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Roundup 12-4-2015

December 4, 2015


Transportation – TBX, FDOT, and the City

— And One More Thing

Transportation – The Streetcar to Somewhere-ish

Transportation – Where the Money Isn’t

TIA – When You Don’t Settle

Economic Development – Some R&D

Downtown/Channel District – The Club and the Publix

Downtown/Hyde Park – Trump Site Sells

— And One More Thing

Downtown/Channel District – Checking in With USF

Bucs – A Deal

Move the Vote

Seminole Heights – Innovation District

Built Environment – Choices

List of the Week


Transportation – TBX, FDOT, and the City

There has been a lot of criticism on FDOT, TBX, and the effect it will have on the revitalizing neighborhoods near downtown.  This week, the Times ran an article on one specific issue that has garnered a lot of attention.

With a busy off-ramp just 50 feet away, the former church on Palm Avenue exists in the shadow of Interstate 275, and for two decades the state has planned to bulldoze the red-brick building to make way for a major highway expansion.

But over the last five years, the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association has invested thousands of volunteer hours and attracted an estimated $1 million in donated materials and services to create a community center.

The result so far: What was the sanctuary of the old Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church is now an airy meeting room. Old church pews have been remade into a stage. Arched windows have been restored. The computer room has no desks, but kids lie on the floor to use two rows of computers.

Still, this month, the civic association got a reminder — not the first — that its success is on a collision course with the state’s plan for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion.

On Nov. 11, City Hall sent the association a cease-and-desist notice for three partially constructed projects at the old church: a commercial kitchen, a small recording studio and an aquaculture pond and greenhouse in a nearby community garden.

FDOT owns the building.  FDOT leased it to the City (no idea why) which let the Civic association use it. The association had permission to use the building because the highway expansion was supposed to be far in the future.   Then FDOT decided, without any public input, to accelerate the expansion with the TBX project – without providing any alternatives to the TBX project and without providing any alternative to using the lanes if they are built (a major feature of the express lane theory).

We are not going to get into the wisdom of investing time and money into a structure that FDOT has said it wants to demolish, and we are not going to get into who should send a cease and desist letter.  Our question is more basic: why has the City sided with FDOT almost completely on all aspects of TBX? It has taken no steps to protect the “InTown” neighborhoods that are supposedly key to all sorts of redevelopment plans.  It has not worked to get FDOT to work TBX into the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process and see if anyone actually wants it?  And while the City has talked of a light rail system, there have been no real plans proposed. It has really just gone along with TBX without comment. (As has the County, apparently.)

We are not for dismantling the interstate, like some call for.  We actually think the interstate should be improved.  However, we do not think TBX will really do that – on the contrary, it will not really provide congestion relief and will further chop up “InTown” neighborhoods.  We think there needs to be a balanced and comprehensive solution (not this piecemeal approach). And we do not think the people should be completely ignored.  The real mystery is why the City seems to be ignoring a threat to its stated goal of fixing up these neighborhoods in an urban and walkable way – even if just trying to craft a compromise solution with some interstate improvement. Other than habit, why is it settling?

— And One More Thing

One more note on TBX-the following FDOT graphic was listed on a Facebook page (you can click on it to go to the Facebook page) linked to URBN Tampa Bay

From FDOT via URBN Tampa Bay via Jim Hartnett – click on chart for Facebook posting

It was taken from this pdf  on page 15 (which is page 8 of the pdf file).  It is a little easier to read in the pdf.

If you look closely at the list, there are a few things of note.  First, the only “fixed guideway” system in the Tampa Bay area (built, planned, etc.) is the Streetcar.  MetroRapid is not on the list, though the list includes some other BRT lines in the state.  That makes sense because MetroRapid is not BRT and has no fixed guideway – in fact it is questionable whether any bus can be fixed guideway.  Remember that next time an article refers to MetroRapid as BRT.

Also, FDOT fudges the “fixed guideway” idea by listing buses that run in express lanes/variable rate lanes.  We do not consider those fixed guideway systems because there is no fixed guideway and there is other traffic.  They are buses in express lanes – similar to a bus running in a regular interstate.  And remember that every bus in a variable rate lane causes those lanes to be more congested and leads to higher tolls for other drivers.

