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Roundup 3-25-2016

March 25, 2016


Planning/Transportation – Does the Emperor Have Any Clothes?

Transportation – Don’t Tell FDOT

Transportation – City Rail

Transportation – Move On

TIA – A Bird Too Far

— One More Thing

Transportation – The Case Against Ridesharing

Transportation – Not Quite Smart Cities

Seminole Heights – The Warehouse

Downtown/Channel District – Moving to Move Some Dirt

South Tampa – More Development

Rays – A Bottom Line Issue

Coming Out Watch


Planning/Transportation – Does the Emperor Have Any Clothes?

Sometimes we see a news report that just makes us wonder if some local officials really understand some of the issues before them.  This week, there was an article about an upcoming workshop on mobility fees (the coverage of which will likely come out after we post this).

Hillsborough County officials are being pulled in two directions as they try to develop a new fee structure so developers pay their share for road improvements around new residential and commercial projects.

Commercial developers say the new “mobility fees” proposed by the county’s consultants, AECOM/Tindale-Oliver, are excessive and will choke the revival of an industry knocked flat by the Great Recession.

On the other side, citizen activists are warning the county against letting developers off the hook and leaving taxpayers to pay for the county’s estimated $8 billion transportation deficit.

County commissioners will hear both sides in a mobility fee workshop 2 p.m. Thursday at the Frederick B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. The public is invited to speak.

That part is straight forward enough.  But then there is this:

Much of the opposition to the proposed mobility fees is coming from commercial developers who could see their fees increase from 665 percent to 937 percent, according to Steve Cona III, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. Cona said those fees will fall on churches, doctor’s offices and other small projects as well as larger commercial projects.

“Our biggest concern is that, from a construction standpoint, we’re coming out of the recession with projects that are permitted but have yet to break ground,” Cona said. “There is some momentum and I would hate that momentum to stop.”

County Commissioner Sandy Murman sounded the same concerns at a March 9 mobility fee workshop. Raising fees too high, especially on commercial projects, could hurt Hillsborough’s ability to compete with surrounding counties for big shopping malls and office parks that boost property tax collections and create jobs.

“I’m very concerned about the commercial side of this,” Murman said then, “and we’ve got to keep creating jobs if we’re going to keep up and grow and be the best community we want to be.”

The very idea of mobility fees is that it costs more for infrastructure to build a sprawling mess on the outskirts of the already built up area than to do infill.  Therefore, logically, the fee for building in an empty field in an undeveloped area with no infrastructure should be higher.  Period.  The point is to encourage infill (such as in built up areas like Town and Country, which the particular Commissioner represents).  How that would stop commercial development is unclear, unless the only commercial development you envision is a sprawling mess in an empty area.  The whole point is to incentivize better building (which also uses existing transportation and other infrastructure and makes it easier to maintain – a win, win, win), not make more concessions to keep the mess that has already been created going without paying for it – in other words, keeping the same poor policy.  We are not going to be the best community we can be (and we certainly are not now) if we just keep sprawling and putting the cost on the taxpayer.

(It should be noted that, if you have such a low opinion of the ability of this area to attract anything but the cheapest, low quality, sprawling development in empty farms, then, of course, you would be worried.  We think this area is attractive enough to have some decent standards and still thrive. But that is just us.)

Thankfully, that is not the end of the discussion:

Current fees do not begin to cover construction costs for new highway capacity. Impact fees first levied in 1985 have not risen since 1989. That means current fees pay just $635,000 per lane mile of construction when the true cost is closer to $5 million per mile.

Failing for years to address the gap has been blamed for an $8 billion backlog in road, bridge and other transportation infrastructure projects.

“It’s the recognizing that there hasn’t been an increase in the fees, so we’re increasing them and making up and charging them everything we didn’t charge them,” said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief infrastructure and development administrator.

At the same time, however, county officials recognize the new fees will be a “quantum leap” for developers, Garsys said. That’s why the county has been meeting with people in the industry and listening to their concerns for months.

