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Roundup 9-25-2015

September 25, 2015

Contents

Transportation – Willkommen

Transportation – The Dance Goes On

— How To Argue Against Yourself

— The Party of No Returns

— Conclusion

Downtown – Why We Like the Lightning Owner

Downtown/Channel District/Port – More Pictures, More Questions

Downtown – Trump Tower Site

Economy – Unemployment

Economy – Housing

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont.

Transportation – Is Ridesharing Better Than Cabs

Seminole Heights – The Theater

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

– What Does a Billion Buy These Days?

– How To Renovate a Mall

List of the Week

__________________________________________________________

Transportation – Willkommen

From Wikipedia – click on picture for website

Today, Lufthansa service starts between Frankfurt and Tampa.  That is reason to smile.

Transportation – The Dance Goes On

We hope you got your smiles in because now we are going to discuss local transportation. This week, the always messy TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process was further messed up.

— How To Argue Against Yourself

First, the County administrator has picked an auditor for the consultant (not engineer) contract in TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough event (remember, Go Hillsborough is part of the process using the second consultant):

Hoping to quickly restore trust in Go Hillsborough, County Administrator Mike Merrill called for Sheriff David Gee on Monday to investigate the public transportation initiative.

Merrill hopes a sheriff’s investigation will clear up any questions about the $1.35 million contract awarded to engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to gauge public support for a proposed sales tax that would fund Hillsborough’s future transportation needs.

In the meantime, Merrill ordered Parsons Brinckerhoff and its subcontractors to halt work on Go Hillsborough’s public outreach meetings until the sheriff’s inquiry is complete.

Merrill’s request was made days after WTSP 10News questioned how the multinational firm was awarded the deal. A previous review by the county auditor said the contract was procured legally.

* * *

Gee accepted Merrill’s request. A time frame for the investigation was not available Monday, but Merrill said he was assured by the sheriff that it would be “thorough, complete, but urgent as well.”

Although the public outreach will not actually stop for now:

While Parsons Brinckerhoff will suspend its work on Go Hillsborough, county staff will continue to hold public meetings already scheduled, including two slated for today. The company is scheduled to prepare a report for the county in November, but it’s unclear if the delay will affect that time frame.

It is not clear that the consultants who have been at the meetings will still be at the meetings.

All that is fine, as are a proposal for new lobbying rules.  (Though we still wonder why, with a $4.8 billion budget and presumably connections to every community in the county, the County government could not just find out what people want. )  But, as we have said before, what is the bigger picture and more crucial for trust is whether the process will produce anything useful. (And it should be pointed out that just because you hire a big name consultant – whether you call it engineering services or consulting – does not mean you will get a good result.  For instance, ask Silver Springs, MD. )  That is unclear.

But Commissioner Sandy Murman wasn’t as confident in the referendum’s future.

“I don’t think any of us wanted to get into this process for almost two years and have it come to this,” Murman said. “So we have to get it back on track quick.”

This whole process has been dragged out far longer than it should have with certain Commissioners seemingly trying hard to just string it to avoid making decisions rather than actually fixing any problems. Whether it gets on track at all is on the Commissioners, who will decide what, if anything, goes into the referendum.  That is if they ever get to it:

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with all seven Hillsborough County commissioners after Merrill announced the sheriff’s investigation. Three commissioners, Kevin Beckner, Les Miller and Ken Hagan, said if Gee’s investigation does not raise any red flags, they will still support putting a half-cent sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot.

Two commissioners, Higginbotham and Stacy White, said they likely won’t support a plan for a referendum regardless of the sheriff’s findings.

Commissioner Victor Crist said he remains a “tough sell.” He’s “not completely sold on it” and doesn’t “see an absolute need for having to put something on the ballot” next year.

The wildcard is Commissioner Sandy Murman. The board chairmwoman [sic] has frequently bemoaned the county’s transportation woes and vowed to seek a solution the majority of the board could get behind. For months, a half-cent sales tax hike seemed to be that path. It was a delicate compromise for the Republican-controlled board in a county whose voters resoundingly rejected a full-cent increase in 2010.

But now Murman is less sure. In an interview with the Times, she suggested there might be other ways to find money for transportation besides raising the sales tax.

