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Roundup 9-18-2015

September 18, 2015

Contents

Transportation – Check Yourself, Love Yourself, Hurry and Wait

— Go Hillsborough

— The Commissioners Support the Commissioners

— And One More Thing

Downtown/Hyde Park/ West Side – The Altis Grand and Settling

Downtown – Grant Block Moves Forward

USF – Med School Moves Forward

West Tampa/Built Environment – On Transformations

Economy – Housing Market

Economic Development – Start-Ups

Rocky Point – It Deserves Better, Too

TIA – When You Stop Going Along to Get Along

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Can a Billion Buy These Days

— Desert Rail

— Google Town

List of the Week I

List of the Week II

_____________________________________________________

Transportation – Check Yourself, Love Yourself, Hurry and Wait

This week, the head of the EDC spoke about issues that get in the way of getting an HQ.

But on Wednesday, Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hills­borough Economic Development Corp., also bluntly described what’s holding the region back as it seeks to lure a major corporate headquarters that would transform the area.

In a presentation to Hillsborough County commissioners about corporate recruitment efforts, Homans said he hears three concerns from CEOs about the Tampa market.

The first should come as no surprise: transportation. It’s an issue the county has wrestled with for years and is hoping to address with the Go Hillsborough transit initiative.

But the other two roadblocks are discussed less publicly. One is a lack of “Class A” office space, meaning at least 100,000 square feet with the modern amenities a Fortune 500 company would expect in a new headquarters.

* * *

The third concern that CEOs have of Tampa is fear of being, as Homans put it, “too much of a pioneer.” There’s trepidation in being the new kid on the block — or the only kid.

The last two issues first.  Building an office building is not that hard, and, as the article points out, the Lightning owner would love to do it.  As for being the first to move, someone has to be first.  There is nothing you can do about that.

Which leaves us with the ever-present issue of transportation.  Our transportation problem is the result of bad planning, poor decisions, lack of political will, and lack of vision.  Now, we have the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process that is supposed to address all that. Whether it will or not, no one knows.  So far, based mostly on a lack of will and uniformity of vision and purpose among the elected officials, it is doubtful that if will solve our problem.  But all that can change as long as there is a proper focus.

— Go Hillsborough

This week, that focus, which was never really sharp, got a little blurrier.

Fearing that complaints of political cronyism would derail a years-long transportation initiative, Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to re-examine their $1.3 million contract with an engineering firm they hired.

The action came a day after WTSP-TV aired a report linking Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham with the decision to hire engineers Parsons Brinckerhoff to lead the county’s Go Hillsborough public outreach effort.

The WTSP-TV report, using text messages gathered through public records requests, showed Leytham advising County Administrator Mike Merrill against hiring certain firms that might compete for the work Parsons Brinckerhoff is now doing. Parsons Brinckerhoff was not mentioned in the texts.

* * *

Though never mentioning Leytham, the county commission Wednesday unanimously supported Commissioner Kevin Beckner’s motion to audit the process that led to the selection of Parsons Brinckerhoff. Beckner said accusations made in the television investigation and by tea party-affiliated groups have “put a cloud over the Go Hillsborough effort.”

Beckner said a similar cloud helped sink the Greenlight Pinellas transportation initiative, which asked voters to support a penny per dollar sales tax increase for transportation projects. The ballot initiative was overwhelmingly defeated in November.

Hillsborough County leaders have alternated between favoring a half-cent or full cent sales tax increase to build and repair roads, bridges and trails, and to expand mass transit options. Whichever option the commission chooses, it will likely go before voters in the November 2016 election.

“It has become apparent that with the Go Hillsborough initiative, much like Greenlight Pinellas, the campaign war has already begun,” Beckner said. “I think it’s really important that as soon as possible we address this issue and restore the trust and confidence our community expects of us.”

(You can read the above-referenced rather extensive WTSP report that also touches on a lot of local governance issues here and come to your own conclusions.)  Setting aside that we are not sure there ever was real confidence in the process, especially as it seems to constantly get drawn out, vaguer, more confused, and apparently lacks the confidence of a number of decision makers, that is fine.  We are not sure that having the County audit itself – rather than someone independent – is even worth the effort.

