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Roundup 4-22-2016

April 22, 2016

Contents

Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

— Phoenix

— LA

— Tampa Bay

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

TIA – A New Record

Economy – Employment

— And One More Thing

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

Rays – Oldsmar?

— And One More Thing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Cool Website

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Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

Go Hillsborough moved to its next stage.

Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved projects that are part of the controversial Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax plan, one that would span 30 years to fund the region’s transportation needs.

The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners approved the list of projects for the unincorporated county that would be presented at a public hearing for further comment and changes on April 27.

Mike Merrill, the county administrator who developed the plan, told the board that the list of projects will be part of the referendum if it makes it to the November ballot. He added that the [sic] other jurisdictions that are part of the plan — the city of Tampa, the city of Temple Terrace, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority — have all approved their project lists.

This came as there was news that some local Democrats are organizing against the plan because it lacks sufficient mass transit. You can read the whole Tribune article on their opposition here, but the Business Journal had a some give and take that summarizes the argument.

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comments came from Ed Turanchik, a former county commissioner and an attorney with the Akerman law firm, and transit advocate[e], Kevin Thurman, among others.

“This is not a transit plan, this is a status quo plan,” Turanchik told the board as he criticized the plan. “CSX is not in the mix. There is a way forward for premium transit congestion relief,” he said. “If you want real congestion relief, move people from where they live to where they work.”

Following the meeting, Merrill said of Turanchik’s criticism: “I think the beef is simply he’s not getting a train. That doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Well, really a plan should be like this:

The board also approved a motion by Commissioner Kev[i]n Beckner to make sure the transportation plan is an integrated one, coordinated with the county, HART and all the other transportation agencies involved in the various projects. 

Given that the motion passed unanimously, it is a real question why such an integrated, coordinated plan wasn’t done in the first place. The fact that it had to be brought up at the meeting this week where the Commissioners approved the list of projects makes one wonder again about the overall plan.

Moreover, the very fact of voting for a coordinated plan supports the criticism above.  The plan does not take into account all the studies that are to take place and all the changes will happen.  Without changes in planning and mobility fees, it merely hardens in place a lot of poor planning.

And, no, it does not have a train or even the vision for a train in the future.  For anyone who really wants proper transit, Go Hillsborough is a faith-based plan – hoping that after ten years, after another big argument, maybe there will be a real plan for real transit (as opposed to just funding HART’s old wish list). That may be the window to transit in the plan, but asking people to just have faith has also always been a problem.

Also of concern was when, at about 11:37 am on the meeting on Wednesday (we noted the time), the Commissioner for the South County (as well as South Tampa and Town N Country/Westchase, though you may never notice) told everyone this little nugget about the County’s share of the money: half the money and one-third of the projects are going to the South County.   Huh? While South County may be poorly planned and there may be future growth there, it is hardly the most congested area in the county. And it is not the part where the majority of through traffic from other counties goes, burdening our transportation system. Why does so much money go there?  What is with the lack of balance? And, given that South County is all sprawl based developments, how does that fit with changing planning priorities and patterns of development?

Nevertheless, the business community finally spoke:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber in Hillsborough, on Thursday endorsed the plan to raises the county’s sales tax by a half-cent to fund growing transportation needs.

“The cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of investing in our transportation options,” said chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack. “We cannot continue to ignore this. It’s impact(ing) workers getting to work, our quality of life.

“It’s impact(ing) our ability to function and we’ve got to do something here.”

The question, really the prudential question if you care about having a proper transportation system, is whether you think Go Hillsborough is really investing in transportation options enough and properly or whether is it basically just trying to make the status quo a little better.  (And part of that is the as yet unaddressed mobility fees and changes to planning.)  We are sure that many are putting their faith in building a rail line from downtown to Westshore.  But, as with many other real transit elements, that is a matter of having faith.  The FDOT study has not even started.

Whether you support Go Hillsborough or not depends on where you come down on that issue. (It would be a lot easier to decide if there was at least a vision for years 10-20.  But that was deliberately left vague.)

