Tampa Heights – A Little More On the Heights Project
There was an article in Creative Loafing that gives us a little more insight in to the Heights project.
An ambitious makeover is underway for the 70,000-square-foot red-brick streetcar barn, located in Tampa Heights adjacent to the Waterfront Park. After the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) blessed their plans on May 4, SoHo Capital developers are moving full speed ahead to create an adaptive reuse of the historic Armature Works Building as a mixed-use event, entertainment and market hall.
Working with Mesh Architecture, Adam Harden and Chas Bruck of SoHo Capital are reimagining the space. They purchased this building as well as 45 adjacent acres, declaring that the hall would be the centerpiece of the Heights development, which will also include 2.2 million square feet of residential and office uses (including the recently announced tenant SofWorX, an “idea lab” for U.S. Special Forces).
The Heights Market Hall plans include a 10,000-square-foot interior courtyard (The Gathering) which can be used for special events. During the public hearing, the developers said that markets in Washington D.C. and Milwaukee inspired their creation of a food hall, with seven established local businesses already lined up as anchor tenants.
Ron Vila, an ARC staff member, complimented the extensive rehab which has already taken place at this local landmark, including repointing the bricks, restoring the windows and repairing the period skylights and roof.
Dramatic water views to the south, facing the bend in the Hillsborough River, will be framed by the massive iron bays which provide a vista of downtown. “Glass windows will be recessed 10 feet, so that the facade will maintain its historic feeling,” architect Tim Clemmons explained. “We’ll also keep the original interior trusses and crane.”
The historic eastern side will have a new staircase and elevator, slightly detached from the structure and modern, in order to identify it clearly as not part of the original building, but deftly scaled to fit into the facade.
Plans include extending 7th Avenue around the building to Palm Avenue, creating a new “Main Street” along the western elevation. Careful restoration of the north, east and south facades will be augmented on the west by a two-story market and the covered courtyard venue.
And that is all interesting. More interesting to us was a rendering included in the article because it goes beyond the Armature Works to what the actual project might be, which still remains a bit of a mystery:
Of course, it is just a rendering and it all might change, but at least it shows that the contemplated project has some decent density. Whether that will come to pass is an open question. We also ran across a few other graphics on a forum, including this “illustrative masterplan”
Looking at the construction plans on the Accela database (search address 1910 N Ola Ave, 33602), this looks about accurate. From the apparent site plan (and public documents) the project looks promising. However, we have a couple of questions: why is there going to be a road that runs along the river? We thought the whole point was to open up the river. Surely that could be better done. And even more, looking at this, which appears to comport with the site plan and construction documents:
Why are there such massive parking garages and how are they going to be handled on the street level? That could make or break the whole project. If done clumsily, they will destroy any potential walkability. We like the density generally, but some of those garages are truly immense and could block the connection to the rest of Tampa Heights. We hope that is not the case, but from these illustrations, which seem to comport with the Accela database, we see reason to be concerned.
Transportation – What Do You Call a Bus in a Costume?
From the same Creative Loafing article, we learn this:
Newsflash! The rubber-wheeled trolleys which have provided 25-cent trips weekdays from 6-8:30 a.m. and 3:30-6 p.m. connecting downtown and the Channel District are being rebranded and relaunched by July 1. Shedding their yellow exteriors for vibrant colorful decals, the trolleys are considering expanding new routes while remaining affordable, running every 15 minutes at lunch downtown.
This is what they will look like:
Who wouldn’t want to ride that?
“Trolleys are the gateway experience for transit users,” explained Katharine Eagan, executive director of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, who rolled out this initiative at the May 18 meeting of HART’s marketing and finance committee. The committee is supporting this innovative program, hoping that trolley users will move on to try other forms of transit.
We doubt these buses will be a gateway to anything except getting people getting into their cars or just walking. If you want to put people off from using transit, offer them a bus in costume, call it a trolley and pretend that it is transit. At least the article is pretty straightforward about this bus-trolley:
Clearly a HART vehicle, the trolley is being rebranded to appear more modern, a non-bus bus — a bus that’s dressed up like a streetcar. Since HART is committed to using this vehicle until 2019, they’ve decided to redefine its use and appearance.
