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Roundup 9-4-2015

September 4, 2015

Contents

Transportation – Staying Still

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be II

HART/PSTA – Something

Economic Development – Trade Missions

USF – More Money

What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

List of the Week I

List of the Week II

__________________________

Transportation – Staying Still

There was a column in the Times regarding the latest traffic congestion ratings.

Traffic congestion in the Tampa Bay area cost commuters who travel at peak hours an average of $907 in lost time and wasted gas in 2014, roughly in line with the cost and stress of commuting in Tampa Bay in the past several years. That amounts to 41 hours stuck in traffic while burning 18 gallons of gas for an auto driver and more for those driving trucks.

So say the findings of the 2015 “Urban Mobility Scorecard” — the annual analysis of traffic congestion in America conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The local findings indicate Tampa Bay commuters are only holding their own, neither gaining nor losing much time or money in the still stressful exercise of traveling to and from work at peak hours.

It could be worse. A lot worse. Commuters in the Washington, D.C., area, suffered more than those in any other metro area with more than twice the congestion costs — $1,834 — of time and money that Tampa Bay drivers endured. Within Florida, Tampa Bay’s congestion costs ranked third, less than larger Miami and tourist-choked Orlando, but more than Jacksonville.

It could be worse (and it probably will be unless real changes are made), though it could (and should) also be better.

The scorecard results come at a time when Tampa Bay is still struggling to figure out a way to improve commuting options that are both more efficient and considered affordable by voters. Two major efforts to seek public funding for mass transit upgrades that include limited light rail, improved bus service and road improvements have failed in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Now Hillsborough is rethinking a second try at a mass transit deal that would involve less tax money.

In other words, it is the result of choices.  Not only in transportation directly, but also in planning, or lack thereof.

But other efforts are also afoot to influence commuting congestion. Last month, the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved a $3 billion plan to add express toll lanes to I-275 and I-4 and rebuild the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge. Construction on the new span of the bridge, about a five-year project, would probably start in 2020.

State transportation officials insist the only way to keep Tampa Bay commuters moving involves a combination of better mass transit, more roads and smarter traffic management in the form of tolls priced to encourage more drivers to avoid major roads at peak hours.

Setting aside the lack of real mass transit in the plans (aside from vague express bus plans that the state is not providing), you have the choice between driving, and all the cost that entails, or driving with even more costs.  Or you could just not leave your house.  That clearly is the planned way to relieve the roads, especially when you consider that the express lanes are expressly designed to have a limited capacity.

“Businesses can give their employees more flexibility in where, when and how they work, individual workers can adjust their commuting patterns, and we can have better thinking when it comes to long-term land use planning,” scorecard co-author Tim Lomax said. “This problem calls for a classic ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach.”

Right. Planning and how we build is part of it.  (And how will having everything road-centric help with planning?) So is providing alternatives to driving, which is not really in the FDOT plan and is only mildly in the Go Hillsborough proposal (yes, there is a vague rail component to go with some more buses, but buses are in traffic and right now the rail component is, as we said, vague – and limited).  The only alternative to congestion cannot be giving a few people who can pay extra a fast lane and leaving the rest to be stuck in traffic or just staying home. (Not to mention forcing people to pay the cost of having a car or two or three depending on the family.  Not much of a choice.)  There needs to be more. (And, no, we are not blaming FDOT for all our mess.  The main problem is local.)

The message for Tampa Bay? The metropolitan area’s population will keep growing. Do not be discouraged by recent setbacks in mass transit campaigns. Keep pushing for a broad set of transportation improvements.

Indeed, as long as they are designed to form a coordinated system with a number of alternatives.

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be

Despite some changes to the Altis Grand Central Project that added some (not much) retail, there is still opposition to it.

The owners of Oxford Exchange are launching an online movement to stop a South Florida developer from building an apartment-and-retail complex across Grand Central Avenue from their building.

Oxford Exchange — a rehabilitated historic building that houses a restaurant, boutique, book store and coworking space — on Thursday announced the launch of Tampa Deserves Better, a website and social media campaign protesting Altman Development Corp.’s plans.

Blake Casper, who owns Oxford Exchange with his sister Allison Adams, publicly opposed the development in July, telling the Tampa Bay Business Journal that the plans would quash the potential of Grand Central to become a walkable shopping district.

That is a good website name. (You can go to the website here)  In any event, what is their concern?

“While they have added a token 5,000 square feet of retail, the project’s overwhelming use will be apartments anchored around a parking garage. This is the most telling aspect of the project: a massive garage,” Casper wrote on the Oxford Exchange blog, West and Grand, Thursday.