As we said last week, we are undecided, more because we doubt that local officials can come up with something better than the merits of the plan.  What we do know is that the plan could easily be made much better, and that is not likely to happen.

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

As we said, major factors in whether the plan has any merit are whether planning will change and there will be mobility fees to cover the costs of new development.

On any number of occasions, Hillsborough County commissioners have proclaimed that developers need to start paying their fair share for new roads to service their new commercial and residential projects.

But on Wednesday, commissioners were instead arguing that a complex mobility fee system, developed after more than a year’s worth of study, had put transportation impact fees too high.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed shock at how high new transportation fees would be for developers of smaller businesses, such as drive-through restaurants.

A 4,000-square-foot, drive-through restaurant would pay an $84,990 in the first year the mobility fees are implemented, probably fiscal year 2017. The fee would top out at $283,300 in the fifth year under the county’s proposed phase-in program.

First, the cost of the mobility fee above is meaningless.  The whole idea of mobility fees is that you pay more when you require more infrastructure.  Fees change based on location and usage.  The example above does not give location.  It does not tell us if the business is in a fully built up area or in what is now a farm in Ruskin.  (Under a proper mobility fee system, a restaurant in a built up area should be significantly lower than one built on the edge of a much more sprawling area.) It is not a fixed number, as implied in the quote above. (Nevertheless, if the County had pushed to have walkability and real transit, the fees would be lower.  But it didn’t.)

Second, what did the Commissioners think was going to happen?  Even if that number is accurate, now we know how much they have been making taxpayers subsidize development.  (The fact is that mobility fees are much more market oriented – you pay for what you use and profit from, you pay for the actual cost of your business.) Some people understood this even if the Commissioners did not.

We are not for pricing business out of the county, but:

The fees proposed by the county staff were developed through research done by Tampa transportation planning firm Tindale Oliver. They are based on the number of vehicle trips generated by a home or business, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads or other transportation improvements to handle the additional traffic.

Steve Tindale, CEO of the firm, said he used methodology common to counties around Florida. The fee levels in those counties are very similar, Tindale said, and are based on interviews with drivers to establish how far they traveled to and from a business.

Those counties where the fees are dramatically different don’t have the documentation to show how they arrived at the final fee rate, Tindale said.

“Two-thirds of the counties were consistent, but a third, it’s going to be difficult to know how they plugged the number in and where the information came from,” Tindale said. “There is no variation where you see the collection information has been collected and consistently applied.”

So, it is not clear that will be the case.  Additionally, it would be nice to know which counties have cut their fees below cost.  One county was talked about a lot: Pasco (which apparently exempts many types of development from any fees).  But,

Ron Barton, assistant county administrator for economic development, advised the commissioners not to use Pasco County as a model when it comes to setting mobility fees. Hillsborough County is three times larger than Pasco in population, Barton said, and workers here earn salaries that are 33 percent higher than the county to the north. And, with 641,000 workers, Hillsborough has six times as much employment as Pasco.

“The fact is, we’re a valuable market and we should be pricing ourselves accordingly with everything we do,” Barton said.

So even the economic development people at the County think the Commissioners are overreacting. (And, yes, they should stop acting like Hillsborough is a desperate small town. That led to the subsidies and low standards that created the mess in the first place.)  The fact is that for decades the County Commission has been giving away taxpayer money either directly or by not charging the fees they should.  That is one of the main reasons we have Go Hillsborough, and that it is such a road plan, in the first place.

The fact is we need a new fee system.  We need new planning (which is completely unaddressed).  It may be expensive, but so is making the taxpayer subsidize drive-through, fast food establishments and sprawling subdivisions.  The question really is not the cost.  It is who is going to have to pay?

