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Roundup 2-19-2016

February 19, 2016

Contents

Transportation – A Big Old Mess

— The TBX Effect

— What Is It: Tampa

— What Is It: Northwest

— Conclusion

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Regionalism In Action

Economic Development/Downtown/USF – Changing CAMLS

Transportation – Do It

Latin America/Coming Out Watch – Cuba Calling

Port – Not So Good

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Does a Billion Dollars Get You These Days?

— Driving Diabetes

List of the Week

___________________________

Transportation – A Big Old Mess

— The TBX Effect

The Times had an interesting article about TBX and Go Hillsborough.

Tampa Bay Express, the state’s $3.3 billion plan to add tolled express lanes throughout the bay area, has sparked fiery protests and fierce rhetoric from the residents of the Tampa neighborhoods that would bear the brunt of expanding the downtown interchange.

Meanwhile, Go Hillsborough, the county’s proposed referendum to raise $117 million a year for transportation projects, has endured a brush with scandal, barely passed a vote from local leaders endorsing the half-cent sales tax option … and has since disappeared from the public radar.

Could the two phenomena — the almost weekly anti-TBX protests and the barely visible support for Go Hillsborough — be linked?

Hillsborough County’s most avid transportation activists argue that many of those who support Go Hillsborough are tied up trying to stop the behemoth express toll lane project from rolling into Tampa.

In short: TBX seems to be sucking the oxygen away from Go Hillsborough.

“A lot of people who are passionate about a more connected urban community are spending a lot of time protesting the existential threat, TBX, instead of focusing on Go Hillsborough,” said Kevin Thurman, executive director for transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay.

Certainly, some are using TBX as an excuse to ignore other transportation needs – as though variable rate lanes will really solve our transportation issues (they won’t not least because they do not even function as planned without alternatives to the highway.  And it is nice to see the Times is actually starting to discuss the issues around variable rate lanes).

On the other hand, we are not sure TBX is sucking the energy from supporters Go Hillsborough.  First,

In many ways, the constituencies are the same. Those who hate to see the city’s urban neighborhoods torn apart by the Florida Department of Transportation’s multibillion dollar TBX road project are also the same ones who yearn for the expanded bus service, bike and pedestrian improvements and ever-elusive light rail option represented by Go Hillsborough.

But

“Right now, the leaders don’t even know what’s in their own plan,” Thurman said of Go Hillsborough. “That’s the big difference. FDOT is already taking action.

“This is a very different and much more immediate threat.”

Not to mention

“The conversation [of Go Hillsborough] now has shifted so significantly from its original aspirations that I think a lot of people are very ambivalent,” Saul-Sena said. “I can’t speak for others, but I’m feeling very ambivalent.”

Exactly, no one is completely sure what Go Hillsborough is.  No one is completely sure about the goal.  Not to mention that what has been announced is definitely uninspiring to anyone who wants real transportation fixes.  There is another view:

Buckhorn is a bit more optimistic.

“I think the TBX issue is separate and distinct from Go Hillsborough. I think people are just waiting for the resolution of the procurement issue,” said Buckhorn, referring to a sheriff’s investigation into the project’s contract for public outreach. “I think once that’s resolved … there will be a very robust discussion about moving forward and how this campaign cranks up.”

There will be a robust discussion of Go Hillsborough, but the two are not distinct at all.  In fact, those who argue for TBX are constantly talking about how express buses can run in the lanes, though the funding does not seem to be in the TBX plan and buses will help clog up the lanes making them more expensive and less useful.

And, in a larger way, TBX and Go Hillsborough are tied together through the whole question of money and priorities.  The fact is that both TBX and the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough mess are signs of the failure of officials to address transportation in a rational, systematic and coordinated way (and that does not even get into how the potential use of the CSX tracks fits in with the rest).  It should all be considered and planned together.  That is not likely to happen because FDOT seems determined to force express lanes on us as part of their policy (see here and ignoring the public here) and local officials seem scared that FDOT will cut funding if they do not endorse TBX. In FDOT’s insistence that TBX must happen or else, every transportation issue is tied to TBX.