“This may not be the right time for us to do it,” she said of the referendum. “We have to have the certainty that this has a good chance of passing.

Two years of discussions, millions of dollars allocated, a persistent issue that they never actually do anything to fix, and they are still not committing to what, they themselves, have done in TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough. Why? (And it is hard to believe that they did not have full knowledge of what they were doing and, if not, why not.  And if they were not going to support a referendum no matter what, why did they support wasting taxpayer money on consultants?).

— The Party of No Returns

There was an interesting, though not surprising, article in the Tribune this week regarding the local Republican party and Go Hillsborough.

Even before Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill asked the sheriff’s office to investigate the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative, local Republican leaders had taken a stand against the project.

Last week, the Hillsborough Republican Party Executive Committee voted unanimously to oppose putting a sales tax referendum on the November 2016 ballot to pay for transportation projects. Go Hillsborough leaders have recommended a sales tax increase over 30 years to finance massive road and mass transit improvements.

Republican Committee Chairwoman Deborah Tamargo said the decision to oppose the referendum arose from local Republicans through the party’s precinct committeemen and committeewomen. The reasons were many, Tamargo said, but in general, people don’t think the county has explained adequately why a new tax is needed.

Many thought the county, which has seen higher tax collections thanks to an improving economy, could be spending more money on roads. Others see technological advances on the horizon, such as toll express lanes, that will cure traffic congestion without new taxes.

“For all the money spent on this public outreach, no one has been able to inform the citizens why we need a 30-year tax for a 10-year (transportation plan),” Tamargo said. “Why do we need a tax at this point in time when we have new revenue that hasn’t been appropriated.”

Well, there is this:

Republican Commissioner Ken Hagan said he shares the committee’s commitment to smaller government and lower taxes. But Hagan said the county is challenged by a $7 billion deficit in road and bridge work that will never be caught up with current revenue sources.

“As elected leaders it is incumbent on us to come up with meaningful action to attack the No. 1 issue facing our community,” Hagan said. “And, unfortunately, it is not possible to significantly address our transportation crisis with existing revenues.”

And this

Former Commissioner Mark Sharpe, also a Republican, said the county’s substandard transportation system is hurting the local economy, an opinion shared by local business leaders. Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., told commissioners last week the county’s gridlocked transportation network is a top obstacle to attracting Fortune 500 companies.

“It’s like not investing in your house over time: It begins to fall apart,” Sharpe said. “Our house is falling apart as our population is growing and getting older. The state and county have to deal with transportation.”

So, that pretty much lays out the need for new revenue in a nutshell.  Of course, part of that need is the failure of County officials to deal with the transportation problem over the years.  On the other hand, that does not change the need.

In any event, so what solution did the Republican Party (and we note this is just the Party officials, not all Republicans nor is it necessarily representative of all Republicans) propose?

Tamargo said many local Republicans are strong believers in express toll lanes, designed for drivers who want to avoid traffic jams and are willing to pay for it. Freeways in the Miami area already have the lanes and the Florida Department of Transportation plans to add them to parts of Interstates 275 and 4 in the Tampa area.

“The hot lanes on the interstate — that is going to be huge,” Tamargo said. “I love it because the people in the hot lanes are paying for me to go faster in the other lanes.”

Well, that is not exactly the case.  (See “Transportation – Behind the Express Lanes”)  Moreover, that position makes it clear that they simply favor roads with no other options – basically a mid-20th century solution that has so far failed us.  And, even if you like variable rate toll lanes and there is money to maintain the existing roads, that does nothing to fix all the inadequate surface roads or help make us competitive in the market for young talent which is drawn to other forms of transportation and areas that offer a variety of lifestyles.  (And really, isn’t it the market that counts?)  Basically, the answer is they offer no solution.

One Commissioner really summarized what we think about this move:

“I find it interesting they took a stand on something — the referendum — when there is no referendum at this point,” said Higginbotham, former chairman of the Republican Executive Committee.