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

There was news about a change to the proposed Gandy Connector:

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority unveiled a new rendering Monday, showing that the extension will be 30 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, allowing for continued access and visibility to businesses on both sides of Gandy Boulevard. Most bridges in the United States are 15 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, THEA said.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is a bit odd.  First, there is the fact that if you make it taller, it will be even more obvious and not necessarily that attractive. Second, there is what URBN Tampa Bay pointed out:

Yes, making the road deck really high off of the ground makes visibility underneath somewhat better for business interests along Gandy Blvd. But it also raises the road deck up above the tree line, allowing a whole new level of sound transmission to occur deep into residential neighborhoods flanking both sides of Gandy Blvd.

In other words, raising the road that high makes it more intrusive visually and sonically to the residents nearby.  That seems an odd step to take.

There are a couple of possible solutions.  First, raise it but just not that high.  You can lift if to 20 feet and still improve visibility.  It’s not like most people are driving higher than 5 or six feet above the ground.  Nor are most of the buildings on Gandy very all in the first place.  Most are one story buildings.

Not only that.  It seems to us it would be cheaper (and better visually) to just help local businesses lower their signs.  Then you don’t need to have such a high roadway, and you don’t need such ugly signs (yes, we know that businesses love to have the biggest, tallest signs they can, but there should be better sign laws in Tampa anyway.  Tall, big signs are ugly).

Either way (or a combination of both) seems better than visually and sonically polluting the surrounding area.

There was also news about the timeline:

The planning, traffic and economic studies are expected to be completed by September, with a request for proposal for construction issued two months later. THEA anticipates the construction contract will be awarded next January and construction to begin by the end of 2017. The project is scheduled to open by 2020.

If that holds, it would be very interesting given how long so many projects take to get off the ground.  Apparently, things can get done quite quickly when there is the will to just do them.

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

It is good that the Gandy Connector is tentatively moving forward, though who knows if it will actually be built?  Even if it is built, there will still be a large gap between limited access roads in Tampa and Pinellas in the Gandy corridor.  And even if the Gandy corridor is all made a highway, it will leave a large gap in the northern part of the area, where there is no east-west highway at all.  As we have said many times, that forces people coming from the north and going to Pinellas to drive through Tampa, which adds congestion in Tampa.

— Phoenix

That being said, there is TBX, which will supposedly relieve congestion in Tampa, though for a variety reasons that is a questionable assumption.  Regardless, the push for TBX continues.  This week, the Tribune had an opinion piece by the head of TBARTA.

I recently returned from Phoenix, where I attended a national conference on transportation and urban planning, and Los Angeles for a family vacation that followed the conference. The best part of the trip is knowing that living in the Tampa Bay area is so awesome that I would not trade it for either place when considering all the things we have here. However, there is one thing that we have that, while adequate at times in the past, is clearly not yet ready for prime time. After hearing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s inspirational State of the City speech on April 12, it is easy to see that our biggest challenge is our existing transportation system, which is not yet mature enough to play the role it needs to in a region approaching 4 million people.

Phoenix has worked on transportation infrastructure for a long time. It took Phoenix four referendums, over two decades, to finally get the financial resources in place to build a robust roadway, bus and rail system to serve its population. The investment has resulted in a transformed city compared to the one I visited just seven years ago.

Development along the light-rail line is very impressive, with new residential developments near rail stops, new downtown hotels and a new convention center. Even more impressive is the use of the system. The light rail was completely full every time I used it, even on a Sunday. All kinds of people were on it: college students, business people, tourists and retirees. Our hotel was 3 miles from the convention center, but a block from the light-rail stop. It was easy for me to go back and forth, to meet my family for lunch at restaurants along the line and easily get around without a car.

Waiting for the train to take us back to the hotel following an evening baseball game was very telling. I got into a conversation with a retired couple who talked about the train. They live in the suburbs and thought before it was built they would never use it. Now they love it. They told me they drove to a park-and-ride lot and jumped on the train to the ballpark downtown, all the while avoiding expensive parking costs, traffic jams and all the other issues you have to deal with when you drive.

Transit has changed the whole feel of Phoenix so much — from a relatively suburban model downtown to an active, exciting city.

