Transportation – Where Are They Going With This?
— No Plan Yet
After the initial leaks of information regarding the proposal for Hillsborough’s Transportation referendum, there was more detail last week (including this long pdf from the consultant. If you really want to spend a lot of time reading something that is essentially a regurgitation of 10 years of County plans, feel free to read it. You can read the actual recommendations in pages 12-17 of the pdf). However, it is difficult to fully assess what is going on because there really is not proposal yet:
County and city officials who are part of the policy leadership group will meet July 16 to decide whether to go forward with the proposal. If so, county commissioners will authorize attorneys to draft ballot language for a 2016 referendum.
Then county staffers will get the go-ahead to organize 12 public meetings. They’ll work with community members to put together a list of projects people most want to see completed within the first decade of the 30-year tax.
County residents can also expect to see the backlog of road maintenance projects — totaling more than $750 million — to be completed within those first 10 years, Merrill said. The idea is to address maintenance issues immediately, before delving too far into new projects.
Officials will also need to decide whether Parsons Brinckerhoff will be part of the continued public outreach. The consulting firm was paid $1 million for the public outreach work it has undertaken, but Merrill said additional funding would be needed to start the next series of meetings.
In other words, there is still a lot of ambiguity and a ways to go before anyone knows what, if anything, will be voted on. Are there trends?
The tax would generate about $117.5 million a year, enough to catch up the county’s backlog of road maintenance in about 10 years, Merrill said. Altogether, about $2.1 billion would go towards road and bridge maintenance, new roads, and intersection improvements.
About $140 million would go for trails, sidewalks and other projects that improved pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Merrill said the county could also start several bus rapid transit routes depending on how much state and federal money could be obtained in grants. Bus rapid transit uses dedicated lanes and stops at stations much like light rail.
Supporters on both sides of the roads-versus-transit debate are waiting to see detailed projects. Clifford said the county will develop a 10-year project list after taking comments at community meetings this summer.
Some of the possible projects, Clifford said, include express bus service to Brandon, New Tampa or south Hillsborough, and a high-speed ferry service from a south-county port to MacDill Air Force Base.
Possible projects? What roads? What trails? Why can’t someone actually come up with a plan? The County already presented a long list, but that was chucked so the consultants can create a list. Then what?
Regardless of the rhetoric, it seems it will be a plan to basically set in stone the car-centric policies of the past for the next 30 years. There is not going to be a regional rail component (though maybe a “starter line,” though the start of what is unknown, see below). The bus aspect is limited at best. Trails to nowhere and sidewalks on arterial roads next to sprawling parking lots will not do much for walking, biking or transit. And, as of yet, there is no sign we will get good planning or proper development.
While there is no plan yet, there is time to fix that, but do not hold your breath. This is the same Commission that spent a year talking to itself (and a few others) just to punt the community input to a consultant. Yet, despite all that, there is still the possibility (no matter how unlikely) of something good happening.
— The Fudge
Given all that, the most interesting aspect of the discussion is the political fudge that appears to be done so that the proposal can be sold as not really involving rail but then include some rail (and essentially the City tax).
Hillsborough County officials have recommended a transportation plan built around a half-cent sales tax projected to generate $3.5 billion over 30 years. Though consultants suggest nearly two-thirds of that would be spent on building and maintaining roads, they’ve also given the city of Tampa the go-ahead to use its share of the funds as it sees fit.
The city is largely built out, so Tampa isn’t looking to build roads. Instead, the city will likely spend a “high percentage” of its cut on transit, the mayor said, which could mean building a rail line linking downtown to the West Shore business district and Tampa International Airport.
It could also mean expanding and modernizing the underwhelming streetcar system. By adding new, enclosed, air-conditioned cars, extending the network and running on a more frequent schedule, an improved streetcar could fit nicely with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion vision for redeveloping downtown.
We will give credit to the idea being creative politically.
Setting aside the question of why such a small system may have two different kinds of technology, fine conceptually. But now is the time for detail, not just rhetoric – we need to see plans for actual alignment, stops, technology, where to change – if you have to change – lines. And most staged plans include future corridors – what are they? And the actual cost.