Exactly. Though, not that is matters for him because he is not probably going to support anything anyway because:

“I don’t support it . . . I still feel we have the ability within our means to fund this.” — Al Higginbotham, District 7

Which is strange because the County has never been able to do that before – in fact, it is not doing that right now.  Instead, it has spent its time subsidizing various things like the Bollywood Oscars, Bass Pro Shops, playing fields, etc.  Where is the actual plan to really fix transportation with present funds?  There is none.  Period.  There have been two years of discussions and not one proposal to cut other services to fund transportation.  It is really hard to take that statement seriously, especially when you consider the Republican Party position:

Sharon Calvert, the executive committee’s secretary and founder of the Tampa tea party, presented a formal resolution to oppose the referendum. Calvert is an outspoken critic of Go Hillsborough and the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract.

The resolution claimed rising home values, an expanding economy and population growth are boosting county revenues and no new taxes are needed for roads and transit.

Sure, if you do not improve transit and you pave no new roads.  If you are ok maintaining the status quo this is the plan for you.

The fact is that the opposition to a referendum is more ideological (See “Does God Hate Trains?”) than practical, which is not unexpected.  And everyone is entitled to their opinion.  At least we know their position, which, sadly after two years of discussions, is more than what we can say about some Commissioners.

— Conclusion

So, if you want to know why we lag other areas, you can just look at this process and the complete lack of political leadership, vision, and will involved.  As noted by one Commissioner:

Beckner said his colleagues were caving to outside pressure from vocal antitax opponents. He said it was a “political knee-jerk reaction” to back away from Go Hillsborough when the county is just weeks away from unveiling its blueprint for tackling gridlock.

“How can you say you’re not going to support something when you don’t even know what the damn plan is?” Beckner said. “I don’t see how anybody could say we don’t support it unless you say you don’t believe in investing in transportation and don’t have the political stomach to put it to a vote.”

There is really nothing else to say.

Downtown – Why We Like the Lightning Owner

In complete contrast to the Go Hillsborough circus, the Lightning owner spoke at the Tampa Tiger Bay club and showed why we like him.  He was balanced and reserved but obviously committed to making his project work.  In other words, unlike so much of what goes on in local politics, businesslike.

On a scale of one to 10, how close does Vinik feel to signing a big corporate headquarters?

“I think I’ll regret it if I answer that question with a number,” Vinik said. But he said he’s talking to a lot of people, including a lot of executives in the Northeast, where he worked as a hedge fund manager.

A few companies that recently decided to move somewhere else in the Southeast had Tampa on their short list, he said. One started with 47 prospects, and Tampa made it to the final five.

“We are getting closer and we are resonating,” he said. “There are several major prospects out there we are having discussions with.”

But Vinik said people should not focus only on landing a Fortune 500 headquarters. It would be great, and he thinks it will happen in the next year or two, but it also would be good to land smaller pieces of big companies that bring high-paying jobs.

“Let’s not turn away 2,000 high-paying jobs because it happens to be a regional headquarters,” he said.

Totally devoid of hype and completely reasonable.  Yes, we want an HQ, but we are all for bringing other high-paying jobs.  (We are opposed to calling smaller pieces an HQ, but he doesn’t do that, which is great.)

How could Vinik manage to bring the Museum of Science and Industry, a big complex of buildings and parking lots near USF, to his downtown project near Tampa’s waterfront?

That’s “the biggest issue we’ve discussed with the board of directors of MOSI,” Vinik said.

The decision ultimately belongs to MOSI and Hillsborough County, which owns the E Fowler Avenue property. But he said a feasibility study is about to start. One big consideration: How to accommodate the children MOSI gets for its camps?

“What’s going to happen to those 4,000 kids?” he said. If a newer, better downtown facility is possible, “we sure better have that transportation working well to bring the people from North Tampa, from north Hillsborough County to downtown.”

Hey, someone talking about north Tampa and its connection to downtown.  That is rare, indeed.  And his point is completely valid.

With all that good stuff, there was one thing that we do not entirely agree with.

Does Vinik support the Florida Department of Transportation’s planned expansion of Tampa’s I-275 downtown interchange? (A representative of his land development company, Strategic Property Partners, told the Metropolitan Planning Organization in August that the company did support the Tampa Bay Express project.)

“I’m talking to a lot of companies, and the No. 1 thought on their mind is, ‘How do we move our employees around this area?’ ” he said. “I think everything is on the table when you look at improving the horizontal flow of workers in this area as well as visitors as well as people who are living here and doing their shopping.”