But transit is not all Phoenix has. As part of the referendum that passed, there also were roadway improvements. Their expressways include express lanes that connect many of the suburban areas to the city.

Are they crowded? Yes. But they basically function in a reasonable, fairly predictable way and appear adequate to the size of Phoenix’s metro area.

On its face, that sounds like a strong argument, so we looked a little closer at Phoenix’s investment in express lanes.  While we found ample articles on Phoenix’s HOV lanes (something the Tampa Bay area has never had) (see here, here, here, here, and here), we did not find any mention of express lanes (defined as variable rate toll lanes).  In fact, we did not really find mention of highways in articles on what was in the 2000 or 2015 referenda plans. (See here , here, here,  and the summary of the 2000 plan here.  The closest we found was this from January 2016:

Arizona Department of Transportation is placing a big weight on the shoulders of Mike Kies, the agency’s director of transportation planning. He has to find a solution to moving traffic that the state can afford.

That’s no easy task. The cumulative total of money needed to preserve the existing transportation system and handle a 1.5 million-person Valley population increase is around $100 billion over the next 20 years

* * *

In Arizona where ADOT studies say that 24/7 traffic volume is too low to support a toll road, peak traffic flows are high enough to support HOT — high occupancy toll — lanes where drivers are demand-charged for using a higher-speed lane on the freeway while others remain in conventional, more clogged, free lanes.

“Managed lanes, which are being tested in some states, assess congestion charges for drivers based on how much traffic wants to use the lane,” Kies explained. “In a HOT lane, pricing goes up to keep lane traffic volume down so that someone paying to use the lane has a generally free traffic flow.”

Which is looking at something in the future.  Moreover, it involves HOT lanes, which are not exactly the same thing as Florida’s variable rate toll/express lanes.  HOT lanes function like this:

Car owners who have transponders are automatically charged as they pass under each toll reader. Carpoolers don’t pay. Photo-enforcement cameras deter cheaters. HOT lanes are usually separated by a concrete barrier to keep cheaters from weaving in and out to avoid detection.

In other words, they are a hybrid between HOV and variable rate lanes.  If you are driving by yourself, you pay.  If you are carpooling, you do not.  At least, HOT lanes car arguably help with congestion by supporting taking cars off the road by carpooling, as do HOV lanes.  HOT lanes also allow people to lower their costs by sharing a ride. (And carpooling lessens the parking requirements in urban areas – another benefit.)  In that way, they are not simply a means to make people pay more while pushing most people into already congested lanes.

But, once again, that is not under discussion here because, well, nothing is actually under discussion here.  We have just been presented with what we are going to get and everyone has been told to get behind it. You don’t believe us?

Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden also urged the audience to back both the express toll lane project called Tampa Bay Express and Go Hillsborough. The MPO, which oversees transportation planning for the county, is holding a public hearing June 22 to determine whether it will formally back TBX by keeping it in the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program.

Without the MPO’s backing, the project dies, [Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary] Steinman said, and the money for interstate improvements is spread between Orlando, Miami and other metro areas. He said all the interstate improvements FDOT is planning for this area, including the rebuilding of the downtown interchange commuters call Malfunction Junction and the rebuilding of the I-275/SR 60 interchange are contingent on the MPO approving TBX. It’s all or nothing for this area, he said.

Just think about that for a minute.  The Howard Frankland bridge replacement, the bottleneck at 275 and SR60, malfunction junction – none of those would be fixed unless we approve the whole thing? Why?  Because that’s just the way it is. How’s that for an indication of the apparent weakness of our legislative delegation and local officials. They don’t even get a choice to pick which projects they want. Either do what FDOT tells you or you are screwed. (Next time someone tells you “local is always better” – See “HART, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism, Part II,” you’ll know that is just rhetoric.)

But we digress.

Getting back to Phoenix, while we find it odd that there is no mention of variable rate toll lanes actually being in Phoenix, maybe they are there.  If they are, please let us know.  And even if they are, note that Phoenix built alternatives (which is necessary for express lane theory) rather than building express lanes and maybe contemplating something else sometime, maybe.