And, as with the City tax, there are the potential long terms issues arising from this:
“People view that light rail, for now, is not viable in unincorporated Hillsborough County,” said Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff. “They do, though, think there are opportunities and support for it within the city of Tampa. … They believe the city has the things that are necessary for that kind of premium transit.”
“I agree the right choice is to fix roads, tackle our maintenance problem and improve bus transit ridership while positioning our community for some type of premium or light rail transit in the future,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who supports the plan.
That would have been the right choice 20 years ago when planning could have been done properly and we were closer to all our competitors. Now, it is a recipe for being at least 20 years further behind everyone else.
But more importantly, this idea raises the question of who will own and run the rail. If it is just a City endeavor, does that mean rail will never go to the County? If it goes to the County, how will that work? Will it require another decades long mess of negotiation and argument? (How will help Hillsborough County, other than to let the County Commissioners be able to claim they a not supporting rail so they can campaign in a primary?) We need a more regional outlook, not a less regional one. And we need details.
While we can appreciate the fudge (and frankly this is the one thing that may make us support a proposal), it is not clear that it really serves the area. (And, at this point, we feel compelled to add that a streetcar to from downtown to Westshore would be a waste. To be of use, it would have to be light rail with a mostly dedicated right of way.)
— You Will Get What We Give You and Like It
Speaking of things that do not really serve the area, FDOT is saying that variable rate toll lanes are the key to everything:
Not yet funded, the $2 billion Tampa Bay Express plan would add tolled express lanes from the Gateway area of St. Petersburg to Bearss Avenue. The lanes would provide extra capacity for cars whose drivers were willing to pay a variable toll, based on congestion.
The busier the time of day, the higher the toll, said Kirk Bogen, an environmental management engineer with the DOT. Currently state law allows for a toll of up to $10 for drivers in the express lanes. No trucks would be allowed, but transit buses and school buses would be able to use the lanes free.
“What we’re proposing to do is come in and build a project that should help move people and goods better through the region,” said Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the DOT district office in Tampa.
Exactly. Limiting road expansion to lanes that have their capacity artificially limited and then putting school buses on them clearly is the best way to move traffic. And it is also great to limit traffic in those lanes to people who can afford $20 a day to pass by the people who can’t and force everyone else to sit in the same old congested lanes with no hope of ever getting better roads. (kind of the same philosophy of these people have towards water.) And when the variable rate lanes have too much demand, the price will go up and the service in the congested lanes will get even worse. How is that a viable plan?
Paul Steinman, who heads up the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7, said the project includes expansion of the I-275-I-4 interchange commonly called “Malfunction Junction” and will add corridors for future transit projects such as light-rail.
Um, with the “do what we want or get nothing,” it seems they are. In any event, only express buses are beholden to express lanes. Rail will not run through express lanes (though it can go in empty medians). That tells you where the thinking is.
We understand that the junction has to be fixed because the last time it was “fixed” it was not really fixed. It was just years of construction to leave it backing up almost every day.
And we understand that roads have to be fixed – they should have been fixed long ago. To be honest, we think it is unrealistic of people to think that all traffic from north of downtown can be shoved through the small interstate that exists now. It is sad that people invested time and money into some local institutions, but they knew the use of the land was temporary. And everyone knew that the interstate would, at some point, be expanded further. It is unfortunate, but that is the way it is.
We also understand tolls. (We even understand variable rate lanes, though we oppose them because they are illogical and unfair – especially when they are taking lanes away, like the Howard Frankland – which, from their silence, apparently all local elected officials think is just fine. As noted, by their very purpose of pushing traffic on to other lanes, they are a recipe for more congestion, not less.)
What we don’t understand is why all transit is tied to express lanes or why FDOT and local government is wedded to variable rate lanes.
— Promises Promises
Then, there is the growth management element of the proposal for a proposal.
As Hillsborough County leaders get ready to sell residents on a new transportation tax, part of their sales pitch will be a promise that new subdivisions will pay their fair share for roads and transit.
