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Roundup 11-6-2015

November 6, 2015

Contents

Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans

Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives

Transportation – The Tribune on TBX

— On the Road to Nowhere

— A Small Crack or a Feint?

Transportation – Ridesharing Gets the Tallahassee Treatment

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont

Tourism – A Comment on New Marketing

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe a Grocery Store

Seminole Heights – Maybe  We Are Getting Somewhere

Isolated Pockets or a Real City

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

______________________________

Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans

It appears that the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough plan will be forthcoming . . . or will it?

After nearly a year of public outreach and planning, Hillsborough County released its long-awaited transportation plan on Monday night — or rather, plans.

Three different options for addressing Hillsborough’s transportation problems were unveiled. One focused entirely on roads. Another offered light rail and other transit options. The third was a balance of the other two, focused mostly on roads while increasing bus service.

The three plans will get their first public airing at a Thursday meeting by the Hillsborough Policy Leadership Group, a gathering of elected county and city officials guiding the effort to build a transportation plan that may go to voters in 2016.

As if three plans weren’t enough for leaders and voters to consider, the final report also presented six funding options that can be combined in various ways to finance each of the three plans.

Generally, presenting options is good.  However, given the inability of elected officials to make any decision about transportation improvements except to stretch the process out interminably, maybe having too many options is not so good.  Anyway, the whole purpose of the outreach was to narrow the list, not make it bigger.  In any event,

“We’ll present some menus that kind of give everyone a starting point and then basically let the policy leadership group ask questions,” County Administrator Mike Merrill said. “We’re not going to ask for any decisions of any kind. But my hope is that after we present this it will begin to show that we’re narrowing down the choices.”

Good luck with that. So these are the options:

This plan would also provide limited transit solutions. It would expand the hours and frequencies of the current bus system, expand the frequency and range of the streetcar downtown, and create a transit system that would connect downtown to Tampa International Airport.

It would also allow for boat dock and golf cart crossings in Temple Terrace, a rail quiet zone in downtown Tampa and invest more in new roads, sidewalks and “complete streets” projects, which are designed for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

Which is pretty much 1) do nothing, 2) half cent tax, and 3) full cent tax. (And remember that none of the proposed plans so far has really been the coordinated systematic approach we really need, anyway).  Why this took so long just to tell us what we already knew is a mystery – unless you consider the complete lack of political will.  The really amazing thing is that after years of all this, the TED/PLC/GO Hillsborough process has not created any more confidence in anything it is doing.  As the Times said in an editorial:

This initiative is doomed to fail if local leaders are afraid at the outset to seriously consider raising enough money to pay for a robust transportation plan. The driving force behind this discussion must be the work plan to modernize the transit system — not the potential political fallout from putting a tax on the ballot. Voters need to see a vision and a timetable for improving their commutes, a plan for attracting new residents and a strategy for expanding and diversifying the economy.

Unfortunately, the local officials have given us no reason to think that will actually happen.

And if that was not enough, there was also this:

A 2016 transportation referendum lost a key vote Wednesday night when Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said she would not support putting a sales tax on next year’s ballot.

Instead, Murman released her own transportation plan on the eve of the long-awaited presentation of the county’s Go Hillsborough initiative — a transportation plan more than a year in the making.

So why go along with the process for all that time and then toss out basically a nonstarter?

Murman, however, wants to take one funding option off the table right now.

“I want to consider an option without a referendum,” she said. “Too many people want to get stuff done now. They don’t want to wait to see if a referendum will pass or not.”

Setting aside that people have long wanted to get something done but there was no proposal to do that until this week, we were going to try to say something clever and then list a group of quotes where she supported Go Hillsborough – before she didn’t – but this is all so silly, we’ll just put the quotes:

GO Hillsborough is about truly understanding our transportation needs and desires at a grassroots level, exploring what makes sense in our residents’ daily lives and then helping them make what we all know will be some important and likely tough choices,” said Sandra Murman, chair of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners. “In the end, I feel confident that we will have a meaningful, supportable transportation strategy that will serve our families, our businesses and organizations, and our broad community well.”

and also here. And

Director Murman said it was important that BART TDP is meshed into the needs and wants from the list being formulated from the Go Hillsborough outreach sessions.