In any event, let’s go back to question of why people might not be that excited about Go Hillsborough.

— What Is It: Tampa

Let’s see what Go Hillsborough really is (at least what it is today.  No one can be sure what, if anything, it might be tomorrow). There were some articles in the Tribune that laid out some of the things proposed in the theoretical TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough plan.  First, we look at the City of Tampa:

People living in and around the city gave planners a different message than the rest of Hillsborough County did during workshops last year on how to improve the county’s transportation system: Mass transit is the region’s greatest need.

Where exactly is “around the city?”  Anyway,

The transportation plan divides the county into four regions — northwest, northeast, southeast and Tampa-Temple Terrace. Proposals for those areas were developed after the county took public comments at 86 workshops, four telephone town halls and other venues.

Which is just silly – as though Original Carrollwood is the same as Keystone or New Tampa is the same as Interbay.  But what can you expect?  Anyway, back to the Tampa article:

“With all these three cities together and HART, I don’t think we’ve ever had such a comprehensive plan ever,” said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa’s Department of Transportation and Stormwater Services.

In discussing the Tampa portion of the plan, Duncan highlighted what she called “signature projects” — extension and modernization of the city’s streetcar system and a commuter rail linking downtown with Tampa International Airport.

Both projects would be eligible for state and federal funding, Duncan said, but the $19.7 million that the city would receive from the proposed sales tax increase could ensure their completion.

Setting aside that rail from downtown to the airport is not “commuter rail,”  no one knows just what that rail component really means (because it has not really been discussed and is “under study”) or why someone from outside the City should care, even if they like rail, because there is no chance it will be extended to their area in their lifetime. (note that the CSX rails, which are not even contemplated in the Go Hillsborough plan, because why plan fully?) Of course, there was the standard talk about express buses, though those have almost nothing to do with residents of Tampa (except, maybe New Tampa), and flex service.  But at least there is some attention for Tampa’s desires.

So what about other areas?

— What Is It: Northwest

Then there was another article about the proposals for Northwest Hillsborough County, which basically showed that there is no real reason for any of the 300,000 or so people there to vote for the plan.

If the sales tax goes on the ballot and passes, people in northwest Hillsborough — including Westchase, Town ’N Country, Carrollwood and Odessa — will notice a lot of roadwork during the next 10 years (see map inside).

The county plans to repave 1,144 miles of roads in neighborhoods running from Lutz and Keystone in the north down through Carrollwood to Westchase.

Resurfacing was rated either No. 1 or No. 2 by people who attended Go Hillsborough workshops last year. As in other areas, the need is great. 

So the County will pave the roads they are already supposed to pave. To wit:

Ideally, the county should be spending $20 million a year to keep roads at an acceptable level, said Mike Williams, the county’s director of transportation and development. But in the last 10 years, the money appropriated for repaving never topped $15 million and was usually much less.

Well, since the Commissioners routinely give out cash to pet projects (note Bass Pro Shops was $6 million, playing fields are $15 million), maybe they should stop that and pave the roads, if that was a priority. (It also shows you how small a portion of Go Hillsborough plan repaving really is.) But why do they get for extra taxes?

People at the northwest Go Hillsborough meetings ranked improved transit right behind resurfacing as the greatest need. Accordingly, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit plans significant expansion of express bus and circulator services there.

Express buses move from one point to another with few or no stops in between, while circulators get people to main bus routes.

One of the new express routes would take passengers from Citrus Park and Carrollwood to Westshore, MacDill Air Force Base and downtown Tampa. Another express route would connect Citrus Park with the University of South Florida.

The total number of buses running the Citrus Park route would also increase from two in the morning and two at night to eight in the morning and evening, said Justin Begley, a senior planner at HART. At the same time, the agency would build a larger park-and-ride center somewhere in the Citrus Park area.

