Economic Development – And?
Last week, we highlighted a Times column on what drives (or does not drive) the Tampa Bay economy. (See “Economic Development – If You Build It Will They Will Come?”) We noted that we cannot rely, as we have for so long, on the weather, the water, etc. A few days later, the Tribune ran a long article on the work of the EDC. It really did not add much to the conversation, but we will highlight a few parts.
Economic development guru Rick Homans leads the charge. Since 2012, Homans’ organization, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., has attracted more than 10,100 new jobs to the county and more than $816.7 million in capital investment for new and existing businesses.
That’s all good, but it does not answer the question of why no one can say what drives the Tampa Bay economy or why our wages and per capital GMP are so low.
When corporations such as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Amazon roll into town, tax revenue increases, landscape companies prosper and other local businesses can even get a piece of the action, said Larry Richey, senior managing director and Florida market leader for Cushman & Wakefield commercial brokers.
“Winning those projects doesn’t just happen because we have nice weather, we live on the water and don’t have state income tax,” Richey said. “You’ve got to go out and win those projects by selling the Tampa Bay area.”
First, setting aside that we agree with (and have discussed) how getting more jobs (especially higher paying jobs) create business other than just the jobs themselves, much of that sales pitch is weather, water and low taxes (and real estate costs and wages). For instance this. To say otherwise is disingenuous. Second, Amazon is here because they need warehouses near big population. They are all over the country. (and they got incentives in the local counties). Third, most of the banking in the area is backoffice, the focus on which is really one of the main issues of the economic development discussion. We have nothing against all those jobs. They are all welcome, but real success is HQ jobs, higher paying jobs, real tech jobs – and we need local businesses to stay and grow here. That will grow the whole economy.
Everyone knows that (and there is no reason to act otherwise).
“We started to look at which ones had any level of operations here in Tampa Bay and started to look at certain criteria like, has there been a merger or acquisition, has there been a change in executive leadership, has there been something that’s happened in their market that would prompt discussion about relocation.”
An example of that is the recent failed move by the Connecticut Legislature to increase business taxes by $1.2 billion over two years, prompting a major backlash from large businesses there. Aetna, Inc., General Electric Co. and Travelers Companies, Inc, all threatened to leave the state, which has one of the highest corporate income taxes in the country.
The EDC also looks at the top executives of a company and seeks out any possible connection — friendships, military service, family — they might have to this area. Did they attend college in Florida? Do any of them own a second home here?
The EDC’s list of 2,000 corporations narrowed to 350, mostly from the northeast, some from the Midwest, that match one or more criteria, which may include access to direct flights from their existing market to Tampa.
“We don’t want to waste time on a company that is rock solid with deep community roots,” said Homans, who gets a salary and bonuses totaling $275,000. “We look at whether there’s a high level of pain or a higher level of loyalty” to where they currently have a headquarters.
For downtown Tampa, it needs to be the right company, one that will become the signature brand for the area and lure other businesses in. Once that headquarters comes, Homans said, others will likely follow.
(Note the importance of taxes and do you think they would have a second home if not for the water and weather). And that’s all fine as far as it goes, but let’s be real – for downtown Tampa, any decent sized company HQ would be a coup. (as opposed to potentially losing an HQ, like TECO.) While the EDC might be selective in choosing targets based on possibility of success (a perfectly rational approach), is it really going to be that selective (and should it be?) in terms of companies moving here (and are local governments going to balk at incentives when they give money for warehouses and retail establishments)? And, of course, there is this:
So, to some degree this is all chance. (Like Hertz in Ft. Myers)
The article then goes on to tout how the EDC partners with local educational institutions, etc. And that is all good, too.
In all, it is a nice article, but it does not get to the main point: we are behind and we are not a clear draw like other cities.
We all know transportation is an issue. We know the built environment is an issue. We know there is a lingering impression on education. As we noted last week, even our major universities are still not as prominent or as powerful a draw as in other cities. Though we have assets, we are not a tech hub. We are not a transportation hub (much as we love the airport and the port has potential). Despite some good cultural assets, we are not known for our cultural achievements. And we lack venture capital.