The bottom line is that 1) FDOT is fudging the fixed guideway concept to try to make express lanes seem better (like in this Tribune editorial.) while eating up the median that could be used for rail and 2) the Tampa Bay area is woefully underserved by real transit. Even if there is interstate expansion, it should be done as part of a comprehensive transportation plan – not a piecemeal, very expensive and unvetted approach.

One more thing to note is that the pdf on page 9 (page 5 of the pdf file) clearly indicates that both commuter rail and self-propelled diesel (in other words DMU) can run on freight tracks – like the CSX tracks.

Transportation – The Streetcar to Somewhere-ish

Part of the explanation for why the City may not be so active in dealing with the negative effects of TBX (and not really having decent exits from the variable rate lanes) may involve this:

With the outcome of the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum still uncertain, Tampa is pushing ahead with plans to transform the Tampa Historic Streetcar into a genuine commuter option for city dwellers.

Three consulting firms have submitted their qualifications to bid for a $1.2 million contract to study extending and modernizing the 2.7-mile streetcar line that runs from the Channel District to Ybor City. City leaders have identified the project as a critical part of revitalizing downtown Tampa and catering to millennials who want alternatives to the automobile.

Actually, from what we have seen in reports last year, the proposed extension of the streetcar, while welcome, would not deal with commuters really at all – it would make it a more useful way of getting around downtown and the areas very near it. (Though, maybe they will look at going to Westshore/TIA someday.  Maybe)  To wit:

Among the challenges the winning firm will face is how to extend the streetcar route through the city’s busy downtown. City officials have talked about it going as far north as Tampa Heights. Any extension would likely have to cross the CSX line at Polk Street as well as busy intersections.

While useful, that is not really commuter oriented.  In our minds, if it only covers an area where people can, on a really nice day, walk to the edge general business district which is their destination (not necessarily their office), it is not about commuters.  Until it really leaves the “InTown” area, the streetcar, is a circulator (think MetroMover, not MetroRail).

As for the relationship between the City and FDOT, the key is this:

The study, largely funded by a $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, will evaluate potential expansion routes and make recommendations on upgrading the system’s vintage style streetcars, which are widely regarded as suitable for tourist trips but not a robust commuter service.

So FDOT will be paying for the study – which they should – and the City is likely reticent to say anything to FDOT (especially with the streetcar being important to the Lightning owner’s project and State money necessary for USF’s med school).  Of course, the State should pay for it regardless, and also should be paying for this:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, which runs the streetcar service, already forks out $400,000 every year to insure the streetcar’s crossing at a CSX line in Ybor.

Like it pays for much larger systems in other parts of the state.  In any event, back to the study:

The completed study will be submitted to the Federal Transit Authority to put the city in line for federal funding.

Which is fine.

And, as always, no discussion is complete without something like this:

Once a staple of American cities, many streetcars systems were dismantled and the rails paved over in the mid-20th Century as suburbs grew and the automobile became the main form of transportation. Tampa’s original streetcar system was built in 1892. It was closed in 1946.

This trend has reversed in recent years with cities including San Diego, Portland and Seattle developing new streetcar systems. A survey of streetcar riders in Portland found that fewer than 5 percent were tourists while 40 percent of riders did not own a car.

Yes, it is true.  Of course, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle (see here, here, and here) have rail networks that include, but are not limited to, streetcars (and San Diego is really mainly light rail – for instance, see here – but so be it).

We are fine with the streetcar expanding and using modern cars.  We think it is a good idea.  However, to be a really useful service it needs regular, all-day service and needs to be part of a full, real transit system. Right now, while vaguely mentioned, nothing like that is on offer.

Transportation – Where the Money Isn’t

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding impact fees, mobility fees, and the future funding of transportation.

On this, politicians and activists on both sides of Hillsborough County’s political spectrum seem to agree: Developers should pay more for the roads and other projects needed to support new growth.

But even if Hillsborough charges builders more, it might be a while before county coffers see a big boost.