The area’s population is growing at 1.5 percent per year and could grow at 2.5 percent per year, he said.

“Huge growth,” he said. “We’ve got to think ahead for transportation, and it’s going to require a lot of different means to move all these people around.”

So this is a bit tricky.  His actual answer is also correct.  We do need various transportation improvements.  On the other hand, Tampa Bay Express, which he did not explicitly endorse, does not seem to be a very good use of very large resources ($6-9 billion) for moving those people. And what is he supposed to say anyway.  That is the only thing on offer from the state – without alternative choices.  So his comments are much like the airport director (who needs state money to build the airport master plan):

“I think we’re so far behind that we have to start somewhere,” says Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who sits on the MPO’s board and voted to support the TBX plan.

Lozano says the TBX is by no means “a silver bullet,” but says simply that, “We’ve got to start somewhere. And we’ve got a project that’s worth billions of dollars that people are willing to do that’s gonna have some benefit, so let’s do it.”

We are so far behind – too bad certain County Commissioners were not listening – but the choice from FDOT is TBX or nothing, which is not much of a choice (though, once again, the real fault lies with local officials).

Another iteration of the Lightning owner’s discussion was a little different:

Vinik said solutions from wider highways to express buses and light rail have been debated, but “it’s a complicated equation, and that’s why I think we’ve all struggled with it. I will reiterate that improving transportation around here is critical in the years ahead.”

Vinik routinely sidesteps political hot potatoes, and he brushed off frequent references to light rail, a concept voters on both sides of Tampa Bay have soundly rejected. However, he said he wants to see the TECO Streetcar line “become a real, viable means of transportation,” expanded to traverse all of downtown and eventually reach Tampa International Airport.

“That would be a great demonstration project of how transit can actually move people and take cars off the road and create a better environment.”

But Vinik was noncommittal on the subject of light rail. When one attendee asked if he would participate in organizing and leading the business community in supporting mass transit, he offered a one-word response: “Maybe.”

It is not really his job to organize the business community (or make the county Commission actually be sensible).  He is for expanding the streetcar for a reasonable business purpose, but his support for that project will help push it.  The real point is that he is moving forward with a real urban project and notes the importance of transportation solutions for its success, including some rail.  He also notes that there has to be a way to keep downtown open.

That brings us to the whole issue of road diets, which, if done properly in the right conditions, can be fine.  The only problem is that if the solution to bringing people downtown is simply to widen the roads, the road diet will not work.  The whole point of road diets (and even variable rate express lanes) is to not have people drive.  However, if there is no real alternative (and there is still no planned alternative from north Tampa or really anywhere outside of downtown), where are the people supposed to go?  Most likely, somewhere other than downtown or into gridlock. There has to be, and there is, a better way.

We really like the Lightning owner.  We like his approach.  We like his ideas, even if we (may) disagree with a few things.  He seems to have the same approach as the airport director, when asked about a transportation referendum:

“Well, I think we’ve got to do it right. If you’re going to go after something, do it right, and I hope you agree that’s what we’ve done here. And that’s what George Bean did 43 years ago. First guy to have a people mover system at an airport. He did it right, and we as a community have to get together and do it right.”

Too bad so many elected officials do not agree.

Downtown/Channel District/Port – More Pictures, More Questions

The Port posted the whole presentation of their master vision plan here. It has many nice pictures, so you should look at it. Here’s one:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Coincidentally, the Tribune had an interesting article on some of the challenges for the plan.

That is why Port Tampa Bay leaders last month unveiled plans for a $1.7 billion development that would remake 45 acres of prime waterfront land in the Channel District. Where longshoremen once unloaded bananas, port leaders now envision hotels, a major park, a marina and two signature 75-story residential towers.

It’s a project loaded with challenges, as well as opportunities, according to the real estate market study used to help develop the plan by designer Luis Ajamil of Miami-based Bermello Ajamil & Partners.

The Channel District lacks transit and employment options. The development will also have to contend with the Tampa Bay area’s high rate of vacant properties and find a way to coexist with a neighboring $1 billion redevelopment of land around Amalie Arena by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

And the scale of the port project, some 9 million square feet of mixed-use development, has some real estate agents describing it as ambitious.

