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Roundup 12-18-2015

December 18, 2015


Transportation – More Delay

Transportation – TBX

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives, Cont

Tampa Heights – A Conundrum

Transportation – Hurry and Delay

Downtown/Channel District/Ybor City – Of Scale and Money

Downtown – The Grant Block

Looking at St. Pete

TIA – Regular Cuba Service Gets Closer

MacDill – Good Tidings

Bucs/Politics – A New Deal In Tampa Bay

List of the Week


Transportation – More Delay

In what can surprise no one, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is being delayed some more, if just for a short time.

Once slated for December, a Hillsborough County Commission vote on a sales tax increase for transportation projects is now likely to come no earlier than February, County Administrator Mike Merrill said.

The vote has been postponed because of problems scheduling a commission workshop on mobility fees, a vital component of the overall transportation plan called Go Hillsborough. Mobility fees, once adopted, will make developers pay more toward transportation improvements connected to their new subdivisions or commercial projects, county leaders say.

The workshop is now scheduled for Feb. 4. Barring some unforeseen developments, Merrill said he thinks the county commission could vote at its Feb. 17 meeting to set a referendum for next November on a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase. 

Well, it is the holiday season. And don’t be surprised if it gets punted after that.  In any way, what are they doing with this time?

“We’re going to spend January talking about projects and the plan, and then talk about revenues in February,” Merrill said. “I think it will still be my plan to bring the ordinance to the board for both the mobility fees and the sales tax at the second meeting in February.”

Wasn’t that supposed to be happening in the last few years?

In any event, there is always the Life of Brian approach:

In some ways, delaying the commission vote on the tax could be a good thing for proponents. Go Hillsborough is still under the cloud of a sheriff’s office investigation Merrill requested in September. Investigators are looking into suspicions about back-room dealings in the hiring of the Go Hillsborough consultant, engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Merrill said the investigation will be completed by Christmas, removing an obstacle that has stymied public deliberations on the transportation plan and tax. If no criminal activity is found, the public discussion can get back to what’s in the transportation plan.

Though, to be fair, the administrator is not the decision maker.  He can only do what the Commission will let him do.   The Commission could have just not fallen for the silliness and kept their eye on the real issue at hand: transportation.  The investigation will take or itself.  Then again, there is this:

At least two commissioners seemed to have been swayed by the scandal.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham, saying Go Hillsborough had “lost its way,” reneged on a campaign promise to support whatever plan came out of the city-county transportation Policy Leadership Group. The group voted 8-3 on Nov. 5 to recommend that the half-cent tax go on the ballot.

On the eve of that Policy Leadership Group vote, Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out an alternative plan for transportation, financed by a variety of taxes and a mobility fee. Murman thus became a no vote, after months of equivocation.

As we have explained previously, those positions are contrary to their previous actions.  (See “Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans” and “Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County”) If the Commissioners are going to use their fear regarding their own votes as an excuse to subvert their own process and decisions, then this will get nowhere.  And then there was this excellent point made by a Commissioner during a discussion over what to do with a mere $8 million that was found:

“If you care about your constituents and you care about your districts and you want to get things done in your districts, you better find a more feasible way to find more money to pay for these projects,” Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. “It’s not going to happen by squabbling over $8 million.

“Long term,” he added, “better be thinking forward to February.”

After several delays, February is now likely the earliest that commissioners will vote on whether to place a half-cent sales tax for transportation referendum on the ballot in 2016. Six of the commissioners have staked out positions on the half-penny tax hike, with three for and three against. Commissioner Victor Crist has not decided.

Exactly.  At least someone gets it.  If anything is going to happen, there has to be real money involved.

The fact is that there is no excuse for delay that would surprise us at this point.  Clearly, there are at least some Commissioners who would much rather obfuscate than actually do anything useful.  Then again, that is nothing new, which is why the issue has never been dealt with in the past.  It is this  lack of vision and abdication of leadership that holds us back.

Transportation – TBX

There was another article in the Tribune that tried to paint TBX in a good light, this time in terms of historic preservation.  That aspect was really not interesting, except this:

But even inclusion on the National Register is no guarantee a property will survive. Brick construction or dilapidated homes that would not survive a move can legally be “preserved” in other ways, such as photographic and pictorial recording.

See Bro Bowl.

There was this, which was interesting:

Still, the project has the support of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said Tampa needs better roadways as well as other forms of transportation.