Kind of hard to argue with that (in fact, we have already said basically the same thing, not to mention that the design makes it obvious).

“Token retail spaces do not make a project mixed use, and they do not survive when the rest of the project is oriented towards driving,” Casper wrote. “A better design would be in keeping with the current zoning. A better design would be truly street facing and not car-centric. Great pedestrian-oriented streetscapes are what great cities are building. Just look at what is happening in downtown St. Petersburg — streets that are alive with people and activity.”

And that is true as well.  What did the developer have to say?

We respect Mr. Casper’s thoughts and opinions, but do not believe they represent the point of view of the majority of those who have an interest in the area nor those with urban planning expertise.

We have an interest in the area, so this is what we think. We have no problem with apartments but would like more lively street interaction and a less dominant parking garage. We think most people who think about it would be good with that.

As for urban planning expertise – people live in cities and know what they like in their lives.  That is their expertise.  (And we won’t even get into the fact that Tampa’s expert planning is hardly a shining beacon or the fact that elected officials have almost uniformly ignored what little there is and settled for even less.)

Casper says his main qualm isn’t with residential development, but that Altman’s proposal is an almost entirely residential development with only “token” retail space. He wants “more retail, more restaurants, more activity.”

“Those are the things that it’s commercially zoned for, so that is what would add to what we already have started,” he said. “We’re just asking the city to uphold the current zoning.”

The Tampa Deserves Better campaign, Casper said, is about fostering a conversation within the city about what kinds of development it wants to see.

“We need to think, as a city, about how things are getting built so we do create a city where as [Buckhorn] talks about, we attract and really drive talent,” Casper said, “If Altman’s project gets built the way it’s proposed, it’s just a huge mess, and we can do better than this.

“We can do better than this project, and that’s something I feel passionate about.”

In other words, actual mixed use. And we are all for that as well.

The fact is that we do deserve better.  (And, frankly, fixing this project’s design would just not be that hard.)  We deserve a government that does not settle.  We deserve better planning and better development – and better transportation. We are all for people getting into the conversation – that is a major reason this blog was started.  And we are for an honest conversation devoid of silly hype.  Hype does not create quality.

The one thing we will say, though, is that the conversation needs to be about the whole city, not just about Grand Central or downtown.  The entire city can do (and should already be doing) better.

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be II

Speaking of that neighborhood, the City’s Development Review Committee came out with its initial review of the Related project for the Tribune site. See “Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – More on the Tribune Site”   (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting the information.)  Here are some of the more relevant findings:

-The Comprehensive Plan encourages developments within Mixed Use Corridors to actively engage and to be oriented toward adjacent public rightsof-way. It is unclear where the main pedestrian entrance will be located. Planning Commission staff would recommend that the pedestrian oriented lobby feature be clearly identified on any future submitted site plan. (Policies
16.1.2, 16.1.5, 16.1.9, 18.2.1, 18.3.6, 18.6.10)

-The Comprehensive Plan encourages that parking structures be designed to resemble adjacent buildings, especially at ground level. The provided elevation for the parking structure seems to not resemble the attached structure. Planning Commission staff would encourage a redesign of the parking structure so the
project can provide consistency with the stated policy. (Policies 18.7.1, 18.7.3)

-Public open space is encouraged along the water’s edge. Planning Commission staff would encourage the applicant to provide for and clearly delineate public access on the site plan. (Policies 20.5.1, 32.3.6, 38.16.3)

Pretty much. As we have noted, this project’s major feature on the street is the parking garage.  There is little to no design for pedestrians.  Moreover, the riverfront appears to be used as private land, which is really not good.  Frankly, while it will put people in the area, as designed, it will not enhance the neighborhood at all.  And remember with all the projects, they will likely be with us for decades.  Is that what we really want?

Just like with the Altis Grand Central project, this project can be much better (without that much tweaking), and Tampa deserves better. (We are not going to go on about height because we doubt Related will do that). Hopefully, it will get fixed.

HART/PSTA – Something

Per a Times article, it seems that failure breeds new attitudes.

The bay area’s leading transit agencies are taking a second swing at scoring state dollars to help fund a regional bus ticket system — and they hope teaming up will bolster their chances.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority held a joint meeting Monday to discuss their funding priorities for the 2016 legislative session. Both agencies agreed they needed to present a united front and make the regional fare box their top priority if they hope to win over state lawmakers.

The Regional Revenue Collection and Interjurisdictional Mobility Project — known more simply as a regional fare box system and smart card system — would provide a uniform bus payment system for Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Citrus and Hernando counties.

