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Roundup 10-9-2015

October 9, 2015


Economic Development – Apparently Not GE

Transportation – What’s Old Is New Again

— The New

— The Old

— What Could Be

— The Known Unknowns, First Edition

— Conclusion

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Update

Transportation/Seminole Heights/Tampa Heights – At the Nexus

Transportation – Speaking To Be Ignored

Transportation – The PTC Backs Off, A Bit

South Tampa – New Port Tampa Bay Lives

Rays – Enter the Money

Downtown – Trump Tower Site Revisited

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida. . ./ What Do You Get for a Billion These Days?

List of the Week/Looking for Some Great Places


Economic Development – Apparently Not GE

There was a column in the Times regarding the wooing of a major HQ.  There have recently been some articles about attempting to get GE, which we never really took seriously (hence the lack of real comment on them).  The column basically says (with a slight hedge) that GE is not the one.

Shunning its Connecticut home for a tax-friendlier state, Fortune 100 giant GE recently launched a search for a new site for its headquarters. That expectation created a burst of invitations and promises from major metro areas salivating at the rare opportunity to snag bragging rights by recruiting America’s 8th largest public corporation.

Is this merely some Kabuki corporate theater by GE, with 5,700 employees in Connecticut, to wrest more tax concessions from the state? Maybe, but the competition for its headquarters relocation is already intense with some major U.S. cities claiming to be on GE’s short list while others already have been rejected. GE is supposed to make a decision by year-end.

Atlanta and the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina — each of them perceiving themselves to be frontrunners in a GE move — seem to be chilling the champagne, just in case. Dallas and Cincinnati, both major corporate headquarter cities, have reportedly been cast aside by GE for political reasons (their congressional members oppose refunding the government’s Export-Import Bank, which GE relies on to help finance overseas sales of many of its products).

Ever ambitious Florida expressed interest in GE with Gov. Rick Scott making a pilgrimage to Connecticut presumably to woo GE and perhaps some other big name firms there said to be frustrated by the state’s tax system. But Florida appears to have hit a big hurdle. A major but unidentified Connecticut company apparently indicated Florida is not under consideration.

Bill Johnson, CEO of Enterprise Florida — the state’s job recruiting arm — recently told Florida’s Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee that executive leaders at the unidentified company advised Florida they don’t want to go south of the Georgia-Florida border.

So what is that all about?

We’ve heard versions of this “not below the Georgia-Florida border” blackballing before, and it is troubling to see it revived in 2015. Auto companies seeking manufacturing sites with cheaper southern labor have said as much before, though their argument has been that Florida’s location — a peninsula jutting into the ocean — is not convenient to the rest of the country.

In GE’s case, a company so large that it needs a headquarters close to big airports with lots of direct flights to major U.S. and international cities, Florida may not be the right fit. Lately, Gov. Scott’s more modest business recruiting trip to Kentucky has gotten more attention than Florida’s pursuit of GE. And that may be the reality check of knowing where best to go fishing for more mid-sized businesses.

First, there is a logic to auto manufacturers – the transportation times for their product will be lengthened.  For an HQ where there is a lot of flying, it does not make as much difference.  Florida has many flights to all parts of the US and beyond (though not necessarily from Tampa).  The column discusses Atlanta – which admittedly is more central to the US as a whole.

However, we think there may be more to this than simple travel times.  Seattle – and most of the west coast – is not particularly convenient to most places in the US.  It can’t be all about flights.

Maybe, just maybe, the low spending, low achieving, low investment nature of Florida governance is not really the best thing for attracting very major corporations.  Maybe they are looking for more than just low taxes and low real estate costs for their very best talent.  Travel to the major corporate locations in the United States (and elsewhere) and you see a different approach.  Maybe it is worth changing our mentality and our approach.  That does not mean we can’t attract smaller companies (and hopefully we will), but to play with the biggest players on their biggest stage (the HQ rather than the back office), maybe we need to raise our game – transit, planning, education, investment, proper development, seeking real excellence, not settling.  Is this area capable of doing that?  Maybe.

Transportation – What’s Old Is New Again

— The New

Somewhat out of left field, if only because it appeared that Hillsborough County, CSX, FDOT, and pretty much everyone else decided not to pursue it, the idea of using CSX rails for passenger rail reemerged this week.