“We want to make sure we don’t shut down development,” Garsys said, “but we also want to make sure our taxpayers are getting the benefit of developers’ contributions. It’s really trying to find a balance here.”

So, is there any balance?

Activist George Niemann said he has attended most of the county mobility fee meetings held for non-builder residents and he’s not happy. Niemann said he was told the fees will cover just 30 percent to 50 percent of the true costs for roadwork to serve new building projects.

“The county is not going to implement any changes that will cost developers any more money,” Niemann said.

County officials say that’s not true. The fees as proposed by the consultants are meant to cover the full cost of new development. The impacts are measured by the number of trips a project generates, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads and other improvements to handle additional traffic. 

That does not sound like it. To be honest, we doubt that the fees will cover all the cost (especially after the Commission gets to their normal business of waiving fees), but it will certainly be better than what we have now.  Going back to the idea how much to charge and whether some get it:

That’s one reason the county is honoring credits given years ago for roads and other work done for projects that were never built. Also, development agreements already granted under the existing fee structure will be grandfathered in.

County Administrator Mike Merrill suggested cutting off the grandfathering if projects are not started in seven years but Commissioner Stacy White said that might be too long. At the March 9 meeting, White urged Merrill and other officials to negotiate harder on behalf of taxpayers. The longer the grandfather status stays in place, the less money comes from mobility fees for roadwork.

“I just want to make sure the county doesn’t give away the farm in negotiations and that we leverage our position,” White said in an interview. “I don’t think we have to completely give up ground in both of these areas — the credits and grandfathering of the credits.”

Exactly.  For years, the County hasn’t even been bothered to have a farm to sell.  It was more like a guy with a pick-up by the side of the road just handing out taxpayer money to anyone who stopped by.  The Commission essentially ignored its own plans and let people build anything secure in the knowledge that the Commissioners would be out of office by the time anyone figured out the mess they have made. And when anyone figured it out, the taxpayers would either bail them out or suffer.

So, seven years is way too long.  We get the idea that someone who is right about to start work and had a previous agreement should not be hit with the new fees.  However, seven years just incentivizes sitting on a development.  How does that help the county or the taxpayer?  It should be much more of a use it or lose it proposition.

Thankfully, at least some of the Commissioners get it. Whether the Commission as a whole will actually protect the taxpayers they are already asking to pay more for the mess the County has made is an open question.  The bottom line is this: mobility fees are really the acid test for whether the County government is in any way serious (even just in theory) about getting a handle on planning and transportation.  The jury is still out, but we have a hard time being optimistic.

Transportation – Don’t Tell FDOT

There was an interesting blog post on the Times website.  To summarize:

Residents of Seminole and Tampa Heights voiced their frustrations Tuesday night, arguing that community outreach for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion only seeks to build consensus for the project, not listen to critics’ objections.

* * *

FDOT representative Ed McKinney fielded many of those concerns after the presentation, but said the proper venue for that would be a public meeting with elected officials.

“I think the frustration last night is more on a political level,” McKinney said Wednesday. “They want more of an audience with the elected officials in a public forum outside of the MPO meetings. (Those are) kind of a one-way street  where people make their comments for three minutes but there’s never any feedback.”

In other words, FDOT brought up the idea, got the MPO to approve it, and now doesn’t want to hear it.  You could go talk to the MPO, but it is not like local officials show any signs of caring much either.

In the end, much as FDOT has its issues, it all comes back to the failing of local officials. (And for your convenience, you can find the members of the board of the MPO here.)

Transportation – City Rail

There was a first real, sort of, comment on the theoretical plan for City rail and what it might cost in the Business Journal:

Jean Duncan, the city of Tampa’s director of transportation and stormwater services, told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that $480 million of that total could go toward a proposed rail project to connect downtown to Westshore and Tampa International Airport.

Well that seems like something. (And, just a suggestion, but the City may want to rename the “transportation and stormwater services” department to “infrastructure” or something that does not sound as odd.  Of course, now that we’ve suggested it, it probably won’t happen.)

The Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax transportation initiative would be just one funding source for the project and provide $27 million over a 10-year period. The rest of the funding could come from issuing bonds, as well as grants from the federal government and the Florida Department of Transportation and public-private partnerships.

Actually, maybe it does not sound like much clarity (or much money from the sales tax).  But, at least there is a sort of price tag.

The idea of creating rail service is still in the early stages.

You don’t say.  It has only been discussed since at least the 1980’s, which, for reference, is before the ancient study on which TBX is based.

The Florida Department of Transportation is giving a $1 million grant for a premium transit study it is conducting in tandem with local bus operator Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). The study should begin this fall and be complete in 18 to 24 months.

Except, the study has not even begun, the report is really not telling us much.  Even less:

The technology — whether the result would be modern tram or light rail — has yet to be determined, Duncan told the council. “They will be looking at the CSX tracks,” Duncan said, noting that the exact route has not been decided upon yet either.

We are just going to assume that the reporter does not know that the CSX tracks do not have a downtown to airport connection and so did not accurately reflect what the City official said.  We just don’t even want to deal with the alternative.

But at least the streetcar extension seems a little bit better planned – which we would expect because 1) it is easier and 2) the Lightning owner wants it for his project so the City is scrambling to do it.

Meanwhile, the extension and modernization of Tampa’s historic TECO Line Streetcar from the Channel District to Ybor City, a 2.7-mile stretch, could cost $146 million. The funding sources for this project could come from the sales tax proposal, which would amount to $44 million over a 10-year period. The rest could come from state and federal grants. HDR Engineering was awarded the $1.2 million contract to conduct the project’s feasibility study, which is funded primarily with a $1 million grant from FDOT.

It is a bit odd that the sales tax money will provide more for the streetcar extension than for a downtown to airport connection (not that either amount is that large).  However, that gives a view to the priorities.

In any event, everything is subject to studies.  What is true is that, if there is a referendum, there will still not be an actual plan for rail – just a discussion of coming attractions. And there is no discussion of how to expand and how to include the county (or who will even run a city line).  It is all part of the disjointed approach to transportation planning.

Transportation – Move On

Speaking of transportation planning, there was an interesting column in the Tribune about the whole Go Hillsborough Parson Brinckerhoff silliness.

Sometimes you have to say enough is enough, and we’re there. We have reached that point with those who hint at a dark conspiracy by officials in the proposed Go Hillsborough transportation initiative.

Let it go.

The results of a six-month investigation by Hillsborough County reached the conclusion that, paraphrasing here, although the tea party and other opponents may not like the way backers of the Go Hillsborough plan have gone about their business, that’s just tough noogies.

No laws were broken.

There was no conspiracy.

Move on.

The investigation found no laws were broken.  Whether there was a conspiracy or not is less clear (though not relevant to the actual referendum).  There may have been, but not an illegal one.  Just as something may comply with a law but still be corrupt, especially if there is a bad law. (And even if there is nothing illegal or corrupt, it does not mean that everyone is acting in the best interests of the area.) Moreover, just because it was not criminal does not mean it wasn’t ill-advised. Nevertheless, that is a separate issue to having a good transportation plan, which is the relevant issue for a referendum.

And then there is this:

But I say they should go ahead and have the vote.

I have said, and still believe, that it will get stomped like a bug at the ballot box. Even if my prognostication skills are dead on, though, it’s no reason not to put this before the people. We’ve certainly been talking about it long enough.

If a transportation tax is whomped at the ballot box again like the one in 2010, leaders will have gotten the message — maybe. They’ll be forced to go to Plan B, just as soon as they can come up with one.

Not surprisingly, Tampa tea party co-founder Sharon Calvert does not agree. She doesn’t think the referendum should go forward because, as she said Friday, “It’s not going to pass!”

The fact remains that if you oppose the plan and are convinced it is not going to pass, the best thing that could happen is to have a vote – so that it will not pass and you can say “told you so.”  The only reason for a referendum opponent not to have a vote is if you think there is a chance it will pass (though that has the downside of being against the will of the people).  And if you believe the people should have the power to decide how they are taxed (the ultimate in taxation with representation, see Founders), the best thing you could do is have a vote and let people decide.