County Administrator Mike Merrill, in a recent presentation to the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group, stressed that the county would not continue the relaxed growth policies of the previous decade. Low impact fees that encouraged development sprawl is one of the reasons for the county’s current transportation deficit, Merrill said.
“We are going to modify the land development code and (comprehensive) plans to encourage and incentivize development that no longer outstrips our collective ability to finance, construct and maintain our transportation assets while preserving our rural areas,” Merrill told the group, which consists of county political leaders.
That is accurate and admirable to say (We really think so). The problem is that the Administrator does not vote on it – the County Commissioners vote on it, and the Commission has ignored such things (and planning) for decades. This entire referendum proposal is to make up for various Commissions’ collective failure.
Nevertheless, we are cool with this:
A key component of the new policy will be mobility fees, a method by which developers will pay to fund the extra roadway capacity needed to serve their developments. The mobility fees will replace impact fees, a flat fee that ranges from $770- to $1,950-per house depending on where the homes are located.
The impact fees are higher in denser urban and suburban areas, less in rural areas. The county wants to turn that around, said Lucia Garsys, chief development and infrastructure services administrator.
“Where the old impact fee system supported development away from the urban and suburban core because they were less expensive, the mobility fee changes that dynamic and reverses it so it … incentivizes development where infrastructure already exists,” Garsys said.
In addition to the mobility fees, White backs Merrill’s call for changes in county land-use rules that would encourage in-fill development while preserving the county’s rural landscapes. Those changes could include different density zones to fit people’s lifestyles: urban, suburban, semi-rural and rural.
But this does not require a referendum. The County Commission could do this right now, but they haven’t. In fact, this is not a new idea. The commission has just ignored it. So, given their failure to act, it raises the question of whether the Commission will actually pass and enforce such a thing? Why wouldn’t they just cave to pressure (and make taxpayers cover impact) like they always have before (like with Bass Pro Shops)?
— And Yet
And it is still not clear what the county Commissioners think – and they are really the only people who matter in terms of getting a referendum on a plan. What did they say?
Some of them had been burned by a failed penny tax referendum in 2010 to fund light rail. Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who aggressively campaigned against that initiative, praised the openness and emphasis on involving the public this time around.
We are not sure what that means. All positive statements should be taken with a grain of salt considering the propensity of the Commissioners to opposed transportation initiatives after they support them.
The problem is that what has been described already is a poor compromise. Regardless of the aforementioned fudge, it shows a lack of vision and political will to do bring us up to date with other areas and competitors. It is not a regional transportation plan. It condemns most of the county to traffic messes (first construction then congestion) for 30 more years, with little hope anything will change. For the most part, it locks in the auto-centric culture. And, once again, what is the guarantee that future development will actually pay for its impact and that planning will change?
— Bottom Line
The bottom line is that, right now, there is no plan of specifics with a specific timetable – when and how much for rail, when and how much for buses, when and how much for roads with firm guarantees – and an already in place mobility fee program. (Yes, they say so much for “transit” but we mean specific projects and timetables for which people will be accountable.) Even if there is a list that goes along with the referendum, what is the guarantee that the projects will actually happen or that the County and City will stick to mobility fees for 30 years when they have failed for decades? (Not to mention a major flaw in the approach can be seen in this: if the idea is to give something to everyone, why is the northwest of the county essentially ignored? Why should any of the 1/5 to 1/4 of the county living there support this when east/south county gets roads and express buses and Tampa gets rail?)
So this is the big concern: Whatever the plan is (and it is likely to be not nearly enough), it is likely to basically be an act of faith that we can trust all those government entities that have failed to do what is needed for decades to actually stick to the plan (whatever it is) and do the right thing. That will require some convincing.
Maybe, to show they really mean it, the Commission should pass the mobility fee program before any referendum, preferably this year.
Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School
The USF Med School moving project received its funds from the state:
Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the state budget, which included $17 million in funding to move the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine to an acre of Vinik’s property at the intersection of Channelside Drive and Meridian avenues.