However, a lot of that does not have to do directly with transportation.  As far as transportation goes, the process has been an expensive mess for a while now.  But then, a lot of what the County does is an expensive mess.  There is still time to produce something coordinated, comprehensive, and useful.  Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, at the City Council,

Tampa City Council, at the urging of council member Lisa Montelione, is exploring backing out of a contract with engineering consulting company Parsons Brinckerhoff for work the company was going to do in support of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan project.

* * *

“I’m not sure why we need to spend $74,000 to find out what we need. We already know what we need,” said Montelione during Thursday’s meeting.

Indeed, it’s just a question of having the will to do it.

— The Commissioners Support the Commissioners

In another example of silliness at the County, we give you, as usual, the PTC:

Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously to support state legislation that would allow ride-share companies to operate legally but with regulations the companies have so far rejected.

The legislation was drawn up by Commissioner Victor Crist, who also is chair of the county’s Public Transportation Commission. The bill will be sponsored by state Rep. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican.

The commission’s action came two days after state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed several bills regarding ride-share companies Uber and Lyft. One of the bills would abolish the PTC, an agency created by the state Legislature. No other county has a similar agency.

Given that the PTC Board features three out of seven County Commissioners, it is not surprising that the Commission basically supports itself.  That does not make the PTC’s activity make any more sense nor justify its existence.  In fact, once again, it provides more reason why it is redundant and should be abolished.

— And One More Thing

Finally, as part of the Go Hillsborough thoughts – they are not really a proposal – is the idea that Hillsborough County would move to mobility fees, an idea of which the County has been aware but done nothing for years.  We and others have said that if the Commission is really serious about the Go Hillsborough process they should just go to mobility fees regardless of the referendum.  This week:

The fees that builders pay to fund road construction in Sarasota County will increase for many new developments and expand in scope to help finance sidewalks, bike lanes and other transportation infrastructure, but growth control advocates argued Tuesday that the revenues will still be inadequate to keep up with needed improvements.

County commissioners voted unanimously to replace the road impact fee system with a new “mobility fee,” touting the move as an effort to limit urban sprawl and boost transportation options. As part of that vote they also rolled back a portion of the fee cuts made to help encourage development during the Great Recession.

* * *

Development in urban areas, and projects that help reduce the need for car trips by incorporating both residential and commercial uses, would receive a discount. That could help reduce sprawl, said Commissioner Charles Hines.

“The carrot that we have in this plan is something we didn’t have before,” Hines said, adding that the flexible nature of the mobility fee could help reduce congestion in urban areas by enhancing other transportation options when roads can’t be improved.

Pasco already has them (though you wouldn’t notice).  Now Sarasota has them.  Hillsborough really needs to show some real urgency.

Downtown/Hyde Park/ West Side – The Altis Grand and Settling

As most of you probably know, there was a long, contentious hearing about the Altis Grand Central project near the Oxford Exchange.  The project had been through a number of tweaks, but the owners of the Oxford Exchange, and, it turns out, a number of other neighbors, opposed the project.  In the event, the City Council rejected the zoning change.

After a marathon — and contentious — six-hour hearing that lasted until midnight Friday, City Council voted 5-1 to deny the zoning change needed to build Altis Grand Central, a large mixed-use development project set to rise across from the Oxford Exchange.

So what did the City Council say was the reason for denying the rezoning?

“I think the issue has to do with the context of the neighborhood,” said council member Harry Cohen.

And

Suarez made the motion to deny the rezoning request, saying the developer didn’t show that protecting the trees would deny it a reasonable use of the property. Montelione offered additional reasons it was incompatible. The vote was 5-1, with Miranda casting the only no vote. Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent at the vote.

The developer responded:

But representatives of Altman Development indicated Friday they are not ready to give up trying to build the complex of two apartment buildings and 5,000 square feet of storefront commercial and retail space in the block bordered by Grand Central, Cedar and Magnolia avenues, and Cleveland Street.

“We are seriously considering our all of our options,” said Beth Leytham, a consultant representing Altman Development. “We clearly demonstrated we met or exceeded the requirements of code. Unfortunately, several questionable issues occurred before and during the public hearing that we must consider and review more carefully.”

Among the issues that may surface if the company files a legal challenge is whether the city followed Florida laws that govern land-use hearings.