At least now his position is clear.  Of course, the question isn’t that we need better roads.  We do.  The question is whether TBX is the kind of road project we need and how much to destroy to get those roads (and where to have the destruction).  And, on alternative transportation – what, where, when, how? A slightly expanded streetcar is nice, but not nearly enough.

The other thing to remember, of course, is that by 2019 there will be another governor – the one who would actually have to implement the TBX plan.

— And One More Thing

There was some more interesting coverage of I-405 in Seattle and its new variable rate toll lanes:

For the first time, tolls in the new Interstate 405 express lanes hit their legal limit of $10 per trip Thursday morning.

Even at that milestone, drivers who paid to escape gridlock ended up wading through stretches of stop-and-go traffic.

This week’s relentless congestion raises questions about whether the new corridor from Lynn­wood to Bellevue is properly designed, as well as whether the public demand for a quicker commute far exceeds what the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had planned.

The $10 rate showed up around 7 a.m., meaning that the toll lane filled up beyond the state’s capacity to offer a 45 mph ride. Prices rise as speeds in the toll lanes decline, to deter too many drivers from clogging the toll lanes.

First, paying $10 to sit in traffic (and don’t assume the tolls will top out at $10 each way), even if you save a few minutes, seems pretty silly.  Second, yes, there may be demand for a faster drive causing the lanes to fill up (and there will be because our planning is so bad), but that fact shows an inherent problem with the lanes themselves.  If a lot of people want to use the lanes, tolls just keep climbing until people have to get out of those lanes and be stuck in traffic (and that does not even include buses).  In other words, by their own design, the lanes have limited utility regarding congestion.  Either they get too congested to really accomplish much or even people who want to use them get priced out of using them – by design – causing more congestion.

And, URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to this item which shows how expansion of the Katy Freeway in Houston – including managed (toll) lanes – temporarily relieved congestion, but only very temporarily. And, while Houston is building transportation alternatives (because Texas is apparently dominated by the UN), they are still woefully underdeveloped for a city of its size.

The bottom line is that the basic premise of TBX is questionable.  Moreover, even if you buy the premise, the entire theory of variable rate lanes relies on alternatives.  Without real alternatives from the places from which highway drivers are coming (not Tampa Heights), express lanes are a flawed idea – and we will not have real alternatives for years, if ever.

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives, Cont

There was another article about the Gandy Connector coming back to life.

The idea of building a set of elevated lanes over Gandy Boulevard in Tampa is getting a fresh look.

A $192 million project being studied would use the lanes to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from its current end at S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge.

The lanes, one in each direction, would be at least 30 feet off the ground and would be built on pilings in Gandy’s median. You would pay a toll and could use them to skip the traffic lights on Gandy for a trip between the bridge and Dale Mabry.

The goal is to get just-passing-through traffic — including thousands of Pinellas residents evacuating in advance of a hurricane — up off of Gandy, moving it along more smoothly and reducing delays for purely local traffic.

* * *

Meanwhile, work crews have started drilling on the median along Gandy to determine how far apart the piers for the elevated lanes could be spaced.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is revisiting a past project development and environmental study for the proposed extension. It has started public outreach with business and community groups, and plans to do some town hall-style events, probably in April, and other public engagement through September 2016.

It is interesting that it is physically being examined.  Why now?

The expressway authority is looking to start construction in 2017, so the lanes could be open sometime in 2020.

That’s when the Florida Department of Transportation aims to start work rebuilding Interstate 275’s interchange at State Road 60 in West Shore. Having the Gandy elevated lanes open by then would give commuters an alternative to using the Howard Frankland Bridge during construction, authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.

Because traffic is just going to get messier.  And while we think there should be a Gandy Connector (and should have been long ago), it would be good if there was a plan to have some real transit before the interstates get even more messed up.  In any event, there is the usual complaining.

In 2013, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization mailed a survey to 9,300 property owners within a mile of the Gandy corridor. About 900 responded, with 54 percent saying “yes” when asked whether a rendering of the elevated lanes looked like a good idea.

But Gandy/Sun Bay South Civic Association president Al Steenson cautions that there are two things worth remembering about that survey. First, the 54 percent came from the one in 10 recipients who responded. Also, the question was, does this look like a good idea, he said, not would you support it.

Steenson doesn’t dispute that Gandy is congested, or that there may be significant numbers of people who want to see something done. But when his association’s board discussed the idea last month, the mood of the room was still against the project.

“My feeling is that there are many, many people who are still opposed to it,” he said. “If this is a done deal, we obviously want to be very, very involved in terms of the design.”