There are 97 miles of railroad track connecting the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The steel grating links Tampa International Airport to the University of South Florida, stretches across four counties and reaches as far north as Brooksville.

Freight trains run on those tracks now. But they could, one day, form the spine of a passenger rail system that would finally connect Tampa Bay — and ease the region’s dependence on roads.

This is no pie-in-the-sky scenario. It’s an idea gaining sudden momentum because railroad giant CSX Corp. is shopping around two segments of its Tampa Bay routes.

There is precedent in Miami and Orlando for converting freight lines to commuter rail. And no, it’s not light rail. It doesn’t require building brand-new rail infrastructure on top of existing development.

That doesn’t mean commuter rail is any more feasible than light rail — or cheaper. But now, it’s an option.

“There’s no question in my mind that there’s going to be a very serious conversation about it,” said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, one of the bay area’s most vocal transit advocates.

“It’s there, it’s underutilized, and it connects important points. It’s very viable.”

There is a lot going on here, so we will try to take it one issue at a time.

— The Old

First, Miami and Orlando have used freight rails for commuter rail and the state had bought the rails and insured the service (and both are in the process of expanding).  For instance:

SunRail, a freight-turned-commuter rail service that started running last year in the Orlando region, offers some cost comparisons.

In 2011, CSX sold 61.5-miles of track to the Florida Department of Transportation for $150 million. That’s $2.4 million a mile.

Other costs bumped the project’s total to $432 million. Federal money paid half the tab. The rest was split by the state and SunRail’s local partners: the city of Orlando and four counties.

Under the agreement, the state owns the tracks, which it leases to CSX for freight use. Otherwise, those rail lines carry passenger cars.

There is no reason it could not do that here.  In fact, given that it did it elsewhere, it should do it here.

So why did it never happen?

For three decades now, local leaders have batted about the idea of converting freight rail to a passenger service.

The bay area once had a Tampa Bay Commuter Rail Authority that pushed the concept in the 1990s but struggled to drum up support or funding. The agency folded soon after.

So, one, regional political myopia.

Transit proponents have long coveted the tracks. But one question always stood in the way: Was CSX open to a deal?

And, two, no, CSX was not open to a deal.  It appears that at least the second has changed.

It is now. At last month’s meeting of the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group, a gathering of the region’s transportation planners, CSX said it’s willing to sell two lines.

One of the rail lines offered by CSX is the “Clearwater line.” It stretches from downtown St. Petersburg, climbs northwest through Pinellas County to downtown Clearwater, veers to Oldsmar, then runs east past Tampa International Airport and ends near downtown Tampa, in Ybor City.

The second route is the “Brooksville line.” It starts in Tampa, juts north from the first line, passes by USF, cuts through Land O’Lakes in Pasco County and finishes in central Hernando County, near Brooksville.

Urged by local leaders, CSX analyzed its lines and found that those two routes carried minimal freight traffic and could be used for passenger rail.

“We will continue to explore win-win scenarios that would help provide transportation alternatives to the citizens of Tampa Bay,” said CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay, “while allowing CSX to continue to meet the freight needs of its customers in the region.”

Fine.  So they would sell most of the rails, but apparently not the south Tampa line and the line going east to Plant City and Lakeland.  That seems to include the stretch from downtown east to Ybor before it turns north towards USF, a connection that would be needed for any useful system.

This is a map URBN Tampa Bay did of the CSX lines:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

We are not sure if it is completely accurate in what CSX is offering but it looks about right.  (The big question is between downtown and Ybor.)

— What Could Be

So aside from the need to make the downtown-Ybor connection, here are some of the drawbacks and benefits of using CSX rail lines:

A Tampa Bay commuter system also would have drawbacks. The lines CSX offers don’t connect the area’s nexus: Tampa’s Westshore area to St. Petersburg’s Gateway area. They ignore the southeast (Brandon) and northeast parts of Hillsborough (New Tampa) and eastern part of Pasco (Wesley Chapel), where new housing has risen.

But CSX’s two Tampa Bay routes are a better fit for commuter service than the tracks in Orlando, say local officials.

