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Roundup 2-12-2016

February 12, 2016


Transportation – Priorities

— Let’s Talk

— More TBX: Some History

— And Another Thing

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Mobility Fees

— A Case Study-ish

— On the Clock

Transportation – Update on Ridesharing

Cuba Flights – Maybe

Rays – The Search Begins

Economic Development – A Win

Downtown/Channel District – Some Building

— Nine15

– Channel Club Moves Forward

Downtown/Transportation – Another Water Taxi

Built Environment – Required Reading

List of the Week


Transportation – Priorities

— Let’s Talk

There was a transportation shindig last week.

Transportation leaders from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties met Friday to discuss their 2016 priorities for the Tampa Bay region.

Though the list has not been finalized, the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group listed several leading projects:

Strangely (well, not really) missing from that list was a useful east-west road in the north to bypass Tampa and get people through Pasco and to Westshore and Pinellas.  Also missing was a Gandy Connector to make Gandy a truly useful alternative to 275 (oops). In other words, there was no contemplation of actually relieving traffic on 275 by having people take another road.

On the list was TBX.  Not that making I-275 through Tampa more useful isn’t a priority (see the previous paragraph), but why exactly is a 20-25 year old plan that has been only really changed by adding the less than useful variable rate lane feature (just so most people won’t use the lanes) is truly a mystery, unless, as is probably the case, they are afraid that FDOT won’t fund anything if they do not support TBX? (Of course, why would Pasco care if Tampa is willing to mess itself up while they continue to sprawl away and refuse to build a decent east-west highway?)  Also notable was that they did not seem to care about the Suncoast Parkway, which FDOT wants to expand even though it is performing below predictions.

Then there was this:

The possibility of bringing commuter rail to Tampa Bay dominated the discussion at the headquarters of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system has been a hot topic since last fall, and it’s a solution many are hoping could help ease traffic problems.

But DOT planning manager Ming Gao told the TMA that a premium transit study needs to be completed to determine whether that transit mode is the best solution for the area. It will likely be another two years before that study, spearheaded by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, is completed.

And it could take several months beyond that to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant.

In other words, what the transportation folks were really interested in will just have to wait.  And, it will not be studied along with TBX, which is based on the aforementioned 20-25 year old study that did not even think about variable rate lanes or take their intentionally limited capacity into account.  But why update the study while looking at alternatives to spending the $3-6 billion?

And, going back to the CSX issue, there is a problem with the discussion.  Creating a useful system within Hillsborough and Pinellas will more likely involve DMU or some other type of technology that allows relatively  fast, frequent, and reliable service (not just for commuters).  It has to be a real system that different people can use.  On the other hand, service from Pasco or Hernando would be more likely commuter rail, like SunRail.  That has to be considered.  Simply building infrequent, commuter service within Hillsborough will not be that useful or transformative.

— More TBX: Some History

A lot of the coverage regarding TBX has focused on what it will destroy, especially historic structures.  We just want to point out one very ironic thing it will destroy: the Mobley Park Apartments.  Mind you, we are told that TBX is based on a plan from the early 1990’s, which makes this about the Mobley Park Apartments from 1999 interesting:

Bank of America Community  Development Corporation (CDC) today announced plans for a $16.6 million redevelopment project that will include the construction of 238 apartment units for the Tampa Heights neighborhood. Bank of America operates in Florida as NationsBank.

To be called Mobley Park, the project is a joint venture between Bank of  America CDC, Housing by St. Laurence and the City of Tampa, which will help  provide affordable housing for the Tampa Heights community.

“Bank of America is committed to taking an active role in improving the  quality of life in the communities where we do business,” said Jim Cassady, NationsBank Florida Executive for Community Development Banking. “Our goal is  to serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and economic development.

“The lives of 238 families will be better because of the availability of safe, affordable housing,” Cassady said. “The revitalization of the Tampa Heights neighborhood will bring further economic development to the area, and that will also mean more jobs for the community.”

Cassady said that the Mobley Park project would not be possible without the vision and commitment of Housing by St. Laurence Executive Director Monsignor Laurence Higgins and Tampa Mayor Dick A. Greco.

He also praised the commitment of the Hillsborough County Housing Finance Authority and Board of County Commissioners for their vision in financing the Mobley Park community.