In sum, Phoenix has nothing to do with TBX other than to disprove the arguments for it.

— LA

Next, the opinion piece discussed LA:

Los Angeles, a city completely dedicated to the automobile, started addressing transit 20 or so years ago — and it is helping. They have a fully mature expressway system, with express buses running in dedicated express lanes, light rail in the expressway medians and adequate lanes to reasonably function with the massive amount of traffic that exists there.

In other words, like Phoenix, Los Angeles has addressed all forms of transportation in the last decade.

In other words, LA went hog wild for freeways, then realized that it was a bad model and started changing track.  Setting aside the question of scale for LA versus the Tampa Bay area, how does that support building highways first?

— Tampa Bay

Back to the opinion piece:

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay region?

Here are facts that exist now:

There is no silver bullet — there is not one answer. We have the least number of expressway miles per 100,000 residents of any region our size, and small but efficient transit systems undersized for our regional needs, especially when you consider our commuting patterns. The city of Tampa itself has the fourth-highest percentage of daily population increase of any central city of a metro area in the country — after Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Miami. The reality is we need all our transportation systems improved to match the size of our ever-growing region.

We need to finish upgrading our interstate/expressway system to a functional level with express lanes for express buses, redesigned interchanges and better regional connections between our communities.

While we are working on that roadway task and building our existing transit systems to a more robust level, we need to plan for what comes next, which needs to be some form of premium transit system. The completed expressway system will provide the envelope for transit options so that once construction is complete, we will be able to move to the next level that Phoenix and Los Angeles have already accomplished.

That is not really the lesson to be learned.  The lesson to be learned is that transit, roads, and other transportation matters should be studied together, planned together, and built to function together.  TBX is based on 25 year old plan.  The real comprehensive highway needs of the area have not been studied for a while, if ever. (Does it make sense to keep expanding a few highways to try to keep jamming more cars into the same space or should there be alternatives? How does a potential east-west road in the north fit in to all this?  Will the Gandy Connector ever really connect all the way to 275 in Pinellas and US 19? Will there ever be an east-west road in Pinellas, too?)  The FDOT transit study hasn’t even started.  Have HOV or HOT lanes been studied or must we have the full “Lexus lane” concept? (And, of course, DC, Atlanta, and Miami all have heavy rail, and some have commuter rail).

And part of the reason Tampa has such a daily increase in population (and notice it is percentage) is because so many people live in the unincorporated county so close to the city limits (and things like Westshore and USF) – those people will derive pretty much no benefit from TBX express lanes because the access points are not made for them or there is no good highway near them.  That takes us back to the coordinated study of roads and transit.

We get the basic idea in the opinion piece of a multimodal system.  We are not opposed to all roads.  We are just opposed to a piecemeal approach that is destructive, wasteful, illogical, and fails to have real transit. (And, note, that Phoenix’s rail does not run down the median of the highway)  If the writer really wants to reach his goal of a multi-modal system, he should seek a fully coordinated, comprehensive study of the transportation issue that leads to a comprehensive, non-politicized, non-ideological plan, plus proper planning.  That is not TBX.  Frankly, that is not Go Hillsborough.  Frankly, this area just doesn’t have it.

(And if that is not enough analysis of the opinion piece for you, URBN Tampa Bay posted another analysis that is similar in theme but slightly different here.)

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

We do not know if the opinion piece was part of an organized push for TBX.  We will assume it was not.  However, there was an interesting little piece pointed to by URBN Tampa Bay that discussed San Diego that does deserve to be considered.

How far will transportation agencies go to spin public perception of their highway expansion plans? San Diego’s KPBS has produced a brilliant case study in this video and the accompanying report — a deep dive into the media operation mounted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to defend its slate of highway expansion projects.