The Tampa Bay lines run through what Sharpe calls “key primary points” — the three major downtowns, Tampa International Airport and USF. Then, it stretches north toward the new bedroom communities in Pasco and Hernando counties.

And anyone who knows anything about the multiple plans for rail that have been discussed in this area knows that 1) there is a way to continue the rails south around the airport to Westshore on the outskirts of the airport (which also goes right by HCC and Raymond James Stadium) and 2) there have been many studies about a route from Westshore to downtown.  It would need to be new track but it is doable, too.

And anyone who has followed this subject for any length of time knows that the following is not completely accurate:

Commuter rail is not light rail, however. Light rail is smaller and nimbler. It can make tight turns on city streets. It’s electrified, either with an overhead wire or through the tracks.

Commuter rail uses bulkier diesel-powered cars that run on the existing track. They’re heavier so they can comply with federal crash regulations. Commuter rail is cheaper to build but carries heftier operating fees.

Like light rail, stations have to be built. Unlike light rail, railroad crossings are already in place.

Yes, commuter rail like they have in Orlando or Miami is not like light rail, but a DMU unit like the RegioSprinter that was demonstrated here way back in 1997 running on CSX rails is much more like light rail.  (And does riders really care if it is technically light rail or a DMU?)


From HART’s Facebook page – click on picture for page

From HART’s Facebook page – click on picture for page

That is different that SunRail, which looks like this (inside is nice but the cars are a bit bulky for high frequency).

From the Orlando Sentinel – Click on picture for article


From the Business Journal in way back in 1997:

While rail transit has been studied in Tampa Bay for decades, the reality is that it has always proven to be cost-prohibitive. But this new technology challenges that belief since it utilizes existing tracks. That means the extensive and under-utilized existing freight system throughout the region could have an adaptive reuse for passenger transit service, thus dramatically reducing the cost of building a system. Given that these self-propelled rail cars do not require electrification of tracks, Tampa Bay could have a new asset and improved mobility at low cost for about the price of building a two-lane road.

To help people envision what this could mean to our region, HARTline, Siemens, Amtrak and the Florida Department of Transportation arranged for this demonstration project. It is part of the public education component of the year-long Mobility Major Investment Study which is now under way.

The partners are examining how all modes of transportation – roads, buses, various types of rail service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities – can be combined to meet the transportation demands of the future.

Setting aside that it is very sad that almost 20 years later (and note that the 1997 article says transit has been studied for decades before that) the news coverage of government efforts is almost exactly the same as now (and has not moved forward at all), there are the benefits of a DMU.  Now we understand there are some special safety requirements for rolling stock on these kind of lines, but there are DMU units that can run on these rails. You do not need to have really bulky, commuter rail.  You can build a locally focused system that functions very much like light rail.  It is possible.  We have been discussing it forever. (So long, in fact, that when originally planned West Park Village in Westchase set aside land for a train station for a system then proposed on the CSX tracks. See here and a slightly ambiguous 2006 Times article here. And it seems the land is still waiting. )

— The Known Unknowns, First Edition

In any event, there are questions:

  • What exactly is CSX offering to sell?
  • For how much?
  • If it does not go downtown, how will any rail get from east of Ybor to downtown?
  • What will the connection from downtown to Westshore be and how much will it cost?  Without this connection, the system is not worth it.
  • Will FDOT cover the cost like it did for other areas?
  • How much will DMU that can run on the lines units cost?
  • Can this area, as a region, get its act together to actually build a system?
  • How can you develop these lines in stages?  It does not have to be done all at once.
  • And the biggest issue: How much will it cost to have frequent service?  Without frequent service, none of this – or Go Hillsborough – will matter

There are other questions, but that is a start.  Of course, as a Times editorial on the subject (with which we disagree to some degree because it completely ignores the DMU option) says:

State and local officials delving deeper into the CSX plan must make sure that sale price, construction costs, operating expenses, ridership levels and liability risks match its inherent value to the commuting public and economic development along the route.

And another concern was voiced:

Some fret that another transit option — commuter rail — will further muddy an already complicated transportation discussion. Nor will it help pay to fix the bay area’s most pressing transportation need: a better bus service.

