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Roundup 7-24-2015

July 24, 2015


  • Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?
  • Downtown – A New Tallest?
  • Bayshore – Cashing In
  • Economy – VC Watch
  • Economy – Housing
  • Surprise, The Rays Have Fans
  • Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect
  • Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?
  • Better Elections?
  • List of the Week

Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the USF area innovation district idea.

After decades of growing out, Hillsborough County now wants to grow from within.

To get there, the county is jumping onto the latest trend in urban planning: building an innovation district.

Hillsborough’s proposed 2016 budget includes $2 million to create a master plan for redeveloping the area around University of South Florida. The so-called innovation district would link the economic engines in that region — like USF, Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center, among others — to try to resurrect nearby transient, high-crime neighborhoods.

The county is moving forward with the plan even though Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million matching grant. Hills­borough’s budget won’t be finalized until September.

We are not sure why the money was vetoed, but credit where credit is due.  At least the County realizes that they still need to move forward.  That is good.  But what are they doing?

While still in its infancy, the innovation district represents a significant shift toward redeveloping established communities instead of building office parks and corporate campuses along the spacious Interstate 75 corridor, near the expanding suburbs.

“We can take an area that is dangerous to walk, dangerous to ride a bike and, in some cases, dangerous to drive and drop people off, and improve and enhance the community through the attraction of companies and businesses,” said former county Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who leads the push to create the district as director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

Sharpe estimates the idea could attract up to $1 billion in development.

As a very general idea, that is fine.

But what exactly is an innovation district — a term that sounds as visionary as it does vague — and how would it help the county achieve that goal?

Innovation districts have sprouted up in urban hubs throughout the country as younger workers have gravitated toward cities.

The districts are often located around existing economic anchors, like hospitals and universities, that were built away from downtown where there’s more space. These large employers have good-paying jobs and significant research capacity, but also realized they need to better position themselves to attract well-educated millennials, who tend to be single and want to live and play near where they work.

As it is, innovation districts are a mix of new business space with housing, retail, parks, restaurants and bars. It’s a departure from the once in-vogue business parks of the past 20 years, which sprawled out into large suburban spaces and were vacated after the workday.

And that is fine, too.  However, it has to be said that the area around USF is not really prime for such a transformation.  To start with, USF is built for cars.  The core of USF is very far from the surrounding neighborhood and the campus is car oriented.  And the roads around USF are not built for walking – nor is anything built around USF – and cut it off from the surrounding area.  It would be quite a task to really change the area, though that does not mean it should not be tried.

But there are challenges as well, including the region’s transportation woes. The county is weighing a half-cent sales tax increase to help alleviate gridlock.

Sharpe and county officials hope the new revenue could also eventually bring new transit systems to link the innovation district to downtown, West Shore and Tampa International Airport — particularly for millennials that increasingly eschew cars.

Not to mention linking USF to the surrounding area.

The county must also finally address the nearby low-income neighborhoods, said Commissioner Victor Crist.

“If you don’t stabilize the neighborhood and educate the area, you won’t have a viable workforce and you’ll continue to have high crime and people won’t want to move there no matter what you do,” Crist said.

In a report last year, the Brookings Institution noted that many of these districts have sprung up in underutilized or economically depressed areas. But lifting up the people in those communities must be baked into the mission of the innovation district for it to succeed, Lower said. Cortex, for example, offers coding classes for women and minorities.

We would not hold our breath for real transit connections.  As for economically depressed areas, many depressed areas that get revitalized are old parts of town with a dilapidated but traditional, urban building stock on a normal grid where buildings are ready for rehab and empty lots are easily filled with urban developments.  They are often ready made for fixing up.  The USF area is not.  It has to be completely rebuilt, which will not really help the people there now and is extremely expensive.

Of course, there is another issue.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion redevelopment aims to create that kind of millennial-friendly space in downtown Tampa. That could create regional competition for the USF-area district, but Sharpe believes the two developments would work in harmony.

“There’s a desire to bring a large company downtown, but they couldn’t manufacture there,” Sharpe said. “So they could bring their headquarters downtown and manufacturing comes toward the university area.”

They could do that, but then it would not really be an attractive, walkable area.  The reality is that the two concepts do compete.  And moving the med school downtown will not enhance the attractiveness of the USF area.  In fact, it runs counter to the description of innovation districts in the quotes above.  But, so be it.  Part of the argument for moving the med school is to draw people to a cool neighborhood where they can “live, work, and play,” which is interesting regarding the innovation district.

Dennis Lower, president and CEO of the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, put it this way:

“In the technology sector, people of credentials have a passport to go anywhere, and they will go to the coolest places they can find,” he said. “So if you’re not creating cool, you will have a problem.”

And we have said that for a while now.  They can go anywhere – including not in this area.