In late 2011, SANDAG passed a long-term transportation plan with a slew of highway expansions guaranteed to increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the agency hailed its work as an environmental victory, the first such plan in California to meet the state’s supposedly stringent new sustainability goals.

Environmental groups weren’t fooled. They sued SANDAG on the basis that the agency failed to account for the increased traffic generated by highways, and they were soon joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

You can read the rest of the story yourselves.  The interesting thing was the content of the public relations campaign SANDAG tried.

Here are a few of the highlights from Trageser’s review of SANDAG’s media operation:

Just keep that in mind when you see local officials pumping TBX.

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

The Port board, comprised of political appointees and elected officials, have had their say on TBX, and it is what you thought it would be:

The Port Tampa Bay board of commissioners is sending a letter urging the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization to approve the Tampa Bay Express project and avoid losing the state funds to other regions.

“The proposed Tampa Bay Express project will be a critical link to both the continued enhancement of the region’s transportation network and the ability of Port Tampa Bay’s stakeholders and customers to move cargo efficiently to market,” said the letter dated April 19 and adopted at Port Tampa’s board meeting Tuesday.

In fact, it is wholly irrelevant.  Trucks cannot use the express lanes.  In rush hour, the express lanes will push more traffic into the free lanes, which will block traffic.  Over time, those lanes will get even more crowded and nothing will really help.  More free lanes would be much better for the Port, though there would still be congestion.  And, if the Port ever wants to develop its land downtown, real transit is what they need.

But that is probably not why they sent their support for TBX.  It is far more likely that they sent their support because 1) the Board members are politically connected, so they have to, and 2) they want state money for the port, so they have to.

According to URBN Tampa Bay (and they put the link), the Port’s letter idea was the Mayor’s.   Think of that what you will.

TIA – A New Record

The airport reported that it broke its March passenger record:

WE JUST SET a new record for March! Nearly 1.97 million passengers used Tampa International Airport last month, beating the previous record set in March 2008. 

That is great.

Economy – Employment

There is no doubt that employment numbers have recovered in this area.  Recent news has just reconfirmed that:

Employment in the Tampa metropolitan area has grown by 24 percent since December 2009, making it the fourth-fastest growing job market in the nation and the best in Florida over that period, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

In the same period, the region’s unemployment rate has fallen from 11.9 to 4.6 percent.

Only San Jose, Austin and Charlotte have grown jobs at a faster rate than Tampa Bay since the recession, the study shows. The Orlando metropolitan area placed fifth and Miami 11th in the study, a positive indicator of Florida’s economic health.

And

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA was first among state metro areas in job demand in March with 47,790 job openings and led the way in demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions, with 14,950 openings in March. All 24 metro areas in Florida had year-over-year jobs gains in March 2016. Orlando-Kissi[m]mee-Sanford led the growth story with 49,000 jobs; a 4.3 percent gain. The Tampa region was second; up 3.4 percent as was third-ranked Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach with 27,300 jobs.

And that is all good, though, as we have shown previously, most of our STEM jobs are in lower wage customer service jobs, not the actual production, programing, research, and engineering fields that support high wages and establish real clusters. (See “Economic Development – Searching for STEM”)  Nevertheless it is something.  But it is not this:

“We have changed Tampa’s economic DNA,” he said. “Literally and figuratively, we are leading the state of Florida out of the recession.”

There may be better employment numbers, but there have been in the past, too. (see 1985,  1998, 1998, 2000, excerpt from 2006. We probably missed a cycle in there somewhere.)  It does not follow that our economy has structurally changed, even if incomes have improved a bit.  It is still far too dependent on customer service and other service jobs (like tourism) and real estate.  Yes, we have added some other elements, but, welcome as they are, they are still relatively small.

Changing our economic DNA is an admirable, worthy, and, in all truth, imperative goal and may happen at some point, but we are not there yet.  Right now, it is in no way clear that the present situation is not just another cyclical boom to be followed by another cyclical bust.