That’s because developers hold more than $90 million in credits that they can use to offset future fees. And while a new fee structure could ultimately bring in $35 million a year for roads, sidewalks and transit, county staff says it likely won’t until all those credits are used up.

That is interesting.  How did that happen?

For many years, the county has charged developers an impact fee based on location and type of development.

In some cases, if the new homes or business space significantly increased traffic, the developer was required to widen a road or construct other improvements. In exchange, the developer would earn a credit equal to the cost of the road improvement that could be used to pay off future impact fees.

But in 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that barred counties from requiring developers to build road improvements to facilitate new construction. The county now has to make the improvements and can only charge the developer a proportional share of new traffic it created, which typically amounts to a fraction of the cost.

Instead of getting millions of dollars in road improvements a year, Hillsborough has collected just $6 million from developers under proportional share since 2009.

The county has explored doing away with that system and with impact fees — which actually charge less for new construction in less populous regions.

In its place, the county is looking at mobility fees, which are designed to incentivize redevelopment and growth in economic corridors where infrastructure is already in place. The fee would be higher — potentially three to 10 times higher — than impact fees.

Even with a change, though, the county is very likely to allow developers to use impact fee credits toward the new mobility fee, said Adam Gormly, director of Hillsborough’s development services department.

“We may be limited (legally) in our ability to say those offsets that have value now are going away,” Gormly said.

What is lacking from this discussion is that Hillsborough basically did not index the impact fees to anything for a decade or more.  In other words, it was undercharging or exempting developers for years. (Which the majority of the Commission chose to do again this week.)   Moreover, it (and by “it” we mean taxpayers) was directly subsidizing a number of developments. Is there any surprise the County needs money for transportation?

Taxpayers were also subsidizing development by having to pay for all the costs of sprawl, the inadequacy of the fees, and the reality that the impact of someone driving from South County to downtown is much higher than infill development far closer in, which the impact fee system ignores.  Add to that the fact that the County really did nothing to address the obvious shortfall until . . . well, it still hasn’t.  In other words, the County can try to blame Tallahassee (which has some blame) but the real address for the failure is the County Center, which did not do its job.  Then toss in awful planning and the County Commission’s historical inability to stick to even those plans, and you have our mess.

Hillsborough is considering an expiration date or an incentive that would encourage developers to use credits quickly so they don’t loom over the county for many years, Gormly said. And the county wants to ensure that credits are used in the same area as they were earned, he added, which is the case now.

Developers so far haven’t lined up against mobility fees. Singer said he’s optimistic the new system will be simpler. He believes it will more directly benefit the development that pays the mobility fee in the form of better roads and transit, especially if it’s located in more densely populated areas.

But some worry that a sharp increase from impact fees to mobility fees could mean existing credits aren’t worth nearly as much as they are now, said Jacob Cremer, a lawyer who works on land planning issues for Stearns Weaver Miller in Tampa.

“The big concern is working with the county to be able to come up with a fair solution that doesn’t disrupt the market that’s out there now for the credits,” Cremer said. “The most important thing is stability.”

The county is holding focus groups with developers and other stakeholders to strike a balance. Commissioners will meet Dec. 9 to discuss some solutions.

Stability is good, unless it maintains a system where the taxpayers are really the one’s on the hook while others benefit.

As for the focus group with “stakeholders,” who are these “stakeholders?”  Historically, developers are in that group, as well as those whose business involves development like land use lawyers, engineers and other real estate professionals and developer organizations.  And all that is fine as long as it also includes the people with the largest stake – the taxpayers who the County has left with the bills.

We are all for development.  If a developer can make a profit building in a far-flung area, that is fine.  But they should pay the real costs of such development and people already living in the county should not have to offset those costs and cover for the Commission’s lack of political will to properly plan (and, let’s be honest, that is what most of the road portion of any transportation referendum is really doing).  If it costs more to build houses or warehouses in farmland in the middle of nothing, so be it.  That is a business decision.

The reality is that the County government historically has failed the residents of the County and nothing has changed yet. Planning has not changed.