Well, if HART is stuck using them it was a poor decision in the first place, but so be it. At least drop the newspeak. This is the definition of a trolley:
The bus falls into none of those categories. HART’s vehicle is a dressed up bus, period. Just like MetroRapid is just decent bus service, not BRT. By misstating what it is actually offering to the public, HART just muddles the discussion about real transit alternatives. That is something we really do not need.
In the same vein, there was a column in the Tribune regarding Go Hillsborough entitled “Maybe buses really are the transit answer (for now, anyway)” , which pretty much made that point. The column pointed out that bus ridership is up (as is the streetcar) and noted that there are people who oppose rail. It noted that there are people who will never ride buses. Fine. The reality is that buses are only the transportation answer if the question is how to not really solve our transportation problem – or if the question is what is the feeder system for a real transit system. As the columnist noted:
I’m not completely sold. Thousands of people are moving into the area and more are on the way. Maybe I’m thinking 10 to 15 years down the tracks, so to speak, but one of these days we’re going to need a rail system.
The reality is that it will take that long to get rail even if we start tomorrow – to think otherwise is just deluding yourself. The fact is that other areas are building themselves properly. Either we compete or we don’t. Waiting only makes things more expensive and puts us further behind. We cannot afford that.
In any event, we’ll know how serious any Hillsborough transportation proposal might be on June 11, when the consultants hired by the County to find out what they people they are supposed to represent might want. The Times article gives an idea:
The tension felt within that group is indicative of conflicts within the county. According to research gathered from previous meetings, those in the northeast and northwest agree resources need to be spent on both roads and transit. But things are more polarizing for central and south Hillsborough: those in the center of the county want the focus on transit only, while those in south county clamor for the roads to be fixed first before anything else.
Frankly, we just do not think it is that hard. Build more roads in the south County and put more into real transit around Tampa and its immediate suburbs. But, then again, it was not that hard before either. The big problem is the political culture and the confused discussion and lack of leadership it creates. And that failure to seriously address the transportation issue while other areas move ahead leaves us at a competitive disadvantage now and for the foreseeable future.
Downtown/Channel District – Moving Dirt?
It seems that the first infrastructure improvements for the Lightning owner’s project are scheduled for this summer:
Organizers hope to begin work on roads, utility pipes and other infrastructure for the project in August, said Jim Shimberg, executive vice president and general counsel for the Lightning. Construction of the first buildings could begin in 2016.
That’s fine, though it would be nice to get buildings out of the ground sooner than 2016.
Vinik’s development team has been meeting with Tampa officials weekly, and Shimberg said everyone understands City Hall is eager to see the launch of the project, which is getting private financing from an investment fund controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
We are sure that the City is anxious to get the project moving, especially considering that it involves about half of downtown and the City does not really have much control over it.
Still to be determined: how much state funding will be available for a key piece of Vinik’s project, the University of South Florida’s planned new 12-story Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute.
Vinik is donating land at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue for the USF project, and the university is seeking nearly $33 million from the Legislature this year for the medical school building ($17 million) and heart institute ($15.75 million). USF hopes to see the Legislature appropriate another $40 million for the medical school building over the next two years.
Meanwhile, the Legislature ended its regular session early without coming up with a budget, and the House and Senate plans include different amounts of money, levels of detail and funding strategies for university construction projects. A three-week special session to complete the budget is scheduled to start next week.
Despite uncertainty over the state budget as a whole — a controversy driven by the debate over whether to expand Medicaid — several Hillsborough legislators say local lawmakers are on the same page about the importance of supporting USF’s request.
We are not sure it should be the #1 priority of the legislative delegation, but, then again, what else local is there other than the transportation, which is still a mess?
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our community,” state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at the same event. “Bob Buckhorn’s probably the luckiest mayor in America right now.”
Indeed, to have a large development with good funding (during a recovery) fall into your lap (not to mention people like the Airport Director and a new, aggressive strategy that was put in place before he took office) is very lucky. In any event, the timing of the USF Med School construction is thus:
A key question, USF assistant vice president for government relations Mark Walsh said, will be what can legislators afford to do, and what funding mechanism will they use. The size of the appropriation could affect the construction schedule.
If the Legislature approves USF’s full request or something close to it, construction on the medical school project could be targeted to start in the fall, he said. But if the appropriation is only a small fraction of the ask, the project might be delayed by a year.
We shall See. (And what about the proposed hotel next to the arena?)
