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Roundup 7-3-2015

July 3, 2015

Transportation – More on the Future

As would be expected, there were more articles on the proposal for a transportation referendum this week.  First, from the Times:

If county officials have their way, a successful half-cent sales tax referendum in 2016 will bring in $117 million annually for transportation improvements.

But for those with much grander transportation ambitions, that revenue is only the beginning.

If the experiences of other cities are any indication, this potential referendum could be the kick-start needed to slowly build and fund a full-fledged transportation network over the coming decades.

Could be (in decades).  Then again, it could not.  So make the case for something new.

In the past five years, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties have all failed to pass a 1-cent sales tax for transportation. These defeats, coupled with feedback gathered from months of public outreach, showed that the appetite for a 1-cent tax doesn’t exist here, said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

But while the $3.5 billion earned over the 30-year half-cent tax falls short of some people’s expectations, it could be the catalyst needed to trigger other investments.

“We have about a thousand different options after this,” said Kevin Thurman of Connect Tampa Bay, an advocacy group focused on maximizing the plan’s investment in transit.

“Every community that has spent money on transit and started shifting their priorities has wanted to continue to shift their priorities.” 

That may be true, but many of the thousand options are not very good options.  And does this plan really shift the priorities?

Cities such as Charlotte, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City started with an initial sales tax that allowed them to get projects started.

Then, when support for those projects swelled and trust was built, the communities were able to increase funding — whether through additional taxes, private sector investment, or state and federal funding.

County leaders hope an initial investment will have the same impact here.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead and start getting people concerned that the real motive here is to extract more tax money,” Merrill said. “But I think the thing that everyone agrees on with this recommended plan — regardless of where they stand — is it’s not enough to take care of all the needs.”

The question, Merrill said, then becomes: “What’s the next step?”

Ok, but is there a shift in priorities here?  Roads and some buses are clearly the focus of the proposal.  There is talk of possibly having rail but there is no actual plan, no route, no technology.   Just talk.  The City has put forward no actual plan. The County Commission can’t even bring themselves to really say they are changing priorities.  And, as noted last week, there is no clarity on who would own/control any system.  This is not exactly how other cities did it. (see Phoenix’s 2003 Regional Transportation Plan referencing an existing 57 mile rail plan with a delineated starter line among a whole lot of other stuff, pg 112 of the pdf here, in anticipation of a 2004 referendum)

And, then there is the fact that this is a proposal for a 30 year plan.  Assuming there is a starter line of rail, how long do we have to wait to get anything more?

Shifting gears a bit, there was also a Tribune editorial that focused on planning:

But after decades of allowing development to hopscotch across the county, it appears the Hillsborough County Commission is getting serious about changing the dynamic for managing growth.

Well, the Administrator may be serious.  As for the Commission, that remains to be seen.

Changing land-use codes and imposing mobility fees on development are part of the conversation about putting a transportation referendum on the 2016 ballot, an effort known as Go Hillsborough.

This part of the plan won’t get as much attention as the promised road improvements, but in many respects it is far more consequential. Indeed, unless the county adopts responsible growth policies, spending more on transportation won’t achieve much — at least not for long.

* * *

Of course, without the necessary changes to growth planning, land-use codes and development fees, a successful ballot initiative would represent nothing more than a temporary fix, and an expensive one at that. Only by bringing an end to policies that promote sprawl can the county expect to manage its long-term transportation needs.

Mobility fees are a variation on the impact fees assessed to developers and are meant to encourage growth in areas where county services already exist or can be extended at minimal cost. Pasco County adopted them and Merrill says Hillsborough is studying that model. Hillsborough is already planning to link major commercial hubs with future transportation corridors, an essential part of planning for future transit options.

The public should hear plenty about Go Hillsborough in the coming months. Commissioners are expected to decide before the end of the year whether to put the plan before the voters in 2016. With 500,000 people projected to move into the county by 2040, and perhaps $3.5 billion to spend on transportation if the plan is approved by voters, the discussion about preventing sprawl is key to the long-term success of Hillsborough’s transportation planning.

That is all basically what we said last week.  The one thing missing another thing we said last week – the planning/mobility fees change does not need to wait for a referendum.  The change can, and should, be made now.

It makes little sense to approve billions in spending without changing the policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

In fact, it makes no sense to keep the poor planning and other policies that created the problem and are a failure regardless of any referendum?  If the Commission is really on board with changing priorities and fixing transportation, it should be working on the change now.  Why are they allowing the cause of the problem to continue?  If there is no referendum are they going to keep the old failed planning policies?  Is that approach really a change of priorities?