Mobility fees would be a step in the right direction (if the Commission does not exempt developers from paying them), though, as pointed out by the article, it is possible that they will not really generate any money for a while, especially if the County chooses (or is forced) to apply the credits to mobility fees. Then again, you have to start somewhere.  Too bad there is good reason to believe that mobility fees won’t stop the practice of doing favors to certain people while the taxpayers get stuck with the bills.

TIA – When You Don’t Settle

Now to good governance: the airport is doing well.

The airport had nearly 1.5 million passengers in October alone, which is the highest passenger count in the airport’s history for the month of October.

Overall, passenger traffic was up 8 percent compared to October last year.

International travel was up 30 percent in October compared to last year, thanks to a new flight via Lufthansa to Frankfurt and an additional flight by Edelweiss to Zurich.

About half of the Tampa airport’s international travel comes from flights to and from Europe now. In October, the leading international carriers posted high load factors, meaning their flights to and from Tampa were nearly full. British Airways posted 91 percent capacity for the month of October. Lufthansa’s rate was 86 percent and Edelweiss was 82 percent.

International travel is up 75 percent at the airport since 2010.

This is just more validation of the airport administration’s approach to international traffic – which, as we have said many times, was a major break from both what came before and the then local political consensus of complacency and inaction.  The airport’s approach may be the way most people think now, but many of the same people (including a fair number who now try to take credit for the airport’s performance) were opposed to.

This is one more example of how choices matter and we need to push for excellence rather than settle for the comfortable and the ok.  We can achieve many of our goals but not if we settle.

Economic Development – Some R&D

There was some interesting news this week on the tech front:

Jabil Circuit Inc. is building out a research and development lab in St. Petersburg that will house engineers working on wearable technology.

Although the lab will have a relatively small number of engineers when it opens next month, it represents a significant presence in St. Petersburg for a fast-growing technology. The body-monitoring market is expected to reach $60 billion in 2020, according to market analyst Gartner.

The R&D Center, on 16th Street North near Jabil’s headquarters, initially will employ about seven or eight engineers for the Clothing+ division, said Beth Walters, senior vice president.

* * *

Jabil is transferring engineers from Finland to staff the center. They will focus on development activity, working directly with customers to integrate sensors into garments, Walters said.

Yes, the lab is small – and Jabil has other research centers in other cities.  But, on the other hand, it is something.  The more R&D the better.  To really grow the economy, we need to focus more on creation of products than customer service.  So, while it is small, it is worth noting.  Hopefully, it will succeed and grow.  You have to start a cluster somewhere.

Downtown/Channel District – The Club and the Publix

There was news this week that downtown Tampa will finally get a grocery store (if you don’t include Duckweed or the Publix at Platt and Bayshore).

After years of work and a disappointment or two, Publix is coming to downtown Tampa, a city official said Tuesday.

The 37,600-square-foot store will go up at the corner of E Twiggs Street and N Meridian Avenue in the Channel District, according to a building permit application filed by Mercury Advisors of Tampa and posted to the city’s web site Tuesday morning.

Mercury’s plans call for the store to be paired with planned a 21-story tower with 323 apartments and its own parking garage at 1105 E Twiggs St. The permit application indicates that the building will be a shell to be finished by a future tenant. City public affairs director Ashley Bauman said the store is to be a Publix.

* * *

Mercury, headed by Ken Stoltenberg and Frank H. Bombeeck, has been working on plans and financing for the site for nearly 10 years. The 261-foot-tall project was once known as the Martin at Meridian but now is The Channel Club. Mercury’s web site indicates construction is expected to start in the first quarter of next year.

In addition to a 7-deck parking garage with 528 spaces integrated with the tower, Mercury’s plans call for the two-story grocery store building to have rooftop parking.

* * *

On the east side of the planned Channel Club tower, city officials plan to build a park on slightly more than a third of an acre that Stoltenberg’s company donated, plus another half-acre that the city bought from a separate ownership group for $1.56 million in 2013.

Here is a new rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Formerly known as Martin at Meridian, the development has been renamed Channel Club. The tower will break ground in February 2016, Stoltenberg said Tuesday, with the Publix to follow.

“Publix won’t start until 10 months after that,” Stoltenberg said. “We have to top out the building first.”

The store and tower will wrap up concurrently in 2017.