“My takeaway is it’s good to see the port thinking about those ideas, but I’d be surprised if what they showed us in their concept plan is what gets built,” said David Conn, an executive vice president with CBRE, a real estate service and investment firm.

The port’s 15-year plan would create a cruise district, the central waterfront, a park district and a marina district across 45 acres parallel to Ybor Channel. Its two residential towers would each have about 450 units and would be the tallest in Florida. 

First, as we have discussed before, even if built (which is a big if) the apartment buildings will most likely not be Florida’s tallest, though that is not really relevant now because, as we said, it is a question whether they will be built.  On the other hand, yes, much of what is presented in the vision plan is good (setting aside the whole port/cruise question).   And we also agree that it is unlikely to be built as presented.  The plan is an idea of what could be – which is fine – but there is no telling if any of it will come out of the ground as shown.

Bob McDonaugh, economic development administrator for the city of Tampa, said the shift to urban living will boost demand further but acknowledges there is a degree of doubt.

“We’ve never had the number of units being developed at the same time as we do now,” McDonaugh said. “I’m not certain we’re ready for a 75-story building, never mind two of them, but the market will determine that.” 

Indeed.

Ajamil briefed port leaders last week, saying there is already strong interest from developers. The Tampa Port Authority board awarded his planning firm a $1.3 million contract extension to turn his splashy renderings into a fleshed-out master plan.

He told the Tribune that much of the grunt work on the project is already in place. Development in the Channel District has already created demand for small retail stores like coffee shops and a grocery store.

“What you see is a residential downtown becoming a reality,” he said. 

Sure.  There is residential downtown.  Whether everything proposed can be built and make money then add the Port’s ideas is a question.  But, as said above, the market will determine that.  On the other hand, the article notes that Harbour Island is mostly built out but fails to mention that only the north part of a Harbour Island bears any resemblance to what was first proposed for the island.  In any event,

Brenda Dohring Hicks, CEO of the Dohring Group, a Tampa commercial real estate, appraisal, brokerage and technology firm, is less convinced and described the project as a “Herculean effort.”

If successful, the port development could provide the missing piece of the city’s downtown, making a contiguous urban walkable community from the central business district through Channelside and on to Ybor City, she said.

The two residential towers would serve as the project’s icons, a slice of Miami on Florida’s west coast, she said. But she warned that Tampa does not attract international buyers and investors as Miami does.

“Something of that size will take a lot more smart people and deep pockets than are in Tampa,” she said.

Well said.  So let us be clear – it is not that we do not want to see the Port’s property developed along the lines of the plan (though more pedestrian friendly along Channelside and keeping in mind the Port’s main business is being a port.) In fact, we think the project should be more urban especially on the north side of the plan where the development is cutoff from Channelside. It’s just that we are not particularly moved by pretty pictures and a lot of hype.  We’ve seen that movie too many times (including with our namesake project) in this area.  At least, this time there is a little more sober approach – especially considering there does not seem to be any funding for anything yet.

Ram Kancharla, vice president of planning and development at the port, gave an overview of the vision to a packed house inside the Stageworks Theater, outlining the plan to bring apartments, offices, retail, a marina and park to the strip along the waterfront. He acknowledged that the concept is the only part of the plan finalized at this point.

Financing is still very much in the works, he told the partnership members, whose goal is to foster a vibrant and diverse downtown Tampa.

* * *

Kancharla said he expects to see the plan move forward quickly within the next year. “There will be a lot of activity to put these things in place in the next six to 12 months. We have to get funding and get the first phase going as soon as we can. There has already been a lot of interest, from investors” and developers, he said. But just how quickly the plan progresses and in what order, he said, will depend on the private sector and the real estate market.

So who knows what will happen and how it might look? By all means keep being ambitious (in fact, do not settle), but we will stay realistic.  And if and when something comes out of the ground, assuming it is along the lines in the pictures, we plan to go enjoy it.

Downtown – Trump Tower Site

More information on the proposal for a mixed used building on the former Trump Tower site was filed, including a site map of the bottom floor:

From public records, via SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

and a footprint

From public records via SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

We like this project overall, though have some mixed feelings. We really like the retail on the Riverwalk.  We like the lobby serving as a connection from Ashley to the Riverwalk.  On the other hand, while we know you need mechanical and loading dock, putting them on the Ashley side will just make that stretch of Ashley even deader, which is sad.  Yet, to move that from Ashley would mean putting it on the river, which is not good at all.