Fine. But this is not:
That is quite hyperbolic. The med school is a state subsidized way for the Lightning owner to ensure tenants for his project, which is good for him and good business on his part (the City really has no choice but to support it since he owns half of downtown). We admire his savvy and like his project overall – though it could be more intense.
However, it is hard to see how the med school move will transform the city’s economy (unless by “city” you mean the “downtown peninsula”). First, the med school already exists. Second, the move will still leave it detached from any hospital, let alone any serious medical cluster (or any serious transit system to really create access to the area). Moreover, it will be hard to create a serious, contiguous medical cluster downtown because it would be very squeezed for space (see the Texas Medical center). Thus, the med school move will not transform the city’s economy though it may boost downtown.
The reality is that you transform the economy by transforming the economy – not just moving things around. As we haven noted before (see “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun”), CAMLS was also supposed to transform the economy that still needs to be transformed. It didn’t. To transform a whole economy requires much, much more.
You can be excited by the med school move (we are neutral, but you can be excited). You can like the idea of having more stuff downtown and more activity there (we do). But does every announcement have accompanied with overblown proclamations like small town celebrating how the new Wal-Mart will make everything so much better. (and just a little FYI: Toledo has a Fortune 500 company based downtown. Is that also transformative?).
Despite all the hype about so much, changing our economy (and our area) is and will be a long, hard slog. There is no silver bullet. Get used to it.
Downtown/West Side – Something, But . . .
There was news a while ago that the Related Group (website here, note the “redefining cities and skylines” tag), builders of very large skyscraper developments who, inexplicably gave us the suburban-ish Pier House in the Channel District (though, to be fair, they have a better proposal for Harbour Island, see “Downtown Goings On” that is caught up in an argument over parking), had plans to build something on the Tampa Tribune property on the west bank of the river (search accela for this address: 200 S Parker St). It is a prime lot for a really good, intense development with height – the kind of signature development that Related is known for everywhere else. Now, there is more news:
Related is planning an eight-story, 400-unit residential building on the site, Pena said. It is under contract to buy the site from Revolution Capital, the private equity company that purchased the Tribune in 2012.
The good: the number of units is ok and 8-stories is twice the height of Pier House. Some units at the very tippy-top might actually see over the Selmon Expressway and glimpse the Bay – if they can see over or in between the buildings on the other side of the Selmon.
The bad: an 8-story building with 400 units on that lot will have to be quite hulking. It will hardly enhance the views on the Riverwalk and the views will not be very good. We have no idea if there will be any retail but any river walk on the west side of the river will likely be squeezed by the footprint of the building. And it just seems a poor use of the land.
In any event:
Setting aside that this is actually the second proposal in that area, we do not think it does. A type of major project at which Related excels would do that. This is just a building. As a Related VP said:
True, which is why we would rather have a more impressive project – especially something right across the river from the heart of downtown. Something like what Related proposed for Harbor Island would be far better and make more sense for the lot, if not something more elegant. This proposal is really quite disappointing, but not surprising given the City’s long history of settling. It is certainly nothing to get excited about.
And it is definitely not redefining our skyline.
Downtown – Not So Fast on Kress
There was news about the proposal to renovate the Kress block.
The dream has been around for at least a decade, and it appeared it was about to come true last fall when a development team filed plans with City Hall to incorporate the grand old department store into a 22-story tower with a hotel, apartments and more.
It’s been around a lot longer than that. In any event,
But Kress owner Jeannette Jason said this week that she no longer has a contract to sell the four-story building on N Franklin Street to Walson Ventures, a partnership between Tampa developers Alex Walter and Casey Ellison. The contract hasn’t been in place since December because of issues on her end of the transaction, she said.
Maybe, but only time will tell. The first proposal many years ago was awful, and it is good it failed. This latest proposal was much nicer. Yet, it hasn’t happened. It is a shame because there are so few of the old, elegant buildings left downtown (namely because the City did not really care). Hopefully, it can still happen.