“I think we come out with these big ideas and try to do multiple things at once,” Chiaramonte said. “We keep switching from one thing to another. We’re just spinning our wheels.”

Just focusing on better bus service is spinning our wheels.  Buses should be part of a system – not the basis of the system.  There has to be more of vision than just having better buses.

Even more to the point, the entire TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process has already gone through a number of ideas and is constantly moving the goal posts, mostly because elected leaders are following others rather than leading (which explains both the Parson Brinckerhoff contract and running from that contract).  What we really need to do is really fix our transportation system.  If there is a good opportunity, if Hillsborough and Pinellas can stop bickering and work together, and if elected leaders can actually get some political will, maybe something can come of this.  Just remember, for the 20 or so years (really 40 years or more) that we have been doing nothing, almost every other area has been doing something – and not just getting better buses.  And even if we get the tracks, they do not have to be all developed right away – it can be done in stages.  The area is better off controlling the tracks and rights of way even if it takes a while to take full advantage.

And there is another point – without a change in planning even better bus service will not really do much (except for a few areas).  When you design everything for cars and build only an infrastructure for cars, it should not be a surprise that everything is car-centric.

And, once again, any service needs real frequency.

— Conclusion

Transportation is indicative of our approach to most other things.  Talk a lot and do little.  It really has to end.  This is a possible opportunity (we do not know if it is actually an opportunity – that depends on the details).  It needs to be investigated fully – and we know the County has already considered it, so there is no need for delay.  Go Hillsborough is already a mess (and not just because of the distraction over contracting – which is an issue but not a transportation issue).  Examining this possibility will not do any more damage than has already been done.  It needs to be fully investigated.

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Update

Speaking of Go Hillsborough, there were a few developments in the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough saga.  First, the contracting issue.

County commissioners agreed Wednesday to leave the sheriff’s office in charge of investigating the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative, rejecting calls from the plan’s critics to ask an outside agency to handle the probe.

Commissioner Ken Hagan set the tenor for the discussion by denouncing statements made by anti-tax activist Sam Rashid that the sheriff’s office was not capable or independent enough to investigate the hiring of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to lead Go Hillsborough.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Hagan said. “Nobody in this community is as respected and revered as Sheriff David Gee … To question (Gee’s) independence, objectivity and ability to conduct this investigation is beyond absurd.”

Rashid, in a letter to Commissioner Sandy Murman last week, claimed the sheriff’s office could not be unbiased because its budget is dependent on the county commission. But Hagan pointed out that the commission almost always agrees with the sheriff’s budget requests. If the sheriff’s budget is not approved, he can appeal to the governor and cabinet.

“We have no legal authority to question line items, so the lack of independence charge rings hollow,” Hagan said.

That’s fine with us.  Even if the contract was technically fine, there is a question of judgment and political will by a Commission that knew opponents of fixing transportation would jump on anything to try to kill any proposal.  Not to mention this:

Rashid had suggested that the investigation be conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he had talked to that agency, and it said it would not investigate.

Whoops.  Look into the contracting issue and learn from it, but remember it has nothing to do with the substance of transportation.

So what has happened in actual transportation?

A motion by Commissioner Stacy White to immediately sever the contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff failed for lack of a second. County Administrator Mike Merrill said if the contract was dropped, the firm’s final plan, developed over a year, would not be presented with the firm’s expertise and experience as a nationally and internationally known company.

We are not so concerned with their international reputation.  We have had renowned people come here and not do a good job before.  The real question is whether they come up with something good, which is an open question.  On the other hand, since the outreach – flawed as it is – has already moved along, we might as well see what they have to say.

“We have been focused on the process, not the work,” Beckner said. “We’re having a knee-jerk reaction to terminate all the work we have done in two years and not even evaluate the work that Parsons has done.”

We agree – though the contracting process still has some questions that should be looked at.

In another development,

In the three weeks since the report aired, no group of supporters has emerged to defend the transportation effort. Business leaders, who supported a failed transportation referendum in 2010 and have been lobbying for another effort to alleviate traffic congestion, have been silent.

That changed Monday when Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has not backed off its support for a comprehensive transportation program.

Rohrlack was reacting to an article last week in the local weekly newspaper, La Gaceta, that said the chamber was backing away from Go Hillsborough in light of the controversy. Rohrlack said the report was incorrect.