Smart cards would streamline the ticket process, speed up boarding time and cut back on time spent counting coins and bills coming out of the bus fare boxes. Riders could buy a card in one county and use it to catch a bus in any of the other six counties.

Well, that is good because:

The renewed interest in a unified front comes two years after the HART board balked at a mandate from the Florida Legislature to study consolidating the two agencies to save money. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsored the original legislation that brought HART and PSTA together to discuss the idea.

But after Hillsborough rebelled, both groups instead advocated for increased partnerships, instead of an official merger.

“It didn’t work when you tried to force it,” said PSTA Commissioner Janet Long, who sits on the Pinellas County Commission. “But I think this is a wonderful way to show by example that we can do it voluntarily and make it even more powerful.”

Actually, it was not forced, except to the extent the HART board did not want to do it.  But, of course, the HART board is not the County as a whole.  In any event, maybe their failure to get what they wanted from the legislature standing alone (and the realization that, in the bigger scheme of things, the HART board is not particularly powerful) has caused a partial rethink, which would be good.  This is a region after all – especially in transportation. (It’s just that government does not seem to act that way.)

There was one more thing in the article that deserves note.

HART’s willingness to work with the rideshare companies is unusual in Hillsborough, where the county’s Public Transportation Commission has long been at odds with Uber and Lyft. The Hillsborough PTC has tried repeatedly — and without success — to stop the companies from operating in the county.

In fact, HART’s willingness to deal with ridesharing is not unusual.  Ridesharing is popular in Hillsborough.  It is the PTC’s animosity to ridesharing that is unusual.

Economic Development – Trade Missions

The Mayor of Tampa is leading another trade mission.

As evidenced by the green pants he dons on St. Patrick’s Day, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is mighty proud of his Irish roots.

So no surprise Buckhorn is heading a Tampa trade mission to Ireland’s capital city. 

Small country, but that is fine.  We are for trade missions generally.  What are they going to do?

He will join leaders of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a handful of local company executives including Chuck Sykes heading to Dublin to get tips on how the western European country has successfully promoted startup businesses and attracted tech firms.

Hopefully, that is not the main point of the trip because we could have answered that without a mission.

A major draw for US firms is Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax rate and numerous controversial tax breaks. The government has promised to phase out the latter.

The corporate tax rate, which remains a sacrosanct part of Irish industrial policy, has been so successful in wooing US investment that the country’s neighbours across the border want it too. The Northern Ireland assembly passed legislation this week allowing for corporation tax powers to be devolved, with politicians at Stormont aiming for a similar rate.

See also here.  Unless Tampa can change the federal corporate tax rate, that is not really helpful.  In any event, we hope the mission has success in building trade.

In other trade mission news,

Two weeks after a U.S. Embassy opened in Havana, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spent last weekend there meeting with a host of government officials, including a leader from the agency that will decide where to put the first Cuban Consulate in the U.S. since relations between the Cold War enemies were severed in 1961.

He is Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the two met for about 90 minutes.

Kriseman would not comment on the trip until a news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. today at St. Petersburg City Hall.

But David Straz Jr., part of the mayor’s delegation, told The Tampa Tribune on Monday he considers the trip to be an “absolute success,” noting specifically the discussion with Machin — one of the Cuban leaders who took part in the secret negotiations with the U.S. that led to the December announcement about normalizing relations.

“Cuba could have had a lower level person do the talking,” said Straz, a Tampa philanthropist and namesake of the downtown performing arts center. “They sent a top guy because they thought a lot of Mayor Kriseman’s trip.”

As noted by a Tampa City Councilwoman,

Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne Capin applauded Kriseman’s initiative but expressed concern it could cost her city the Cuban Consulate. “Tampa has a welcome mat out but St. Pete’s mayor brought the welcome mat to Cuba,” said Capin, who has been at the forefront of Tampa’s efforts to land the consulate.

She contrasted Kriseman’s approach to a refusal to travel to Cuba by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, saying this could make St. Petersburg the better choice for a consulate because it “doesn’t have the same issues as Tampa” — a population opposed to normalization of relations.

“They are wrong. It is not a population but only a few people,” Capin said. “Unfortunately, one of those people is our mayor and that speaks loudly. Unfortunately, he is not in line with the president and the majority of Tampa.”

As we said before, at least St. Pete is close by.  On the other hand, Tampa is really where a consulate belongs.  In any event, maybe the effort can foster some regionalism.

USF – More Money

USF College of Business got another shot in the arm in the form of a big donation last week.