In any event, it is not enough to say “pass this plan and in 30 years maybe things might be better.”  The proposal is something, but it is not nearly enough.  It is up to the Commission to prove that they really have changed.

Remember that hanging over all this is the ever-present question: why should a Millennial bet on this proposal will ever get done rather than just go where priorities have already clearly changed?  Every day of delay is another day falling behind.

Economic Development – Startup Culture

Speaking of Millennials, there was this about startup cultures in the Business Journal:

The first episode of the month for “Startup School Radio,” a Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI) satellite radio program, featured a startup CEO talking about the reason why he left Tampa Bay.

Frederick Hutson, founder of technology startup Pigeonly, told the University of Pennsylvania-run program that the investors in Tampa Bay were more comfortable with traditional investments, such as real estate.

“The invstment community there, they just didn’t understand technology,” he said.

* * *

Hutson isn’t the first executive to point out the dry capital spring for startups — everyone from the CEO of startup KiteDesk to members of the Florida Venture Forum investor network have acknowledged the region deserves more attention for its innovations.

Pigeonly isn’t the first technology company to leave the Bay area, either. The region has said goodbye to Banyan, Draper Lab, Wikipedia and more.

(You can find the podcast listing here) This is not news to those who are interested, but, given the hype in this area about anything vaguely related to startups, it is good to have it be said by someone involved.

Of course, there are those who disagree:

Some technology leaders, like ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini, say it’s only time until the area builds a reputation as an innovation economy.

One solution may be a proper marketing organization that talks the community up, said Bellini, whose company tops the list of software developers by the number of local employees with 650 total.

“Tampa Bay is perfect as it is,” Bellini said. “There is lots of technology here in Tampa Bay, but nothing bonds us or binds us. There is no stamp to put on it to say here are our efforts and successes.”

Ok, we agree that there is more going on here than meets the eye – which is why there seems to be a constant supply of people who take their ideas and move somewhere else to succeed.  However, we do not agree that the area’s lack of tech cachet it is just a matter of lack of press, and one would be hard pressed to say the area is “perfect.” Just because some are doing very well does not mean the area is doing very well. And it does not mean that startups can find the cash they need to develop here.

Clearly, we could use much more in quantity and quality of tech businesses.  We could use more venture capital.  We could use angel investors.  We could use startups that actually mature and stay to make a full-fledged tech scene.  We could use transit, better planning, and better projects to attract talent.

Our measure of success is when the tech scene is big enough that it does not need marketing to get noticed and no one has to go looking for it.

One final note: this is just another area that this area has failed to invest – just another problem created by obsession with a real estate economy.

Downtown/Channel District/Transportation – The Expert Gives Some Thoughts

Speaking of better projects, the Lightning owner’s urban planner gave a talk this week.  A lot of what he said made sense, including this:

To be walkable, city streets need to achieve a balance of “mixed use” spaces like housing, retail, business offices and recreation activities, Speck said. To have a vibrant street of restaurants and gyms, there has to be a lunchtime and nighttime crowd that is willing to populate those businesses, and has the public transportation structure to get from one walkable area to another. The Channel District is just the first step, Speck said.

This is true, though hardly an epiphany.

“You don’t have an area like that in many cities where there’s so much going on and yet very little walking happens,” Speck said. “The foundation is there to really do something fantastic in this district.”

Yes, the foundation is there except we need a number of walkable areas (we have a few walkable blocks but almost no walkable neighborhoods/areas – mostly because the City settles) and good transit to connect them.  And the City needs to actually have proper planning, a proper code, and to not settle.  Other than that, we’re fine.

He also mentioned narrowing streets and slowing down traffic.  If you do that downtown without proper transit, you will either get gridlock or a place many people will not go because it is too hard to get in and out.  Neither is a good outcome. The Lightning owner’s project will not thrive just on the residents downtown.  So, we are back to proper transit. And, of course, proper building.

We are glad the planner has a good reputation and what seem to be generally sound ideas (aside from choking traffic without a useful alternative). That gives us hope. But the thing we really care about is not what he says, his reputation or his other projects.  We care about what actually happens here.  This area is full of far too much talk. We care about results.

Downtown/West Bank – Goings On

The first project proposed for the West side of the river (not the Related project) near downtown has undergone some changes:

A South Florida developer who wants to build near Oxford Exchange has proposed a taller, mixed-use building for the site in response to requests from the surrounding neighborhood and city planners.