And

County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a member of the leadership group, said the decision to go for a half-cent tax increase was based on polling and comments made at Go Hillsborough public meetings, telephone town halls, and other surveys.

And

Yet Leytham wasn’t the first one to pave the way for Parsons to land the work; a week before she sent Merrill the Aug. 19, 2014 text, Commissioner Murman got the Transportation Economic Development (TED) Policy Group on-board with the idea of hiring an engineer for the now-$1.35 million contract job.

“When you do a branding campaign, (bringing in) someone who is an expert in transportation (will) allow us to do this people-centric proposal,” Murman said, in-between glances at her notes. “Kind of like the people that did the Invision campaign for the mayor.”

And don’t forget reports of the Commissioner trying to get another consultant to do the outreach work.  (And we did not even dig into meeting transcripts)

In any event, that is all in the (very recent) past. Which is fine if it pays for the needs, but it won’t.  (You can read the plan and the critique in the article here.)

This is what we think generally about the last minute proposal: First, we see nothing wrong with looking at alternative sources of revenue.  However, that should have been done long ago and in a more comprehensive way.  Second, it is unlikely that the alternative sources of revenue proposed will actually meet the needs of the area.  Third, it is not even clear what the revenue is supposed to cover.  It seems like it will cover very little and not allow for any upgrades – which is the Tea Party position. (Like we said, you can read the article for details.)  Fourth, why wait until now to propose this, especially when you endorsed the outreach over and over again? It is really hard to have faith in the local officials when they waste years dithering then propose a mess of ideas all in one week while running away from their own process.

In the event, the TED/PLC group did what was entirely predictable (the obvious set up of the “three options” silliness):

A Hillsborough County transportation board voted overwhelmingly Thursday to move forward with a sales tax referendum for transportation projects, but the measure faces an uncertain fate on the county commission.

The county’s transportation Policy Leadership Group voted 11-3 to recommend that the county commission put a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot. The commission is scheduled to make that decision in December.

Which is no slam dunk because, as we have seen, the Commissioners have a habit of flip-flopping all over the place:

Buckhorn’s motion was backed by the mayors of Plant City and Temple Terrace, the chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and four county commissioners — Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, and Republicans Ken Hagan and Victor Crist.

The three no votes were Republican Commissioners Sandy Murman, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham.

Still, Crist is holding open his options when the matter comes to a vote again.

“We have transportation issues right now and this is the only plan on the table,” Crist said after the meeting. “We haven’t finished working out the concerns revolving around it. To end it all here would make no sense.”

Actually, to get a plan and then vote on it would make a lot of sense.  To continue the farce of endless discussions would not make any sense.  But, as we all know, the County Commission is the only thing that really counts in this issue – and it has a very hard time making a decision.

In other words, at least regarding transportation, it is business as usual.

Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy

As most people probably know by now, Google Fiber is looking at bringing their very fast internet service to Tampa.

Google announced Wednesday it may bring its ultra-fast Internet service, Google Fiber, to Tampa, a prospect that could eventually allow customers of all providers to drink from a fire hose of data after long sipping from a faucet.

If Google Fiber does eventually come to Tampa — the company insists it isn’t a certainty — analysts said it will undoubtedly disrupt the existing Internet and TV marketplace and benefit consumers by pressuring other providers to offer faster, cheaper service.

Google said the service offers Internet speeds of a gigabit per second of data transfer on a fiber optic network — fast enough to download a movie in seconds. That is nearly 100 times faster that the U.S. average for residential customers.

But Google said it will do it at a fraction of the cost. In other markets, Google charges $70 monthly for its Internet-only service and a plan with both gigabit Internet and TV for $130 monthly with channels generally comparable to other companies.

And that is very good – something we have been advocating for a while, though:

Google’s announcement names only Tampa. But in other U.S. cities where Google Fiber is available such as Kansas City, the network extends to a greater metro area that includes some adjoining communities.

Google is silent on the question of whether it might bring service to other parts of Hillsborough, or even Pinellas and the North Suncoast.

Just putting in within the city limits would be odd and not help a lot of the local companies that are not in the city limits (including basically everything on I-75, so we’ll just assume for the purpose of this discussion that they will put it in the county, too. If it isn’t, someone at the County center should be working overtime to rectify that, along with all the other things they do not get done).  So what now?