Those are facts. All the articles in the world in local papers will not change that. (Nor will they change the fact that for decades there have been innumerable things touted as great successes, game-changers, bringing us into the big leagues, etc., that, while often ok, have not done the trick – hence the continuing discussion.)
We are happy the EDC is doing all that work. We hope they succeed. What would really help the EDC in their job would be if the other issues were fully and effectively addressed.
Transportation – Move and Punt
Speaking of one of those lingering issues, transportation, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough/Whatever group voted this week on whether to move forward with the Go Hillsborough process. Not surprisingly, they voted to move forward. Flawed as it is, we think it should move forward. So does the Times, which features this editorial that echoes many of our comments:
By moving ahead to create a work plan, the county would be forced to examine the lopsided focus on road work. The city of Tampa would have to explain how it could fund a rail system, what type of rail that would be and where it would go and when. Hillsborough’s mass transit agency would have to show how it could achieve the goal of doubling the bus system and creating new express routes even as county commissioners are looking to siphon much of that money away for expanded bus service in the suburbs.
There is a big gap between the promises local officials made in rolling out the plan last month and the numbers that make up the spending plan. If a half-penny won’t pay for road needs already on the books today, how will it make this community a more appealing, convenient and marketable destination for the next three decades — along with vastly expanding the bus system and laying a foundation for rail?
Moving this plan to the next stage will force local leaders to put real details on the table. The voters need a better sense of what they would be buying and some picture of the options that commuters would have that they don’t have today. The county also would have time to show good faith by reversing the wasteful land development policies that created these problems with the sprawling road network in the first place. Supporters should use the next several months to strengthen and publicly air the work plan. It should be clear by the fall whether something that at this stage looks too little, too late can be improved to make it worth the effort to pursue in 2016.
And not only did they approve moving forward,
Hillsborough leaders said Thursday that they won’t put the proposed half-cent transportation sales tax on the 2016 ballot without getting more public input on what kind of roadway and transit projects voters actually want.
The policy leadership group, a collection of county and city officials, has already spent two years trying to craft a transportation plan that they hope will entice voters. They’ve spent $1 million on consultants and conducted 36 public meetings this spring, in addition to a poll and online outreach.
They still do not know what to do. And how much will it cost for the elected officials to actually know what their constituents want?
Parsons Brinckerhoff will be paid $350,000 for the work in addition to the $1 million the firm already netted from previous outreach. The county will pay the lion’s share of that, chipping in about $250,000. The rest will come from the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City in addition to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.
Consultants will present a detailed list of projects to county commissioners at their Nov. 5 meeting. If the commissioners approve the list, they will set a Dec. 2 public hearing where commissioners will vote on whether to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot.
Nothing like charging the taxpayers again. And what is the purpose this time?
In other words, to do what the last round of the Go Hillsborough meetings was supposed to do. No surprise there. They do not really want to have to make any decisions.
There was one Commissioner opposed to moving forward.
Commissioner Stacy White said the county needs to provide more details and implement better land use policies and mobility fees before he can support the plan. He was the only member of the policy group to not vote in approval of moving forward with developing the plan.
There is a decent amount of sense in that, though the process should move forward. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Sadly, this muddle is what we have come to expect of the elected officials in Hillsborough County. It is one of the major reasons we lag other areas.
Transportation – Never Enough
And now that the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group had public meetings, then outsourced public outreach to consultants so as to create a proposal for a possible plan, HART now wants to have more public meetings.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has arranged for a series of open house meetings beginning July 23 to get public input on its Transit Development Plan Update, which reflects that possible surge of new money. The agency is required by the Florida Department of Transportation to update the 10-year plan annually.
HART officials attended all 36 Go Hillsborough meetings between February and May at which the public provided input on how to solve the gridlock on the county’s roadways. The Go Hillsborough transportation committee, made up of all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, recently agreed that if a half-cent sales tax is approved by voters, HART will get a quarter of the revenue, or $30 million a year. The committee is expected to decide Thursday when the measure will appear on the ballot.