Ok.

We could get into a lot of detail on this issue, but we have already said what we think: the project is poorly designed, with not enough street retail and the far too prominent garage.  We are not opposed to residential on the block.  We understand the parking needs.  We just think it can be done better, even saving some of the trees and historical structures that mysteriously stopped being historical during this process. (In fact, URBN Tampa Bay has some ideas of a better plan here)  Frankly, we have no problem with something bigger being built on the lot as long as it pays attention to design and has proper street interaction.

But none of that is the bigger issue.  Anyone who watched or attending the hearing heard over and over that this project complied with planning and code because on lots nearby the City had already approved midrise office buildings and parking garages.  This project, it was said, was in line with the size, scale, and character of what the City had already approved and, therefore, should be approved.  Because of that, to say they did not want this project as designed, the City Council had to come up with other reasons, like trees, structures or “character of the neighborhood” (we won’t get into the generic Dunkin Donuts being built a few blocks away on Kennedy.)   All those reasons will limit what can be built on this lot and how.

We have complained about the City settling many times.  Some readers have contacted us in response saying that sometimes it is ok to settle.  Yes, on very rare occasions it is ok to settle if there is a very good reason.  But the reality is that every time the City settles, you not only get a bad project, but you set a precedent that compels more settling and more bad governance/planning/etc.  This neighborhood is no exception.  If you do not get a quality project on this lot, to some degree you can blame the persistent settling that lowers standards and compels the acceptance of lower quality.  Settling is not a one-time event.  It has lasting effects.  And they all arise from a combination of a bad code and pad precedents based on settling and a lack of political will at all levels.

We hope the developer fixes what we do not like (obviously) and builds a really nice project on this lot.  We are all for that.  We also hope that people realize that what they do now will linger, not just in the one project, but in all manners of surrounding projects. By settling and lowering expectations, we lower the quality of our city.  It is fine to have this one event, but this story is not over.  And things like this will keep happening.

Now, fix the code and stop settling.  Tampa really does deserve better – and not just here.

Downtown – Grant Block Moves Forward

It seems that the Grant Block apartment building is getting closer to getting built.

An Atlanta developer is moving forward with plans for a 23-story apartment tower on downtown Tampa’s Grant block.

Carter closed on the three parcels at 910, 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. on Sept. 9, paying $6.4 million for the one-acre site, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Friday.

* * *

Carter is working through environmental issues on the site, McNally said. It will then seek demolition permits for the strip of abandoned storefronts on the property, and McNally anticipates vertical construction beginning by the end of the year.

The first residents will be able to move in 2017.

While we are not huge fans of this design – it could easily have been made much better – but it will be good to have construction in the heart of downtown on something other than a midrise, stick construction building and it will be good to have more residents.  Hopefully, if the streetcar extension goes up Florida, the City will not rue not trying to get a better, more lively design rather than settling for a dead streetscape.

USF – Med School Moves Forward

There was news that the Med School relocation process is moving forward.

USF is getting in on the development action set to begin in downtown Tampa. On Friday, the Board of Governors (BOG) approved the plan to move the Morsani College of Medicine downtown.

* * *

This effort has been a long time coming. The push to get the relocation effort approved and started began as far back as October of 2014, when a USF Board of Trustee’s (BOT) work group gave a unanimous yes for the project to move forward. In December of 2014, the full USF BOT voted unanimously in favor of the new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute, and in February of 2015, the BOG approved USF’s request for the project.  

Setting aside that less than a year to decide move the med school is not a long time (though maybe the “pre-planning” took a while), so be it.  When will the new school open?

With new BOG approval, USF expects to open the new facility in August 2019.

In other words, unless something odd happens, those who applied to the USF med school this year will not be in med school when the downtown campus opens, which kind of proves our point when we said that the improvement of candidates for the med school this year has little to nothing to do with the med school move. (See “USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype” )  Regardless of the overblown rhetoric and misleading hype, if it is going to happen, we hope it is very successful and does not hurt the main campus. And USF should be proud that it is drawing better applicants.

West Tampa/Built Environment – On Transformations

This week the Mayor suggested that some of the BP oil spill money should be used to redo Riverfront Park.  While some of the proposed changes are good, we are not supportive of flattening the whole park.  Though leave the big mound – and note that once again the Times used this picture of the main mound for an article, this time on the budget.