So, let them decide (and fix the plan).

TIA – A Bird Too Far

We love the airport.  We approve of almost every move made by the administration.  However, as with all things, sometimes we disagree.  Well,

By late next year, Tampa International Airport visitors will be soaring to and from the main terminal and their gates on roseate spoonbills and bald eagles.

Airport officials unveiled the look for the new automated people mover train Thursday, revealing that each car will be wrapped in a large image of a native Central Florida bird or seasonal visitor. Inside, guests riding the 1.4-mile train will learn about the birds through educational videos.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano also announced a two-week naming contest for the new driverless train, expected to go into service in late 2017. Those who want to cast their ballots can visit to choose from four names: Gulf Glider, Sky Connect, Jet Stream or Florida Flier.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We like eagles and we like the people mover, but we see no need (or benefit) to put an eagle (or pelican or seagull or any other bird) on the people mover.  Teach all you want about local birds.  Name the trains after local birds.  Just don’t wrap the trains in local birds.  It is tacky and kind of silly – as much as we love eagles – and everything does not have toe resemble a theme park.  The great thing about the airport is that it is the clearest example of sober, business minded excellence in this area.

As one of our readers pointed out, you don’t want to be the real word version of this:

Please, don’t do it.

— One More Thing

You can find the naming contest here. Frankly, we think all the names are a bit weak (and do we really need a name from a people mover from the rental cars to the landside building?), but, if it needs a name and it can’t be “Trainy McTrainface,” we like “Skyconnect” because, if it ever is extended to Westshore, the name would actually have some relevance.

Transportation – The Case Against Ridesharing

There was an interesting tidbit in the Times regarding the legislature’s work on ridesharing.

Ride sharing: Sometimes the payoff for corporate contributors is what doesn’t get passed. Mears Transportation, whose president, Paul Mears III, is one of Senate President Andy Gardiner’s lifelong friends, won a victory for the second year in a row when the Senate killed a bill that would have blocked local governments from regulating popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The company has been a long-time supporter of Gardiner’s, giving more than $150,000 to the Republican Party in the years he was in leadership, and $64,000 to the legislative political committees in the last year.

Brandes, who was among the sponsors of the ride-share bill, said he wasn’t surprised but predicted Uber and Lyft will wait Gardiner out.

“We kind of knew going in, with the relationships, what that looked like,” he said. “Once regime change comes, I think you’ll see a significant shift in policy.”

So what is the message legislators intend to send to lobbyist and special interests this election cycle?

“They should continue to contribute because the overall environment, and the policies that we are actively pursuing, are helping the state,” Oliva said.

Exactly.  The legislative failure was the result of protection of legacy cab companies, not a representation of the will of the consumer – who seem fond of ridesharing (hence the protectionism).  The same can be said of the PTC’s protectionism.  The PTC should just go with the house bill’s requirements and move on (or, even better, go away).

Transportation – Not Quite Smart Cities

There was an editorial in the Times regarding thinking big on transportation that focused on the federal government’s smart city challenge.  There had been previous reports on the Tampa and St. Pete applications which were so silly we did not think they merited mention.  However, the editorial ties it all together nicely with this:

The “Smart City Challenge” was not envisioned as a game changer for Tampa Bay, but it became a reflection of the region’s shortcomings. The U.S. Transportation Department pledged $40 million to a city that best integrated new technology into its transportation network. That could include electric cars, sensors to direct traffic or other automated projects. And the grant targeted midsized cities. It was a chance for the bay area to shine and compete on a national level.

But Tampa took a kitchen-sink approach, offering everything from shuttles to solar charging stations for electric vehicles. St. Petersburg proposed a gondola line linking the Gateway area to downtown and the gulf beaches. From the 78 cities that applied, the DOT chose seven finalists — two more than expected. And if a common denominator stood out, it was that the winners had already invested in a modern transportation infrastructure. Austin, Denver, Portland and the other cities have built a spine for the 21 century, which is why they continue to move ahead.