— And One More Thing

Somewhat tangentially, the Times had an interesting piece with photos of the Channel District from 2007 and now showing the changes (you can see it here).  The differences are clear.  However, what the piece fails to point out is that all but one of the buildings that the pictures showed was already under construction in the 2007 photo.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  As we go through our cycles, we are adding to our area.  Eventually, hopefully, that will lead to a critical mass.  That we have improved is not the issue.  The issue is whether we are keeping pace with other areas – and not just keeping pace but overtaking them in quantity and quality in our economy (and remember, we start from quite far behind so our growth must consistently outstrip other areas for a long period of time to catch up).  As we always say, we are making progress, but that gap needs to be closed much faster.

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

It seems that the developer that bought Austin Center is moving forward with redeveloping the property.

Besides leasing and property management, though, Redstone has started to think about the future of the 10-acre site in the heart of Westshore. On Tuesday, Fogarty presented preliminary redevelopment plans at the Westshore Alliance’s annual development forum.

While it’s very early in the process, Redstone is envisioning a miniature city of sorts on the site, with retail, office, hotel and residential space. An urban mixed-use development fits in with plans that have been buzzed about since Redstone was under contract to buy it in late 2014.

Setting aside the hyping of a mixed use development not a “miniature city,” we would welcome such a development, depending on the specifics.  It is time for Westshore to grow up (and for the City to pay more attention to helping it really grow up). So, what are they considering?

Conceptual plans include two office buildings — one 200,000 square feet and one 300,000 square feet — with ground-floor retail fronting Westshore Boulevard. There’s also a 50,000-square-foot retail building, 15,000 of which fronts Westshore Boulevard.

The site plan calls for grocery signage, though a grocer isn’t identified on the plan.

The preliminary plans are based on current market demand in Westshore, Fogarty said. There are a number of restaurants and retailers who want to be in the district, he said, but they have nowhere to go. There’s also significant demand for office space, though office rents aren’t quite high enough to justify new construction.

“The retail side — the rents are there,” he said. “On the office side you’ve gotta go out and prove you can do it.”

Fogarty said there’s also significant interest from multifamily developers, which Redstone expected, as well as from hotels, which was a bit of a surprise.

“We’re trying to advance the ball on a multifamily deal,” he said.

It’s soon to name any potential development partners, Fogarty said, but the residential vision for the property would be new to Westshore.

“It’s a higher density project than what’s been seen in Westshore so far,” he said. “Instead of traditional stick frame, it’s moving into concrete structure, which gets you higher density in a smaller footprint.”

Finally, something other than stick construction.  So do they have any conceptual drawings?

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a bit strange to release a rendering of a parking garage first.  Sure, it is a nice, vegetation covered (we think) parking garage, but still. Anyway, the Business Journal has a photo of a possible site plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It would have been helpful if the picture was taken straight on rather than from the floor, but, nevertheless, the layout seems ok (though it is not great having the residential shoved in the back, and we are not sure if there is anything going above the retail or if it will just be a squat building).  In any event, it is early days.  We are sue things will change.  We look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

In what can be described as completely inevitable:

The Museum of Science and Industry, located in north Tampa since 1982, is moving downtown in an effort to modernize what has become a stagnant and unprofitable operation.

The MOSI board voted today to beginning planning for the move by assembling a study team of community partners, land use experts, museum planners and philanthropists. The process should take a year, according to MOSI spokesman Grayson Kamm.

The task force will be led by Mike Schultz, chairman of the museum’s board and president and CEO of Florida Hospital’s West Florida Region.

We do not really have much of an opinion on this because there are no details.  On the other hand, maybe they should have done all the studying first.  But that’s not how most things around here go.

The board, whose meetings are not open to the public, made the decision to move based on a relocation study by Museum Management Consultants and Consult Econ. The study found that a downtown location would allow the museum to “reinvent” exhibits and programs to attract younger adults and seniors. Now, the bulk of MOSI visitors are families with children.

Adding dynamic, constantly updated exhibits could boost attendance by 34 percent, the consultants said.