The City of Tampa has targeted the Tampa Heights neighborhood as a major  redevelopment area and helped coordinate the NationsBank CDC affordable homes project.

It strikes us as strange that a project involving the City and Bank of America to revitalize a neighborhood would be built in an area everyone knew would be levelled for a highway. Maybe it was, but it would be odd.  Less than 20 years later, local officials support TBX, which would destroy this project – and where would the residents go, since all the development in the area is not particularly low rent.  (And wouldn’t it be nice to have some of the $3-6 billion to build that starter rail line we have heard so much (though no details) about?)

We could say the whole thing is strange, but, to be honest, such things are quite common in the Tampa Bay area.

— And Another Thing

Finally, it is notable that both the Tribune’s resident homespun columnist and the Times’ resident snide columnist  both came out in opposition to TBX.

From the Tribune:

It’s no secret the Bay area is at the bottom of the transportation barrel.

Finally, after years of consultants and political cowardice, it appears as though we’re ready to do something.

Tampa and St. Petersburg have a lot of things going for them these days. There are new parks, a dazzling Riverwalk — and can a new baseball stadium be far behind? Work on everything from the Pier in St. Pete to Jeff Vinik’s grandiose plans for Tampa’s Channel District are underway.

Why not the same thing for transportation in the region? The state’s TBX plan will be years of construction, and we will once again retool “malfunction junction” and the Howard Frankland Bridge.

* * *

Wouldn’t it be great if we could be a part of these new technologies? Instead of suffering through another decade of construction on a project that likely will be out of date before it’s finished, we should put creative minds to work on making the region a transportation model for the country.

With $9 billion to get started, we ought to get something besides more lanes of traffic.

Which is a salient point. From the Times:

But it was all the traffic “experts” who gave us Malfunction Junction and years of navigating verrrrrry slowly through the current expansion of I-275. It was the “experts” who came up with the brilliant idea of reducing I-275 to two lanes coming off the Howard Frankland Bridge northbound at Kennedy Boulevard.

And now it is the “experts” who reason adding toll lanes to the city’s interstates, razing scores of home and businesses along the way and creating what we all know will be an endless time table to reconstruct one the worst interchanges in the country will turn out to be wonderful.

Please, DOT, excuse a bit of lack of confidence to fix a problem you created.

As is that.  It is worth remembering that Malfunction Junction was already rebuilt, as was the Veterans/SR60/275 stretch (leaving in some bizarre merges). Why weren’t they done right the first time?

— And One More Thing

And finally, let’s check in with another variable rate lane project that we have discussed before.

It’s not yet clear if the express lanes will have a permanent place on I-405 as the state has two years to gather data to find a solution.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said traffic has become more congested around the Bothell area since the lanes went in.

* * *

It’s more than just money for some drivers who commute on what’s considered the state’s most congested corridor – it’s a problem WSDOT acknowledges is growing.

Of the congestion north of 522 up in the Bothell area, Patty Rubstello, assistant secretary of WSDOT toll division, said “we are seeing more congestion than before when it was just an HOV lane.”

WSDOT says they’re considering solutions to solve the congestion that seems to be the worst on weekends.

“We are looking at options that would do what we call hard-shoulder running, allowing traffic during peak periods to operate on the shoulder,” Rubstello said.

In other words, Washington State built the lanes, which caused more congestion, so they are looking for more free lanes.  Hardly a solution. Before we spend $3-9 billion on TBX, maybe we should study it and whether it is the best thing for this area.

Transportation – Mobility Fees

As part of the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process, there has been a move to institute some sort of mobility fees to replace the pathetic system of impact fees that previously existed.  Well, as with everything else in Hillsborough County (other than handing out money) that is taking a while, even though the County has known about mobility fees for years.

Hillsborough County Commissioners are prepared to ask developers to pay more for the transportation solutions needed to support the growth they bring, but the details of just how much to charge are still being hammered out.

For many years, the county charged developers an impact fee based on location and type of development. Then the state changed to a process where counties would make the improvements and charge the developer for a proportional share of the new traffic created, which typically amounts to a fraction of the real cost.

