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Roundup 3-10-2016

March 10, 2016

The Roundup is coming out a day early this week.


TIA/Latin America – Cuba Flights

Transportation – Home Spun Meets TBX

— And Another Thing

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Go (Away) Hillsborough

Downtown/Channel District/USF – Money

Downtown – A Change

Downtown – Something Odd at Encore

Politics – The Club

Lessons From Atlanta

List of the Week


TIA/Latin America – Cuba Flights

From Tampa International Airport – click on picture for tweet

As we noted last week, Tampa is in the running for Cuba nonstop commercial flights, but the competition will be hard, especially with all the major airlines trying to get flights to their hubs. (And we have to reiterate that we love their graphics.)  We already are a major charter location for flights to Cuba.  It would be a shame to lose our connection to places with none. Please consider signing the petition for Tampa to be selected for a commercial flight.

Go here for the petition.

(And, though it is a bit unrelated, the Lufthansa flights are doing well. Apparently, there is demand.)

Transportation – Home Spun Meets TBX

The Tribune’s resident home spun columnist attended an FDOT TBX meeting.

“You want better street lighting? Write it down.”

“Oh, you want a park on your block? Draw it on the map.”

It was like filling out a Christmas list, and it wasn’t what I had expected.

I had gone to one of those “TBX Community Engagement” meetings, thinking that’s what it would be … neighborhood citizens coming out to voice their opinions of the proposed Florida Department of Transportation’s massive $6 billion dollar interchange project that would add toll lanes and chop into urban neighborhoods.

This one was at the Children’s Board on Palm Avenue in Ybor City and would be similar to other meetings in Seminole Heights and other neighborhoods. Around the room were people wearing buttons with a red slash across the letters TBX and I figured this ought to be good.

❖ ❖ ❖

It wasn’t.

Aside from the room full of bureaucrats, why wasn’t it?

Nowhere was the possibility of just not building the project an option to be discussed.

From what I gathered, this is the way it has been going in these “community discussions” for months. Anyone favoring an option to shelve the project or at least consider other approaches won’t find it here.

Because it is not about whether anyone wants TBX, it is about making the MPO happy.  If you remember, the MPO voted for TBX but said that FDOT should reach out to the community to improve the project.  There was no question of really changing the project or whether it was the best project for the area.  There was no question of whether the money should be spent on something better.  There was no question of whether TBX would serve any of the people in Tampa (even the close in County) get around, namely because, even if the idea worked properly, the access points are too far out, so it won’t.  So you have “community outreach” to make it pretty and not much else. (And, as we are told in this video posted by URBN Tampa Bay, towards the end of the exchange, FDOT thinks TBX is “THE fix” to Tampa Bay’s transportation problems.  So, there you have it.  We can all relax.)

There are no easy answers to the transportation issues facing not just Tampa but the entire region. But what is discouraging is watching residents being treated with disdain with meetings and promises that are little more than charades. By promising neighborhoods the moon, they hardly will notice when the bulldozers show up and start digging.

And he should have added there are no easy answers when no one even asks, or cares, if this is what the people want.

— And Another Thing

The Times had an excellent editorial regarding FDOT’s transportation vision, illustrated by the fact that the Veterans Expressway, which is already a toll road, will have express lanes for even higher tolls – in other words, you can pay or you can pay even more.  You should read the whole thing, but we’ll quote a little.

Toll roads are useful in getting large numbers of commuters to niche locations at peak periods — such as between the suburbs and job centers during rush hours. But they are not replacements for interstates. Toll roads have a more limited use in taking through traffic off the interstates and the local road network. But Gov. Rick Scott sees toll roads as a cash cow and a means for not investing in the public interstate system. Instead of building new interstate capacity that’s free for everyone, the state is looking to new toll road construction, forcing commuters to either pay more or to grapple with congestion.

Exactly (though, in fact, the Veterans, once derided because people said no one would use it, is overburdened at rush hour), the whole point is to provide a lane so that FDOT can say that you can choose to not have congestion if you want, and, thus, if you are in congestion, that is just your choice not because of a deficiency in planning or projects. But what choices are they really giving people?  Unless you pay through the nose, you have no choice.  That is not a solution.