From the Times – click on picture for the article

Why? Because they are unusual, have merit – at least in creating a vertical element – and people like them.

Setting that aside, what is the reasoning for using that money?

This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at least some of the BP money should go toward a planned makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

“That project is transformative enough that it warrants a significant chunk of that money,” Buckhorn said. The revamped park would be an anchor for redevelopment in West Tampa, he said.

While fixing the park would be nice (if it were really to be fixed and made truly unique in the area), is that really the most transformative thing for the neighborhood?  We suggest there is something that would be much more transformative – changing the code.  For instance, per URBN Tampa Bay:

On Thursday, October 8th at 6pm, the project currently known as 707 Rome is scheduled to have its rezoning hearing in front of the Tampa City Council. The project is a 4 story, 86 unit apartment building at the address it’s named after.

The primary issue we have with the project is its total lack of any mixed use, be it retail, office or otherwise, in spite of various plans calling for it at this location. Moreover, the site is at a prominent corner within the neighborhood, and offers zero street interaction. (NE corner of N Rome and Cass). Currently as pictured above, the entire ground floor is parking with three floors of units on top.

This is just another example of not creating an urban corridor where one should exist.  It is obvious that Rome (and Cass) should be a walkable, mixed use, urban street with commercial. (Even the InVision planning makes reference to commercial on Rome and Cass. )  Yet, here we have another project that completely ignores that.  In fact, as far as we can tell, there is only one proposal for Rome that has any retail. (Not to mention Cass)  Having a nice park is good.  Having proper development that really creates an urban neighborhood would be even better.

If the City wants to spend money fixing up the park, fine. But fix the code to actually fix the neighborhood.  And do not settle.  Even north of Kennedy deserves better.

Economy – Housing Market

Going back to the theme of improving but not as much as other areas, we look at the housing market:

The Tampa Bay area posted the highest foreclosure rate among the nation’s 20 largest metro areas in August, although local foreclosure activity continues to decline.

According to RealtyTrac, one in every 527 bay area homes was in some stage of foreclosure — more than twice the national average. However, that was down 23 percent from a year earlier, the third-biggest decrease of any major metro area.

While yes, the market is getting better and prices are going up, the fact that we can have the third largest decrease in foreclosures and still have the worst rate shows how badly our previous economic model worked and how far we have to work to really catch up.  It is better, but it is not nearly good enough.  And it is an interesting comparison to other areas.

Economic Development – Start-Ups

There was a column in the Times about the start-up scene in the Tampa Bay area.  Actually, to be more exact, it was about the resources for start-ups in the area.  The first thing one notices reading the column is that those resources are fragmented.  However, at least there is a recognition that maybe they should cooperate a little better.

On Friday, a regional group known as the Entrepreneurial Pow Wow met at the Poynter Institute. The downtown St. Petersburg journalism school (and owner of the Tampa Bay Times) has set aside portions of its building to house the Innovation Lab, where startups can lease space. The Pow Wow gathers key bay area people who are affiliated with incubators, university programs, business support groups and other startup interests to discuss ways to boost the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the top of Friday’s agenda: the unveiling of a website that aims to offer a visual map of (hopefully) all the major startup assets — from incubators and accelerators to co-working space, university-college entrepreneurship programs and more — that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.

You would think that after all these years, such an online resource would already exist. Nope. There are resource lists and sites that explain portions of the area’s resources. But this one, says Danielle Weitlauf, a veteran incubator manager and now a startup consultant, aims to be comprehensive and constantly updated.

That’s the dream, at least. Others helping to drive this online site — it will be called mystartuptampabay.com — include Monica Stynchula and James Slusser, both of the startup Reunion Care, and Bevan Gray-Rogel, founder of Encore Tampa Bay.

The idea for the online visual map goes to Stuart Rogel, former Tampa Bay Partnership CEO and now a consultant helping startups. He noticed Seattle had a version of a map indicating startup assets, which inspired the Tampa Bay project.

Attending the Pow Wow was Randy Berridge, longtime president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the influential coalition of Central Florida economic development groups and major area universities. He volunteered on the spot his group’s resources to help support Tampa Bay’s startup map, which he characterized as a strong step forward among Florida metro areas.