We are all for trying to fix up the area around UF.  We are all for innovation.  We like the Lightning owner’s proposal.  However, we are also cognizant that many of these ideas are inconsistent.  And none of them will fully succeed without real transit for more than a very small area and real planning changes.  We are still waiting for that to be truly addressed.  Until it is, nothing will have really changed.

Of course, maybe we still need the innovations and money to grow and keep them here.

Downtown – A New Tallest?

There was some news about the former Trump Tower site this week.

The city’s tallest skyscraper would rise on the former site of the ill-fated Trump Tower along the Hillsborough River under plans filed this week with the city.

Feldman Equities, a St. Petersburg-based developer headed by Larry Feldman, filed plans for a 52-story, mixed-use building at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

* * *

It is labeled only as “Future Riverside Residences” in city paperwork, but would conform to much of the site plan approvals granted for the Trump project, which had also been envisioned as a 52-story structure.

It would stand just under 627 feet tall, supplanting the 579-foot Regions tower as the Tampa Bay area’s tallest building.

The first floor would feature retail and restaurant space fronting the Hillsborough River. The next seven levels would be parking, with 630 spaces.

The structure follows with 14 stories of office space and 30 floors featuring 203 luxury residences.

URBN Tampa Bay posted a copy of the diagram from the Accela website (which also has a site plan).

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click on picture for posting

The first thing to note is that the proposal is very preliminary.  There is no full plan.  In fact, it is not even clear if this is a proposal for an actual building or if it is just a move to position the property for sale to another developer.

That being said, cool.  It would be nice to have a new tallest building and to break the 600 foot mark.  We like the idea of a mixed use building – a true mixed use building.  And we really like that the idea seems to be to build the building to face the Riverwalk, which would be a first.   It would also have some very good views (though it would block views from other buildings, but that is the nature of downtowns.)

Because it is so preliminary, it is difficult to say much more. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up here.  That also includes some modelling to show how the building might look.)  It would be interesting to see how this office space competes with the Lightning owner’s plan.

One thing to always keep in mind is that in the cyclical economy of this area, there are always bursts of proposals, many (if not most) of which never get built.  The developer here has a track record, but past performance is not a guarantee of future returns.  We shall just have to wait and see.

Bayshore – Cashing In

There is also another proposal from Crescent to build on the few remaining lots they have near their 8 story complex (which sold for quite a bit of profit).  While the location would be great for a substantial building, the proposal is for more of the same – including no retail.   Once again, URBN Tampa Bay has a rendering from the Accela website.

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page – click for post

We completely understand the desire to build more of the same and cash in.  However, we think it is a shame that they are not making better use of the property.

Economy – VC Watch

There was an article in the Business Journal about venture capital.

Six companies in the Bay area received a total of about $40 million in venture capital funding in the second quarter of 2015, according to the The Money Tree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

The bulk of the VC investment went to AquaVenture Holdings LLC,a Tampa company that provides filtered drinking water to businessses and water management to municipal and industrial clients. AquaVenture received $30 million, as Tampa Bay Business Journal reported in May.

That’s a big amount for this area.  Can we compare it?

The six local firms were among 17 Florida firms that pulled in a total of $153.7 million in the three months ended June 30. The largest VC investment in the state in the just-ended quarter was $50 million to Mdlive Inc., a Sunrise company that provides telehealth services and software. 

So we got a decent percentage of Florida.

Nationally, venture capitalists invested $17.5 billion in 1,189 deals in Q2. Quarterly venture capital investment increased 30 percent in terms of dollars and 13 percent in the number of deals, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Doing the math, we are about .9% of the national population and got about .2% of the venture capital last quarter, which was a good quarter.  Just a little bit of perspective.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look in on the housing market.

Year-over-year sales of single-family homes — which make up the bulk of the residential real estate market — soared 31.7 percent in Pasco County, 29.5 percent in Pinellas and 27.4 percent in Hillsborough.

Prices in all three counties also rose, though less dramatically, while the median number of days homes sat on the market shrank — evidence that buyers are snapping up realistically priced homes.

“Overall, it’s been a very solid market for pending sales month after month, and June was a strong closing month,” Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker in Tampa, said Wednesday.

But, he added, “it’s still a value-driven market. If you overprice a property, it’s just not going to sell today. Because of the Internet, buyers have a lot more information available to them, and they have a very strong understanding of what the value should be.” 

That is good.  How does it compare to the rest of the state and country?

Nationally, sales of existing (as opposed to newly built) homes rose 3.2 percent in June, with sales now at the highest pace since February 2007. Throughout Florida, year-over-year single-family home sales shot up 19.6 percent, while median prices increased for the 43rd consecutive month.

That is also good.  AS regular readers know, these stats seem to be on a roller coaster.  We hope the upward motion continues.