Altman Development Corp., based in Boca Raton, submitted a new site plan and updated documents to the city last week that now show Altis Grand Central as a nine-story building with 274 residential units and 2,614 square feet of specialty retail — two 1,300-square-foot spaces that front Grand Central Avenue.

The building will be built around an eight-story parking garage with 579 spaces, “387 of which will be behind a gate and 192 that will be accessible by the public,” according to city filings. The development now includes 16,449 square feet of green space, and an eighth-floor pool deck.

While that is technically true (and at least they listened to their neighbors), what really happened was that they added a couple of small stores on two corners and then added a couple of stories on top of part of the parking garage in the middle of the project. (Like we said last week, mixed use can mean a lot of things) While the amenities added sound good, the renderings look very odd with a little box jutting out of the top of an oversized parking garage that bears no relation in design or decoration to the building below it.

From the City of Tampa public records

It will be interesting to see if the City is ok with that.

Meanwhile, there were comments from Related about their proposed 8-story project on the old Tribune property.

In a talk to journalists attending the National Association of Real Estate Editors annual conference, held this year in Miami, Perez was asked about his company’s plans for the Tribune site.

“We could have put up a spectacular high-rise there,” he said, “but we decided to go mid-rise. Wait until you see it. I love that site.”

Really? Can we revisit that decision? We love the site, too.  But we would much rather a spectacular high rise than a stumpy mid-rise.  Then there was this:

“We love Tampa as a rental market,” he said. “There’s a strong rental demand there, like in Atlanta.”

Currently, he added, condo development is less attractive because “Tampa is pretty much a local market” and does not attract foreign buyers like those fueling Miami’s current condo boom.

Ok.

Related built the Pierhouse at Channelside apartments with 356 units and also plans a 21-story apartment tower on Harbour Island. And “there are four more pieces (in the Tampa area) we will be building on,” he said.

Maybe those future sites could have a spectacular high rise on them rather than more squat and boring development, especially since Related is known for building high rises, like this in New York.

Frankly, we would rather they wait and build something really good than build more mediocre projects like Pier House that eat up good lots for the next 40 years.  Whatever the case, don’t expect the City to do anything to make sure there is something good on the land.

Economy – Incomes

The Times told us this:

A report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis finds “real personal income” across the country rose by an average of 0.8 percent in 2013, while rising even more (1.1 percent) in Florida. The numbers are the latest available. Examined more closely, though, the figures are less flattering. Measure by “real per capita personal income” — which measures per person income growth based on constant 2009 dollars — and the United States still reported positive gains. Florida and the bulk of its major metro areas saw a decline in income by this measure between 2008 and 2013.

Some numbers from the Times article

Metro area Income2008 Income2013
Tampa Bay $38,780 $37,987
Orlando $35,475 $35,329
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale $41,419 $40,318
Jacksonville $41,694 $41,990
Atlanta $40,410 $40,557
Charlotte, N.C. $40,895 $41,676
Florida $39,470 $39,159
United States $36,883 $38,536

We don’t think that is very good, but you can conclude what you like.

Ybor City – Well, That Is Odd

We saw this from the Business Journal:

Days after the City of Tampa sold a local developer a parcel of land in Ybor, the group flipped it to a South Florida company that will build apartments on the site.

Intown/Framework Group LLC, an entity controlled by Greg Minder and Phillip Smith, sold 3.2 acres on East 12th Avenue, just south of Interstate 4, to Bainbridge Cos. for $4.25 million, according to Hillsborough County property records.

That deal closed June 22 — six days after the city sold one of the parcels that make up the site to Intown/Framework Group. Intown/Framework paid the city $660,000 for it on June 16, according to county property records.

The other parcel was owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg. A deed for that transaction has not been filed, and Smith declined comment on what his partnership paid for that land. Its market value, according to Hillsborough County, is $355,538.

Did the City know that this flipping would happen or did the city just sell for far too little?  In either case, the whole thing is looks quite odd, especially when the profiting party submitted the only proposal and City had no real reason to sell now.

“News to me,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has worked with Intown/Framework on several high-profile projects, including a planned high-rise apartment tower near the Riverwalk.

* * *

“We did our due diligence,” Buckhorn said. He did not feel the buyers took advantage of City Hall and noted that the new owner plans to build the same apartment project Intown/Framework had proposed.

“We’re going to get the same product we wanted,” he said.

Buckhorn said he couldn’t imagine the city’s appraisal would be that far off, adding, “I can’t help it if someone pays silly money for a piece of property.”