Tolls might manage congestion on the roadways, but they do not give commuters options beyond the automobile. And making it easier for those who can afford it is not the answer. This area needs better roads, more buses and rail, and policies at the state and local levels that discourage sprawl and its costly impacts.

And it is not even clear that tolls manage congestion, especially when there are no real alternatives to driving.  Anecdotal evidence from around the country would suggest that not even express lanes really manage congestion.  And, once again, the whole concept is based on the idea there are alternatives, but here there are none and won’t be for a long time even if a referendum passed. (And, not surprisingly, Florida is still one of the worst states for pedestrians.)

— And One More Thing

This week gave more reason why everyone should care.  There was a business recruiting trip recently:

The three locals — Tampa/Hillsborough EDC interim chief J.P. DuBuque, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Les Miller — held back-to-back-to-back meetings with senior executives at 11 Connecticut companies. They included IT, manufacturing and service firms ranging in size from small to those big enough to make the Fortune 500.

* * *

DuBuque said all but one small firm had issues with Connecticut’s tax burden.

The companies had varying levels of awareness of the Tampa market, he said, but many executives asked two specific questions.

  1. What incentives are available in Tampa to support a possible relocation?
  2. What is the quality of mass transit in the region?

* * *

The other question on mass transit crops up often and frustrates area economic developers. Companies want to know what — other than roads and cars — helps move people around a region? Light rail? Timely bus service?

Costly rail proposals have met a firestorm of regional resistance. And while better bus service has broader backing, improvements are slow. The reality is this metro area remains sorely dependent on driving — which is widely noticed in corporate recruiting circles.

Setting aside the first question, the answer to the second question is “bad.”  All local officials (and state officials) say they want to attract high paying jobs.  They say that is the priority.  But on at least one of the two major issues regarding recruitment, many do absolutely nothing.  In fact, many put up obstructions – not just FDOT.  The real question is what those officials prioritize above fixing their constituents’ needs and above attracting jobs?

Transportation – Go (Away) Hillsborough

There was an interesting article in the Tribune about Go Hillsborough and a long time transit booster in the area.

Former Hillsborough Commissioner Ed Turanchik was once so smitten with the idea of bringing commuter rail to the county he was dubbed “Commissioner Choo Choo” by a Tampa Tribune columnist.

In fact, he was one of the driving forces behind bring the RegioSprinter demonstration to Tampa so many years ago   and introducing the area to DMUs.

But for more than a year, Turanchik has quietly worked against a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax referendum that would pay for a commuter rail system connecting downtown Tampa with Tampa International Airport. Turanchik’s opposition to the Go Hillsborough referendum has proponents scratching their heads.

* * *

Turanchik said he’s not really opposed to a sales tax referendum, but he doesn’t think county voters will support a levy of 30 years when the county’s Go Hillsborough transportation plan only identifies 10 years’ worth of projects.

The prospects for a successful referendum in November are especially dim, Turanchik said, because of the anti-government sentiment pervasive among today’s electorate. He noted that two other transportation tax referendums failed in the Tampa area during the past five years: Greenlight Pinellas in November 2014 and Moving Hillsborough Forward in November 2010.

“I have watched successive referendums run their initiatives right into the minefield,” Turanchik said. “Each referendum we had has had an increasingly dismal result.”

That may be true, which is why the proposal should be improved.  Anything else?

Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay, has criticized Turanchik’s efforts to kill Go Hillsborough. Thurman says Turanchik’s primary motive is advancing a high-speed ferry service for which he is a paid lobbyist.

Thurman points to Turanchik’s support for a 5-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase for transportation projects, a position also favored by the tea party and the Sierra Club. The tea party has consistently opposed any sales tax for transportation.

The Sierra Club doesn’t oppose the sales tax, but said other revenue sources should be employed first, such as the gas tax and mobility fees — payments from developers based on traffic generated by their construction projects. Both groups have enthusiastically endorsed the high speed ferry.