It is no surprise that the cities mentioned are usual suspects on every good list.  As we have said before, doing well on a list now and gain is not really anything, but being a consistently lauded city is something else.  The mentioned cities think big.  They plan big.  They act big. And they accomplish.  They are not doing small things then proclaiming how big they are.

The Tampa Bay area proposals for the federal grant are just plain odd and not worthy.  They seem more like just going through the motions to say we applied for something.  We need to think big.  If we get shot down the end result is no different than getting shot down for dinky ideas.  However, if we actually succeed, the difference will be great.

If we want to be a great area, we need to think and act like a great area.  We will not get there with gimmicks and vague talk.

Seminole Heights – The Warehouse

This week, the Warehouse loft project opened in Seminole Heights.

There are plenty of great restaurants. The craft beer scene is thriving.

Now, Seminole Heights has another ingredient to help lure that coveted millennial demographic.

Developer Wesley Burdette and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Tuesday cut the ribbon on the Warehouse Lofts, a former industrial site at 4513 N. Florida Ave. that is now home to 54 apartments.

“A year ago this was just a dilapidated building, leaking everywhere, but we had a vision of what this place could be,” said Burdette. “It’s very fulfilling, its [sic] very emotional to actually see what it has become.”

The run-down former warehouse for an air conditioning equipment distributor has been gussied up to the tune of $5.5 million, but its apartments retain a gritty, industrial feel. There are rusticated block walls, stainless steel railings, and polished concrete floors.

It shows what can be in Seminole Heights, especially along Florida, where multi-story, multi-family development makes sense and can really take what is going on to the next level or a true urban area.  It would have been nice if there was a little retail, but so be it.  This is the first attempt on Florida. (Though we do wonder is why there are no south facing windows so residents can have views of downtown.)

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The big question is whether Seminole Heights will embrace a new, urban development pattern on Florida.

Downtown/Channel District – Moving to Move Some Dirt

The Lightning owner’s company has moved on the first step to hopefully building his whole project.

Strategic Property Partners has selected a Tampa contractor for its roadway reconfiguration and infrastructure work.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, said Wednesday that Kimmins Contracting Corp. has been chosen from five firms that responded to a request for qualifications that went in out in January.

From the Business Journal – click on diagram for article

The road work project along Channelside Drive is expected to begin this summer, pending approval from the city of Tampa. Construction will be completed in phases over two years to accommodate traffic and pedestrian access, according to a news release.

It’s not a building.  In fact, it is not even building, yet.  But it is something.  Hopefully, they won’t create a traffic nightmare by rearranging the roads without any useful real transit.  Maybe in two years, someone in government will finally be willing to make a solid rail proposal.

South Tampa – More Development

There was news about another property south of Gandy.

A 31-acre parcel up for sale at the foot of the Gandy Bridge has the potential to be one of the next big high-density residential developments along the Tampa Bay shoreline.

With several other projects in the South Tampa area already moving ahead, though, the buyer of Peninsula Point should be prepared to allow those projects to mature, then move forward with a waterfront development with marina access, said Bill Eshenbaugh, who is marketing the property for $29.5 million.

“Our site needs to wait until the market absorbs the condo properties that are already coming online,” he said.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Which is fine.  On the other hand, there is a lot of development planned for the area.

DeBartolo Development filed plans for the Georgetown project last year to build up to 1,235 homes and 9 acres of retail between South West Shore Boulevard and Old Tampa Bay, just north of the Peninsula Point property. And WCI Communities is selling luxury homes with marina access at Westshore Yacht Club just south of Peninsula Point.

Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners filed plans with the city of Tampa in 2015 for residential, retail and office space on a 51-acre site just south of Gandy Boulevard near the intersection of Gandy and West Shore boulevards. The New Port Tampa Bay project is expected to break ground in July on the initial phases, which are expected to eventually include waterfront dining as well as a public trail and bike path that fronts the future marina. It is also expected to include luxury multifamily residential units with sunset views over the bay, as well as an upscale town home community, said Beck Daniel, vice president of acquisitions and development for BTI Partners.