“These meetings we are planning are an opportunity for HART to go out to the public as part of its annual update process and ask the question, ‘Have we heard you right?’ ” said Marco Sandusky, senior manager of equal employment opportunities and community programs for HART.
Huh? Getting public output is fine but at some point people actually have to make decisions. If the entire public meeting plus Go Hillsborough process was not enough to tell officials what people want, why have they spent all this time and money?
Transportation – City Working the Taxes
It seems the first step to the City pushing some money to transit is under way.
Setting aside that the impact fee system is broken, most of Tampa’s planning decisions also focus on cars – to this day. In any event,
“It gives you more flexibility certainly in the downtown where we’re not going to be widening roadways to add more capacity,” said Jean Duncan, city director of transportation and stormwater services. “It’s going to be a great tool for that downtown area for sure.”
(ed. note that the agenda said this was a first reading.) That’s fine, except for the obsession with just downtown to the neglect of most of the rest of the city. Helping downtown is fine, but there is much more to the city (say, Westshore and the space between the two, not to mention everywhere else)
But the move would give the city another resource for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s goal of making Tampa a more walkable, less car-centric city. If approved by council members, beginning Aug. 1, the city could use the money for new bike lanes or trails, improved bus shelters or to contribute toward the potential expansion of Tampa’s downtown streetcar system.
Buckhorn has proposed that the city take over operation of the streetcar and transform it from a tourist attraction into a mass transit option for residents of Tampa’s downtown. The project has taken on increased importance with plans by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for $1 billion of redevelopment around Amalie Arena.
We are in favor of expanding the streetcar, but we know that, on its own, the streetcar is not mass transit. To be mass transit, it has to go outside downtown and bring people in and out of the area (and we do not mean a couple of blocks). And, for most of the run, it has to have dedicated paths or it will be too slow to be effective. That is the whole point of mass transit in a city.
Moreover, there is no official plan to do anything other than stretch the streetcar a bit, no real plan to get to the airport and Westshore. Sure, it is mentioned, but what is the actual plan? And, of course, there is no explanation of how the city running trains would integrate with the county – where most of the people live – and expand to really make downtown the thriving heart of the area. Narrowing the roads in and around downtown and not having transit into downtown is not really a recipe for making it really accessible and thriving. The reality is that, even if more people live in and around downtown, it will always be a fraction of the people in the county, let alone the area. You need a way to get those people in and out of downtown for it to be really successful.
So, yes, putting money to things other than roads is good. But how, when, where, and what are all big questions.
“North Hyde Park” – Building, but What?
There was an article in the Tribune regarding “North Hyde Park” (which is name that is pure marketing), the area north of Kennedy near downtown.
The latest evidence? A residential boom appears imminent in North Hyde Park, a neighborhood of former warehouses and light industry just north of Kennedy that has been targeted for several new apartment, town home and mixed-use projects.
“There’s just a buzz of activity in the North Hyde Park area that we hope is continuing,” said Stefan McSweeney, a director with St. Petersburg-based Cardinal Point Management, which is proposing a mixed-use project at 301 N. Rome Ave. “For us, it’s a mix of the demographic of people that want to be in an infill location. It’s close to the highway (Interstate 275), close to downtown, close to South Tampa. We see that as good long-term potential for our project and a lot of other ones in the immediate area.”
The Cardinal Point project would have 23 town homes along North B and Fig streets and light retail facing Rome between those two streets. It joins a series of proposed and recently completed projects in the same strip.
Phase II of the recently completed NoHo Flats apartment complex between Gray and Fig streets will get underway this summer, with the 274-unit Havana Square apartments rising across Rome Avenue from NoHo Flats.
It is true there is a lot of development going on in that area. One can look at different reasons why.
The city’s InVision plan, a 20-year blueprint for making downtown Tampa and its surrounding neighborhoods a community of livable places, describes the North Hyde Park area as “emerging as a new opportunity for significant transformation.”
“I think the real estate community was paying attention,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I think they realized that this was an opportunity to create a livable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with retail and residential. It’s an established neighborhood, it’s within walking distance of downtown, and it’s got great view corridors. I think the market was following the city in this case and realizing this was a neighborhood that offered a lot of potential.”