Hillsborough has collected just $6 million from developers under proportional share since 2009. The county faces a $750 million backlog in road maintenance needs, and that will only increase as the area’s population is expected to swell an additional 500,000 people in the next 20 years.

It bears repeating that the impact fee system had lower fees the farther away from existing development you built, thus incentivizing sprawl, and the County knew and did nothing about it.

The impact fee structure was last updated in 1989. Change, commissioners say, is long overdue.

The fees were completely out of date, but the Commission did nothing.  And even then, the Commission kept giving breaks to the developers for the fees.  No surprise we have a mess.  So what are the ideas now?

These fees would be higher — potentially three to 10 times higher — than impact fees.

Hillsborough County staff proposed an incentive program last week that would target projects that create quality jobs and encourage infill development.

The proposed system shares some similarities with Pasco County’s approach — to which it’s often compared — though it differs substantially as to which types of developments would receive discounts.

“Pasco has essentially said, ‘Every type of development is important to us one way or another,’ ” Hillsborough economic development director Ron Barton said. “As such, they have chosen to discount all prices. What our board said is, ‘jobs, jobs jobs.’ “

So while drive-through restaurants and dry cleaners earn discounts in Pasco County, Hillsborough commissioners were firm in their stance that only office space and industrial developments would earn incentives. 

First, logically designed, infill should be charged lower fees anyway – that should not need incentives.  As for incentives on the fees for “quality jobs,” the real question is what is a quality job?  Is it Bass Pro Shops or and Amazon warehouse (both lauded for their economic impact by the Commissioners)?  What are the criteria?  Really, if you are going to do some incentives, why not put them elsewhere and leave the transportation element alone? (We are not going to get into the Pasco’s discounts except to say they seem to following Hillsborough’s planning strategy.)

One thing that should be kept in mind is that mobility fees will not fix any of the problems already created:

Even though mobility fees seem to have more broad-based support than a referendum, the potential income generated from the change is only a drop in the swelling bucket of transportation needs.

In the first 10 years, because of impact fee credits held by many developers, mobility fees are only expected to generate about $10 million a year. After that, they should average $35 million a year, according to county staff.

In comparison, a half-cent sales tax is expected to bring in at least $117 million a year.

The county’s pre-existing roads needs total $750 million — and that’s without any transit, bike, pedestrian or new road projects.

“And that’s a very critical part of this, that (mobility fees) won’t be a significant source of revenue during the first 10 years,” county administrator Mike Merrill told commissioners last week. “Whatever the long-term funding source is, it has to be at that $120 million level for us to have meaningful, effective transportation growth.”

Mobility fees are a tool to help not create as much of a problem going forward., but:

“Growth management laws make it very clear that new development is only responsible for new capacity growth it creates,” County Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “We can complain all day long about past indiscretions, but there are no mulligans here. New development will pay for itself, but it won’t fix the past.”

Exactly. The mess made by the County still has to be dealt with.

— A Case Study-ish

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing articles about South County and the problems caused by bad planning there.  This week the Tribune had an article about South County growth that read more like an advertisement for a couple of companies.  We will ignore that and deal with the relevant part:

Another major road project on the books would extend Apollo Beach Boulevard east, with a flyover crossing I-75.

Newland, in renegotiating its obligations for the Waterset development of regional impact, agreed to pay the county $12 million toward the $25 million project.

“They are doing design right now and that comes out of Newland’s $12 million,” said Mike Williams, the county’s director of transportation planning and development.

Once the design is completed and permits obtained, they will be turned over to Hillsborough County with the remainder of the $12 million plus interest, and the county will pursue construction.

And that is fine, except, this is how these things really work:

At a Dec. 9 public hearing, the commission agreed to allow Newland Communities to make a number of changes to its development agreement for Waterset. At the same time, commissioners assured concerned residents that Big Bend Road will be widened to six lanes.

“The widening of Big Bend Road isn’t an either-or situation today,” said commission chairwoman Sandra Murman. “We will get Big Bend Road funded and get those improvements made. This is so important to us.”

Under the 2006 development agreement for the 2,352-acre Waterset community, Newland was permitted to construct 6,428 single-family and multifamily residential units, 348,480 square feet of commercial space and 108,900 square feet of office space in Waterset.

However, nine years later, Newland has only constructed 256 homes in the community.