And in news about a potential MOSI move to the project, not surprisingly:
The more than two dozen board members tasked the smaller executive committee with officially exploring the concept of relocating the museum from E Fowler Avenue next to the University of South Florida to somewhere in downtown Tampa.
Which is the proper move. They should examine the idea to see if it makes sense. Of course, it should not be prejudged, but looking at it is appropriate.
The bottom line is that we like the Lightning owner’s overall project and his desire to do it right. The City is lucky to have such a proposal. Whether it happens as stated or quickly really depends on the economy and the willingness of companies to take up space in the projects. It will be interesting to see what happens.
International Trade/Port – The Cuba Equivocation
There was an article in the Tribune that seemed to be a Port of its approach – or lack thereof – to Cuba trade:
Community leaders, excited over the prospect that Cuba and Tampa will reconnect through business, are concerned that officials running the region’s biggest economic engine are idling instead of jetting to Cuba to lay the groundwork for future trade.
Who could that be?
Former Tampa Councilwoman Mary Mulhern recalled a conversation she had with Anderson in 2010, shortly after he came to Port Tampa Bay, when she broached the topic of Cuba with him. “Anderson immediately said something like, ‘I know all about Cuba; I’m good friends with Diaz-Balart.” She was referring to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida congressman who has been working to keep trade restrictions in place between the U.S. and Cuba and stop ferries and cruises from going to the island.
On the recent chamber trip, delegates met with the director of the Port of Mariel, which is being rebuilt as a high-tech port, a hub for global trade and commerce. The port director showed the Tampa delegation a map with arrows pointing from Cuba to the Florida ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville. Port Tampa Bay was conspicuously absent.
“It raised concerns with our group when we saw that map,” said Tampa chamber President Bob Rohrlack. “We realized we need to step up our efforts on telling them why Tampa is a great location to do business. They are very open to working with our port. They definitely want to engage.”
Rohrlack said the chamber is all for having Port Tampa Bay in the mix when the Port of Mariel becomes part of a network of Gulf ports where enormous post-Panamax ships — ships designed to traverse an expanded Panama Canal — will offload onto smaller ships bound for berths in Florida and elsewhere.
So why is the Port not going? What happened to planting the flag with natural trading partners?
“We are keeping our cards close to our chest,” Anderson said. “We are not out there telling the world our business strategy. I understand that it might have been sexy and appealing to go on a trip to Cuba with the chamber, but we want to make sure when we do go down there we can have a constructive, structured dialog with the right people.”
In fact, he said, he thinks he already has done that by meeting in Tampa on Jan. 30, 2014, with Cuba’s highest-ranking diplomat, Cuban Interests Section Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez. Jesus Perez, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor were also at the meeting, he said. They laid out all that the port has to offer, Anderson said.
Much of the work to establish business between Cuba’s port and here will be up to private shipping companies, not Port Tampa Bay, Miyagishima said. “The port’s responsibility as the largest economic engine in central Florida is to create an environment so the private sector can flourish. We look to the private sector” to lay the groundwork that will make that happen.
A string of emails sent back and forth between port officials and various private businesses, publications and government officials during the past year shows that the port has been seeking business topics related to Cuba and attending seminars across the state. They also show the port’s interest in accommodating a ferry service between Tampa and Cuba.
Setting aside that going to a bunch of seminars and seeking information contradicts keeping your cards close to your chest, the real point is that others are actively marketing and seeking to establish trade (including much of the Miami business community, see here and here), including Port Manatee actively courting business (of course, we don’t really care if business goes there as long as it comes to the area, but the Port director should.) If you really want the business, you have to go get it and can’t equivocate. There is no entitlement to it.
One Port Board member had this to say:
Which is fine but being prepared for business is not necessarily the same as seeking business. The world is competitive. We need to be out front. Private companies are going to invest in places that they feel they will not have any issues over places where support is lukewarm or politics may get in the way.
If we want to take our place in the coming trade, there has to be unity of purpose. Doing things behind the scenes is fine, but it seems that the Port and the business community are not on the same page, which does not create confidence that we will take advantage of this opportunity.
Frankly, this all reminds us of the former airport director who constantly said he was ready for international service but did very little to actively promote it claiming there was not enough demand. Not surprisingly, the airport lagged in international service as other airports took the business. (The present airport director has proven that the demand is there and actively pursued it with success.)