No, but the City should know the market and get a better deal for the real owners – the taxpayers.  It is not just about the product, which could be gotten somewhere else on private land anyway.  It is about getting the best deal for the taxpayers.  We are sure the city could have used an extra couple of million dollars.

It is all just another example of why the City should not be rushing to sell public land.  There is enough demand to leave development in the private sector and save public land for public purposes.  And it is an another example of the kind of thing that makes taxpayers wonder if they should trust elected officials with any more money.

International Trade – Cuba

Among all the reporting about reestablished relations between the US and Cuba was an article in the Tribune which had two interesting nuggets:

“We are the leading carrier in the Caribbean and have been in the Cuban market since 1991 as part of the charter flight industry out of Miami and then Tampa,” said Matt Miller, an American Airlines spokesman.

American Airlines leases its planes to ABC Charters to operate flights from Tampa to Cuba.

“When legally allowed to do so we will offer our customers steady service to Cuba,” Miller said.

It would be very nice to have regular nonstop service to Cuba.

And this:

Now that the embassy question is settled, choosing a city for a Cuban consulate is likely to be high on the list of priorities for both governments, said Dan Zabludowski, an international business attorney in Miami with law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson.

“There is going to be a need for a business agency for the Cuban government in this country,” Zabludowski said. “It cannot be done between the embassy and Washington.”

Zabludowski recently travelled to Cuba as part of a Florida Bar Association fact finding mission and returned to the U.S. with the understanding that Tampa is the favorite to land the consulate.

“I would be surprised and disappointed if it wasn’t in Tampa,” he said. 

We are sure there will be a number of cities trying to get the consulate (and our Mayor is decidedly cool on the prospect), so we shall see.

Port – Adding Some Possible Capacity

There was more news from the port.

A project now in the works off the 22nd Street Causeway will help remedy that by deepening an industrial finger of Tampa Bay and creating new acreage with fill dirt to serve as an offloading site for big ships.

It will be the fifth deep-water berth at the port.

Marine construction crews will dredge a portion of East Bay, taking it from 20 feet in depth to 41 feet. A steel bulkhead will be installed to accommodate big ships bringing in vehicles, containers or bulk cargo that can be offloaded at the new berth, said project manager Patrick Blair.

The $18.6 million Eastport Development project sits south of the port’s shrimp docks, stretching for about half a mile. It is expected to be complete in about a year, Blair said.

Port Tampa Bay received a 50-50 matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation’s seaport bond program to help pay for the project, said Bruce Laurion, vice president of engineering for the port. The port has received similar Department of Transportation bond money recently to create a refrigerated warehouse center on Hookers Point and a new berth at Port Redwing in Apollo Beach, along with a rail spur, a new roadway and utilities.

Well, it will allow bigger ships, but not really big ships.  In any event, we have nothing against such work.  Maybe they can actually ship something to Cuba now.

Rays – More Proposed Locations

There was an odd article in the Tribune about maybe putting a Rays stadium on the site of a dog track.

Sitting on the Pinellas County side of the Gandy Bridge, with 130 acres and plenty of parking, the Derby Lane greyhound track just might be an ideal spot for a new baseball stadium the Tampa Bay Rays are seeking.

At least that’s what Richard Winning, incoming president of the family-owned track, said he has read in newspaper stories on a few occasions. And he said he might agree — should anyone actually ask him.

Ok.  Stop right there.  It is in no way ideal.  There is only one road in and out.  There is no highway access (Pinellas’ lack political will made sure Gandy is not made a full limited access road with frontage roads while Tampa’s lack of political will made sure there is no connector).  There is no, and probably never will be, any real transit connection. In other words, it is not a good location at all.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has been pushing the Tampa Greyhound Track as a prime location for a stadium, which also would energize efforts to revitalize the long-struggling Sulphur Springs neighborhood where it sits.

The 25-acre track at Nebraska Avenue and Bird Street, easily accessible from Interstate 275, opened in 1933 and suspended dog racing in 2007. It was bought by the Tampa Bay Downs horse track owners in January and holds daily poker games and simulcast wagering on horse and dog racing and jai alai.

The Tampa site is a little better.  There are a few more roads to the site plus some highway access.  Whether it would work or anything around it would be fixed up and made better is a question.  Frankly, we are not sold.

Really, there is not much more to say.

CTP et le Gouvernement Socialiste de la France – Essentiellement la Même Chose

There was news about Uber from France:

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that two senior Uber executives in France had been ordered to stand trial on behalf of the company on charges including “deceptive commercial practices” and illegally organizing taxi services through its low-cost UberPop ride-hailing option.