“The truth is he is a lobbyist that continually works with people who are trying to take down Go Hillsborough,” Thurman said. 

Well, that puts it all in a different light. Make the case:

Thurman said throughout 2013, Turanchik took little part in the group’s process. Then in May 2013, Turanchik rolled out the ferry proposal, which county commissioners initially supported. The following February, the commission appropriated $100,000 for a ferry study.

But the project ran aground in August 2014 when environmentalists criticized Turanchik’s proposal to build the ferry terminal on a conservation preserve. At that point, support from county commissioners seemed to fizzle. They voted to slow the process by expanding the search for possible ferry terminal sites.

In November 2014, Turanchik created Tampa Bay Citizens’ Committee for High Speed Ferries. Ken Roberts, founder of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation, a tea-party affiliated group, was named co-chairman of the ferry committee. Another co-chairman was Kent Bailey, chairman of the Tampa Bay Group Sierra Club.

(Which just goes to show how ideological the tea party’s opposition to rail is, but we digress.)

By December 2014, Turanchik was energetically pushing for a gas tax. He sent an e-mail that month to County Administrator Mike Merrill with an attached article about falling oil prices. The e-mail’s subject line said, “Time to Bring on the Five Cents Gas Tax Option w/o Referendum!”

Then last June, Turanchik met with tea party members Sharon Calvert and Roberts, and Sierra Club executive committee members Kent Bailey and Pat Kemp. The following month the Sierra Club announced it was backing a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax.

Calvert said at the time she did not oppose the gas tax because it was a “user fee.” Money from such a tax should go toward road maintenance, Calvert said.

“The only two advocacy groups I’ve seen support the gas tax are Sierra Club and the tea party,” Thurman said. “They were both in that meeting with Ed Turanchik and are both arguing for high speed ferry.”

(A gas tax is a tax, not a user fee.  And it taxes using the transportation system.  There is no reason it should not be used to fund alternatives to using the roads, freeing those using the roads from as much traffic, in other words, helping them. Anyway, that would not go to ferries or any other transit, so that does not make much sense in the Go Hillsborough context.  But anyway.)  Anything else?

Turanchik also supported another alternative floated two weeks ago by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, a Democrat. Beckner’s plan kept the half-cent sales tax but shortened it to 10 years instead of 30. He also included a gas tax and earmarking new revenue growth for transportation projects.

Tampa officials immediately denounced Beckner’s plan. They said shortening the sales tax to 10 years would kill the city’s plans to build a commuter rail system and expand its street car service. Federal grants that would help pay for the rail system require a longer-term source of revenue to cover operating costs, city leaders said.

Thurman agreed, saying the 30-year tax would give the HART public transit system $900 million over 30 years. In addition to expanding and increasing bus service around the county, some of the money could go to the rail system.

But shortening the tax to 10 years would reduce HART’s share to $294 million, Thurman said.

“I’m saying Ed Turanchik is proposing a $600 million cut in transit from Go Hillsborough,” Thurman said. “Any transit advocate would be against that.”

That sounds pretty convincing. So what is the counter?

Turanchik counters that light rail and street car projects are going forward in other Florida cities and counties without sales tax referendums. Those jurisdictions are using state and federal revenue for the majority of capital costs, with local governments paying smaller percentages for operations.

Actually, there are some streetcar projects, but no light rail projects (we assume the reporter messed that up because the advocate definitely knows the difference). To be perfectly honest, other areas have been more creative, but:

“It’s just that we don’t have that ability; maybe other jurisdictions do,” Merrill said. “But 10 years is not enough to commit to the federal government to get any kind of grant money.”

And the tea party support, as quoted about, has nothing to do with transit.  Their goal is to impede real transit – which makes one wonder why they would like ferries.

If we had to make a choice between ferries and a real transit system with rail and buses, we would dump ferries immediately.  With a proper plan, we would not have to make that choice.  If the ferry company works to undermine real transit, 1) that would hurt their own system in the long run, because to be truly successful, it has to tie into a real transit system and 2) we would oppose the ferries because the vast majority of people in this County would derive no benefit whatsoever from anything to do with a South County ferry – not even relieving some of their traffic.  The ferry idea is nice, but why should ferry companies and their agents profit from messing everyone else up?