We cannot make the same mistake.
Economy – Housing
Let’s check in on the housing market. There have been a number of articles about the housing market with information like this:
In Hillsborough, the average price for a single-family home shot up to $242,246 in April — $26,000 higher than in February — while the average condo price hit almost $153,000, a year-over year increase of 12.7 percent.
Well, much of that is positive. Notably, the high prices are for places where people do not want to have to drive much anyway.
And notably, the same reporter also had an article on whether there is a real estate bubble. And then one that said that Tampa Bay houses are still a good value.
But more important that whether you can get a lot of house for the money is whether most people can afford one:
“Not surprisingly, data on median income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey revealed that many of the cheapest places in the U.S. are also where residents earn the least,” the study said. “In our study, we make a distinction between ‘cheap’ and ‘affordable’ by comparing a place’s median income with its cost of living to find truly affordable places.”
In other words, the prices may be lower, but the incomes may be relatively lower still. (When you are 84th, is there really any point listing who is above you? You can look at it here.) If you have a lot of cash, you are fine (just like on variable rate express lanes). Everyone else is not so fortunate.
Channel District – The Martin, And More
As we noted last month, the Martin, which has long been rumored to include a grocery store (those rumors growing recently), has submitted a revised plan. (See “Channel District – The Martin”) The Accela database had some renderings:
Note the low building (1-story?), which we assume to be a grocery store. We are not really sure why there does not seem to be more retail and why the grocery store has to be in a squat separate building (with associated blank walls on the street) but at least it has roof-top parking. And that garage is quite prominent. In any event, we will wait to see if this project actually gets built.
Speaking of grocery stores, there are documents for the proposed project on the old Gas Works property (1400 Channelside for those looking on Accela). Here is a rendering looking from the southeast:
First, you will notice that the proposal is quite large – two buildings at 29 stories with 1432 units, plus a 40,000 sq ft grocery store and some other retail facing Channelside with parking under the Selmon (which does not bother us quite as much as most surface lots, though it would be nice if they fixed the grid). We are not completely sold on not having the main buildings not on Channelside Drive with a one story building there. Then again, the towers could potentially really change the traffic circle going into Ybor. We would really have to see more to get a full opinion. Right now, we are just surprised they are that big (and wonder if they can be filled with all the other buildings) – but we are not displeased at the size at all. At least it is ambitious.
We are not sure if we now have a race for who can get built first and get the grocery store.
Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida
— What Does a Billion Dollars Get You?
As part of our regular feature about mega-projects, we bring you (once again) Doral, in south Florida. Not only is Doral, a suburb of Miami, the subject of a large project called Downtown Doral, it also has a midtown. In other words, basically a walkable city is being built out of a sprawled suburb. If only Hillsborough County would take note.
But more interesting is another megaproject proposed for the Miami area:
In the latest example, two prominent families, the LeFraks of New York and the Soffers of South Florida, are teaming up on a $4 billion, 183-acre development on a former landfill and Superfund site in North Miami.
Over the next two decades, the builders plan to create 4,390 apartments, more than 1 million square feet of commercial space and two swimmable 10-acre lagoons as part of the project they have named SoLeMia. They started work on infrastructure in April, and are planning to break ground on the first two rental towers and 500,000 square feet of retail space in about 15 months.
You can read all about it and see a rendering in the Wall Street Journal article.
— Transit Oriented Development
We are told that MetroRapid is BRT, and BRT is the cheaper alternative to rail. So, logically, MetroRapid would have spawned transit oriented developments. (It hasn’t). You can see such developments all over Miami, but Miami’s rail has been around for decades. This week, the Orlando Sentinel had an article about SunRail.
In its maiden year, SunRail hasn’t sparked the kind of sprawling development that emerges at highway interchanges, but it has spurred more than 1,000 apartment units with other development on the way.
In addition to the four SunRail-related apartments underway or completed in downtown Orlando, Longwood and Lake Mary, new projects have been approved recently for Maitland and Altamonte Springs. DeBary officials have considered allowing gambling near their station. And investors are eyeing opportunities near the newly proposed Meadow Woods station in south Orange County.
Well, we would hope it would not spark sprawling development. Anyway, you can read the article here.