And all that is good, though, as noted:

Will it work? The website will only be as useful and timely as the information it receives about area startup resources.

Still, kudos to somebody finally taking the initiative to try to get such a fundamental website up and running. It has been a sorely lacking resource for new and serial entrepreneurs, investors and anyone — like me — who blinked and missed the latest leaps forward by our startup community.

It is a step forward, and we are all for the website.  It is a good idea.  Whether it is a leap will be decided by this:

This is an important step in this area’s startup evolution. One of the great prizes sought by Tampa Bay is to see one of its own startups break out and become a substantial business. That business can provide bay area jobs but also serve as an icon beyond this metro area to entrepreneurs and investors that says Tampa Bay’s startup community is building a track record of success.

Right.  Except for that misses one unstated – but very major – point. Not only do we need startups to become substantial businesses.  We need them to stay and grow here.  This area has had businesses start here and grow.  However, too often they either move or sell themselves to companies from other areas.  One of the big problems is lack of money.  Of course, money will come with success, but that is a chicken and egg problem.

So, we are moving forward, and it appears to be more regional.  All of which is good.  How fast and whether we are keeping pace with other areas is still an open question.  We look forward to the day we write about actual companies that are successful and growing rather than the process of running incubators.

Rocky Point – It Deserves Better, Too

This week there was more news on a project proposed for Rocky Point.

An Orlando developer is moving forward with plans to knock down the Chart House Restaurant and build apartments in its place.

ZOM USA has filed plans with the city to rezone the Chart House site for multifamily development. Its project would include 272 apartments (166 one-bedroom units; 80 two-bedroom units; and 26 three-bedroom units), 372 parking spaces and 33 marina boat slips.

That is all theoretically fine, provided the development is good.  Rocky Point has long been a lost opportunity.  It could have been turned into a real live, work, play (stay) area. (Yes, there are ways to deal with the Causeway.)  It has hotels, offices, restaurants, apartments.  All of it.  But it is a mess.

So what will this project be like?

From public records – click on picture for bigger version

That will not do anything to make Rocky Point nicer.  Yes, this fits with what Rocky Point is now, but Rocky Point could have been a cool, mixed use neighborhood.  However, after all the settling, it is just a car-focused blob.

TIA – When You Stop Going Along to Get Along

In the run-up to the start of Lufthansa service, there was a nice column in the Tribune regarding the airport, incentives, and the airport director’s efforts to bring international flights.

On Sept. 25, Lufthansa begins nonstop service between Tampa and Frankfurt, Germany. That goes with Copa Airlines service to Panama City, Panama, daily service to London on British Airways, plus flights to the Bahamas and three cities in Cuba. Oh, and Edelweiss now flies to Zurich from Tampa three times a week instead of one.

The flights mean a doubling of international passengers to TIA in just the past six years, to an estimated 396,000 in the 2016 fiscal year. It’s not just about enhancing tourism, either. Tampa has been aggressively pursuing Fortune 500 corporate relocations, and the airport and ease of travel is one of the first things CEOs will study. There are 42 companies from Germany operating in the Tampa Bay area.

“It has not been easy,” Lopano said. “It goes back to when I first interviewed for the (Tampa) job. The board asked if I could get more international flights here, and I said of course we could. There are 5 million people here.

“They said no, there wasn’t 5 million, but I told them this is the airport for the whole west coast of Florida, and that’s where you get the 5 million.”

Which is the proper attitude, though an attitude not shared by most people in the area at the time. (check out the articles linked below for some of the influential people who just went along with the failed strategy.)  Luckily, some shared it.

It goes back to 2010, when longtime and highly regarded executive director Louis Miller resigned amid friction with the aviation authority over the direction the airport should go. Board members, particularly the late Steve Burton, wanted to build up the airport’s international footprint. Miller resisted that.

The argument was that Tampa could never compete with Miami as a jumping off point for South America, nor could it compete with Orlando for tourists. The critics had a point. Both airports handle significantly more passengers than Tampa.