So, how are all these people going to get around when Westshore is still two lanes and Gandy is not getting any wider than four?  Just another reason for the Gandy Connector and for making the area pedestrian and bike friendly.   To be honest, right now, there is not enough infrastructure for all this.

At least there is time to get some infrastructure done (and for another recession cycle, too):

Eshenbaugh estimates that if the Peninsula Point property sells soon, developers would have five to seven years to get it rezoned and plan the design for the land before construction would begin.

That time frame would also be sufficient for surrounding developments to mature before bringing a new community to the market, he said.

Of course, that also means that, for most elected officials, it will be someone else’s problem. We’ll see if anyone has learned to plan ahead on infrastructure or if it is business as usual.

Rays – A Bottom Line Issue

In the continuing discussion of where a Rays stadium should go, there was something that was not on the Rays list of required factors:

Typically, Major League Baseball teams get about 70 percent of their support from businesses and 30 percent from individuals.

In the Tampa Bay area, that ratio is reversed. But with a new stadium, the Rays mean to flip it back to the league norm.

“It’s important that the team engages the business community,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said after the hourlong meeting in downtown Tampa. “If that doesn’t occur, then this whole process is moot. But I’m confident the business support is here and we’ll be able to move forward with the site selection process in the relatively near future.”

Indeed.  With so many games, it is definitely necessary to get the business community on board to fill seats.  So what is the problem now?

Asked why he thinks corporate support for the team isn’t greater now, Hagan said: “It’s the location and the facility.”

“It’s an archaic facility and a terrible location,” he said.

Exactly.  The facility is not very good and the location is not near the biggest clusters of business activity – nor is it centrally located.

Auld, however, said the search had yet to narrow the list of possible sites. “We’re looking at every possible site in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,” he said.

Auld said the team recognizes that Tampa Bay’s business community is not like other major league markets around the country. It’s not as big as some and it has geographical challenges, though Auld said it has a “spirit of growth” that leads businesses to root for one another’s success.

And there is always the question of getting people to and from a stadium – because transportation is key to the entire area.

We’ll see what happens, but it is hard to believe that the Rays really want to stay where they are.

Coming Out Watch

There was a nice little write up/video on CNBC that was part of the Lightning owner’s push to promote his development.  You can see it here.  While we do not think it will push any major corporation to put an HQ here and it ignores transportation (it is a puff piece, after all).  Nevertheless, it is good media.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    March 25, 2016 4:46 PM

    I do not understand why the county is wasting time and money on “mobility fees.” The fees can be any amount but if it is not collected what difference does it make.? Can you say Beth Leytham and Newland (builders of Fishhawk). It would be an interesting study to determine how much the fees were assessed and compare to how much was actually collected. Newland cried crocodile tears and got off the hook. The taxpayers are now picking up the tab for road work that Newland had promised to pay.

  2. Sharon Calvert permalink
    April 1, 2016 7:24 PM

    Regarding Go Hillsborough investigative report, did you take any time to actually read any of the 2000 page report. Just because no criminal activity may have occurred – though they never got all the evidence – does not make it right, ethical or have any integrity. Do you condone the behavior? Have plenty of antacid available and stay tuned. Regarding FDOT’s TBX project, this project fixes the jokeholds 60 and I-4 and will get done – other wise no one will go downtown. All economic development will go elsewhere. Phase 1 is funded and it is a no brainer. Get educated instead of reading or regurgitating the Tribune and Times.

    • April 1, 2016 11:13 PM

      We hardly regurgitate the Tribune and Times. And, in case you missed it, the Tribune editorial supported TBX. On the other hand, it is quite clear that FDOT knows that TBX will not relieve congestion. Moreover, the access to the lanes is far enough from downtown that they do not really create access to downtown from many major population areas. Finally, as we have noted numerous times, the entire theory of express lanes requires the existence of alternatives. Because there are no real alternatives in this area, TBX does not meet the mininum requirements for even the express lane theory itself. Consequently, the utility of TBX is questionable, unless it is just to spend billions to make an ideological statment.

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