Does this mean Google Fiber is definitely coming to Tampa? Far from it, said Google. The technology behemoth said it must first work with Tampa officials to see what would need to be done from a technical and engineering perspective to expand the network to Tampa.

It is possible, Google said, that it will ultimately decide Tampa poses knotty hurdles that make the city unfeasible. The company said the exploration process has taken up to a year in other cities.

But since 2012 when Google Fiber was rolled out, the company has yet to cut any of the 15 U.S. cities where it has made similar announcements.

* * *

Google is providing Tampa with a check list that asks for a wide range of information necessary before it starts laying fiber optics. That includes detailed information on permitting and access issues tied to existing Internet and cable TV infrastructure such as underground conduits and utility poles.

Given the size of the network — thousands of miles of fiber optic cable would be laid — Google said advanced planning is necessary so city officials are not overwhelmed and work can be done efficiently and smoothly.

And what was the City’s reaction?

“If we’re going to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem here, we’ve got to have the ability to move data,” Buckhorn said. “And our ability to move data gives us a competitive advantage. … We’re going to compete hard to win this.”

Pretty much the only reaction there could be.  Can you imagine someone getting in the way of this idea (or the Lightning owner’s plan)?

Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the announcement a great day for Tampa and said Google Fiber would give business in the city an edge enjoyed by just a small handful of American cities.

And, yes, as we said, it would be cool.  Let’s look at just how cool.  This is where Google has, plans to or is looking at putting Google fiber:

From Telecompetitor – click on map for article

That would put us with some interesting places.

On their Google Fiber blog, the company says, “These growing tech-hubs have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to small business growth. Their list of accolades is long—from Jacksonville’s title as a top 10 city for tech jobs, to Tampa Bay’s #2 spot on the list of best cities for young entrepreneurs, to Oklahoma City’s recognition as the #1 city to launch a business. One of our goals is to make sure speed isn’t an accidental ceiling for how people and businesses use the Web, and these cities are the perfect places to show what’s possible with gigabit Internet.”

Wait, Jacksonville is better than us in tech jobs?  Don’t we keep hearing how we lead the state in such things?  Anyway, it would be nice to get on the list with some of the usual suspects.  Surely, faster internet will help our area – as will a bit of Google fiber caché.  Of that we have no doubt.

But, as with other things, there are a few caveats.  First, the deal is not done (though we assume it will be because, as we said, what government official will dare get in the way.)  But there is something else.

Some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds let you download an HD movie within 7 seconds. But next month, Atlanta will get access to Internet service from Comcast that will cut that time in half.

Comcast announced on Thursday that it will soon begin offering a service capable of delivering Internet speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second — that’s twice as fast as Google Fiber’s top speeds and 200 times what the average U.S. household currently gets. And, the company claims, it will soon be available to 1.5 million Atlanta residents.

Wait.  What?  Yes, you read that right.  And

But one potential competitor need not worry – Verizon. Google has methodically avoided any Verizon territory, FiOS or otherwise, with these Google Fiber moves. The same can’t be said for AT&T, who has their own gigabit fiber plans  underway in multiple markets, again, due in large part to countering Google’s move into the service provider business. Google and AT&T are already going head-to-head in a few markets, with many more to come.

Google is now studying Tampa – a current Verizon territory, but only temporarily. If and when Google begins overbuilding Tampa, Verizon will probably have long since left Tampa, assuming their network sale to Frontier goes through. Tampa will continue to be a FiOS territory – just a Frontier FiOS one.

A quick look at the market (and we mean quick, using Google, of course) makes it pretty clear that, while Google is driving competition in internet service, which is good, the future belongs to higher internet speeds in most major areas.

The point is this: we are all for Google fiber coming here.  Who wouldn’t want much better internet speeds? And, obviously, that will help business.  But, this is less about putting us so far ahead of the usual suspects and more about keeping us up with them.  Of course, for this area, that is an achievement in and of itself.  (And if the local officials will not create the other amenities necessary to take advantage of the draw – like a real transit system and proper planning to encourage those Millennials to want to settle here with their businesses, it will not really achieve its potential).

So, once again, be happy but be realistic.

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives

There was a WTSP piece about the Gandy Connector.