Except for, as the article shows, the critics were actually wrong.  Orlando and Miami may handle more international passengers (Orlando to some degree because the previous director stopped competing), but we can get flights – and we are getting flights. It is also interesting that, under the previous director, it was policy that Tampa should not use incentives:

Incentives can help bolster a new route, but “you have to have demand for the market first,” Miller says. Tampa International is often handicapped by its proximity to Orlando, a world-class tourist destination with connecting flights to cities across the United States, he says.

A critic of the airport’s efforts to recruit international carriers says more needs to be done.

“The role of incentives is to prove the routes,” says Jason Busto, owner of a Tampa plumbing company who sits on the airport’s committee on developing international air service. “They’re critical to economic development.” 

And we did not get international flights. (The previous director also argued that Orlando did not use incentives.)

Now, we use incentives and are successfully getting, retaining, and expanding service.  And, interestingly, Orlando now uses incentives, too.   Yes, you have to have demand, but you need to get the flight to show you have the demand.  Thankfully, the airport director and his staff get it.

The really interesting thing is that the whole international flights idea required going against much of the local political culture and consensus.  It required people who were not content with the local hype and local politics and saw something better could be done.  And it involved getting people would create and execute a plan soberly and without more silly hype.  Luckily, that was done. That was a real change in our DNA.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Can a Billion Buy These Days

As regular readers know, since the announcement of the Lightning owner’s project (which, once again, we like), we have been looking at various billion dollar projects around the country just to keep a bit of realism in the hype filled coverage. This week, someone posted a reference to another project on URBN Tampa Bay, so we decided to check it out.  This specific project is in Milwaukee.

Envisioning an entertainment hub that would transform downtown, the Milwaukee Bucks plan to build a $500 million arena just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center and use that as a springboard for an additional $500 million in development, much of it in the largely vacant Park East corridor.

The arena site itself is not surprising — it has been the worst-kept secret in the city for weeks — but the conceptual development plans for the Park East are striking in their breadth.

The development would include a 700,000-square-foot, 17,000-seat arena; a 60,000-square-foot public plaza, anticipated as a sort of live entertainment space on what is largely a city-owned parking ramp at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Highland Ave.; and arena parking across the street in the Park East area. Total amount of space just for that portion of the development: 1 million square feet.

* * *

The entire development — phased in over 10 to 12 years — could potentially take up 30 acres, with 3 million square feet of office, entertainment, retail, residential, hotel, commercial and parking structures.

It also comes as other parts of downtown are poised for a transformation, particularly the Northwestern Mutual tower near Lake Michigan.

The first thing to note is that this plan requires some public funding for the arena, which is not an issue in Tampa.  Other than that, it sounds very familiar to this:

The Tampa Bay Lighting owner on Wednesday rolled out his long-awaited $1 billion “vision plan” to build nearly 3 million square feet of development along the city’s waterfront.

* * *

“We are creating a true 18-7, live, work, play and stay area,” said Vinik, who often jokes that he doesn’t say 24-7 because people need to sleep. “We want people to stay in an area with vibrancy, with energy, with fun.”

Which is fine, but does provide context.  As does this about Milwaukee’s downtown:

“We need to continue to look at where the streetcar gets expanded to. Now that we have a connectivity piece with the streetcar we need to be smarter about where we place our parking assets and make sure that we are getting the best bang for the buck. Being able to move people around an integrated intermodal transportation system no longer ties us to having to have site-specific parking. We can have much more general parking assets that are bigger, that are more efficient and that are easier to get to from the other modalities, whether it is the freeway, the city street system or getting off the train at the Intermodal Station. Being smarter about the disposition and placement of those assets is huge to us.

And basically everything else in this article on Milwaukee’s downtown vision.

Like we said, we very much hope the Lightning owner’s plan is successful – and even denser.  Our point is more to the hype surrounding it – which, it should be noted, does not really emanate from the Lightning owner. (Yes, he is marketing his project like any good businessman, but he is quite restrained.) We would not trade Tampa for Milwaukee.  We think we have much better natural assets.  However, it always has to be remembered that the project has competition and, as good as it may be, keep it in perspective.

— Desert Rail

Arizona (hardly a left wing stronghold) is considering building intercity rail.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has completed the first draft of an environmental assessment examining the proposed route of a passenger rail line between Tucson and Phoenix.

The document is an early step in a process that could take years to complete even before construction is to start.