So be it.  This is a missing link that should have been done decades ago.  We shall see if anything actually happens. (And why if it is part of the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough plan – even if it is paid for with different sources.  Everything needs to be coordinated.)

Tampa Heights – A Conundrum

There was an article in the Times about one of the major issues regarding Tampa Heights.

Walk down N Franklin Street most mornings and there they are: three or four figures stooped over brooms and bags of trash. They pick toothbrushes, milk cartons and the occasional syringe out of the gutters. They hose urine off brick walls.

For business owners along this growing downtown strip, their morning ritual is about more than rehabilitating this end of Tampa Heights.

It’s also about cleaning up after good Samaritans who they say are helping at the expense of the neighborhood.

On any given day, three or four vans roll in to drop off food, clothes and toiletries for the local homeless population. Unfortunately, local businesses say there’s nowhere to dispose of the waste that results — including human waste.

Those groups may be trying to help the area’s homeless population, but Franklin Street tenants say they’re also making the strip a magnet for loiterers and trash.

“These people come here and they think they’re doing good,” said Joshua Garman, co-owner of Hidden Springs Brewery at 1631 N Franklin St. “But the trash, it’s so ungodly. Everyone who works on this block spends the first half hour of their day cleaning up after them.”

The article focuses more on freelance aid to the homeless, but the entire homeless issue is a major concern regarding Tampa Heights.  Frankly, we are not sure what to do about it.  There are a number of very good organizations in Tampa Heights that help a lot of people – and you can’t object to that.  On the other hand, large numbers of homeless people congregating in a specific area tend to hold back that area.  It is a complex issue.  No matter where the organizations are, there will be an issue.  This just happens to be Tampa Heights.  You have to help the needy, but you do not want to inhibit redevelopment that will help other.

Like we said, we do not have a solution.  The best think we can think of is to get people together and try to get them to minimize the associated problems, like messy streets and waste.  It is just sad that there are so many homeless people that it is an issue in the first place.

Transportation – Hurry and Delay

There was news about the possible use of CSX tracks for transit.

Transit advocates across Tampa Bay have spent the past few months buzzing about converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system, a prospect they hope could help ease the area’s traffic problems.

But even if CSX is a solution, don’t expect relief any time soon.

It will likely be two years before the Florida Department of Transportation completes the necessary feasibility study to qualify the project for federal funding. And on top of that it could take several months more to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant.

It’s also unlikely the cost study will get the green light before the feasibility study is finished.

“I think we’re in a holding pattern unless someone moves forward with a brilliant idea about how to acquire the right of way,” said Whit Blanton, executive director of the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization.

So, basically 2019. In the meantime, there is TBX, TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough, the Gandy Connector and a host of other things that actually should be coordinated but are basically ad hoc.  We like the idea of using CSX – we have made no secret of that.  What we do not like is the apparent inability of this area to look at the transportation issue in a comprehensive way.  We get that there are a lot of agendas, but the main agenda should be fixing transportation in a comprehensive, coordinated, and systematic way and promoting the proper development of the area so we stop lagging behind our competitors.

And, regarding cost, technology, etc., there was this:

Each technology has different costs – light rail is most expensive. @RayChiaramonte suggests DMUs as cheaper option.

Exactly – and that has been known for years (if not decades). If you are going to study this, at least use what we already know.  Maybe that can speed things up a bit.  We have already had far too many delays.

Downtown/Channel District/Ybor City – Of Scale and Money

A while back, the Gas Worx apartment proposal came out with two 29 story buildings.  That plan did not fly because the City did not want it (without rational explanation) and some said it was too big and did not transition well to the Ybor City historic district (though it was not in the historic district and, really, that is not an issue being near/in downtown).  In any event, the project was then scaled back to two 11 story buildings.


A tug of war is shaping up between downtown and Ybor City.

The prize: A cut of the new property taxes that would be generated by the development of the Gas Worx — a multistory project proposed just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, next to Channelside Drive.

As it stands, a portion of the property taxes from that 8 acres is earmarked for projects to improve downtown Tampa.

That’s because the site is inside Tampa’s 870-acre downtown community redevelopment area. Inside a CRA, taxes generated by new growth in property values are dedicated to public works projects that support further development.

But Ybor City residents and business owners want the lines redrawn so that the Gas Worx land would be inside a CRA that covers part of the historic district. That way, some of the property taxes generated by the Gas Worx would go not to downtown, but to Ybor City improvement projects. City officials don’t have an estimate of how much money could be in play.