“The chamber has not blinked. We continue to move forward on transportation,” he said.

The chamber has two committees working on transportation issues, Rohrlack said, and chamber leaders have been communicating with county staff throughout this year’s Go Hillsborough process and during many rounds of transportation meetings in preceding years.

“We’re going to work together and do something on transportation,” Rohrlack said. “We’ve been open and honest talking to the county. We’ve encouraged them to do this and we’ve been part of the discussion.”

Though supporting the concept, the chamber hasn’t taken an official stand on Go Hillsborough because no final plan has been submitted or approved by the county commission, Rohrlack said. The plan, with specific projects, should be out in early November or sooner, said County Administrator Mike Merrill. 

Exactly.  How can you (and why should you) support (or reject) a plan you have not seen?  It makes no sense to endorse before reading.

And there was one thing in the same article that did catch our eye:

Merrill said he understands the impatience of business leaders who see highly developed transit systems in cities such as Denver; Austin, Texas; and Charlotte, North Carolina; and want them here. But those cities developed their rail and bus rapid transit routes in phases over a number of years with different sales tax referendums.

“We’re behind the curve, which is true, but you can’t go back in a time tunnel and change history,” Merrill said. “It’s just getting folks to accept this is where we are and it’s OK to be where we are. We’re going to get there.”

Yes, it is true, other areas built their systems in stages.  On the other hand, they tended to have a vision that was quite clearly stated to develop a system in stages. So far, Go Hillsborough and the County Commission have been running from anything resembling a system. That is the biggest drawback.  We are fine with developing a real system in stages – but we need a plan for a system and to know the proposed stages, not just vague thoughts. Unless the Commission finds some political will and some vision, the impatience of people who see this as a muddle will not go away.

Transportation/Seminole Heights/Tampa Heights – At the Nexus

There is a study under way regarding the Florida/Tampa corridors south of Hillsborough and into downtown.

At the City of Tampa’s request and working closely with FDOT, the MPO has kicked off a study to evaluate various design options for the one way pairs of Florida Avenue and Tampa/Highland Street. The study area is roughly from I-275 north to Hillsborough Avenue.

The evaluation of the alternatives will include how each provides safe access between Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods for transit users, walkers and cyclists; how the corridors would function as a “main street” and commercial district; if the alternatives allow them to continue to function as a regional transportation corridor; and how well the configurations contribute to the City’s public realm.

A project advisory group of local and state representatives have reviewed the evaluation criteria, the analysis of existing conditions and are now preparing alternatives for evaluation. The study plans to be wrapped up by the end of October 2015.

Which is fine.  It would be really nice if Florida and Tampa were returned to being walkable streets with essentially a “main street” feel.  We suspect that is the goal – along with reducing the number f lanes/two-waying both streets.  However, there is a problem.  Other than 275 and the already shrunk Nebraska, the Florida/Nebraska corridor is the only way to get downtown from north of downtown – all the way north.  As noted by the Lightning owner a few weeks ago, it is important to maintain that access. (See “Downtown – Why We Like the Lightning Owner”)

And this is where the Nexus of planning, transportation, and proper development (and economic development) all meet.  Because there is not good transit alternative for people from north of downtown – including Carrollwood/Forest Hills and points north of that – to get downtown, if you give Florida/Tampa a road diet, you are hurting downtown.  And there is the good possibility that both Florida and Tampa will get clogged with cars trying to get to and from downtown – at least at rush hour.

Moreover, the only alternative now on offer , express toll lanes on 275, are designed specifically to limit the number of people using them with the express purpose of forcing other people to either not use the roads, to stay in the choked normal highway lanes or to use surface roads.  If you choke the surface roads, you leave only two choices – sit in traffic on the highway or just don’t use the roads – in other words, do not go downtown. And that is not even discussing TBX’s detrimental impact on the immediate study area. TBX is not a solution.

So we are all for making the Florida/Tampa corridor nicer, but without a comprehensive plan – which is highly unlikely – anything done may meet a goal in one place (at least before it gets clogged) by harming a goal in another.  You have to look beyond the immediate study are to see the ramifications of what you are doing – that is real planning.  And you have to create real alternatives – which we do not have.  Hopefully that will be done, though looking at the Powerpoints on the MPO page, it seems unlikely.