The proposed rail line would run from Tucson International Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with extensions to Goodyear and Surprise in the Phoenix area.

The ADOT report looks at the potential environmental impact, the need for passenger rail, the effects on transportation, and analyzes cost and other aspects of building the railway.

The study notes the potential costs of construction for the rail line range from $4.5 billion to $7.5 billion.

Annual operations and maintenance costs also vary from $66.8 million to $85.9 million.

The per-mile operating costs varied from $557,668 to $669,240.

ADOT notes the need for transportation alternatives between Tucson and Phoenix continues to increase as the population grows.

Both Phoenix and Tucson have rail.  Now they are considering (just considering, it has to be said) rail to connect them.  (It also needs to be noted that the map in the article seems to indicate that while the route may be between airports, it runs through downtowns.)  We could have already been riding such rail to Orlando.  As it stands, if All Aboard Florida is actually built (and, as has been reported, the first expansion is to Jacksonville), we are likely to be the only major area of Florida without a rail connection to other cities.  We are still waiting for an actual plan to expand the streetcar and/or connect downtown to the airport.

— Google Town

Getting back to startup scenes (discussed above), there was an interesting article on Google Fiber in Kansas City. (You can read it here).  It talks about how the startup scene has been helped.  However, it is not Pollyannaish at all.  It discusses social issues, problems with business, and a host of other things. We are not going to get into the details, including the social disruptions, you can read it.

For the purposes of start-up culture, one thing that was interesting was this:

For all his positivity, there are clearly things about being in Kansas City that rankle. Entrepreneurs here struggle to raise money: he identifies two competitors in New York who have secured $36m between them, while Leap2 has raised $3m. The dearth of cash is exacerbated by a cultural problem: the same Kansas City hospitality that made the start-up village possible in the first place. Everyone from clients to partners finds it difficult to criticise and complain. “New York is no bullshit. People will just say no,” says Farmer. “But here it’s a slow no-go. It’s a cultural Midwestern thing. Overly polite. Never calling it like it is.”

Sounds familiar.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is niche.com’s Best Cities for Millennials.   The methodology can be found here.

We will list the top 25.  Coming in first is Cambridge (MA), followed by Manhattan, Alexandria (VA), San Francisco, Jersey City, Seattle, DC, Berkeley (CA), Boston, NYC, Denver, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Brooklyn, Sunnyvale (CA), Austin, Madison, Portland (OR), Bellevue (WA), Santa Clara (CA), Pittsburgh, Rochester (MN), Queens, Chicago, and Tempe. We are not sure why they feel the need to list all the boroughs of NYC as well as NYC overall, but whatever.

Florida does not do so well. Orlando is 44th, Ft. Lauderdale is 52nd, Tampa is 61st (just above Lexington, KY and Buffalo and just below Dallas and Grand Rapids), and Gainesville is 66th.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is wallethub’s list of Least & Most Recession-Recovered Cities.  It was featured in the Times, which noted:

A new report from WalletHub finds Tampa and St. Petersburg sitting squarely in the middle of a ranking of economic recovery of 150 major U.S. cities.

Overall, Tampa ranked 85th and St. Petersburg came in a bit better at 73rd in the ranking of “2015’s Most and Least Recession-Recovered Cities.” WalletHub compared the 150 largest U.S. cities across 17 key economic indicators ranging from the inflow of college-educated workers and the number of new businesses to home-price appreciation.

Tampa’s ranking was based in part on the city’s No. 73 standing in “employment and earning opportunities” and the lower No. 103 ranking in “economic environment.” St. Petersburg ranked No. 72 and No. 83 in the same two categories. St. Petersburg also stood out by ranking fourth among the 150 cities for the greatest decrease in its violent crime rate. Orlando ranked first.

So who was at the top of the list? Lubbock, followed by Denver, Corpus Christi, Anchorage, Houston, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Fayetteville (NC), El Paso Pittsburgh Sioux Falls San Jose Austin, Oxnard (CA), Jersey City, Boston, Nashville, Durham, Seattle, Fort Worth, Raleigh, Madison, St. Paul, and Miami.

So a lot of Texas and the usual suspects.  No surprise there. As we often say, lists are not the be-all and end-all of how you are doing, but it would be good if we were consistently among the usual suspects (rather than average).

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