Every day, more calls come into the City of Tampa from people begging planners to fix the morning and evening mess along a one-mile stretch of Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

And — get this — four out of every 10 cars stuck on that road don’t want to be there. They don’t need to shop and they don’t want to stop. They’re just using it to get between the Gandy Bridge and the Selmon Expressway, moving between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

So the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is reviving a study from 2010 to look at extending the west end of the Selmon Expressway.

The new expressway would be an elevated toll road, with the surface 30 feet up and supported by narrow columns placed in the median of Gandy Boulevard. With one lane in each direction, the road would connect directly to the Gandy Bridge.

“The commuter traffic, the traffic that has no destination on Gandy Boulevard, would go up on this express lane and leave Gandy Boulevard for the residents and the businesses,” spokeswoman Sue Chrzan told me.

Chrzan said her agency’s previous study of the idea in 2010 indicated it would end the local South Tampa traffic mess, create a much faster regional route between Tampa and St. Pete, and even relieve some traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

And all this has been obvious for years – decades.  Much of the traffic on Gandy has no interest in patronizing any business there – it is just forced on the road.  (Actually, getting those people off of Gandy would actually help people who actually want to shop get to their destination, which is why the decades’ long opposition to a connector has been so silly.) The reason the connector is not built has nothing to do with need or knowledge of the issue.  It has everything to do with the weakness of political leadership caving to a small number of very loud people – typical Tampa planning.  But don’t get too excited:

Right now, they’re in the very early stages — just dusting off the plans they put on hold five years ago, and looking at what’s changed since then.

And then they will get public comment, where the same voices will come out and complain.  The City Council will then have to decide whether they are going to actually help solve the problem or just cave again.

Transportation – The Tribune on TBX

The Tribune had an interesting editorial on TBX.

The ongoing debate over the proposed express toll lanes leading into and out of Tampa is a healthy exercise for ensuring the Florida Department of Transportation does everything it can to minimize the impact on the affected neighborhoods.

But the argument by hard-core opponents that the express lanes are unnecessary is misguided.

The lanes will add capacity to the major interstate system feeding the Tampa Bay area’s busiest commercial center. Interstate 275 delivers passengers to Tampa International Airport, freight to Port Tampa Bay, tourists to the beaches and workers to and from their jobs each day.

Even if this area had a high-functioning mass transit system in place, the added road capacity would be needed. Traffic around Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge is already stressed and can be expected to get worse as the area’s population grows and tourism continues its record-setting pace. Additionally, the project will be designed to accommodate future mass transit corridors.

Express lanes charge a toll for the convenience of ducking off the free lanes to drive in less congested lanes. The toll amount varies depending on the traffic piling up in the free lanes.

First, yes, we still need some highway lanes – and a lot of transit.  But, once again, variable rate toll lanes are designed to have lower capacity than normal lanes. (For instance, see “Transportation – More on TBX”)  The lanes’ express purpose is to raise tolls to get people to not drive in them.  They whole program seems much more ideological than practical. (Which is further evidenced by this URBN Tampa Bay post that explains how the TBX public outreach works.)

Also of note is this map from URBN Tampa Bay shows just how much land TBX will eat up near downtown (including part of an apartment complex that was touted as part of the downtown renewal when it was first built.)

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

Needless to say that, if true, that will not help “intown Tampa.”

Regardless of any of that, the Tribune makes this point:

Express lanes are working in the Miami-Dade area and planned for Orlando and Jacksonville.

So how are they working in South Florida?

The cost of using the Interstate 95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County is soaring for some drivers.

In September, commuters on 19 days paid the maximum $10.50 toll to use the northbound express lanes during the afternoon rush hour. It set a single month record since March 2014, when rates on the seven-mile stretch of road rose from $1 to $1.50 per mile.

The rates went up because the old maximum toll of $7 wasn’t moving traffic fast enough. Now it appears the new rates are not having the desired impact either, especially since traffic is expected to worsen as snowbirds and vacationers arrive.

Officials would not say if the state planned to raise tolls again.

But drivers who use the express lanes for a faster trip home to Broward or Palm Beach counties are feeling the impact on their wallets.

“Unless you have wealth to spend $7 to $10 every night to go home, that adds up too high for my budget,” said David Woodward, who commutes from Pembroke Pines to Coconut Grove. “We all have to use this one road north and south. I would love to take some sort of mass transit if the system really was efficient. My work hours dictate the hours I need to use the highway.”