Surprise, The Rays Have Fans

There was a column in the Times about the existence of Rays fans.

The average attendance at Tropicana Field remains below 15,000, putting the Rays in danger of being Major League Baseball’s lowest-drawing team since the 2006 Marlins.

In many ways, it has become part of the franchise’s identity. The Rays are known for pitching, a shrewd front office and a lack of fans in the seats.

And, yet, there are some other figures that should be included in this never-ending debate. Last week, the folks at Nielsen released TV ratings for all U.S. markets for the first half of the season, and the numbers in Tampa Bay are intriguing.

The Rays may be chasing the Yankees in the American League East, but they have beaten up on sitcoms, cop shows and reality TV.

Rays games are the No. 2-watched programming in Tampa Bay whenever they air in prime time on Sun Sports. Let that sink in. No. 2.

That means, on average, more people are watching Rays games than whatever NBC, ABC or Fox is showing in Tampa Bay. Only CBS affiliate WTSP has higher average prime-time ratings than Sun Sports, and the gap (4.56 to 4.29) is not terribly large.

The Rays are getting a higher percentage of TV viewers than the Yankees or Dodgers do in New York and Los Angeles. They get more total viewers than the White Sox in Chicago or the Braves in Atlanta.

This means the community that is routinely ridiculed nationally for a lack of fan support is actually getting more enviable TV numbers than bigger or more historic markets.

So how is low attendance explained?

Perhaps it’s not an issue of whether Tampa Bay cares about the Rays, but rather a question of whether Tampa Bay can afford the Rays.

When you combine a community on the low end of the household income scale with a sport that typically needs to sell 2 million tickets a year, you have a challenge.

And this is how you end up with a lot of fans watching, but not so many attending.

Perhaps, but that does not explain how the Lightning draw more fans per game in a smaller building (admittedly with fewer games, but also fewer cheap seats).

The fact remains that the location of the Trop is a problem.  It is not central in the metro or to baseball fans.  We are not saying the Rays would sell out every game by moving, but the demographics for the Trop are not good and will only get worse as Hillsborough and Pasco – not to mention all those places east on I-4 – grow while Pinellas does not.  Even if downtown St. Pete gets a large number of residents, the fact remains that the fans are concentrated elsewhere.  Ignoring that obvious point is silly.

Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect

There was an article on the front page of the Tribune this past weekend about the boom times in Pasco County.

What is fueling such growth in the area? Is it the economic recovery in Hillsborough and Tampa, with the urban area spreading north over the county line? Is it affordability as Tampa land prices skyrocket and Pinellas County remains largely built out? Is it the attraction of a roomy new family home with a big yard versus urban living?

“It’s probably a combination of all those things,” said Marvin Rose, longtime Tampa Bay area housing market tracker. But he and other real estate analysts are watching for the south Pasco area to emerge from its reputation as Tampa’s “bedroom community” to become a self-sustaining, jobs-providing, live-work-play center of its own.

Ah, the clichés.  If everywhere is “live-work-play” then it stops being a selling point – or any point.

“I think you’ll find, for example, that on the eastern end of (State Road) 56, there’s an opportunity to live, work and play with (The Shops at Wiregrass’) success,” Eshenbaugh said. “It’s such a great location; there’s so much development around it. It’s a million-square-foot mall — life is perfect. Starbucks has arrived. McDonald’s is there, and now the hospital shows up. A community college campus. You can ride your bike from your apartment or town house, and if Raymond James (a long-planned financial center) goes in there, they have reached nirvana.

Getting McDonalds and Starbucks is certainly front page news in a top 20 metro.  And here is that bike friendly community college campus.  Perfect.

But there is more.

Richard Gehring, Pasco County’s strategic policy administrator, said the county’s southern corridor already has a population of about 125,000 people. In 15 years, that number is expected to be 320,000.

“This is our urban corridor,” he said. And where you have rooftops, retail follows. “There is dirt flying all the way from Little Road to U.S. 301.”

Wesley Chapel and the S.R. 56 interchange has become the economic engine for the county. The new Tampa Premium Outlets is racing toward its opening Oct. 29.

Anyone who has actually driven in Wesley Chapel/SR 54/SR 56 – because walking is completely out of the question, as is biking or taking any form of transit – would have a very hard time understand what definition of “urban” is being used here.  The SR 54 and SR 56 interchanges could not be closer to the very quintessence of suburban (or even exurban) sprawl.  In that area multiple intersections have three left turn lanes in each direction (see here, here  and here – though the last two do not show the present buildout .  Perfect.

(Granted, we will likely go to the outlet mall – though we are not sure how often because the access is destined to be a mess.)