Except, 1) it is not in Ybor and 2) it would have been more valuable if its opponents had no objected to its not unreasonable scale (maybe the layout could have been better, but there was nothing wrong with the scale).  Frankly, nothing would have helped Ybor more than having some dense residential very nearby.

We are not going to get into the weeds on this.  You can read the article.  The point is that it is not in Ybor.  It is not in the Ybor CRA. Unless the land owner wants to become part of Ybor, we see no reason that it should be moved.  We get that Ybor wants money to do some things – maybe the City should help them come up with the money.  On the other hand, as we said, this is not Ybor.  Moreover, given the hypersensitivity regarding the density of anything in or even tangentially referencing Ybor, we would rather the CRA should not expand lest the mere mention of Ybor hold developments back.   The Ybor City historical district should be preserved, but that does not mean it should spread.  What it really needs is an influx of residents nearby (preferably in walking distance) who will patronize Ybor business on a routine basis.  That would help it far more than any CRA.

Downtown – The Grant Block

Demolition has started on the Grant Block in preparation for the building of an apartment building.

The demolition of a strip of abandoned storefronts in downtown Tampa is underway, preparing the site for a 23-story apartment tower.

DPR Construction, the general contractor on the project, has fenced off the 900 block of North Franklin Street and began demolition today. A construction official said it would take about two months to completely level the site.

Atlanta-based Carter, the tower’s developer, has closed on all of its financing for the project, chief development officer Conor McNally said Monday.

“The buildings will soon be down and we will be digging our foundations,” he said. “We expect to hold a formal groundbreaking ceremony early in the new year.”

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Obviously, we are all for having new residents downtown.  Unfortunately, this design could easily have been improved (especially by not leaving Florida Avenue essentially a dead street across from the Floridan). Nevertheless, as the project has started, we hope it turns out well.

Looking at St. Pete

This week a new project was announced for downtown St. Pete.

David Mack pauses, then corrects himself: The 35-story tower he’s planning to develop in downtown St. Petersburg won’t have “nice views.”

“Well, not nice, but amazing views over the bay,” he said.

Mack, principal of David A. Mack Properties LLC, has proposed a tower with 306 residential units, 8,834 square feet of commercial space and 505 parking spaces on the former Grand Bohemian Hotel site — the northwest corner of First Avenue North and Second Street, across the street from Jannus Landing.

This project is to go on the lot left empty when the Grand Bohemian Hotel was not built.  It is an important lot and an appropriately sized project for it.  Moreover, it will have ground floor retail.  All that is very good. Are there any renderings?

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

That’s ok, if not exciting.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

But that is, how shall we say, bland.  Why the lack anything of interest (and, really, adequate windows) on the major façade?  This is a really good location with a lot of visibility.  Hopefully, these are just preliminary scribbles that will be fleshed out and improved.  It does not have to be super exciting, but please, do not build a generic 1970’s style box.

TIA – Regular Cuba Service Gets Closer

It seems that US-Cuba flights are closer to getting normalized:

The US and Cuba have reached an understanding on restoring regularly scheduled commercial flights, Cuban and American officials said on Wednesday on the eve of the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.

The advance opens the way for US airlines to begin flying to Cuba within months in what would be the biggest business deal struck as the two countries try to normalize relations.

Officials on both sides described it as an understanding on aviation but not yet a formal agreement and they hoped to reach a formal deal within hours or days. The understanding was reached on Wednesday in Washington.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and if Tampa gets more flights or Tampa passengers start having to fly through hubs.  Only time will tell.

MacDill – Good Tidings

There was news about MacDill

MacDill Air Force Base is slated to get $94 million for planned construction projects under Congress’ Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

The funding for MacDill was announced by Rep. David Jolly (R – FL), who represents district 13, Pinellas County. Just over one-third of the money will be used to construct a 36,600-square-foot special operations support facility, according to a statement from his office. Another $55 million will be used for runway improvements needed for 23 new Army Reserve Black Hawk helicopters.

Anything that improves MacDill improves the area.  Hopefully, it will pass.

Bucs/Politics – A New Deal In Tampa Bay

There was news about the stadium.

Hillsborough County commissioners today approved a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will mean at least $87 million in upgrades to Raymond James Stadium while giving taxpayers a better share of non-Bucs events.

The agreement, which includes $29 million in taxpayer money, will pay for new 9,600-square-foot video boards in the end zones, a new sound system, more concession stands and other improvements.

The Bucs commitment is at least $58 million and will be spent over two years.

