco, Houston, Boston, Sunnyvale (CA), Toronto, Atlanta, Vancouver, Miami, and Seattle.

The report also has categories by city size (Major, Large, etc).  Looking at the document, it appears that the Tampa Bay area would be in the “large” category. The Top 10 Large American Cities of the Future (overall) are: Seattle, San Joes, Austin, Minneapolis, Calgary, Portland, Cincinnati, and Mississauga.

While Miami and Orlando get big kudos. Tampa does show up in one category: Top 10 Large America Cities of the Future – Connectivity.  Well, at least that is something.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    May 15, 2015 7:41 AM

    Regarding falling Rays attendance, everyone already knows they are leaving, thanks to St. Pete City council burying its collective heads in the sand about the reality of the demographics of downtown St. Pete. Why should anyone become further invested in the Rays emotionally or financially, if they are leaving the region? This is a death watch.

  2. B. Wills permalink
    May 15, 2015 7:48 AM

    Regarding Clearwater’s plans for US19, Tampa/Hillsborough should be doing something similar along Dale Mabry, except with an elevated rail line instead of conversion to a limited access highway. This is a major commuter and activity corridor that would be ripe for “hybrid” rail. Express runs for commuters during peak times, and local runs around the clock to serve activities all along the corridor. Walk-overs from platforms to reach existing big-box and strip centers could make rail compatible with this style of development in the interim, but redevelopment with denser uses would eventually occur as land values rise, which in turn would result in higher levels of economic activity, and even more riders for the rail line.

  3. May 15, 2015 9:06 AM

    To Clearwater’s defense. This is US19 we are talking about. Of course it is going to be car-centric.

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