Without actual options (and even with some limited options like Tri-Rail), the express lanes do not function properly – getting people off the road – because what choice do they have? South Florida even has some options (though they are limited between Miami and Broward), but the lanes still do not work.

The state’s goal is to maintain travel speeds of at least 45 mph 90 percent of the time. But that has only happened in the northbound lanes two months since the toll was increased.

Which, among other things, sort of renders this a poor argument:

Concerns this would be the first of many expansion projects are unfounded. The DOT says this will be designed as the final widening for that stretch of interstate. And complaints about the express lanes being unfair to motorists who can’t afford the tolls fail to acknowledge that cars taken off the free lanes eases congestion on those lanes.

But not as many cars as if the variable rate lanes were not designed to keep cars out.  And those cars forced out of the variable rate lanes by the tolls which exist specifically to push them out of the variable rate lanes will add to congestion on the normal lanes which are already overburdened.  How that will actually help most people get around or solve transportation issues is unclear – and not addressed by the Tribune.  And that is a real problem (as well as the lack of coordination with the any countywide transportation system that may be proposed). Of course, as long as local officials are not willing to have a real vision, a real plan, and the political will to really push it, we will have to rely on FDOT and be stuck with what they offer. (And it is definitely easier – and the path of least resistance – for local officials to just rubber stamp whatever FDOT says than to actually think the whole problem through.)

— On the Road to Nowhere

Given FDOT’s non-coordinated, $6-9 billion TBX plan, it should not be surprising that there are some other oddities around the state.

Known for its raunchy spring breaks and nearby military base, Panama City has barely grown in nearly 15 years.

From 2000 to 2013, the city itself added only 416 people. Its current metro population is one-fifteenth the size of Tampa Bay.

And yet it’s there that the Florida Department of Transportation is planning to build 55 miles of new highway.

State officials say the Gulf Coast and West Bay parkways are needed to ease congestion on the stretch of U.S. 98 that cuts directly into Panama City. But the two routes are curious alternatives for motorists because they wind far outside city limits and drift into another county with the motto “Uncrowded. Unspoiled. Untouched.”

The combined cost to taxpayers? Nearly $1 billion.

Both parkways epitomize Gov. Rick Scott’s investment strategy for Florida’s transportation network. In a state where people are driving less than they were 10 years ago, Scott is steering billions into new highways geared to help developers transform rural lands into sprawling suburban communities.

In the case of West Bay Parkway, one beneficiary will be the St. Joe Co., one of the state’s largest private landowners with holdings nearby planned for development. 

Needless to say, this expenditure is questionable unless you are a road builder or a large landowner near the proposed road – or just ideologically predisposed to building roads everywhere, even if they are not needed.  We are not going to get into a lot of detail (you can do that at this article.). The point is that the priorities seem to be a bit out of whack with the needs, especially if we want to attract Millennials, as noted by the new head of the EDC. And $1 billion would go a long way to building the beginning of real transit here – where millions of Floridians actually live.

— A Small Crack or a Feint?

Which is why this little crack (probably due to the organized opposition to TBX) in the road obsession is welcome, if cautiously:

The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday offered to work with the Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority and to pay for a feasibility study of options for expanding mass transit such as light rail or commuter rail.

“We’ve got a lot of different people who have done pieces of things,” FDOT District 7 Paul Steinman told the Tampa City Council, but no one has ever looked at all the options.

The offer, which has not been formally made to HART, came as a surprise to council member Lisa Montelione, who had asked for Steinman to report to the council on FDOT’s project plans for the area.

* * *

Steinman said the idea for an overall transit feasibility study came out of the community meetings that the FDOT has started holding on its controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion project.

In those meetings, one of the things FDOT officials have heard is that people want alternatives to TBX.

FDOT is not backing off its plans for TBX, a multi-billion-dollar project to expand the downtown “Malfunction Junction” interchange, rebuild Interstate 275’s interchange at State Road 60 and add tolled express lanes to interstates 4, 75 and 275 in Pinellas and Hillsborough county.

“I think those pieces are very much necessary,” Steinman said. But “I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.”