There is always hope.

Transportation – Speaking To Be Ignored

Speaking of the MPO and TBX, there was news this week about the Tampa Bay Express project, which has apparently been approved by FDOT and the MPO.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization board agreed Tuesday to host a night meeting in November to give those opposing express toll lanes on interstates 275 and 4 another chance to speak. Some living and working in the project’s path say it will devastate their historic neighborhoods.

The MPO board has no plans to rescind its August decision to include the lanes in its Transportation Improvement Program, Board Chairman Les Miller said, but will hold a regular MPO meeting at night for those who have complained that they’ve been unable to attend daytime meetings on the issue.

The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. in the Hillsborough County Commission chambers at County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Miller said it will not be a public hearing, but people can speak during the public comment period.

Hey, thanks.  Sounds a lot like the preliminary public meetings for the TED/PLC (before it was Go Hillsborough) process. What exactly is the point of having a meeting when you have already made the decision?  (Of course, that is the way things are often done here, though it is usually done a bit more subtly.)

Then again, this is the same MPO that seems to want to define buses on express highway lanes as “fixed guideway” transit – even though the route is not fixed and there is no guideway.  (here and page 74 of this pdf. Staff recommended approval – at page 60.)

That is about the level of transportation planning.   Don’t actually do something; just change the definition to say that you did.  Yet, that does not mean that people should not speak.  They should.  There is always the off chance that local officials will surprise us.

Transportation – The PTC Backs Off, A Bit

There was more news of the PTC backing off its attack on ridesharing.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has halted all legal action against ride-hailing company Uber in hopes of brokering a compromise with the company and its legislative allies.

Commission Chairman Victor Crist said the decision to stop lawsuits and appeals aimed at shutting down Uber is a goodwill gesture he hopes will lead to new rules allowing so-called “transportation networking companies” to operate freely in the county.

“We’re doing this in good faith, going into the process with an open mind and genuine desire to build consensus for a resolution to the ride-share issue,” Crist said.

This is the transportation commission’s second peace offering to Uber in the face of mounting pressure from the company’s drivers and customers. Last month, with Crist casting the tie-breaking vote, commission board members voted to stop ticketing drivers for Uber and Lyft, the other major ride-hailing companies.

Maybe, but losing, and having a really bad argument focusing on price controls, protectionism, and crony capitalism, also probably has an effect.  At least they are not wasting more time on lawsuits.

The legal actions Crist put a halt to include the commission’s appeal of Circuit Judge Paul L. Huey’s ruling in August denying the county’s request to stop Uber from operating in Hillsborough.

The county has another case in Huey’s court asking the judge to declare that transportation commission rules apply to Uber. No hearing has been held on that matter, says Chief Assistant County Attorney Rob Brazel.

Also, Uber has appealed a hearing officer’s ruling that upheld the county’s right to issue citations to the company’s drivers. Both appeals are in Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal.

In any event, there is also the legislative track.  The article lays out the issues.  Basically, the PTC wants to impose its rules statewide.  We do not think that will happen, though you never know.  In any event, all this still shows that the PTC is a vestigial bureaucracy that is completely unnecessary.

South Tampa – New Port Tampa Bay Lives

There was news that the New Port Tampa Bay project (wonder if they will keep that name or get a new one now that the Port has taken it), which was started but abandoned after some foundation work was completed, may come back to life, though in a different form.

Plans are in the works for a prime stretch of undeveloped waterfront real estate near the intersection of Gandy and Westshore boulevards.

The 51-acre site has sat dormant for nearly a decade, since plans for a condominium development crashed along with the real estate market in 2006. BTI Partners, based in Fort Lauderdale, took title to the property almost a year ago.

The site is south of Gandy Boulevard, at Gandy and Bridge Street.

The newest version of plans for the property including the following, according to plans filed with the city on Friday:

BTI’s preliminary master plan filed with the city shows a village-like setup, with mixed-use buildings facing both the waterfront and tree-lined streets. One of the residential buildings will be a 20-story tower with 380 units, adjacent to a nine-story building with 90 units.