Let’s review: the area was targeted for development before the recession but a lot of it got caught in the recession, like NoHo Flats, which is actually not on Howard, but whatever. (See here, how it was part of Vintage Lofts. Also notice the routine “this area is booming” article.) Moreover, almost none of the developments have retail. (There is this, but that is about all.) Phase One of NoHo Flats has a big surface parking lot, which is in no way pedestrian friendly, and the area in general is not walkable. Nevertheless, in theory the area could be walkable it does not get the same treatment from the City that Spruce Street got, as highlighted in last week’s Roundup.
Of course, there is another reason developers may have moved north of Kennedy:
Anthony Everett, director for central Florida for Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, said Kennedy Boulevard no longer is the symbolic barrier it once was. The original Hyde Park and south-of-Howard Avenue, or “SoHo,” neighborhoods remain among the city’s elite addresses, but skyrocketing home and land costs are pushing development north, he said.
“I think that line has now moved to (Interstate) 275,” said Everett, whose Atlanta-based company breaks ground this summer on the Havana Square project. “I think that barrier has now been broken, and I think the natural path of development and just the need for housing broke that.”
It is cheaper to develop there. And that is fine as long as what is developed is good, walkable, and promotes it as an urban area. Thankfully, some people recognize that.
He and Rob Dubsky, past president of the New Hyde Park Alliance business group, point out the lack of sidewalks and streetlights and severe flooding issues along Cass Street, which has been identified as a key segment of the city’s “Green Spine” car-bike-pedestrian route from the Glazer Family JCC to Cuscaden Park.
Buckley and Dubsky are pushing for a city planner to assume a role similar to that of Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner hired by Vinik to marshal the Tampa Bay Lightning owner’s plan to develop the downtown core.
“We need an orchestra leader, if you will. We need somebody to work with all the different departments in the city, all the neighborhood associations, the city council, all the codes. Everything has to be re-thought, and there needs to be one person that understands this new concept.”
Dubsky said he was thwarted from opening a North Hyde Park retail shop because of antiquated parking requirements. His target customer base would have been pedestrians in the bustling Rome Avenue residential stretch.
Everything in that last quote is true. The area has great potential. Everyone sees that. It could be a really cool area or just an urban-ish muddle that never really reaches its potential. It is not very hard to get from ok to really good or excellent. The real question is whether the City will do what it should or just settle.
Channel District – Is Publix Coming?
There have been a number of public rumors (like this) that Publix has inked a deal to come to the one story building next to the tower in the Martin project in the Channel District. We do not have confirmation, but we would just like to point something out. Why are all the plans for grocery stores in downtown Tampa one story buildings? It is not as if Publix does not know how to do an urban store – and we do not mean the store planned for St. Pete. We mean a real urban store for a dense residential area, like the one in downtown Orlando around Lake Eola. You can see it here. It is apparently “[a] new urban prototype for Publix, the 29,431-square-foot upscale grocery.”
That is typical of what we are talking about regarding planning and settling (just like the completely un-walkable Publix on Platt.) Sure, it would be good to have a grocery store in the Channel District, but it would be really nice to have an urban store done properly. If you want to really compete, you have to do things right.
Kennedy – TGH Complex
It appears from the Accela database that construction permits are being pulled for the first phase of the TGH complex on Kennedy. (Search for “1307 W Kennedy” in the database). URBN Tampa Bay posted a rendering of the building. (It is apparently being called the Kennedy Healthplex, which is consistent with the general culture of hype in the area.)
(edit: URBN Tampa Bay directed us to a better version of the rendering here. We thank them for the update.)
They also have the site plan here. We are not going to discuss the big parking lot in the back because we consider that a land bank (at least we hope). On the other hand, it seems the buildings will really be facing the parking lot in the back, with the circle as the focus of the complex. (Maybe we’re wrong, but that is how it looks and that is what designs have been trying to do from the beginning).
Moreover, it seems that, while the buildings are going to be in the general vicinity sidewalk on Kennedy, they do not seem to interact with it at all. In fact, they seem to be basically cut off from the street in the typical office park design that kills any vitality.