First, this is not a formal plan yet.  Second, if you are going to do a comprehensive study 1) why did it not take place with the County as it was trying to plan, 2) why is it not comprehensive and include roads and transit, and 3) it needs to be a serious study and should not serve as just a Band-Aid to quiet those who oppose TBX.  (And why shouldn’t TBX be on the table given how expensive it is and how unpopular it is in some areas) Hey, maybe even FDOT realizes that without alternatives variable rate lanes are really ineffective.

But setting that aside, it is about time that there was a move to examine transit by FDOT in coordination with local officials.  The big questions we have are 1) is FDOT serious and 2) can local officials collectively (not each individual) be trusted to do anything other than mess it all up due to their collective (not individual) lack of vision and political will.  After all, over the decades it is the local officials collectively who have really let us down.

The transportation department helped fund Tri-Rail in Miami and SunRail in the Orlando area before embarking on major widening of interstates there, said Kevin Thurman, director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay group. Thurman said he would like Tampa area residents get the same choices.

“Before they do a single bit of work on I-275, they need to treat us as well as they treated those other areas,” Thurman said.

That is true, but, without local leadership, that will not happen.

Once again, this is not even really an offer yet.  All one can really say is that we shall see.

Transportation – Ridesharing Gets the Tallahassee Treatment

A few things happened with ridesharing in the last few weeks.  First,

Uber is one step closer to operating here legally now that the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has filed a document saying the company’s insurance policies meet state requirements.

Another strike against the PTC.  And then this happened

A bill filed by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz would pre-empt any local governments from attempting to regulate transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

His bill is similar to one that died in the 2015 session when the State House of Representatives ended early.

Instead of local regulations, Gaetz’s bill would require any representative of a TNC to get an annual permit from the state for $5,000, according to a report in Florida Politics.

We are ok with statewide regulation, and we are ok with an annual fee.  However, considering that many drivers are just doing it part time and that doctors and lawyers pay under $400 a year for their license, a $5,000 annual permit seems a bit excessive. In fact, it seems like one more attempt by supposedly free market, private enterprise loving elected officials to just protect specific industries and owners.

EDIT: A reader made clear that we misread the report.  Apparently, the $5000/year is for Uber or Lyft – or another rideshare company – not the drivers.  As such, that would be reasonable and we would have no problem with it, provided all the other regulations made sense.  Sorry for the mistake.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont

While the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is foundering and there is no money for transportation infrastructure, the County Commission is busy at work, still trying to spend money on playing fields.

Hillsborough County leaders are close to choosing a 65-acre tract on the Columbus Drive extension as the future home of an amateur sports complex.

The site, between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road, is already owned by the county government — a major factor in its selection by a three-person evaluation team. Plus, it is surrounded by a network of roads and highways capable of handling the thousands of fans that county leaders hope will be drawn to tournaments at the complex.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan secured $15 million for a sports complex nearly three years ago. A top-flight center with tournament-quality fields can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased sales and hotel bed taxes, Hagan said.

“It’s a challenge finding enough acreage to build a tournament-sized facility,” Hagan said after reviewing the evaluation committee report.

“With this parcel, we’re very fortunate to have county-owned land right in the middle of development,” he said, “so we don’t have to worry about building it and waiting for development to follow. It’s already there.”

Here is a map of the site:

From the Tribune – click on map for article

Nothing like a fun day a bunch of kids playing in the shadow of the jail.

“There’s a lot of interest in youth sports; families follow them around,” said Rodney Paul, professor of sports management at Syracuse University. “It’s something that generates overnight stays, which are an important component if you want to generate the multiplier effect on other businesses.”

Paul added one cautionary element, however. As more counties or cities in a region add their own sports meccas for soccer moms and dads, the economic pie gets sliced into more and smaller pieces.

“The negative view is if the market becomes saturated, then you are competing with other markets and those advantages go away,” he said. 

Exactly, so why should public money be used for a speculative business proposition?  This is not merely building a park where local kids can play.  This is a big investment in an area where everyone else is trying to build as well (the Bass Pro Shops of youth sports, if you will) – literally almost everyone else.   This is not a major need for the area. And, as anyone who has any knowledge of travel sports knows, most of the tournaments played there will just draw mostly people within a 1-1 ½ hours drive anyway (and people coming from farther away will likely spend one night in a relatively cheap hotel, buy some chicken wings or pizza, and leave).  This will not be Disney Wide World of Sports. It is not major economic development, and there is no clamor to spend taxpayer money on this. It is just not a priority.