— Mexico Flights
We know that the airport staff is working hard and obtaining success in recruiting international flights. We are also told that Tampa seeks to be THE gateway to Latin America. In Florida, when discussing Latin America, the second largest Latin American country is often overlooked – Mexico. If we are to be the/a gateway to Latin America, we need to build our connections. Well,
Subject to Governmmnt [sic] Approval, JetBlue Airways plans to commence Mexico City service from 01OCT15, on board Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline will operate 1 daily service each from Ft.Lauderdale and Orlando.
South Florida and Orlando already have Mexican flights – and by Mexican flights we mean flights that connect to somewhere other than a resort area. Now, they have more. We have none. We really could use that.
Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country
— Tech Hubs
We all know that the Tampa Bay area aspires to be a tech hub. We saw this little blurb this week regarding southern tech hubs.
Atlanta’s reputation as a “tech hub” is muy caliente, in the opinion of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis. According to WABE, Solis visited Atlanta this week on a tour of U.S. cities, seeking to strengthen relationships and build investment opportunities in tech-rich cities. In addition to Atlanta, the trip included Chicago, Austin and Charlotte; gracias Costa Rica, we’ll take the compliment.
Maybe he came here too, but we did not see any reports.
— Can Stadiums Spur Development?
There was a column in the Tribune about whether stadiums spur development or not.
When I think of Major League Baseball ballparks being centers of economic activity, only two come to mind: Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. They are rare gems not only because they happen to be the oldest facilities in the National and American leagues, respectively, and were built with private money and are privately owned. Those stadiums also are smack in the middle of heavily populated urban areas and have spawned the creation of many businesses in the surrounding areas. They also are popular residential spots for young professionals.
The same can’t be said, however, for most new stadiums. Many are surrounded by acres of parking and little else. And when taxpayer money is involved in the construction and operations of these new facilities, you can’t blame elected officials for being skeptical about claims of economic development and jobs.
It is true that a stadium’s utility in spawning business and development depends on its location and whether it is surrounded by parking (like the Trop which is built as far from downtown as possible on its lot and buffered by big parking lots – and even that has helped some development on Main Street). On the other hand, anyone who has been to the areas around places like Camden Yards, Petco Park or ATT Park knows that those stadiums have spawned a lot of development – especially given proper infrastructure, zoning, and a decent economy. In that vein, we ran across a list of projects being built near the Washington Nationals stadium. Because it has a Google map, we will just provide the link here.
The fact is that not all stadiums spur development but a properly done stadium in a proper area will.
In related news, there was an article in the Times this week wondering if the Lighting’s run was hurting Rays attendance. A USF professor, after explaining that it may have some effect, noted:
No, it is not. Location counts. Moreover,
The study would be conducted by the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use. Councilman Karl Nurse, one of those pushing the proposal, said it would highlight how redevelopment of the 85-acre site could dovetail with downtown’s expansion. Mayor Rick Kriseman and Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, have also been involved in the discussions, Nurse said. Rays officials have indicated the team would pay part of the cost.
“The intent is to show people this really could be a dramatic redevelopment project for the city but either way you’ve got to start the conversation,” Nurse said. “You can put virtually a billion dollars of redevelopment on there.”
You can, but if the St. Pete City Council does not start looking at the cold reality (the threat of which does not seem great), their terms will all be over before anything can happen. (And the Rays will still be gone)
— Texas Loves Rail
One of the usual suspects, Houston (in that bastion of crazy socialism, Texas) just opened two new rail lines.
List of the Week
Coming in first this year is Minneapolis tied with St. Paul; followed by DC; San Francisco; New York tied with Portland (OR); Cincinnati; Boston; San Diego tied with Seattle; Oakland; Chicago; a three-way tie of Albuquerque, Aurora (CO), and Sacramento; Denver; Plano; Long Beach; a three-way tie between Henderson (NV), Omaha, and Philadelphia; Honolulu tied with Milwaukee; a five-way tie of Anchorage, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach; Kansas City tied with San Jose; a three-way tie of Austin, Jersey City, and New Orleans; Tampa; and Las Vegas tied with St. Louis.
Last year, Tampa was tied for 28th. (See “List of the Week”) Admittedly, the ranking is not really scientific (can there be a scientific park score?), but we do not like dropping, especially when so many of the usual suspects are still ahead of us.