After many starts and stops, we hope this whole project finally gets built, though we would have preferred a more urban store – like the one Publix has in Orlando.  (And to really be walkable, how about some awnings on Meridian so the people coming from the south do not have to get rained on or fried by the sun?)

Yet, it would be good to remember during all the celebrations (if and when it opens, you should be happy) that any decent downtown needs to have a grocery store – it is something we should have had a long time ago and is a minimum requirement for a real urban neighborhood. In any event, it is just another piece to building a real downtown, and it is welcome.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Trump Site Sells

The Trump Tower property has been sold.

The developer who proposed a 52-story, mixed-use tower on downtown Tampa’s former Trump Tower site has closed on the property.

A joint venture of Feldman Equities LLC and Tower Realty Partners paid $12.05 million for the 1.47-acre site at the intersection of South Ashley Drive and Brorein Street and the adjacent CapTrust office building, the partners told the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Sunday.

That is an indication that maybe this project will get built.  And it seems to be a bargain.

The purchase price, Feldman said, breaks down to about $20 per buildable square foot — about what he was paying for land in suburban New York in the 1970s and ’80s.

“At this phase of the cycle, at the price we’re paying, we’re elated to have this opportunity,” he said.

Indeed, and it says something about the market. So are there any more details?

Closing on a site brings additional credibility to development plans; it means the developer is moving forward and construction is likely to begin in the coming months. The group said Sunday the tower is slated to break ground in the latter half of 2016 and be completed in 2018.

Gensler, which designed some of the partnership’s renovated office spaces in Tampa and St. Petersburg, is the architect on the project.

Here’s a breakdown of the official plans for Riverwalk Tower:

The breakdown seems solid – and is an interesting in that it is a real mixed use building, which is unique to Tampa. It is also in a unique location and will be basically the only building that really takes advantage of the riverfront. It will also be interesting to see how the office space does with the Lightning owner’s project being built nearby.

Feldman says Riverwalk Tower won’t compete with SPP’s office space; instead, he’s looking for tenants between 2,000 and 20,000 square feet — what he calls the “bread and butter” of downtown Tampa’s office market.

The floor plates will be between 15,000 and 16,000 square feet, he said, giving smaller tenants the opportunity for more signage and security than they would have in a building with larger floor plates.

Possibly.  Time will tell.

In any event, as we have often said, there is a race to get buildings out of the ground.  This project has a leg up in that it is relatively unique and in an unusually good location.

The tower’s residential units begin on the 23rd floor. Downtown Tampa’s Skypoint tower is 33 stories; SkyHouse Channelside is 23 stories, and the apartment tower proposed on North Franklin Street is slated to be 23 stories. Towers of Channelside are 29 stories each.

“We want to basically put a pedestal underneath our residential and lift the residential first floor higher than any new product that’s built,” Feldman said. “It will begin at 23 and go up to 52, so the views at that level will be the most extraordinary views in Tampa Bay, bar none. The office is creating a pedestal to increase the value of the residential space.”

The partners will bring on board a residential developer, though Feldman declined to disclose its identity.

The residential and office space, combined with the Riverwalk location, make the tower’s ground-level retail spaces a prime spot. “As far as retail is concerned we may have the best retail location anywhere in Tampa Bay,” Feldman said, “because the retail is going to be fed constantly by a flow of people.”

That’s true.  It is all very interesting, even though we haven’t seen a real rendering yet – though the reported architects – Gensler – have done some good stuff (hopefully they maintain their standards rather than mail it in like many other local projects with big name architects over the years).

We look forward to observing this project over time.

— And One More Thing

In sharp contrast, the City Council gave final approval to the disappointing Related project on the Tribune site.  Apparently, the City does not care about neighborhoods dominated by blank streetscapes and hulking parking garages.  Not that it is surprising – unfortunately, settling is what they do best.

Downtown/Channel District – Checking in With USF

Speaking of downtown and the Channel District, there was an article in the Tribune on the proposed USF Med School.

USF’s Board of Trustees Health Workgroup received an update Monday on the $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute building, which will replace a 40-year-old facility on the Tampa campus. The state Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s public universities, unanimously approved paying $62 million in state funding for the 11-story building over several years, and in June Gov. Rick Scott appropriated $17 million.