But we will just assume that the ferry company is not actively trying to monopolize local money. Unless there is a real, detailed plan involving alternative money sources, laying out exactly how it would work, as messed up as the Go Hillsborough process is (namely because people have been trying to mess it up for so long, including politicians), that is where the focus should be.  By all means, make it better (like the idea we passed on a few weeks ago) but stop totally undermining any real progress.

Downtown/Channel District/USF – Money

The legislature has decided to fund quite a bit of university construction, including the USF Med School downtown.

State lawmakers agreed Sunday to spend more than $700 million on higher education construction projects next year, including $22.5 million more to make USF’s medical school a linchpin in the redevelopment of downtown Tampa.

The second phase of the $62 million USF project, part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s vision of a revamped Tampa waterfront, is the biggest among dozens of approved projects as lawmakers seek to complete work on a $80 billion state budget by Tuesday.

The USF project, which received $17 million last year, has political heft behind it. The two lawmakers making the key budget decisions, Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon and Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, are both from Tampa Bay, and Vinik, who has donated land for the project, is a major donor to Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work.

That is positive for the Lightning owners development. (note: there was no money set aside for Julian Lane Riverfront Park. ) When you start tossing around the idea of a $1-2 billion in development and Bill Gates, especially in this area, you will likely get some results.

Though we are not quite there, yet. The legislature was spreading the money around.

Other projects on the $713 million higher education build list include $15 million for two projects at Florida International University in Miami; $6.5 million for a student affairs building at Florida A&M University; $1.5 million for a black student union at Florida State; and $20 million for the first stage of a downtown Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida.

The UCF project and others were vetoed last year by Scott, which produced a torrent of criticism from senators.

Given that the money is so spread, it would be more difficult for the Governor to veto it, but you never know. We shall see.

Downtown – A Change

There was also news about a project near the Straz.

A new developer is moving in on a downtown Tampa site previously pursued by Lincoln Property Co.

Crescent Communities is planning to build 394 apartments at 109 W. Fortune St., which is currently a surface parking lot next to the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk and a Tampa Bay Times office building.

The development will be named Crescent Riverwalk and include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, according to city filings.

It will provide parking for the adjacent office building in a parking deck to be built on the site.

* * *

Lincoln Property had proposed a 408-unit building on the same site nearly a year ago.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And this is the layout:

From the Business Journal – click on diagram for article

It strikes us as being pretty much like the original proposal (without the retail), and, while it adds residents to that area, it seems to leave the street quite dead with no apparent retail (or offices).  That area, and the City, could do much better.  Too bad the City does not really seem to care.

Downtown – Something Odd at Encore

There was news about Encore.

The city’s high-rise skyline is set to spread further northeast with a local development firm close to completing the $7.4 million purchase of two parcels earmarked for a residential tower and hotel.

Tampa Housing Authority officials expect later this month to complete the sale of two adjoining parcels that total about three acres on the east end of Cass Street to Pinnacle Group Holdings, a Tampa development firm. The development is part of Encore, an urban renewal project west of Nebraska Avenue that is replacing Central Park Village, a former public housing complex.

Tentative plans for the 20-story hotel are for 253 rooms. The 28-story residential tower includes retail stores on the first floor, parking and office space up to the eighth floor and 400 housing units.

How many of the housing units will be condos or rental apartments will depend on the market, said Frank DeBose, Pinnacle president. 

There was a rendering on the developer’s website:

From PGH Development – click on picture for website

Yes, that looks like a very short observation tower, which seems strange, but this developer previously proposed an observation tower near where the USF Med School is going to go.  Frankly, we see no point in the observation tower.  As for the rest, all we can say is that the parking garages are very big and obvious.  There is not enough detail to discuss the rest.

We shall have to see if anything happens with this.

Politics – The Club

For those of you who wonder about local politics, the Tribune had an interesting article:

They’re no strangers to the public eye, but when they get together once a month for lunch at The Capital Grille, it’s their own company they keep.