While it is good to build in that area, it will not really create a true urban area unless it is built to be an urban area. If the reality is as the drawing appears to show, it will be a(nother) lost opportunity on a large plot of land.
International Trade/Latin America – Cuba
There was also an article in the Tribune (which was busy on Sunday) about Cuba trade.
Tampa leaders have offered up the city as host for the first Cuban consulate in the United States in more than five decades. But even if it goes elsewhere, people here will keep the Cuban government busy.
What’s more, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Havana are expected to announce a partnership soon on coral reef research, cultural exchanges are becoming routine, and universities are eager to conduct studies there.
“I think the initial importance of a Cuban consulate is to provide convenience to Cuban Americans based in Tampa and central Florida,” said Bill Carlson, president of TuckerHall, a public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.
Winning a consular office would provide people in Tampa faster services from Havana and establish the city as a gateway to Cuba. It also would mean a visit whenever a top Cuban diplomat comes to Florida, paving the way for closer connections with leaders from the island nation.
Pretty much, which is why it makes no sense for any local official to equivocate over the issue. If there is going to be a consulate, why should it go somewhere else?
That is a reason we should be ok with it going elsewhere? And how does that serve our economic development or international profile in any way?
Going back to when Pan Am’s predecessor wanted to make Tampa a hub for South America and the locals rejected it (so it went to Miami, as the rest is history. See “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”), Tampa has made some odd decisions. If we are going to be a gateway to Latin America, we need to act like it. Either we are serious or we aren’t. The times are changing. If China or Vietnam wanted to put a consulate here, would there be an issue?
If there is going to be a Cuban consulate in the US, it should be here.
And just to emphasize the point that if we do not push for our place, Miami will push us out of the way, there was this nice article on Cuba trade prep in South Florida.
University Mall – Could Be
There was an article in the Times about the possible renovations at University Square Mall. Most of the article is about how the mall could help revitalize the area, which is true. But this is the key:
“Shopping malls in general, across the U.S., as a property type, have been suffering,” USF real estate professor Greg Smersh said. “People want more convenience. You have more couples who both work and spend less time at home, so they don’t mind paying more for convenience. They would rather pull into a Walgreens than go to a shopping center. The same trend has affected shopping malls.”
Smersh added, however, that a mixed-use approach involving office space and residential has helped some malls rebound. That’s the exact plan at University Mall. For the renovation, RD Management is partnering with New York’s S9, an architectural firm that specializes in the planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.
Except, it’s not mixed use in that way, at least not from the released plans. There is no residential. We are not sure about offices. In fact, as the article tells us:
The biggest change, however, may come with the latest renovation of the venerable University Mall. Mall owner RD Management LLC recently announced plans for a multiphase project that will begin in early 2016 with the transformation of the mall’s western wing, including the addition of three new tenants and two freestanding restaurants.
In other words, none of the helpful elements mentioned are involved. The mall property is key to fixing the general area. It is quite large and could really be transformative. Unfortunately, so far the plans are not going to do that. There is still time, and there is still hope. We shall see.
The PTC Finds That the PTC Is Right
There was more from the PTC this week:
The ruling Tuesday was part of an ongoing appeals process for tickets that Hillsborough inspectors issued to the company for operating a for-hire service without proper permitting. A hearing officer ruled in May that Lyft is a taxi company and was violating Hillsborough County rules by operating without proper permits.
In other words, the PTC’s hearing officer ruled for the PTC. Then the PTC board affirmed the hearing officer and said that of course it was always right. Now it will actually go to court. The article tells us what some of the lawyers said, but as we reported before, the PTC lawyer has already basically admitted in court that the whole point of their policy is to be protectionist – which is not necessarily illegal but it is silly.
The real issue is that the PTC has bad, protectionist, anticompetitive, market distorting, and anti-innovation policies. (Even its “compromises” are aimed at using government threats to keep people from competing with the legacy companies. ) And don’t forget their complete disregard for the consumer. Same old DNA.
List of the Week
We could not find a good list this week, but we did see in a piece from 83 degrees media that
That seems a little overly specific for a list (and really not much to celebrate, especially when you consider that apparently they did not include other local counties in the top 10).