Last week, we spoke about rarely having to settle for a really good reason.  We think this might be one of those situations.  Across Ashley is a completely bland streetscape with a building having no street interaction and a parking garage.  While that is not what we would have chosen, the City was fine with it.  (It has already sacrificed this stretch of Ashley so there will not be much more damage with this plan.)  In this proposal, it seems that you probably can’t energize both the river side and the street side of the building (at best you could maybe energize half of each side).   We think they do it about as well as possible (with the caveat that we haven’t seen any actual design, just these drawings).  We also like that you can access the Riverwalk from both the north and south sides of the building.

It may be possible to do it better, but the site has width constraints and we haven’t seen something better.

Having a dead block or two of Ashley is not what we really want (not to mention the dead block around the convention center) but the tradeoff seems ok, especially because this proposal even tries to add a little life to Ashley with part of the lobby.  If someone has a better layout, we’d be happy to see it.

Economy – Unemployment

Time to check in with the unemployment stats.

The state added a solid 19,600 jobs in August — second-best in the country to California — as its unemployment rate tumbled to 5.3 percent, the lowest mark in more than seven years. Tampa Bay, where unemployment dipped to 5.2 percent, was second only to Orlando among Florida metros in creating jobs over the year.

Good stuff.

Brown said he’s not surprised the twin-tourism meccas of Orlando and Tampa Bay are leading the way in job growth this past year. Low gas prices have helped lure a record number of tourists to theme parks and beaches.

Along with tourism, two other industries known for lower wages — health care/social assistance and retail — have been major contributors to Florida’s growth.

But Vitner said he’s encouraged to see solid job gains across the board, particularly in business services and construction. The number of construction jobs dropped slightly in August but is still up more than 25,000 from August 2014.

Even government and manufacturing have added 7,200 and 6,100 jobs, respectively, over the year. The only industry still ailing is information, down 1,000 jobs from a year ago.

And that is not bad, though we are not sure if “information” means “IT” or something else.  If it is IT, that is not good.

Still, there’s reason to keep any celebrations to a minimum. The two big caveats of the recovery haven’t gone away:

The low paying jobs are still a concern.  Of course, making some money is better than making no money, but still.  And the second issue is very interesting.  Even taking into account retirees, it seems odd that with a 263,000 person population growth the labor force shrank by 87,000.  Moreover, a drop of that size would account for between .5% and 1% of the labor force and, thus, the unemployment rate, anyway.

Though, even with some more higher paying jobs, there is a persistent problem with the kind of jobs:

Rising poverty: Some major metro areas are starting to make progress against poverty. But in most regions, poverty rates and poor populations continue to outstrip their pre-recession levels.

In 2000, the Tampa Bay metro area’s poverty rate stood at 11.3 percent of the population. That was lower than the 11.6 percent average of the country’s top 100 metro areas. By 2013, a few years after the recession, this metro’s poverty rate had climbed to 15.4 percent, higher than the 100-metro average of 15 percent.

By 2014, Tampa Bay’s poverty rate climbed again — to 15.8 percent — even as the 100-metro area average fell 0.3 percentage point to 14.7 percent. Orlando’s poverty rate soared from 10.7 percent in 2000 to 16.7 percent in 2014. Miami and Jacksonville numbers also are up, U.S. Census data say.

Enough with just counting jobs. Aim higher.

That speaks for itself (and the jobs we are really getting).  So does this:

But WalletHub, the online personal finance resource, says Florida has one of the least fair tax systems in the nation, ranking 45th overall; is No. 3 among states where the top 1 percent in income are most undertaxed; and is No. 4 among states where the poor are overtaxed.

That is a 1-2 punch that is the result of years of policy choices here and at the state level.

Having more jobs is better than what was happening a few years ago.  But we are nowhere near where we should be.

Economy – Housing

Time to check in with the housing market, too.

Home sales in the Tampa metro area rose by 14.4 percent in August compared to the same month a year ago, outpacing national numbers by more than double.