Newland’s attorney, Andrea Zelman, said the recession hit the housing industry hard and prompted the developer to revise its plan for Waterset. In its latest amendment, Newland asked to increase its commercial development by 150,000 square feet and its office space by 90,000 square feet to allow construction of a town center at Apollo Beach Boulevard and U.S. 41.

At the same time, citing a 2011 state statute that says developers cannot be held responsible for existing transportation deficiencies, Newland wanted to reduce its obligation to make $83 million worth of transportation improvements.

In its previous development order, Newland was required to construct an Apollo Beach Boulevard-Interstate 75 flyover, once 3,806 residential units were constructed. (A flyover is a bridge that crosses above another road.)

Zelman told commissioners that Newland is still willing to contribute $12 million and begin the design and permitting of the flyover immediately to ensure it is constructed by 2018, providing a new east-west road to relieve traffic on Big Bend Road.

In addition, Newland has agreed to extend Apollo Beach Boulevard through Waterset from U.S. 41 to I-75 by 2017, Zelman said. Under the old agreement, Newland wasn’t obligated to extend Apollo Beach Boulevard until 2023 or when 3,806 homes were constructed.

And, now, per the first article, the area is booming.  The real problem is not even specifically this deal, it is that the County Commission just won’t stick to a plan, and, every time they change, it costs taxpayers money.  Moreover, the entire project is sprawl that will make traffic worse internally and in the area. (As is South Shore Commons which actually got money from County impact fees (though the article seems to indicate that the developer had to do the work anyway) – and was used to justify giving money to the bass Pro Shops development.

The fact is, we don’t really even care if South County gets developed, as long as it is developed properly (good luck) and does not require the rest of the County to subsidize it.  The County could easily learn from all the mistakes it has made over the decades causing the present problems and make proper changes. But there is reason to question whether that will happen, even when they say things like this about mobility fees:

“We need to structure this so we’re not encouraging sprawl,” County Commissioner Sandy Murman said. “If we can encourage infill development … I think it gets us to more of a smart growth policy as we move forward.”

Good rhetoric, but has no basis in actions.  Nevertheless, if the County Commission is really going to change, we would welcome it.

— On the Clock

Speaking of change, all the past mistakes are not going to fix themselves.  There is a need for money to fix them, which is supposed to be the reason for the proposed transportation referendum.  It has to be remembered that the whole referendum issue is not open-ended.

County Administrator Mike Merrill told commissioners they have until April 6 to vote on two potential solutions: putting a half-cent sales tax for transportation on the November ballot and requiring developers to pay more for the roads and transit projects needed to support new growth.

“I think it’s really the last date we can practically make a decision about whether there is a sales tax referendum,” Merrill told commissioners. “If there is no sales tax referendum, that has huge implications for the fiscal year ’17 budget and general revenues.”

The decision on the transportation referendum, known as Go Hillsborough, will likely be made in conjunction with the decision on imposing mobility fees. County staffers presented the new mobility fee structure to commissioners Thursday that could ultimately bring in $35 million a year for roads, sidewalks and transit.

Actually, the referendum has no bearing on whether to have mobility fees.  Tying them together would just be doubling down on all the mistakes the county has made over the decades.  Even if we do not have money to fix what has already been done, we still need development to pay for its impact going forward.  AS for fixing the existing problems:

Commissioner Victor Crist, who is considered the swing vote on the referendum, took a different tack. Crist argued that Merrill should put the county’s entire $4 billion budget on the table to see what can be cut to make room for transportation funding.

A former state legislator, Crist said he oversaw a $6 billion budget for more than 10 years as chairman of the Florida Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations. He and the committee had to cut $2 billion from the budget over a four-year period.

Crist said that everything in the county budget that is not a state or federal government requirement should be on the table for possible cuts.

“Out of a $4 billion budget, I’d be willing to bet that half of it, $2 billion, is on the table for consideration,” Crist said.

Merrill said that about $2 billion of the budget consists of reserves and accounting transfers. Subtracting utilities, public safety and budgets for the constitutional officers, such as the property appraiser and tax collector, only about $700 million can be applied to transportation, Merrill said.

Crist was not appeased, however, saying he and Merrill had differences on “what should and shouldn’t be on the table.”