If all goes according to plan, the project is expected to open by winter 2019.

USF will request $22.5 million in state funding next fiscal year and $33.2 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to the latest presentation to the board of governors. The state has already paid the $50 million needed for the Heart Institute, and philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani have donated $18 million for the project. The school still has to raise another $22.6 million in private funding for the project.

And, apparently, that last part is not going as well as expected.

In his presentation Monday, Charles Lockwood, dean of the Morsani College of Medicine and senior vice president of USF Health, said donation figures as well as the number of donors to USF Health have been stagnant.

“It’s an area where I’m very disappointed,” Lockwood said.

In 2015, the entire USF Health system brought in about $11.1 million in committed gifts from donors, compared to $12.1 million in 2014, $8.9 million in 2013, $31.1 million in 2012 and $22.6 million in 2011.

For the past two years, the number of gifts to USF Health has hovered around 2,450, and in 2012 and 2013 around 2,350.

“We would like these number to be $50 million, not $11 million, so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Lockwood said. “We’ve recruited a lot of people and now we need them to generate dollars.”

Frankly, we are a bit surprised.  Given all the hype and reported excitement about moving downtown, we would have thought the money would come flowing in – and it still may.  The real question is whether the slow support will lead to less support from the State and hold up the development.  That was not discussed in the article. (In any event, we are pretty sure the money will be found somehow.)

In other news:

By Feb. 1, officials will select from six design and build teams that have submitted applications for the downtown project: Whiting-Turner Contracting with Gresham Smith and Partners, Gilbane Building Co. with Harvard Jolly, Turner Construction with HDR, DPR Construction with Perkins and Will, Skanska with HOK and Beck Group with NBBJ. Construction should begin by August 2017 to meet the new deadline, but it’s possible the project could be completed sooner, Lockwood said.

We look forward to seeing that (though we would rather there is a proper design chosen that is put out to bid for construction).

Bucs – A Deal

The Bucs and Sports Authority appear to finally have a deal.

The key elements of the agreement call for the Bucs to pay a minimum of $58 million toward the improvements, while Hillsborough County would contribute $29 million. But the team would likely spend more than $70 million, said county Commissioner Ken Hagan, a member of the sports authority board.

The county’s contribution would come from 4 cents of the 5-cent county tourist tax, which must be spent on sports facilities or promoting tourism. The county is obligated to pay part of the cost of any stadium upgrades under the original lease agreement with the Bucs.

Hagan, who was involved in the negotiations, said the Bucs also agreed to increase the percentage of money the sports authority receives for non-Buc events at the stadium, such as Monster Jams, concerts and University of South Florida football games.

The Bucs currently get the first $2 million annually from those events; the remaining profits are split 50-50 between the team and the sports authority.

Going forward, the Bucs have agreed to increase the sports authority’s share to 67 percent until revenues reach $3.5 million. If profits exceed that amount, the split reverts to 50-50.

* * *

In a final concession, the Buccaneers agreed to forgive $11.6 million the team said the county owed for construction of the Bucs’ new practice center near the stadium.

* * *

The agreement would have to be approved by the sports authority board, the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission. The sports authority, a public agency, owns and operates Raymond James Stadium. 

And, even better

Then the Buccaneers put new terms on the table: The team would double its investment to $52 million but wanted to play another home game away from Raymond James Stadium. The team already has the right to play one of its eight home games away from their home stadium, a perk the Bucs took advantage of in 2009 and 2011, playing at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Hagan and sports authority executives rejected the offer, saying it would rob Bucs fans of a home game and could help the team establish a following in another city. That could give the team leverage when it comes time to renegotiate its stadium lease, which runs until 2028.

“I was adamant about not allowing another regular season game to be moved,” Hagan said. “That was off the table.”

As the talks wore on, the sports authority agreed to allow the Bucs to move both preseason games elsewhere in 2016 and 2017. The games would conflict with construction of the new video boards and other improvements, Hagan said. From 2018 on, the team can play one preseason and one regular season game away.

The Bucs request to move another regular season game was always very questionable.