“You’ll be going from operating two trips to operating a true commuter express service with a true park-and-ride system,” Begley said.

With the additional money, HART could also significantly expand its HARTFlex van service in the northwest, including areas of Westchase, Egypt Lake, Town ’N Country and Keystone. The vans run on a fixed-loop route within the zone and make two deviations off the loop per hour for people who make an appointment ahead of time. 

Whatever.

Angela Ferguson, who lives in Keystone, said she attended most of the Go Hillsborough workshops held in the northwest. She is interested in using mass transit but said HART was not able to provide specifics at the meetings about where new bus routes and circulator systems would go and how service would be improved.

“If you’re going to sell me on the transportation system … you’re going to have to show me how I can get to South Tampa to my doctor’s,” Ferguson said. “HART has not given any concrete plans about what they’re going to do except these buses I heard were going downtown.”

After seeing the map, Ferguson was still not convinced about voting for the sales tax. She said the Go Hillsborough plan should have included more options, including high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes for cars with two or more occupants.

“We don’t have a bus system that gets us where we need to go,” she said. “We don’t have any other ways of transportation. For me to have confidence in transportation, we have to have more options.”

Jerry Nepon-Sixt, who lives in Northdale and attended a Go Hillsborough workshop, said he is interested in better connections for mass transit and more bike trails and sidewalks. He didn’t see any of that near his neighborhood.

“I see a lot of the same kind of solutions that will be overrun within a few years by the volume of traffic,” Nepon-Smith said in an email, “and not fix the fundamental transportation issues of the county: poor and unreliable transit, lack of point-to-point mass transit (rail) and little in the way of improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

Nepon-Smith said he might use the HART express bus south if it stops at the airport. Begley, the HART planner, said the express bus will not drive to the airport, but passengers can get there from a planned Intermodal Center near Westshore and Interstate 275.

“There will be high-frequency service to the airport,” Begley said.

Sounds like a winner.  Even the people who want buses say the bus element is not useful.  And if you look at the Go Hillsborough map

From the Tribune – click on map for article

you can see how major, congested roads like Dale Mabry and Memorial Highway are not addressed at all.  So there is no real transit (even though the CSX lines run through the area from Westchase to Carrollwood and beyond), problem roads are ignored, the roads should be paved anyway, and most of the good stuff goes elsewhere and will never get to NW County.  (And we are not sure why New Tampa roads figure in this map except to make it appear like something will happen in the area, because not much is happening in the actual NW County.)

We are not opposed to taxing ourselves to fix a long-term problem, but we have a hard time seeing the motivation for people vote to tax themselves?  Where are the actual solutions, what is the real plan – even if will be in the future?

— Conclusion

The bottom line to us is that opposition to TBX will not detract at all from support for transit.  It is the same crowd.  What detracts from support for Go Hillsborough is the ambiguity, lack of political will, and general lack of quality of what we know of the plan.  It is a paving plan, with a vague sop to the City that ignores the vast majority of people in the County that want real transit and says nothing about a future plan to expand transit or fix the mess that is planning in this area.  A muddled process is creating a muddled plan.  Most people who vote for it will do so simply because transportation is a big mess, and the elected officials in this area as a group show no sign of being able to come up with anything better.

And, the fact remains that TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough is not even supported strongly by the Commissioners who are forming the plan, so there is no reason to expect anyone else to really get excited.

— And One More Thing

Going back to TBX for a moment, the express lanes in Miami seem to have some safety issues. URBN Tampa Bay had a link to a report from channel 10 in Miami:

South Florida attorney Mark Kaire said the I-95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County are dangerous and need to be fixed. He’s calling on drivers to sign an online petition demanding that lawmakers to take action.

Kaire said the express lanes have directly contributed to numerous auto accidents and fatalities.

* * *

The Florida Highway Patrol said troopers in Miami-Dade County have been called to 12,192 crashes in the express lanes in the past three years. These incidents resulted in five fatalities and 58 crashes involving injury.