Ok.  Fine.  But then why did the Commission give $15 million for playing fields?  Why did it give money to Bass Pro shops?  It just gave $50 million for the Lightning owner’s project (which we do not oppose).  The point is that the same Commissioners that want to cut all sorts of services to pay for transportation with one hand are dishing out the cash with the other.  We are all for efficient government, but we would take the Commissioner’s position much more seriously if the Commission already had been cutting all the alleged fat and either putting it to transportation or letting taxpayers keep their money.  (What exactly was he waiting for?  When in his mind was it ok to waste taxpayer money on frivolous things?)

The fact is, we need to increase revenue to fix all the problems that have been made for years.  We are all cutting fat if there is fat to be cut, but the needed revenue is not going to be found just in budgetary fat.  Anyway, if the Commission collectively does not have the political courage to make to decisions to try to fix the obvious transportation problem, what makes you think they will have the political courage to cut the fat that they put into the budget?

Transportation – Update on Ridesharing

We feel compelled to do an update on ridesharing.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss SB 1118 by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that would require drivers working for ride-hailing companies to carry the same amount of coverage as taxicab and limousine drivers from the time they log on to a network app until they log off.

Taxicab and limousine industries seeking a level playing field laud the bill, as do local municipalities that want to maintain some regulatory control over the booming ride-hailing industry.

But officials for Uber, Lyft and insurance companies oppose Simmons’ bill as too onerous.

* * *

Instead, they support the House version by Rep. Matt Gaetz, HB 509, which passed out of the House with a supermajority vote of 108-10 and vast bipartisan support. It follows recommendations made by a coalition of insurance companies and transportation network companies as a compromise after years of fighting each other, and is being promoted by conservative, free market groups like R Street and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Although Senate Bill 1118 addresses the insurance industry’s concerns about gaps in coverage, the bill as amended requires more insurance coverage than the National Conference of Insurance Legislators model act recommends, said Logan McFaddin, state government regulations manager for Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

You can read the articles about the differences (and see this one, too. )  We think the Senate bill is basically just to protect the cab companies and overly burdensome, but that is just our opinion (and that of the Tribune editorial page.)

There is one other proposal:

A separate bill, CS/HB 1439 filed by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, would grant the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission exclusive authority to regulate ride-sharing companies within the county, with each company paying a $5,000 permit fee and requiring minimum insurance levels for drivers when they are on the app looking for rides, and when engaged in rides. It has no companion bill in the Senate.

Why would you possibly do that?  If there is a statewide rule, why put another level of regulation at the PTC?  Thankfully, it looks like it is going nowhere.

Cuba Flights – Maybe

Ever since it was announced that regularly scheduled, commercial flights between the US and Cuba could resume, we have wondered what that means for our nonstop flights. (see “Cuba – Flights?”  and “Cuba Flights – A Question”)  This week, the Tribune had an article examining that question.

As the first commercial flights to Cuba are announced in the coming months, Tampa is unlikely to make the list, aviation analysts say.

That puts at risk efforts by local leaders to forge modern links on the foundation of historical connections between the two regions in the areas of culture, business, politics and education.

Ease of travel is seen as key to capitalizing on the normalization of relations with the communist nation, and few are predicting when a second round of direct flights will be announced — other than to say it could be months or even years away.

What’s more, in a worst-case scenario, the rise of commercial flights to Cuba from other cities could push existing charter services out of business — including those flying from Tampa seven times a week — and leave the region with no direct connection to Cuba.

You can read the whole article here.  The main point is that airlines are likely to focus on flights from their hubs, where they can fill the seats with people coming from all the connecting cities.  That does not foreclose the possibility of maintaining our flights, but it is a challenge given that we are not a hub for anyone. And not having a direct connection would be damaging to business prospects.

Tampa International, which has made adding international flights a priority, isn’t ready to give up on service to Cuba, Vice President of Marketing Chris Minner told the Tribune via email.

“We are always working with our partners to grow TPA’s existing air service and bring in new routes,” Minner said. “Service to Cuba remains a special focus.”