Port – Machinations
There was some news, convoluted as it is, about goings on at the port. First, something about a steel cluster.
Port Tampa Bay is aggressively marketing 25 parcels available for lease and is devising a plan on how to coordinate its tenants to make maximum revenue. It has even set up a new section on its website listing all properties available for lease.
Kloeckner Metals Corp., which leases 4.5 acres on 22nd Street now for its metal distribution business, has outgrown its facility and will expand with a new lease on 12 undeveloped acres in Southbay, located in southern Hillsborough County.
“That’s all brand new revenue,” said Port Real Estate Director Lane Ramsfield. In the next six months or so, he said, the staff will reveal more specifics about its strategic plan for the other available port property.
Already, the port staff has unveiled plans for creating that steel cluster at Port Redwing, which started when it contracted with Tampa Tank Inc. and Florida Structural Steel in January. The company plans to construct a 120,000 square-foot building at Port Redwing and retrofit an existing 40,000 square-foot building there, adding 24 jobs at its headquarters in Ybor City and 84 jobs at Port Redwing.
Kloeckner receives steel straight from the mills, then sells it to fabricators. It has agreed to a 25-year lease with the port for a 144,000 square-foot facility. The port will make about $8 million in rent in the first decade, with rent increasing 1.5 percent per year for the remaining 15 years of the lease.
Setting aside that, from the report, it seems the Port will lose $2 million dollars in the first decade (we do not know if that is accurate or what happens after that), we are fine with setting up some clusters at the port, though not necessarily exactly what was reported or in that location. More generally,
Port Tampa Bay, at 2,565 upland acres, has 277 acres up for grabs in various locations across the property. The majority of its land consists of spoil islands and conservation areas and while there are 56 undeveloped acres in Channelside, they are not for lease at this time.
“There is an extensive planning effort” in the works for Channelside, between the port’s own master plan for that area and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for massive development in the downtown area. Ramsfield said specifics for the Channelside District will be revealed within the next year. With so many people having moved to the Channelside area there has been enormous value added to the real estate there, he said. “We are going to maximize that.”
Ok. We are not sure exactly what is contemplated or how much money it will actually bring in, but the concept for industrial areas is ok. As for the Channel District, that is the mysterious master plan (maybe the Port’s developing plans conflict with the Gas Worx proposal which may explain the odd City reaction to some degree. Or maybe it was something else.) We are not even going to try to comment on that substance of the master plan except to say that it is a bit odd to master plan a potentially major urban development without a real discussion – but, given all that has gone before in this area, we expect that.
So we thought we would check in with the economy and housing market. Then, we saw the headlines:
Tribune: “Tampa area housing selling at a quicker pace”
— The High Cost of Living
Then, we saw this:
Insurance premiums are a huge expense for Floridians, with residents of the Sunshine State spending an average of 17.1 percent of their annual income on insurance, according to a new study from San Francisco-based NerdWallet.
Released Monday, the financial analysis website’s study indicates that except for residents in two other states, Floridians spend the most annually on homeowners, health, life, and car insurance. States were ranked based on the percentage of median annual income spent on insurance premiums.
Floridian’s median annual income of $38,621 also pales in comparison to the rest of the nation’s $43,880, which contributes to why Florida residents spend such a high percentage of their income on insurance.
The price of low wages is a higher relative cost of living.
— And How Are We really Doing?
And finally there was this:
Approaching midyear 2015, that’s the number of planned layoffs companies have officially told the state since the start of this year they expect to make in the Tampa Bay area. Those numbers were compiled from WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notices companies must file with state officials when the job numbers are deemed statistically significant. Is 1,446 a lot? At the midpoint of 2013, the number was 1,297. And in 2012 at midyear it was 1,359. Seems surprisingly steady in recent years.
That’s the number of proposed incoming jobs from “completed” business expansion projects reported so far this year by the Tampa Hillsborough EDC. Note the similarity with the “1,446” number above of jobs planned for elimination in this area over a similar period of time. Nobody said economic development is easy.