Several of those crashes involved motorists crossing over the orange plastic poles that are supposed to separate the express lanes from the general-purpose lanes.

Local 10 News discovered many drivers are ignoring the poles and driving right over them.

* * *

The express lanes have also created a serious problem for troopers trying to enforce the law.

When the FDOT reconfigured I-95 to add express lanes, they shrunk the shoulder. Troopers said there is very little room to pull someone over.

“Making a traffic stop out here, for me and for every other officer, in my opinion, I think it is dangerous,” Trooper Joe Sanchez said.

Kaire said the FDOT spends $1 million a year replacing damaged and missing plastic poles.

The FDOT is surprised by the number of people who cross over the orange poles.

Yes, it is shocking that people do not want to pay the excessive tolls.

This is a rendering of TBX:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Of course, no one will here will cut across the fine orange plastic poles on TBX, and no troopers will be endangered the lack of a shoulder.

Transportation – Regionalism In Action

There were a number of articles this week about roads that should meet between Pasco and Tampa/Hillsborough, but don’t.

It’s a distance of about 20 feet. But as far as the Tampa City Council and the Pasco County Commission are concerned, it might as well be miles.

The Wesley Chapel subdivision of Meadow Pointe and New Tampa’s K-Bar Ranch subdivision lie adjacent to one another — on either side of the Pasco/Hillsborough county line. A barricade — between Kinnan Street in K-Bar Ranch and Mansfield Boulevard in Meadow Point — separates them.

But closing the 20-foot gap with some asphalt has been a point of contention between the two governmental bodies for years.

Now a Tampa council member and a Pasco commissioner will try to resolve the long-standing rift.

This is what it looks like:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

This is the map.

So, why the stupid (because that is what it is) planning:

Drive the route today, and you’re greeted by red- and white-striped fence barricades as you look south from Pasco County. An illegal dump of a sofa, love seat, smashed electronics and shattered glass sits on the Tampa side. It’s only several paces of unfinished asphalt, but getting from one spot to the other involves 11.2 miles of driving along Mans- field, County Line Road, Bruce B. Downs and Cross Creek boulevards, and Kinnan.

It has been blocked since the northern portion of Kinnan opened in Tampa in 2007. Pasco County officials stymied a connection then, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of the county’s residential road network to accommodate increased traffic from Tampa. That parochial stance has meant no straight shot from the city limits to the extended State Road 56, the Porter campus of Pasco-Hernando State College or the site that had been targeted for development by Raymond James Financial.

A little more than three years ago, Pasco changed its position and offered a deal to the city of Tampa and K-Bar Ranch, asking one of those entities to pay for installing stop lights or traffic circles if the connected road brought a significantly higher number of vehicles into Meadow Pointe. That idea hit its own dead-end, and the connection remained incomplete.

Looking at the map, you can see both developments are designed poorly – to maximize driving, traffic, and messes. Moreover, both designs make it hard to get to anything useful.  But that is what you get with sprawl-loving and uncoordinated planning.  You get stupid things like this.  So why fix it now?  The Tribune has a tale of emergency services gone mad. And the Times tells us this:

Then, in a serendipitous moment, Moore called Montelione in January, at the same time she was preparing her email. They talked, it turned out, on the exact day an engineer retained by BFE Corp. met with Pasco County officials to discuss the idea of completing the segment.

“In the interest of public safety, this road needs to be completed,” said David Fuxan of Fuxan Engineering Inc., who is designing the connection’s engineering plans at the behest of Burns.

Moore, who was unaware of Burns’ interest, brought the matter to the attention of his commission colleagues last month and received an immediate endorsement from commissioners Jack Mariano and Kathryn Starkey.

“I’m all about connectivity,” said Starkey. “The more connections we can have, the better off we are.”