The airport needs broad-based help from the Tampa area in its effort, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall, a public relations agency that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

“I feel confident that Tampa Bay will get at least one commercial flight, but it will take a unified effort of business, political and cultural leaders working with the airport to make that happen,” Carlson said. “We cannot afford to lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reclaim our historic position with Cuba.”

And that means all political leaders and the whole board of the Aviation Authority (and the port, really).  We will never be a real gateway to Latin America if we cannot maintain and grow our oldest connection to it.

Rays – The Search Begins

The Rays held their first meeting with Hillsborough County officials last week. (See here and here) Just before that, the Rays put out a list of elements they are looking for in a new stadium.

Here are key points from the criteria the Rays say their new site would have to meet.

Catalyst for development. The ballpark site and surrounding area should offer now or in the future a wide range of entertainment, dining and retail amenities for the “come early, stay late” culture the Rays want.

Local authenticity.“It should be a celebration of Tampa Bay and include iconic elements that positively impact the ballpark brand, the brand of the team and the image of the region.”

Regional connectivity. In addition to being connected to existing and growing population centers and business district, the new ballpark should be close to existing or future mass transit.

Site accessibility. It should be easily accessible by road, and accommodate parking within walking distance of the stadium.

Size and geometry. Twenty acres and with the geometry needed for a professional baseball playing surface.

Financial feasibility and development readiness. The Rays say a public-private partnership is “critical.”

You can decide for yourself whether the Trop site fits these categories (though it would seem to lack regional connectivity) as opposed to someplace like the apartments near downtown Tampa. One thing that is not clear is how all these factors are weighted in the considerations.  We shall see what happens.

Economic Development – A Win

There was a relocation announced this week.

Praising a “business-friendly state and a business-friendly city,” the co-chief executive of a Cincinnatti, Ohio-based IT staffing and consulting company on Monday announced the relocation of the business to Tampa.

Cohesion, which ranked in the middle of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Companies in 2012, has acquired office space on West Bay Street and has nine employees. The company has 250 employees in seven locations around the eastern United States.

The company received $480,000 in state incentive benefits and another $120,000 from the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County. It pledged to create 100 new jobs in Tampa over the next several years with an average wage of $76,000 a year.

Not a huge win, but a win nonetheless, assuming that the jobs are actually created (not saying anything about this company, but there have been mixed results on incentives statewide).

Downtown/Channel District – Some Building

— Nine15

With two buildings under construction on Harbour Island (though it is not clear that the Manor has “broken ground”), Nine15, the newly named Grant Block project, broke ground on Thursday.

The tower will rise on what’s known as the Grant block on N Franklin Street. With an 18-month construction schedule, Nine15 is expected to open in the fall of 2017. Two-thirds of its 362 apartments will be one-bedroom units with rents starting at $1,400 a month. The rest will be two bedrooms with rents starting at $2,000 a month.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

They could have improved this project, but it will still bring more life to northern downtown and it is nice to have a ground breaking.

– Channel Club Moves Forward

There was also news about the Channel Club/Publix project.

“We received approval on the foundation and shell for the Publix grocery store at Channel Club,” Mercury principal Ken Stoltenberg wrote in an email Tuesday, “and we filed the foundation, shell and finish permit for the tower portion of Channel Club. Our expectation is to finalize this transaction in March and then commence with construction.”

Channel Club will consist of a 37,600-square-foot Publix store with rooftop parking and a 21-story, 323-unit apartment tower. The tower will break ground first; once it tops out, Mercury will begin construction on Publix. They will wrap up concurrently in 2017.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It will be nice to see a number of cranes downtown (we haven’t seen that for a while), especially since the genesis of three of these projects, though two with a different developer, dates from before the recession.

Downtown/Transportation – Another Water Taxi

Another water taxi service has been announced for downtown Tampa.

There soon will be a new water taxi service in town, giving Tampa residents and visitors another way to cruise around downtown’s waterfront.

Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises announced Monday that it is launching a fleet of three pirate-themed water taxis Feb. 27 in downtown Tampa. The 50-foot taxis feature concessions, restrooms and historical narration. They can shuttle 40 to 50 passengers to and from 14 stops along the Riverwalk, Channel District and Davis Island.

* * *
An all-day pass costs $15 for adults and $8 for children; the tickets can be purchased onboard or online.