The University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business got a $10.9 million shot in the arm that will put the names of Barry and Dana Collier atop the college’s student success program.

The newly renamed Collier Student Success Center, dean Moez Limayem hopes, will bring the business school closer to its goal of 100 percent employment or continuing education for students after graduation.

“That’s a lofty goal,” Barron “Barry” Collier III said. “It piqued our interest.”

The center teaches students out-of-the-classroom skills — dining etiquette, how to write a resume, even how to chat in an elevator.

A thank you to the donors and well done to USF.  The College of Business is truly on a roll.

What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags

There was a really interesting TED talk about city flags.  The flag of a city seems like a completely frivolous thing, and in a way it is.  On the other hand, it can be a strong symbol of the city and a sign of how you present yourself to others.  The talk is not long, it is entertaining, and you can watch it here.  One thing you will hear are five rules for a city flag:

  1. keep it simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
  2. use meaningful symbolism
  3. use two to three basic colors
  4. no lettering or seals.Never use writing of any kind.
  5. be distinctive

So here is the flag of Tampa:

 

From Wikipedia – click on picture for article

And here is the flag of St. Pete:

From Wikipedia – click on picture for article

Neither follows the rules.  First, St. Pete.  We get the color – sun, land, and water.  We get the Pelican.  But we do not get the appeal of putting them together like that.

On to Tampa:  We get the colors – trying to represent America, and our Italian, Cuban, and Spanish immigrants (Isn’t that forgetting at least one major population group?  Maybe, because it was apparently adopted in 1930, though rarely used while we have been around.).  We get the seal.  We get the subtle T and H (Tampa and Hillsborough) that no one will see unless told.  We are not quite sure why there is a stealth bomber silhouette or what all those stars are for (and why one of them is a different size than all the others).  We also don’t get why the shape is a vague imitation of Ohio’s flag, but we can ignore that.  And when you put them together, it is just . . . well, not much.

The real problem with the flag is it tries too hard to say too much.  A flag does not need to have a statement by every group to be all-inclusive (and, as noted, Tampa’s isn’t all inclusive anyway.  Sometimes by doing to much, you emphasize who you exclude). The best flags are a symbol that people can unify (as the TED discusses with Chicago’s flag or the Washington, DC flag). They are easy to understand and clear.

One the other hand, Tampa’s flag is indicative of the area as a whole in the sense that 1) despite being all put under one umbrella, there is still too much disunity and muddle – especially politically – and 2) the planning, design, and presentation are not very strong.  We would like to have a better flag, but maybe the present flag is a better representation of who we still are.  Hopefully, they both will change for the better.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

SunRail’s expansion is a step closer.

Congress on Friday received the full funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration that will move forward completion of SunRail Phase 2 South.

By law, Congress now has 30 days to review the agreement, paving the way for a ratified document between the U.S. Department of Transportation and local partners by the end of September. The FTA said it will provide up to $93 million for SunRail Phase 2 South.

The $189.6 million south extension, which will run from the Sand Lake Road station to the Poinciana Boulevard station, will add 17 miles of commuter rail service to the currently operating 32 miles.

And note that Orlando’s effort is bi-partisan and multi county. While we are talking, others are building, or coming closer to building.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week goes to attracting Millennials.  It is a list of the cost of living of single person in 24 US cities  based on the Economic Policy Institutes cost of living calculator. You can read the methodology here.  Because it was presented as a graphic, here it is:

From Yahoo! Finance – click on chart for article

Given all the talk about affordability, Tampa’s cost of living is actually a bit higher than we thought it would be.  Especially notable is that most Texas cities have a lower cost of living.  Moreover, many of the usual suspects are pretty close, and some that are a bit more expensive, like Denver, also have higher incomes.  Clearly, we cannot just rely on being a cheap place to live to attract talent.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is also about cost of living.  It is Mercer’s 2015 City rankings for Cost of Living.   It compares the cost of living for expatriates. We are not going to actually provide the list.  You can see it here.

Obviously, dealing with expats, it has all the “international” cities like NYC, London, Paris, etc.  It also has some other cities, including Winston-Salem, Portland (OR), Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Morristown (NJ), Dallas, Boston, Miami, LA, San Francisco, and Honolulu.  It does not include Tampa (nor does it have Charlotte or Austin).  We do not expect that we would have the same number of expats as Miami or Boston or LA.  However, we think we should compare to Pittsburgh, St. Louis or Cleveland (not to mention Winston-Salem.  Really, Winston-Salem?). Just one indication on where we are in our question to raise our international profile.

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