And nothing says connectivity like looping sprawling roads (hint hint).  The fact is that the development on both sides of the county line is a mess, and this road should have connected years ago.  Given the failure to do this simple connection, it should surprise no one that transportation planning in this area is a mess.  It also tells us why something like TBARTA should be useful (though, of course, the provincial nature of local politics makes sure it isn’t).

You can talk about regionalism all you want, but as simple things like this show, it is still much more for show than substance.

Economic Development/Downtown/USF – Changing CAMLS

There are changes coming to CAMLS in downtown Tampa.

The CEO of USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation has stepped down after an internal audit found the institution isn’t living up to its lofty expectations, university trustees learned Thursday.

Now, the state-of-the art, $38 million simulation center known as CAMLS will be used primarily for student classes — a shift from its original, more business-focused entrepreneurial mission. The audit is expected to be finished Monday.

CEO Debbie Sutherland played a major role in getting CAMLS off the ground but she decided the center’s new education-driven mission would “no longer be leveraging her skills” and stepped down, said Ed Funai, chief operating officer and vice president for administration and strategic development for USF Health.

If it makes it a more useful facility, that is fine, but why the change?

At the CAMLS grand opening, local leaders touted its money-making potential. The center also played a key role in the university’s decision to move the College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute downtown. At the CAMLS grand opening, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared, “This is our destiny.”

* * *

As part of its entrepreneurial mission, CAMLS also boasted the Tampa Bay Research and Innovation Center, a combination lab and machine shop where developers of medical devices could test potential products for the Food and Drug Administration approval process.

The innovation center hasn’t been performing as well as CAMLS’ virtual patient care center or professional development offerings, Funai said.

The surgical simulation room, perhaps the most widely photographed feature, also has fallen short of expectations. This cutting edge technology came with a high cost, Funai said.

Now, the center is undergoing what Funai calls a mid-course correction to its “quilt” — expanding popular pieces and scaling back in areas struggling to break even while also responding to demand.

When CAMLS first opened, an agreement was in place that made it the central hub for robotic teaching from Intuitive Surgical, which makes the DaVinci robot used in robotic surgery, Funai said. However, around the time CAMLS opened, Intuitive decided to create its own center. CAMLS is now looking for other partnerships to help sustain its programs, perhaps by expanding an existing relationship with occam md — an engineering services firm that already has a team working in the CAMLS building, according to the occam md website.

“The utility and performance and benefits of robotic surgery have come under scrutiny in the last four or five years,” Funai said, “and there are those that believe robotic surgery adds a lot of time and a lot of costs in the operating room but no benefit to patients compared to other surgical techniques that are much longer lasting.

“Robotics itself — the bloom is off the rose a little bit.”

The fact is that none of this is particularly surprising.  Almost every project in this area is oversold to the public, and CAMLS is no different, as we have noted numerous times over the years (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun,”  “CAMLS,” and “USF Med School – The Editorial”)

CAMLS is a nice facility, but it never was going to be a “game-changer.”  It may be a more useful facility with the USF medical school moving downtown (eventually), though it will be oddly not adjacent to that facility.  Maybe more people will use the streetcar to get between the two facilities.

The fact is that we wish it had been a game-changer and did not need a reset.  But that is not what happened.  We are not going to belabor that point.  Though it is a bit ironic, though welcome, that the Times has now decided that there should be a publicly understood plan:

It’s smart to change course when high-profile plans don’t work out as hoped. In the fast-changing medical environment, dawdling is not an option. But CAMLS was sold as an academic engine that would change the region’s economy and identity by drawing new capital and talent that would put Tampa Bay on the map in the emerging field of commercial medicine.

The question now is what signal a refashioned CAMLS sends to the community and its place in an enormous redevelopment of acres of downtown. CAMLS occupies prime space in the city center; it needs to be actively used. On a larger note, where does this leave the region’s long effort to jump-start an industry in applied medicine? And will the change rob USF of the very modern niche it promoted in relocating its medical school downtown?