No, they didn’t, but they did hype every announcement. This is an interesting corrective.
International Trade – Really?
There was news of a new trade mission for the mayors of Tampa and St. Pete:
The Tampa Bay Export Alliance announced Wednesday plans to lead a trade mission to Toronto, Canada to promote export opportunities for local businesses. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Pinellas County Economic Development will be part of the mission.
Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman, Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Vice Chairman Charlie Justice, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will also join the delegation.
“Canada is one of the most important strategic markets for Tampa Bay,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Hillsborough EDC. “It is the No. 1 export destination for our region’s good and services and our third largest source of foreign direct investment.” Opportunities for local companies to expand into Canada are many, he said.
Right, which makes the idea of a “trade mission” so bizarre. We’d understand more if they said they wanted to go see the leaves change, see if the ex-Mayor of Toronto really is the reincarnation of John Candy, and see what an actual transit system looks like. Our relations with Canada, and Toronto specifically, go back so long that business discussions should be routine. There should be no need for a trade mission.
In other news, we do not know if it is related or not, the County is proposing to lower the amount of money it gives to the EDC.
The Hillsborough County budget unveiled last week for fiscal 2016-17 would cut the county’s contribution to the EDC from $700,000 to $600,000 in fiscal 2016. The funding would be slashed by 36 percent in fiscal 2017, when the proposed county contribution is $450,000.
At least, that will help pay for the consultant that the County is sure to hire at some point to tell it how to do economic development.
University Mall – A Lost Opportunity
There was an article in the Tribune regarding plans to redevelop University Mall.
The enclosed mall common area between the former JC Penney building and the remaining mall will be demolished to make way for a new “lifestyle addition,” an outside area filled with lush landscaping, seating areas and water features. A new health club will also be added.
Mall owner RD Management LLC, which acquired the property last year for $29.5 million, released its design plans for the first phase of this major renovation on Monday. Construction could begin as early as the first quarter of 2016.
The first phase of the renovation will include “significant changes” to the mall’s western wing. Some 246,500 square feet of retail will be renovated with the new anchors and the restaurants will be constructed on out parcels along Fowler Avenue, according to CBRE Group Inc., which announced the plan.
This is disappointing. That is a very large property near USF. It would seem that there is a better use than just a mall (outdoor or not) – most of which is parking. While the full details are not given, at least we can keep a little hope:
New York-based RD Management, ranked as the nation’s 30th largest real estate owner, is responsible for more than 200 shopping centers in 26 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. For the renovation of University Mall, it is partnering with New York’s S9, an architectural firm that specializes in planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.
Of course, mixed use can mean a number of different things. What this area needs is a new concept. Add some walkable residential, some office, some real density, etc. That could be transformative. Otherwise, it will just be a hot mall next to a long string of strip malls.
A good development could help revitalize the area and bring real life to near the USF campus, but just recycling the mall concept which long ago lost its allure seems a waste. There is more potential there than an outdoor shopping center/mall. Hopefully, they will really see that.
Bro Bowl – Tampa Does What Tampa Does Best
The Bro Bowl is now being demolished:
Beeps, honks, and the churn of heavy machinery rumbled through the air as the excavator’s claw dug into the graffiti-covered concrete. Large, blue metal containers sat off to the side, filled with pieces of the city’s history.
This is the construction zone at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa. It’s been a place where the city has struggled to preserve not only the cultural history of Tampa’s segregation-era business and entertainment industry, but also the history of the city’s Golden Age of skateboarding.
Uh, no. The City has done nothing to preserve the history regarding skateboarding. For the last few months anyone who has gone by the location of the park and Bro Bowl could clearly see there is absolutely no reason to demolish the Bro Bowl. The park easily could have been built with the Bro Bowl left intact. It was the City that was determined to demolish it.
There still has been no good explanation for why the Bro Bowl is being demolished and why a compromise plan for the park could not be done. Nor do we expect any. That’s just not how Tampa works.
List of the Week
We could get into the list that ranks Tampa the sweatiest city in the US, but we’ll just not have a list this week.