Maybe the County Commission should focus on things that matter.

Tourism – A Comment on New Marketing

It appears that Visit Tampa Bay is going to launch its biggest marketing effort ever:

Visit Tampa Bay will launch its most ambitious tourism marketing campaign on Sunday, targeting travelers in Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Dallas, as well as in Canada, England and Germany.

The new $1.7 million “Florida’s Most” campaign, which comes on the heels of Hillsborough County’s strongest tourism year on record, lays claim to Tampa Bay’s bragging rights as a place that combines all the greatest Florida experiences in a single destination, according to Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism arm.

And that is fine, if it brings a return.  Given the growth in tourism overall in the US, tourism will probably grow.  Frankly, this is pretty routine stuff and we would not comment on it except we noticed this:

“Visitors come to the state looking for lots of different things — thrill rides, outdoor recreation, exciting history, creative cuisine, Cuban culture and craft beer. They find them all here in Tampa Bay,” said Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada. “On top of that, our unique set of attractions — including the Tampa Riverwalk and Gasparilla season — guarantees that visitors go home with memories they can’t make anywhere else.”

And Gasparilla is definitely different from elsewhere.  But the Riverwalk?  Really.  There are riverwalks in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, not to mention the park around Lake Eola and all manners of cities elsewhere (including Europe).  Now we like the Riverwalk.  We think it is really nice, but it is not unique.  We get that Visit Tampa Bay’s is to sell the area, so it gets a little leeway on the hype, but we prefer our hype be based in fact.

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe a Grocery Store

Downtown may finally be getting a grocery store (other than Duckweed, of course).  You can read the speculation here.  Probable location is the Martin.  Given all the past false starts of both the grocery store and the Martin, we are not going to say anything more until something actually happens. Hopefully, that will be soon.

Seminole Heights – Maybe  We Are Getting Somewhere

We have long noted that Seminole Heights is really the epicenter for interesting things going on, partially because it costs less than downtown and South Tampa allowing more chance taking and being freeform.  It is also really ready to take off, despite the City’s focus being very much elsewhere. Anyway, hot on the heels of one loft development on Florida Avenue, there is news of another.

The developer behind the Warehouse Lofts in Seminole Heights is zeroing in on a nearby site for his next project — a mixed-use building at the corner of North Florida and East Wilder avenues.

Wesley Burdette said Tuesday he is under contract to acquire the .87-acre site at 5023 N. Florida Ave., where he’ll demolish the old warehouse on the site and build a five-story apartment building with ground-level retail and a rooftop lounge. Like the Warehouse Lofts, it will include an on-site dog park.

While it could change in the coming months, Burdette said the building should include about 50 loft-style apartments and 2,800 square feet of retail space. If all goes as planned — and pending approval of his plans by the city’s architectural review commission — he’ll close on the land in December, break ground in early 2016 and residents will move in by summer 2016.

Here is a rendering:

From SkycraperCity – click on picture for website

And here is the location.

All we can say is great.  Great new construction.  Great location.  Great to have Florida get some projects that really fit with what it should be, especially since for years the City has allowed all sorts of silliness for decades.  We hope to see more of this and less of the used car dealerships.  And let’s get a real transit connection.

Isolated Pockets or a Real City

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a very interesting item from ATL Urbanist about what they call “drive-to urbanism.”

The Atlanta region is famous for its car-centric sprawl, which separates houses and destinations from each other in ways that demand car trips. We often think of this type of built environment as being exclusive to the outer suburbs, but that isn’t true.

When it comes to mobility options, there’s good and bad to be found in both the burbs and the city. Just as there are wonderfully walkable places in the outskirts of the region (check out lovely downtown Woodstock, GA for an example), elements of car-dependency can can end up marring our best intown efforts at walkable urban development.

A mixed-use, compact place like Atlantic Station (below) can be a pleasure to walk through once you’re inside. But approaching it on foot or bike from another neighborhood can be a challenge – and the streets themselves are at fault.