The community has a great deal at stake, and the top two leaders at USF Health and CAMLS, Dr. Charles Lockwood and Dr. David Smith, need to publicly outline the game plan. There are straightforward but serious questions to answer: How much of CAMLS’s mission will be devoted to undergraduate study? What commercial aspects will the institute keep, and how can USF assure the public that those operations are financially viable? What role does CAMLS envision itself playing in Tampa Bay’s quest for a biomedical hub? And what is the financial impact to USF in bringing the center into the university’s fold?

All good points.  And they should be asked when a project is proposed, especially when it is presented as changing the regional economy.

The bigger point is that, once again, you should be very wary of getting caught up in the hype, especially from public officials, of a project before it actually starts functioning.  If everything here was as great as the overblown pronouncements over the years, Tampa would be a full-blown “world city” by now.  Remember, hype, prognostications, and swagger are not accomplishments.  The only thing that really matters is what actually happens.

Transportation – Do It

There was a development in the ridesharing and PTC saga.

County Commissioner Victor Crist threatened Wednesday to join forces with state lawmakers who want to abolish the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission he chairs unless county commissioners agree to take on regulation of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft.

Crist delivered the ultimatum at the end of a county commission meeting as he outlined the burden the PTC faces in fighting to regulate Uber and Lyft. The agency is involved in two lawsuits with the companies, which refuse to follow the same rules as taxicabs.

* * *

While the PTC is fighting in court, state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa, both Republicans, have tried in the past to shut down the PTC. Brandes has criticized it as archaic and a barrier to transportation innovation.

Crist said the PTC is “in a box,” and the only way out is for county commissioners to pass an ordinance assuming regulation of the ride-hailing companies. The PTC could shed that duty and continue inspecting and licensing cabs, ambulances, limousines and tow trucks.

If commissioners decline to provide oversight of Uber and Lyft, the state Legislature will abolish the PTC and all its duties will fall to the county government, Crist predicted.

* * *

Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he wouldn’t support any move to transfer PTC duties to the county commission and doesn’t think the rest of the transportation commissioners would, either.

“I was at that (PTC) meeting yesterday and the suggestions — you weren’t that well-received by the board,” Higginbotham said. “I’m concerned that passing this off to the county commission, unless I see something different other than what you mentioned in the meetings, I won’t support it.”

It was at that point that Crist said that without action by the county commission, he would switch sides and ensure the demise of the agency he chairs. If the Legislature abolishes the PTC, all the agency’s duties — such as vehicle inspections, driver background checks and fee regulation — would fall to the county government.

“I’m so committed to making this fix that if I have to resign as chairman of PTC, hold a press conference with Sen. Brandes and Rep. Grant and join their cause to shut it down myself, I will,” Crist said. “Then this board will have no choice but to address this issue.”

The PTC is a vestige of bad government and insider dealing.  As shown by every other county in Florida, it is completely unnecessary.

So, all we can say is: Stopping promising and just do it.

Latin America/Coming Out Watch – Cuba Calling

With a new agreement, US-Cuba commercial flights are in the cards and Tampa wants them (yes, we do).  It will be interesting to see whether Tampa can pluck some flights away from airline hubs, like Miami.  In a similar vein, there was an interesting article in the Guardian (UK) about US-Cuba relations and the different approaches of Miami and Tampa.

Every March, Tampa’s historic Ybor City hosts a sandwich festival in which challengers from Miami compete with the locals over layers of pork, pickles and cheese to determine which area of Florida can claim to be the most authentically Cuban.

Contestants from the host city insist it’s the salami in their version of the cubano that regularly leaves their rivals with the taste of defeat.

But beyond the frivolity another race is playing out between the cities, for a much more lucrative prize: the right to become the United States’ gateway to Cuba when the two cold war adversaries finally call time on more than five decades of hostilities.