From the coverage, it actually sounds like a good deal.  In other news, the County Commission gave its support for a bid for another Super Bowl, like anything else would happen.

Move the Vote

There was an interesting item in the Business Journal about voting:

Florida’s municipalities intend to fight a proposal now before state lawmakers that would take away their ability to set local election dates and could extend the terms of some current elected officials.

State lawmakers on Thursday will look at a proposal that seeks to improve local voter turnout by requiring every city, town and village to line up their elections the same day each year.

The proposal (PCB SAC 16-04), scheduled to go before the House State Affairs Committee, would require the local elections to either mesh with statewide November general elections in even years, or be held every other year on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd years.

Of Florida’s 411 cities, towns and villages, only 151 — including Miami, Pensacola and St. Petersburg — currently hold elections in November.

Under the proposed bill, a county supervisor of elections could also set a single annual date for all the municipal elections, something that could keep elections in the spring but may be more easily accomplished in smaller, rural northern counties with fewer municipalities.

You can read the article for more details and arguments.  Frankly, we have never understood why local elections were on weird dates when there are elections every two years in November.  Everybody knows turnout is higher in general elections, which makes things like low turnout March elections sure seem like attempts to have elections with low turnout. It should also cost less to not have special elections for local government.  Elections should be at the same time – in November – whether Tallahassee dictates it or not.

Seminole Heights – Innovation District

There was an article in the Tribune about the food scene in Seminole Heights.  We are not going to get into it, especially as it is more of rundown of restaurants with people saying it is cool there are new restaurants.  However, we will take this opportunity to note out again that Seminole Heights, not downtown or south Tampa is really the epicenter for food innovation in Tampa – and there is a good reason for that.  With lower rents people are capable of taking more chances – that draws innovators.  Of course, if it really takes off, eventually rents will rise and risk takers will move to another area, but until that happens, we will enjoy the revival.  Hopefully, some of the use car lots will get filled by cool restaurants.  And hopefully the City will take notice and put more resources into the area.

Built Environment – Choices

URBN Tampa Bay noted an interesting article from the Huffington Post about the increased demand for urban living.  Their write-up is very good and touches on a lot of good points.  We wanted to specifically highlight one thing which they discuss a bit more tangentially:

The problem is that, although walkability is highly valued today, it was not a commonly sought-after characteristic in the latter half of the 20th century, when much of our existing housing stock was built. At the time, roads and parking lots were less congested, driving everywhere seemed more of a convenience than a challenge, and the portion of the housing market seeking urban amenities was shrinking. The portion wanting to get away from it all, and willing to undertake long commutes to do so, was dominant. The homebuilding industry settled into a pattern of building internally pleasant but uniform subdivisions farther and farther from city centers, frequently without sidewalks, with nothing but other, near-identical houses within safe walking distance, and connected to the rest of civilization only by busy arterial roads lined mainly with strip shopping “centers,” large parking lots, drive-through businesses, and gas stations.

That model still works for a portion of the market, but not the portion that is growing.

Nonetheless, the model remains prevalent. Communities wishing to build walkable neighborhoods or retrofit old ones to be more welcoming and useful to pedestrians face an array of challenges, from lending practices that favor conventional suburban development based on automobile-first design to outdated zoning and regulatory schemes that effectively prohibit things like corner stores mixed with residences, a diversity of housing types in the same development, and pedestrian-first design that places building entrances closer to sidewalks. 

The fact is that in some small parts of this area, one can build a decent, walkable building without that much trouble.  However, in far too much of the area, the old model still rules and pushes bad development.  And even in much of the area where you can build good design, the rules still have legacy elements that push poor elements and/or the local government settles for cheaper, worse designs.

The point is that this is all a matter of choice: choice of rules, choice of enforcement, and choice of settling.  It can all be changed with just a little political will.

List of the Week

There were no really good lists this week, so we’ll just provide a link to a less-than great list of “2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Florida Families.”  First, it does not limit itself to actual cities.  Second, the methodology (here) is skewed to small areas over actual cities.  Even so, the Tampa Bay area does not do very well.

Do with it what you like, or nothing at all.

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