The fact is that Pasco is just doing what everyone else has done (though you think they would have learned from all the mistakes Hillsborough/Tampa – and Pinellas – made, especially down the road in New Tampa), even with mobility fees.  The roads are clogged and poorly laid out.  Transit is nonexistent.  Walking is impossible.  Even the highway system (if you can call it that) is weak.  Pasco could still fix most (not all) of this, but they seem determined to go the other way.

In any event, it is just another example of the small town, “don’t miss the land rush” hype that has been (probably all the way back to the 1920’s or more, but we haven’t checked) and is standard fare in this area.  Maybe one day we will grow out of it.

Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?

Speaking of the river, some Riverwalk art was revealed this week.

Friends of the Riverwalk unveiled designs Friday for three new monuments showcasing important events in Tampa’s history. If enough money can be raised, the monuments will be placed along the Historic Monument Trail on Tampa’s Riverwalk.

They depict events that “altered the course of the city and the county,” Tampa Bay History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell said during a news conference.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn sees the monuments as a way to show everyone Tampa’s history and culture.

“I think it’s one of the most transformative projects we’ve embarked on as a city,” Buckhorn said. “We want this Riverwalk to be a learning experience.”

The monuments will honor Tampa’s cigar industry, the expansion of railroads to Tampa’s port, and the impact of World War II on Tampa’s economy. 

The idea of being educational all seems fine.  The real question is execution.  These are the renderings:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We understand that art is subjective and that renderings do not really tell you what the reality will be and we know that the materials will make a difference.  However, based on these renderings, we are not so fond of these proposals (some are better than others).  Just like with some of the artwork slated for the Perry Harvey Park, they may tell a story that people want to be told, but we are not sure they will really stand the test of time.  The biggest problem in our eyes is that they try to do too much and gets very cluttered.  They do not have to tell the whole story – that is what museums are for, and, conveniently, there is a history museum nearby on the Riverwalk.

And this all raises the question of why the World Trade Center steel was not put in MacDill Park where it would be a learning experience and monument made from the real thing for everyone walking by rather than stuck in the Bayshore median where it is mostly ignored.

Better Elections?

Way back in 2011, we had a piece about open primaries.  Our idea was in no way original – just our opinion.   Open primaries exists in many states.  Nevertheless, this is what we said:

The Florida legislature has wrapped up for this session, which was extremely partisan.  Tampasphere has no party affiliation – it is issue based.  There is no monopoly on good ideas.  The concern is that politics and government – national, state, and local – seems inexorably to become more partisan and less effective every year.

One reason for this, we believe, is the closed primary system, which leads to a tendency to have “the base” – the most partisan voters – pick candidates.  It is well-known that many candidates play to “the base” in primaries and then try to move to the center for the general election.  To us, this seems like a recipe for les [sic] effective government – as elected officials always have to worry about “the base” rather than the entire population they represent.

Though imperfect, open primaries would force candidates to speak to the entire electorate from the beginning.  Obviously, there is a risk of voters trying to sabotage the other party by picking the most extreme candidate in the other party.  Frankly, that does not seem to be that big a risk – there are not too many examples (though this was really odd.)  The present system already has a tendency to pick very partisan candidates. (The Economist had an interesting discussion of California.).  It seems more logical that open primaries would generally represent to will of the electorate better.  Just a thought – we are open to other suggestions.

This week, the Times had an article on (thankfully) a move to get open primaries in Florida.

Armed with data that shows that the fastest growing segment of Florida’s electorate is choosing no party affiliation, a bipartisan group of activists is pushing for a constitutional amendment to open Florida’s closed primary system to all voters.

The All Voters Vote amendment will be delivered today to the Florida Division of Elections with the hope of getting enough signatures to place it on the 2016 ballot.

Miami lawyer Gene Stearns, who is leading the effort, said the goal is to encourage elected officials to listen to a broader swath of voters by giving voice to the growing number of Floridians who are written out of the state’s primary election system because they choose not to register with any political party.

“The two parties are becoming increasingly extreme and increasingly shrill because the people who control the outcomes dictate what you have to do to be nominated to a particular party,” said Stearns, who served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Dick Pettigrew and campaign manager to former Gov. Reubin Askew, both Democrats.

“The result of this is more and more people are becoming unwilling to identify with either of them. The consequence of their collective decision is making politics worse and governments more damaged than they have already become.”

Under current law, only when a candidate has no opposition from outside their party can all voters cast a vote in that race in the primary.

The proposed amendment, if passed, would allow all registered voters to vote in primaries for congressional and state partisan offices regardless of the party affiliation of the voters or candidates.

The candidate who receives the most votes and the runner-up would advance to the general election. In state elections, the candidate who gets more than 50 percent of votes in the primary wins the election.

You can read the whole article here.   We still think it is a good idea.

List of the Week

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