* * *

Last week, thousands of taxi drivers staged large-scale demonstrations against the UberPop service, which they say is unfair competition. Legislation from last October has made the service illegal, but Uber has challenged the law and has encouraged its drivers to continue working.

Kind of funny when the PTC’s attitude is more like the socialist government of France than Portland or Seattle, but that is what we have as far as ridesharing goes.

Westshore – Avion Park as a Case Study

Recently, ground was broken on a Hampton Inn in Avion Park in Westshore (sort of).

Tampa-based McKibbon Hotel Group broke ground Monday on the 178-room hotel in Avion Park not far from Tampa International Airport. The business park is already home to three other hotels, the BioSpine Institute, A1 Express airport remote parking services and some retail operations. In addition to the fourth hotel, two freestanding restaurants are expected to open in the park next year. The first is a 4,800-square-foot World of Beer tavern.

And that’s fine.  We have stayed at Hampton Inns. Nothing wrong with them.

From the Times – click on picture for article

(Yes, the Times had a big rendering of a Hampton Inn. We have no idea where the people are walking, and the apparent Rolls Royce to their right may be a bit ambitious.)

But here’s the next paragraph:

“We won’t recognize Westshore in next 10 years. This is Tampa’s time,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a ground breaking ceremony on Monday.

Huh? Even with the apartment buildings on the periphery, Westshore looks very much like it did ten years ago.  There is no indication that the car-centric pattern is going to change any time soon, especially at Avion Park which could not be less urban. Unless there is real change to planning (doubtful – but one can always hope the people who bought the Austin Center will come through on their own), the City stops settling (ditto), and there is real transit (an open question – lots of talk, not may specifics), there is no reason Westshore won’t look essentially the same for the foreseeable future.  (And is a Hampton Inn, nice as they are, really the harbinger of huge changes?)

Like we said last week:

. . . does every announcement have accompanied with overblown proclamations like small town celebrating how the new Wal-Mart will make everything so much better[?]

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Does a Billion Dollars Buy?

In our ongoing look at what a billion dollars gets you these days:

A Houston developer wants to bring a bit of urban sensibility to the Energy Corridor, a section of west Houston known for its suburban office campuses, chain-filled strip malls and outsized apartment buildings.

The developer, PM Realty Group, is committing $1 billion to building a bustling mixed-use community of upscale apartments, outdoor restaurants, hotels and high-rise office towers housing companies seeking to recruit a younger generation of workers who value the outdoors, collaboration with colleagues and an abundance of amenities.

Construction is scheduled to begin next year, and the first office building could break ground before the company finds a tenant to occupy it. 

From the Houston Chronicle – click on picture for article

From the Houston Chronicle – click on picture for article

Of course, they need tenants.  We get that.  But this is also not downtown Houston.  Imagine the hype if this were coming to even downtown Tampa or Westshore, even with those parking garages (actually, don’t imagine, just read the discussions of the Lightning owner’s project).  Compare and contrast to the Avion Park item.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Thrillist’s rankings of all the states, which was covered by the Tribune here  (though we saw it before that was posted).

Turns out, they say Florida sucks.

Enjoy the Fourth.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2015 2:20 PM

    While I agree that the overwhelming majority of Tampa investors do not understand or invest in tech, there are a handful that get it. It is equally important to point out that it’s not not just about tech, but more about perceived risk. Most Angels and all VC’s in Florida are not high risk or true early stage investors. They like real estate and similar investments because they are tangible.

    This isn’t about marketing, if it were we would be Silicon Valley. It isn’t about a bunch of angel groups with dinner clubs either. I like Tim Cartwright and the Tamiami Angel Fund does a good job with series B and beyond but they are not early stage or high risk capital. If you look around at investors in other areas like Austin, Seattle, Boston and Silicon Valley or even Atlanta what makes them different isn’t geography, it’s risk tolerance and knowledge. The majority of Angel and early stage VC capital investors in these communities are made up of former tech company founders, these people have started and built successful tech companies so they know what is required to do it. They have active global networks of other technologists and they are willing to take big risks. Those people are in very limited supply here.

    All of that said, money can be raised here if you are building something worthy of investment and I know this because I have been on both sides of the equation. I have personally raised capital here and know others building enterprise class software who have as well. I currently have 41 active investments in tech companies, but I also come from a tech background and currently have 3 tech companies of my own. Investors have to understand that you need a large portfolio if you want to make money in the end, if you only invest in 2 or 3 you will likely come up negative regardless of geography.

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