(and there is a link to cool Guardian article from November about La Segunda bakery and Cuban bread. )

“The reality is that while Miami argues, the rest of the world moves on,” said Carlos Gutierrez, the Havana-born US secretary of commerce under President George W Bush, now a strategic adviser specialising in Cuban affairs for the Washington-based Albright Stonebridge Group.

“Tampa is more prepared than Miami. We need to start thinking strategically about the role Miami will play in Cuba, and Havana and Miami as two cities. There isn’t enough thinking, there isn’t enough debate or discussion. We tend to get caught up on tactical issues. Someone needs to raise their head above the noise and think about the future,” said Gutierrez.

In December, Gutierrez joined a group of 10 Cuban-American business leaders from Miami on a trip to Havana to evaluate attitudes and assess progress in the year since Obama’s groundbreaking announcement.

What they found, he says, was a readiness and keenness among both Cuban leadership and everyday citizens to build a new and mutually beneficial relationship with the US – an attitude he believes Miami would be wise to adopt.

“They’re very fond of America, there are US flags everywhere,” he said. “And the Cuban people are very encouraged by what’s taken place. The Cuban economy is changing, you see private businesses, co-ops, private salons, private taxis, people buying and selling homes. There’s no question that Cuba is changing and is going to change with us or without us.

“We need to look at the big picture, look down the road 10, 20 years, and stop looking at the past.” 

That is Miami. This is Tampa:

Bob Rohrlack, president of the Greater Tampa chamber of commerce, said he was unsurprised by the hostile reaction in Miami to initiatives that were not yet even concrete proposals.

“It’s really reflective of what Cuba said to us while we were there,” he said, referring to a trip by a diverse array of company executives and other chamber members to the island last year.

“They saw south Florida as an antagonist but [also] saw a cultural connection. We have a much clearer, more focused vision for the future, and their vision is looking back. You could go on forever, looking back.”

Rohrlack said that Tampa, nicknamed Cigar City for its thriving Cuban cigar manufacturing industry of the late 19th century, has deeper-seated roots with Cuba stretching back to the 1500s, and that its Cuban-American residents lacked the militancy of the south Florida population largely made up of post-revolution exiles and descendants.

“While there are some on the opposite side, the overwhelming majority of our community is open to having relations with Cuba,” he said.

The time to make the connection is now.  And, as these articles show, not only will that bring us a connection to Cuba, it will help the international perception of Tampa.  All local officials need to get on board. If the President can go to Cuba, so can local officials.  They don’t need permission.

Port – Not So Good

The Port did not have a good first quarter.

Exports, imports and cruise traffic were down at Port Tampa Bay in the first quarter of fiscal 2016 due to a strong U.S. dollar, one less cruise ship and a price drop in natural gas.

And because of a steel glut on the global market, Port Tampa Bay turned back a $10 million loan it had received from the Florida Department of Transportation to build a new steel warehouse for one of its tenants.

Overall port tonnage was down 7 percent in the first quarter compared to 2014, primarily due to a decline in coal shipments by Tampa Electric Co., which is using more natural gas to power its Big Bend Power Station, since the price has dropped, Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development told the Tampa Port Authority board Tuesday.

Exports are down due to the strong dollar, which is reflected in a drop in phosphate and ammonia to make fertilizer, Elliott said.

The second half of the year should put port business back on the upswing, he said. Fertilizer exports and cement imports are expected to pick up and upticks in granite, petroleum and scrap metal are already helping offset the loss of other tonnage, he said.

We are not sure why the comparison would be to the first quarter of 2014, but, nevertheless, business is down.  It may or may not be temporary depending on the general economy.

The port is moving ahead with plans for a refrigerated warehouse near its container operations which will be used to store fresh produce. Alfonso said he expects to break ground on that warehouse this summer and open it for business by mid-2017.

Of course. And keep pushing to get more manufacturing.  One quarter does not mean anything.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that much of the drop was in bulk (maybe Cuba trade can help).  And we need more containers (and they know that).  Hopefully, this is just an aberration.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Does a Billion Dollars Get You These Days?