The water taxis will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The hours of operation also will be extended during special events around downtown. There will be charter opportunities for festivals, private groups, birthday parties and weddings.

* * *

The service will resemble Fort Lauderdale’s Water Taxi, which shuttles roughly 370,000 passengers each year, he said. It will take time Manthey’s taxis to reach that level, he said. 

And that is fine.  The only thing is that it makes us wonder about the market, as does the guy running the existing water taxi.

“It makes me scratch my head because we know what the market is,” said Laurence Salkin, owner and operator of Tampa Water Taxi Co.

Due to expediency, many travelers would rather take their own vehicle or ride a taxi with four wheels than wait for a water taxi, he said.

“We’re in a society now where we want things now,” Salkin said. 

And even more to the point,

Salkin opened his business nearly eight years ago and now serves about 12,000 passengers each year, a far cry from Fort Lauderdale’s figures. Taxi services do well in cities like Fort Lauderdale and Miami, he said, due to a large number of waterfront attractions.

“Here, we have at best five,” Salkin said.

Salkin said tourists who want to go on a dolphin-sighting tour or learn about Tampa’s historical waterfront constitute a large piece of his business. Salkin soon will add a gondola to his existing three-boat fleet. He said many of the ideas for his business come from rider requests. 

Mind you, that is a guy who has been in the market catering to tourists around downtown Tampa for years.  That reflects the present state of downtown (though the future may be different; we’ll just have to see what gets built). But it is interesting to hear the view of things from those who are out there working, not just promoting.

Maybe with downtown getting better and the developments that are planned, the market will grow.  Hopefully, everyone can be successful.

Built Environment – Required Reading

Kudos to URBN Tampa Bay for finding a very interesting program from the Congress for New Urbanism called Sprawl Retrofit.  As is self-evident, it is about how to transform sprawl (usually called “suburban sprawl,” but in this area, much of our cities are full of sprawl, even relatively near downtowns, like much of Kennedy, even the newer buildings) into a more urban area.  We are not going to detail the entire thing, but you should check it out (here) – as should government officials and planners.  Just because planning and development has been a mess for decades does not mean it has to always be so, even in Pasco (yikes.) or South County.

List of the Week

This week’s list goes to the findings of a group that local governments love to consult, ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate Market to Watch: Overall Real Estate Prospects. (pg 41 of the pdf)  You would have to look at the whole report for all the methodology, but here are the top 30:

Dallas/Ft. Worth; Austin; Charlotte; Seattle; Atlanta; Denver; Nashville; San Francisco; Portland, OR; Los Angeles; Raleigh/Durham; San Jose; Boston; Orange County; New York–Manhattan; San Diego; Phoenix; Minneapolis/St. Paul;  Miami; San Antonio; New York–Brooklyn; Indianapolis; Honolulu; Washington, DC–District; Charleston; Chicago; Columbus; Oakland/East Bay; Tampa/St. Petersburg; and Houston.

Though the report focuses on the top 20, being 29th is something.  As the report tells us:

Florida’s Resurgence Continues

In last year’s survey, Miami made it back into the top 20. This year, the entire state of Florida is being viewed in a very positive light. Along with the primary southeast Florida markets, survey respondents and interviewees like the rest of the state as well. The position of Orlando and Tampa both improved noticeably in this year’s survey. Other markets such as southwest Florida and Jacksonville continued to improve.

The Florida markets are benefiting from the country finally returning to normal levels of mobility after the temporary freeze created by the housing market collapse. The result has been improved levels of population and employment growth. One interviewee noted, “The real tailwind to Florida growth created by retiring baby boomers is still to come.” While markets in Florida have similar characteristics, they offer diversity in the form of economic opportunities. The different regions and markets appear poised to benefit from an improving U.S. economy.

(pg 42 of the pdf) Being in the top 30 is good, but hidden in there is a warning – there is a risk we are just going back to business as usual.  We still need to really transform our economy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2016 12:35 AM

    If our goal is to grow, then we must address the transportation issue. We are decades behind and it appears as if government officials simply don’t care. If we don’t take real action soon we will be back at square one.

  2. EyesWideOpen permalink
    February 12, 2016 5:16 AM

    If you really want your noodle baked, go figure out who owns Mobley now. 😉

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