Locally and statewide, the figures are bucking a national trend for the most part as the National Association of Realtors reported sales slid in August by the most since January as supplies continued to tighten and prices rise.

Home sales nationally were up just 6.2 percent in August compared to August 2014 but down compared to July. Sales are expected to remain flat for the remainder of the year, according to the Realtors.

Florida’s success can be attributed to a busy summer for real estate likely brought on by an economy growing through jobs, said Brad Monroe, former president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors.

Or you could read it this way:

Tampa Bay homes sales continued strong in August although sales in both the bay area and statewide are cooling from their torrid pace earlier in the year.

“Home sales in Florida are beginning to moderate, even as inventory gets tighter,” John Tuccillo, chief economist of Florida Realtors, said Monday. “The August gains in sales for both single-family homes as well as condos and townhouses are lower than they were in the late spring and early summer. We expect the current pace of growth to be typical for the year.”

All four Tampa Bay counties notched double-digit increases in sales of single-family homes in August. Pasco had the biggest jump, with year-over-year sales shooting up 19.2 percent, followed by Hillsborough at 15 percent, Hernando at 13.6 percent and Pinellas at 10.6 percent.

But the increases — while healthy — were nothing like those in five of the previous six months. Year-over-year sales in Pinellas, for example, had rocketed by 34.6 percent in February and 27.1 percent in July.

Price gains, too, were modest enough to dispel fears of a bubble. No Tampa Bay county had a median sales price increase in August of more than 10 percent.

“Prices haven’t seen significant increases this year, which is likely the by-product of many homes being sold in the REO (foreclosure) category,” said Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker. But “that number is coming down quite a bit.”

Though something to keep in mind:

The Tampa metro area is on track to reach an eight-year high in home sales in 2015, according to RealtyTrac, which released its August Home Sales Report today.

The Tampa region also ranked in the top five of metro areas with the highest cash sales, highest share of institutional investor purchases and in distressed sales.

In sum, the housing market is still doing well, though not crazy.  That’s fine, though there are still some issues.  We’ll just have to see what the long-term trends show.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont.

Hillsborough County has set aside $15 million on the premise that there is a lot of untapped business in youth sports. This week there was a proposal for a new set of playing fields in Pinellas County.

A group of sports partners are hoping to relocate the Atlanta Braves spring training facility to Pinellas County and are among the three groups that have submitted proposals to build on the former Toytown landfill site.

SportsPark Partners LLC’s plan includes converting the 240-acre site into an “international destination” for amateur and professional sports with athletic fields, a hotel, office space and a sports medicine facility, according to the request for proposal submitted to the county Aug. 31.

The group — made up by Echelon, a real estate development firm led by Darryl LeClair; the Gary Sheffield Sports Foundation; and the Atlanta Braves — estimated the investment to total $662 million.

The SportsPark would also host Sheffield’s philanthropic venture The Project, which would bring low-income and inner city children to learn about sports and “play amongst the best talent in the world,” according to a one part of the proposal.

But another aspect of the project is geared toward expensive travel teams and tournaments.

Listed as the team’s architect is Populous, one of the nation’s leading firms for sports architecture and the same firm that’s building the Braves’ new Cobb County Stadium. The proposal says the site plan can be modified to host two Major League Baseball teams for spring training, which is a trend in the sport.

The proposed complex would be much like Disney’s “Wide World of Sports” complex near Orlando, where the team is under contract for one more year. That facility includes much more than baseball fields. It would include including facilities to host tournaments in a dozen sports, including basketball, soccer and swimming.

The proposal would include a 10,000-seat baseball stadium with berm seating for an additional 1,000 fans, a 15,000-seat fieldhouse for basketball or other indoor events, a track and field facility with 20,000 seats, an aquatic center with a pool and hockey rink and a 200,000-square foot dormitory that could house 800 people.

We have no idea if it will happen (you can read about other proposals for the site here), but, if it does, that’s fine with us. (Even if it does foreclose another possible location for the Rays. At this time, given St. Pete’s apparently lack of desire to deal, it really doesn’t matter.)  It is in the area, centrally located, nice complex and backers, and no taxpayer cash (at least not in Hillsborough).  And there is the Spring Training fillip. All the better.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Hillsborough should let it go.  There are a lot of things that $15 million could go to that are more worthy. (Though, even if it is all used for road work, it would still not solve our transportation issues.)