Several buildings combine retail and office space; one residential building will include 12,025 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

The previous plans called for 1,750 residential units; 83,750 square feet of office space; 156,250 square feet of commercial space; and the 200-room hotel.

This is the preliminary site plan:

From the Accela website – click for bigger version

It is unclear if this is a full plan of just an idea that will be changed.

Full buildout is likely a six-year process, Daniel said, but the first phase should be open and operating within two-and-a-half to three years of ground breaking. Some experts say the region’s real estate market — especially multifamily — is already trending toward peak, but Daniel said BTI has no concerns about a potential bust in Tampa.

The timetable is interesting and the things about busts is the proper thing to say.  Whether it plays out that way remains to be seen.

And then there is the other point – Gandy is already a mess and there is little to no room to expand it or Westshore or any of the roads around this proposal.  If this got built, how will the local roads handle it?

Westshore and Gandy is already one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in the Bay region, but Daniel said the road configuration within the development could help alleviate that, because Bridge Street will connect to West Tyson Avenue. That should create an alternative route to South of Gandy neighborhoods, Daniel said, and pull some traffic off of Gandy Boulevard.

That may be the case but every supposed fix to Gandy has failed.  The City has avoided really dealing with traffic on Gandy for decades.  If they are going to allow this size a development in this location, they better revisit the Gandy Connector (and wouldn’t real transit connecting a project like this to downtown and points beyond really be helpful.)

In any event, it is also unclear if another very large development can be sustained at this time in this area.  There are so many proposals that some will not come to fruition.  For now, we are just filing this away as an interesting proposal.

Rays – Enter the Money

Now that the Rays season is over we can all focus on St. Pete’s dithering on the stadium issue.  Last week it was revealed that there was an architect imagining what the Trop site could be. That is all very interesting, not particularly relevant.  Everyone can imagine office buildings, apartments and a park – along with a baseball stadium.  But we are nowhere near that issue, namely because St. Pete’s City Council won’t go along with an agreement to let the Rays look at different sites so the future of the Trop site is completely up in the air.

In the meantime, there were a couple of developments.  First, there was a series of proposals for the Toytown site, which has been tossed out as a possible stadium site.  We actually think it would not be a good stadium site, but whatever.  What is interesting is that one of the proposals was for a Braves spring training complex that asked for tax money from the same pot that would help pay for a Rays stadium.  In other words, the project would limit the ability to pay for a Rays stadium in Pinellas.

More interestingly, the Pinellas County Commission is getting annoyed.

A discussion by Pinellas County commissioners about a sports complex proposed for the Toytown landfill on Tuesday shifted abruptly to the commission’s frustration with St. Petersburg’s inability to resolve its stadium issues with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The $662 million SportsPark LLC project, which includes a spring training home for the Atlanta Braves, could eat up as much as $10.5 million a year in county tourism tax money — the same source of money the city would want if the Rays decide to build a new stadium in Pinellas.

But first, the St. Petersburg City Council has to break its stalemate as to whether to allow the Rays to look for a home outside the city before their lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027.

County commissioners said they want an answer from the city so they can make decisions about how to spend that money.

“I’m really tired of hearing the Rays referred to as just belonging to the city of St. Petersburg,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “Pinellas County has a tremendous investment in that stadium. We are being held hostage by them not being able to make a decision.”

No doubt.

The county commission dedicated 1 pennyof the 5-cent tourist tax on hotel rooms for bonds that helped to build Tropicana Field in the mid 1980s. Those bonds were paid off in September, making that money available for other projects, including the proposed sports complex at Toytown.

County Administrator Mark Woodard said there is competition for the tax money, including the SportsPark and $50 million or more to improve spring training facilities for the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Before the Rays discussion, county commissioners heard more details about the SportsPark plan, which a review committee ranked first of three proposals to redevelop the former 240-acre Toytown landfill off of Interstate 275 near Roosevelt Boulevard in northeast St. Petersburg.

How long St. Pete’s dithering will hold up everything else in Pinellas County is unclear.  However, we doubt Pinellas County will let it go on indefinitely.  At some point the Commissioners will have to answer to their voters, a distinct minority of which are in St. Pete.