As part of our continuing look at what a billion dollars gets you these days, this week we look at Portland, OR. We have previously noted a proposed project in Vancouver, WA, which is just across the river from Portland. (See “Meanwhile, Elsewhere . . .”)  Now we look at Portland proper.

The surface parking lots that dot downtown Portland between the Burnside and Morrison bridges won’t be flat for long if local real estate owners realize an ambitious development vision to transform one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

In between local landmarks like Voodoo Doughnut, Skidmore Fountain and the Portland Saturday Market, the Goodman family hopes to nestle 11 new buildings, $1.5 billion in investment, a grocery store and an untold number of new office workers, shoppers and residents.

The Goodmans recently unveiled the proposal, which they call the “Ankeny Blocks,” in anticipation of zoning changes the city plans to make that would allow developers to build taller buildings downtown. Five of the Ankeny Blocks buildings could rise as high as 460 feet, which would rank them among the tallest in the city. (The KOIN Center, by comparison, is 509 feet and 35 stories tall. The PacWest Center is 418 feet and 29 floors.) Other new buildings would climb to 325 feet, 250 feet and 130 feet, respectively.

Three of the new buildings would be limited to 75 feet because of height restrictions in the Skidmore Historic District.

From the Oregonian – click on picture for article

Admittedly, it is not a blank slate like the Lightning owner’s project.  On the other hand, it is filling in surface lots and energizing a historic district further. In any event, you can read the details in the article here.

— Driving Diabetes

Now for something completely different.  The Guardian (UK) featured an article on diabetes in Houston.  Now, we know (as does anyone who ever watched Top Gear) that Europeans are fond of talking about fat Americans, but this is a serious topic.  Something interesting to note, especially keeping TBX and the Go Hillsborough focus on cars (and the continuing love of sprawl):

But most of Houston is not built for walking, even on a sunny January day. There’s the constant traffic belching fumes that linger in the humid air; the uneven sidewalks that have a pesky habit of vanishing halfway along the street; the sheer distances to cover in this elongated, ever-expanding metropolis. Walking can feel like a transgressive act against Houston’s car-centric culture of convenience – and its status as the capital of the north American oil and gas industry.

It’s one reason why Houston regularly finishes top, or close, in surveys that crown “America’s fattest city”. Unsurprisingly, it has a diabetes problem as outsized as its residents’ waistlines. By 2040, one in five Houstonians is predicted to have the disease.

That first paragraph sounds very familiar.  While Houston is buildings transit and trying to change its layout a bit, it is a massive task in a massive area.  Lest you laugh too much, check out the next item.

List of the Week

Following the theme of the last item, we feature Men’s Health list of the Fattest Cities.  (Unfortunately, it is not dated, but so be it)

Here are the top 25:

The 25 Fattest Cities:

  1. Houston 2. Detroit 3. Cleveland 4. Memphis 5. Tampa 6. Las Vegas 7. El Paso 8. Baltimore 9. Los Angeles 10. Louisville 11. Tulsa 12. Miami 13. Indianapolis 14. Philadelphia 15. Arlington 16. Columbus 17. Charlotte 18. Phoenix 19. New Orleans 20. Atlanta 21. Raleigh 22. Kansas City 23. St. Louis 24. Chicago 25. Dallas

We are number 5. What can you say?

And, for comparison purposes only, the top 25 fittest:

  1. Portland 2. San Francisco 3. Albuquerque 4. Oakland 5. Boston 6. Seattle 7. Denver 8. San Diego 9. Minneapolis 10. Honolulu 11. Tucson 12. Austin 13. Colorado Springs 14. San Jose 15. Omaha 16. Washington 17. Milwaukee 18. Virginia Beach 19. Sacramento 20. Jacksonville 21. New york 22. Wichita 23. Oklahoma City 24. Nashville 25. San Antonio

While there are some usual suspects on the fattest list, there are far more on the fittest list. Is there a correlation?  We leave that to you to decide.

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