Transportation – Is Ridesharing Better Than Cabs

There as an interesting article in the Guardian (UK) about ridesharing.

Uber’s controversial ride-sharing service is 40% cheaper than taxis in Sydney – and more reliable, too, according to an investigation by consumer advocates.

Choice found little evidence to support the claim by the New South Wales Taxi Council – printed on billboards around Sydney – that ride-sharing services such as UberX were “no safer than hitchhiking”.

The UberX feature, which connects passengers with registered private vehicles, has triggered protests around the world by the taxi industry, including earlier this month in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

But ride-sharing has taken off in Australia, and was used more than 1m times in the year to May, Uber says.

Investigators from Choice compared 28 taxi rides to the same number of trips using UberX. They found that taxis were more expensive nine times out of 10, and by an average of 40%.

Only with surge pricing – which boosts the cost of a UberX trip when demand is high – did taxis become cheaper, by about 6% in most instances.

There is much more in the article, including the response by the taxi companies, which you can read here.  You can read it and decide for yourself.

Seminole Heights – The Theater

Anyone who has been in Tampa for any length of time knows that over the decades Tampa has loved to demolish its past. (How else could a walkable city with an elaborate streetcar system have turned itself into so auto-centric a place?)  Now at risk is the old Seminole Theater, which is now used as a church. (See what it looks like now here. See what it used to look like here.)

A Bay area church is getting a last minute reprieve after the city ordered it to be demolished.

Praise Cathedral on Florida Avenue in Tampa was already in bad shape, but when an alleged drunk driver slammed into the wall of the church, the city ordered to have it demolished.

Luckily,

The city agreed to allow the church six more months before a final order to demolish the building.

“Thank God,” Hall said. “That’s why we’re proud they gave us time. We want to raise money.”

Now there is a Facebook page to save the building.

So much of what was Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights, especially the urban part, is gone, it would be great to save the theater.  Please check out the Facebook page and do what you can.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

The Fast Co Innovation by Design awards were given out.  This year, the winner was All Aboard Florida. Here’s what they had to say (there is a rendering at the website):

All Aboard Florida

Creators: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Roger Duffy
Firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Client: Florida East Coast Industries Inc

Public-private partnerships have yielded a new wave of civic innovation, such as the popular Citi Bike program in New York. All Aboard Florida scales this strategy to a commuter rail system. The new 235-mile rail network is meant to connect South Florida to Central Florida, and its stations would feature shopping opportunities to revitalize the economies. SOM-designed rail stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach would serve as key nodes of the system and are envisioned as gateways to their respective cities—and architectural destinations in their own right.

No word on if we will ever see it here.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

– What Does a Billion Buy These Days?

This week, we look at a project in LA (We do not think we have mentioned this before.)

Over one year ago, developer PRH LA Mart unveiled ambitious plans to build a high-rise complex on the border between Downtown and South Los Angeles.  The project – budgeted at approximately $1-billion – would replace a pair of large surface parking lots with a combination of residential units, hotel rooms and pedestrian-oriented commercial space.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning published a new draft environmental impact report (DEIR), revealing new information about the mixed-use development, which is now called “the Reef.”

The completed development calls for approximately 1,664,000 of new floor area, divided between two properties known as the West Block and the East Block.  Additionally, significant alterations are proposed for the existing Reef building – a boxy mid-rise structure built in the mid-1950s.

You can go here to get more detail.

– How To Renovate a Mall

With all the talk about University Square Mall and renovating it, we thought this project in Silicon Valley was interesting (not because we think it would happen here, but so that people know what is being considered elsewhere).

Vallco Shopping Mall, in the heart of suburban Silicon Valley, is a classic example of the dying shopping center. Half the stores are empty, the food court is abandoned, and people leave Yelp reviews talking about their fear of zombie ambushes in the eerie corridors.

So now developers plan to start over. The mall and the sprawling adjacent parking lot may be turned into a new walkable neighborhood, topped with the largest green roof in the world.

Below is a rendering.  You can see more here.

From Fast Company – click here for website

Now that is a lifestyle center.

List of the Week

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