The high-powered networking bunch known as the No Name Group is no secret anymore, as it was in January 2012 when members finally acknowledged its existence publicly to the Tribune.

Now, through a public records request to a government employee in the group, an email roster revealing 60 of the biggest names in local business — as well as some details of how the group conducts itself — has been released.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Co-chairman Bryan Glazer and Tampa Bay Rays President Matt Silverman are members. So is University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, University of Tampa President Ron Vaughn, Eckerd College President Don Eastman and a host of USF’s former and current trustees.

It was an unrelated public records request from the Tribune to Genshaft, one of just two government employees in the No Name Group, that turned up a series of emails to and from members of the self-proclaimed “NNG.”

The list is also full of CEOs, bank executives and local civic leaders, including Pepin Distributing Company President Tom Pepin of Budweiser fame, Ferman Motor Car Co. President James L. Ferman, philanthropist Les Muma, McDonald’s franchise owner Blake Casper and former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

But most importantly, they come from both sides of the bay, said member Brian Lamb, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank. Geographic diversity was central to the network’s creation more than a decade ago.

“This is a regional leadership group focused on what is in the best interest of driving prosperity for the entire region,” Lamb said. “It’s helping to bring together and bridge what may have historically been gaps between our markets.”

We are pretty sure most regions have such groups of people who get together behind the scenes.  The only thing is that, if you are going to form the Committee for Global Domination, there should at least be some domination.  We mean, c’mon, is TBX and flex bus service the best they can do?

Lessons From Atlanta

There was a really interesting article of regarding Atlanta and its (slow) transformation from the “posterchild for sprawl”.   Just some highlights:

In a Vox article published this May, reporter Joseph Stromberg expands Bayor’s premise, arguing that a big part of the push for new highways was “the federally supported program of ‘urban renewal,’ in which lower-income urban communities—mostly African-American—were targeted for removal.” Even relatively vibrant black neighborhoods were considered “blighted” and paved over to make way for urban freeways. In fact, one of the areas most devastated by the construction of the highways, according to Bayor, was the neighborhood around Auburn Avenue, which Fortune magazine had described as the “richest Negro street in the world” in 1956.

In addition to drawing racial boundaries and damaging black neighborhoods, these interstates also facilitated white flight by enabling many Atlantans to live in the suburbs and commute to work downtown. But as the city grew and sprawl expanded, so did traffic and congestion. A 2011 Brookings Institution report showed that almost four-fifths of jobs in Atlanta require a public transit commute lasting over 90 minutes, ranking the city 91st out of 100 large metro areas. And a Texas A&M st`udy from this year found that Atlantans lose $1,100 in wasted fuel and productivity every year.

Effectively, increasing sprawl and reliance on cars formed a positive feedback loop. The rise of interstates and driving as the primary means of transportation necessitated thousands of parking lots and decks, both in the suburbs and in the city, that pushed stores and housing farther away from each other. This, in turn, further necessitated cars as a primary mode of transportation, feeding back into the sprawl.

But now:

Leinberger does see development in the city beginning to change, however. He estimated that about half of new developments, both in the suburbs and the city, are walkable and high-density, and that proportion is growing. “Looking at the future indicators [and] this real estate cycle that we’re currently in, you seem to have a U-turn,” he said.

Part of the reason for the uptick in walkable, high-density development is increased economic growth in areas with access to public transit. Charlie Harper, a Republican strategist and transit proponent, pointed to companies like State Farm and NCR Corporation that are relocating offices from the suburbs to areas in the city near MARTA stations. “Access to transit was a huge part of their decision to leave Gwinnett County,” Harper told the HPR.

Companies value transit for many reasons. One, according to Harper, is to attract talented young professionals: “Folks who are in the tech industry generally tend to be younger, and millennials very much favor transit.” Another, according to Leinberger, is their image: companies want “to make a statement that they’re progressive, they’re forward-looking, and their location needs to reflect that. If they’re in a business park, they’re viewed as stodgy and out-of-date.”

Which is basically what the trade mission referenced above learned.  Too bad most local officials apparently are not interested in doing much about it.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

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