The real point is that St. Pete is wasting time and losing opportunities.  Every time they delay the Rays site search they actually reduce the possibility that the Rays will stay in St. Pete (and this area).  Their delay serves no one.

Downtown – Trump Tower Site Revisited

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the revised site plan for the Trump Tower site project. (See “Downtown – Trump Tower Site”)   We said:

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.

Usually when we say we’d be happy to see another idea, we get no response.  However, the folks at URBN Tampa Bay did take a shot at some improvements, you can see their full write up here.

This is their drawing on the left:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, our comment was directed more to the fact that Ashley will be left kind of dead and the trade off with activating the Riverwalk and leaving Ashley dead.  In that vein, we like moving one of the lobbies more onto Ashley to save a bit of the streetscape.

Moreover, the URBN Tampa Bay concept have some other merits.  The handling the interaction of the project with Brorein/Ashely to open the Riverwalk to people crossing the bridge is also improved in their proposal.  The plaza on the north end of the lot is nicer than the actual plan, though that would likely necessitate a taller pedestal for parking – which may be cost/height limit prohibitive – and may also hurt the flow into and out of the parking garage too much (the lot is a bit tight).  Also, we are not sure moving the building to the middle of the lot saved view corridors for the buildings across Ashley.

In any event, it is worth looking at their write up.  There are some good ideas that would improve this project.  Hopefully, the developer will consider them.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida. . ./ What Do You Get for a Billion These Days?

As many of you know, we have been tracking billion dollar developments since the Lightning owner announced his plans (actually, we have been tracking them for a while but only started listing them after the announcement.) In that process, we have noted a number of Miami projects.  Also, as we have said a number of times, we are gratified when others contribute because it will take a major push to get this area to change its ways and realize what its potential.  This week brought another happy nexus of those two things.  A contributor to URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to an article summarizing the various (they list five) billion dollar plus developments proposed or under construction in Miami – including one from the Related Group.  We are not going to quote it, but you can read it here.

List of the Week/Looking for Some Great Places

There was an article on the Times website about the Great Places awards.

The American Planning Association announced its 15 great places for 2015 and not a single neighborhood, street or public space in Tampa Bay made the list.

Since 2007, the APA has recognized 246 places, with Tampa Bay getting recognized a grand total of once (7th Avenue in Ybor City was recognized in 2008).

Winners this year included Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, which can be found north of downtown Miami. During the 1920s, this was where Miami’s garment district was, ranking second only to New York City in fashion production. By the 1980s, businesses moved out. It redeveloped in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however. Industrial spaces were transformed into studios, galleries, bars, restaurants and other creative spaces. Recent enhancements include smart-growth practices, four bike-share stations and overall walkability.

Other neighborhoods on APA’s 2015 great neighborhood list include Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row, Kansas City, MO’s Crossroads Arts District and downtown Plano, Tx.

Great streets include Jacksonville’s Laura Street, which stretches from Hemming Park’s northeastern corner at West Duval Street to the Jacksonville Landing ending at East Independent Drive. “Pedestrians were central to the planning and development of Laura Street, which features demarcated crosswalks that enhance the safety and accessibility of the street,’ the APA states. “Visitors can hop off the Skyway automated monorail train at Hemming Park, the anchor of the northern secion of Laura Street, and participate in daily events, dine al fresco, or just take in the sites and public art.”

Other great streets were found in Los Angeles, Asheville, NC., Dayton, OH., and McMinnville, Ore.

San Diego, Boulder, CO., Chicago, Flint, Michigan, Santa Fe, NM., and Houston were all recognized for having great public spaces.

To be honest, we are not much for lists like this.  Like the best beaches list, they tend to not allow having the same place awarded every year which means they have to stretch the definition of what they are considering.  Consequently, they often find good places and feel like they have to call them great.  Then again, we are not on the list.

We have some good places – parts of downtown St Pete, parts of Ybor, a little bit of downtown Tampa.  We really don’t have any great places – especially from a planning standpoint.  Maybe, the Lightning owner’s project might be great.  Maybe, if we get real complete streets and better planning some other areas (for example, north Hyde Park) can be great places.  Really, the point is that we still need to raise our game – not necessarily in colorful master plans but what actually is built – and not just to get on a questionable list but because we really want our area to be great.

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