Indeed.  It is notable that the example used above – Atlantic Station – while formerly a rail yard has no rail transit connection to the rest of the Atlanta and is cut off from Midtown by the interstate.  The point is that having some walkable activity centers is nice, but it does not make a real city nor does it alleviate traffic.  It just redirects traffic to the parking garages of the walkable areas.  If Tampa is not careful, that is what will happen here – even with a little streetcar extension (which is by no means assured).  Transit serves to connect the walkable areas so that you do not need to drive – even to get to the walkable areas.  Or, as we recently saw eloquently put about LA:

Christopher Hawthorne, who writes about architecture for the Los Angeles Times, has characterized this new era as “the Third Los Angeles,” arguing that, having moved beyond the compact, civic-minded municipality of the first half of the 20th century and the familiar freeway sprawl of the postwar years, the metropolis is now becoming a collection of more integrated, livable, post-suburban villages that retain their own character even as they’re connected by public spaces (like the L.A. River) and public transit (like the expanded Metro system).

With the major activity nodes obviously the focus of connections.

You can read the whole Atlanta article for yourself.  Just remember, the point of transit is not for tourists.  It is to weave together the various districts of a city to make them a cohesive whole – which tourists can obviously use.   Otherwise, you just have isolated nodes divided by a sea of traffic that never really melds together.

Which brings us to an interesting idea that came up last week.

Revelers from across the region converge on the SoHo district in South Tampa every weekend, boosting trade for bars and restaurants but also bringing late night noise and trash and creating a major parking headache.

Not to mention drunk drivers.

Particularly problematic is bar hoppers clogging South Howard Avenue blasting loud music from their cars as they flit between bars and restaurants.

Soon, there could be quieter alternatives.

Tampa and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials are collaborating on a plan to run a trolley service between downtown Tampa and Howard Avenue on weekend evenings and nights. The service would run between Fort Brooke parking garage and Howard Avenue from early evening to about 3:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, a local business owner is poised to launch a free shuttle program, perhaps as soon as next month, that would run along South Howard Avenue.

HART has already agreed to fund a 90-day pilot it hopes to start before the end of the year, said Councilman Mike Suarez, who also serves as chairman of HART’s governing board and who came up with the idea. The service could begin before the end of the year.

It would mean visitors could get to SoHo without the hassle of finding a parking spot, Suarez said. Those who drink too much could use the service to avoid drinking and driving and use taxis or ride-sharing services to complete their trip home, he said.

They could, and should, but will they (especially if they have to pay to leave their car downtown)? In any event, we think this is a good idea.  Not only does it help parking and maybe keep the SoHo area a bit more civilized.  It helps get people used to the idea they do not need to drive to every location.  They can walk a little.

Among the details still to be finalized are whether the city would contribute toward the service, which, if popular, would boost its parking revenue. The cost for the pilot would be about $30,000.

The city would also have to decide if the garage needed a parking attendant to take payments and assist people exiting the garage as it does at the William F. Poe Garage when events are held at the nearby David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Um, yea, the City should contribute, not just for parking revenue, but because it provides a useful service and could help stop SoHo from choking on its own success (and bring people downtown).

It will be interesting to see how many people actually use it (and if it spins off more of a scene downtown).  Yet, how much better would it be if SoHo were not some isolated, sort of walkable (at least on some blocks) area in a sea of what is basically sprawl forcing so many people to drive?  And how much easier (and better for the neighbors) would it be if there was a real transit service that connected SoHo to the rest of the city and area – an idea that has been around for at least 20 years?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Here is a video of Richard Branson “bragging on Virgin America,” as the Business Journal put it.  Virgin America is a good airline with a big presence on the West Coast.  It also flies to Orlando and South Florida, as well as a number of other usual suspects.  What it does not do is fly to Tampa – especially Tampa to San Francisco.  We really need that flight.

List of the Week

Most weeks, we present a list about who has the best quail and arugula filled scones or which city’s parks have the most splash pad jets.  This week we get serious and present a pre-list, aka a poll: VH1+’s Most Metal Cities in America.

Not coincidentally, the nominees include many of the usual suspects on development (is the EDC paying attention?): Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Portland (OR), Richmond, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa.

Now, you have the chance to really show your Tampa swagger.  Go vote.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. roethlisberger permalink
    November 6, 2015 6:51 AM

    The $5,000 permit is for Uber and Lyft to pay once, not for drivers to individually pay. If it were, you’d be right, that would be silly.

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