The first phase, which includes the end zone video boards as well as four smaller 2,200-square-feet video boards in the stadium corners, will be completed by the start of the 2016 football season.

One of the motivators for finishing the bulk of the improvements is that the stadium will host the College Football Playoff championship game in January 2017.

Was it the best deal ever?  Not sure, but it was not a bad deal – especially given the previous deals. In any event, the County Commission passed it:

The vote was 6-1, with only Commissioner Stacy White, a Republican representing east Hillsborough, voting no.

* * *

While White did not explain his “no” vote, the six other commissioners heaped praise on the deal. They said the pact vastly improved on the existing lease agreement with the Buccaneers and will help attract future marquee sporting events and concerts. Tampa is a finalist to host the Super Bowl in 2019 and 2020.

As did the Tampa City Council.  Nevertheless,

Several commissioners noted they had received calls and emails opposing the expenditures, saying the tax money should be used for roads, lighting or, in one case, on Social Security, a federal program.

But Commissioner Ken Hagan, who sits on the Tampa Sports Authority, said the county was obligated by the 1996 stadium lease agreement to pay half the costs of necessary upgrades to keep the stadium up to date. The county’s share was estimated to be $26 million. But the sports authority agreed to increase its commitment by $3 million.

In return, the Bucs agreed to increase the size of the end zone video boards from 7,600 square feet to 9,600 square feet. The current boards are 2,200 square feet.

Hagan also pointed out the money the county is spending comes from the fourth cent of a 5-cent tourism tax. That money can only be spent on tourism promotion of renovating sports facilities.

“The dollars being invested are not general revenue dollars and cannot be invested in transportation, schools or Social Security,” Hagan said. 

There were also mailers from  the group Americans for Prosperity, which is basically the Tea Party, opposing the use of “tax dollars.” They did not say how the “tax dollars” should be spent, especially the tourist tax issue.

And posted this to their website:

Hillsborough County Commission Favors Stadiums Over Citizens

County sides with Bucs over taxpayers

TALLAHASSEE – Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL), the leading grassroots advocate against wasteful spending, is disappointed with the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners who voted today to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars in one lump-sum, towards stadium renovations, in lieu of siding with the greater needs of their citizens and disbursing those funds over a longer period of time.

“Whoever said that government has a role in propping up professional sports teams needs a lesson in free market principles,” said state director, Chris Hudson. “Citizens have been calling and emailing their commissioners, who should have listened to their concerns about the exorbitant waste that transpired today. The fact is that the Hillsborough BOCC had the ability to disburse these funds over a longer period of time and focus on more important and immediate needs in the community. Taxpayers will hold accountable those commissioners who chose to prioritize the commercial expenses of a professional sports team. We commend Commissioner Stacy White who was the only member to stand up for taxpayers.”

Which conveniently ignores saying what should be done with the tourist tax money or that it has to be spent on tourism or sports facilities. It would be a lot more convincing if it was not so general and actually gave examples of what it meant (and dealt with the tax issues).

Then again, that rhetoric rich and idea poor strategy is the same approach as those who do not want to actually fix any of our transportation problems.  At least, the Commission ignored them here.  We can only hope it is the start of a trend.

List of the Week

This week, we feature J.D. Power 2015 North American Airport Study.  As noted in the Times, Tampa International came in second.

Here is the top 31 large airports (because the article listed 31): Portland International (OR), Tampa International, Las Vegas McCarran International, Orlando International, Salt Lake City International, Denver International, San Diego International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Charlotte Douglas International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Chicago Midway International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, San Francisco International, Miami International, Toronto Pearson International, Washington Dulles International, Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Baltimore/Washington International, Honolulu International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, John F. Kennedy International, Boston Logan International,  Philadelphia International, Chicago O’Hare International, Los Angeles International, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International.

It is good that Tampa is number 2, though we are not sure what it is about Portland that keeps getting it accolades.  We are definitely biased, but we think Tampa International is still the best.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    December 18, 2015 9:42 PM

    Are you aware that there are three different ethics complaints filed against Bob Buckhorn, Ken Hagen and Sandra Murman? This last BOCC meeting had a consent item that authorized the county to pay legal expenses for Hagan and Murman. Both Hagan and Murman voted to approved the consent item. George Nieman made a public statement to call attention to the issue. Neither Hagan or Murman recused themselves from the vote. Is there a state law against elected officials voting for items that personally benefits them? Of is it an ethics issue? Rumor mill is Beth Leytham leaked story to news because holiday season is slow news season and after the holiday season this will be an old story.

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