The decisions may have been based on the studies, but it was more likely other factors.  Obviously, MOSI has no money, the County wants to give the MOSI land away (given their track record, that is a big question mark), and the Lightning owner wants MOSI in his project. That would seem to do it. (Even with the lawsuit that may be coming.)

Now, we’ll have to see what they come up with.

Rays – Oldsmar?

There was an article in the Times regarding the Rays’ stadium search:

When the Tampa Bay Rays announced their dream list of ingredients for a new stadium site in February, regional connectivity was high on the list.

That was music to Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis’ ears. For several years, he had kicked around the idea of luring the Rays to this city of 14,000.

After all, the northern Pinellas County city that hugs the Hills-borough border is practically middle ground in Rays country. In fact, 120 acres of undeveloped land owned by Tampa Bay Downs lies just to the west of Race Track Road, the actual county line.

“When we started this conversation 2 1/2 years ago it was kind of tongue in cheek, but the more we talked to people, the more it made sense,” Bevis said.

And, despite the theoretical possibility of getting funding from Pinellas and Hillsborough, unless someone is going to fix Memorial Highway, build an east-west expressway, and start running rail transit on the CSX tracks through the area anytime soon, it should stay tongue-in-cheek.

— And One More Thing

A Times columnist discussing the Rays said this:

A 40-minute drive north is no different from a 40-minute drive south. Or east. Or west. And that’s what you get in a market with no mass transportation and no dominant center.

Except, like it or not, there is a center to West Central Florida, and it is in Tampa.  What that means for the Rays remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While this area keeps debating what sort of transportation system we will have, others are actually acting.  For instance Orlando:

The southern expansion of SunRail into Osceola County began earlier this month and is set to be completed in a little under two years, adding an additional 17 miles and four stations to the commuter rail system.

The expansion would extend from the Sand Lake station in south Orange and have four stops: the Meadow Woods community in south Orange, near the Tupperware business campus, downtown Kissimmee and Poinciana.

The extension will cost $186 million and is expected to be finished by early 2018. Construction isn’t expected to cause any traffic problems.

They are also working on getting funding for a northern expansion, though they did not get Federal money this year.

While we are in favor of using DMU units on CSX rails rather than having a more commuter rail system like SunRail, the big take away is that the Orlando region, as a region, is working together to move into the future while we have plans that, even if they were to pass, lack compelling vision.  And Orlando is about 15 years ahead of us (and that does not count the delay 10 years in the Go Hillsborough plan).

Cool Website

Citylabs highlighted a very cool website:

As the social and economic benefits of transit become clearer and clearer, a parade of data-driven maps and websites have tried to evaluate transit access in major American cities: where buses and trains go, who they serve, how effectively, and how often.

Tuesday marks the launch of AllTransit, the most exhaustive and accessible such resource yet. A joint project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter, it assembles the largest collection of transit data anywhere—543,000 transit stops, 800 transit agencies, and 15,000 routes nationwide, according to the site. That in itself is a major public service, since agencies aren’t (as of yet) required by the DOT to open up their data about connectivity, access, and frequency. AllTransit doesn’t offer that data raw (not for free, at least), but it does offer a number of useful ways to explore it.

You can access it here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    April 22, 2016 10:43 AM

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the majority of the money is going to south Hillsborough. It is the location with the most undeveloped land. And the least active citizens groups. People in east Hillsborough have fought back against development. Can you say sprawl? It would be interesting to see a study on owns large chunks of undeveloped land in south Hillsborough. And, who has donated what to whose campaigns. Also, it would be interesting to see if there are any land trusts. Belden is involved in several.

  2. April 22, 2016 6:37 PM

    How pathetic is it that the taxpayers get no real choice or say in this matter? The take it or leave methodology is insulting to the community. Obviously the Howard Frankland bridge needs work, I-275 is a constant nightmare and with airport traffic increasing will only get worse long before it gets better. I completely agree the Port has no relevant input here and intelligent voters find it offensive. It is important to note the area considered “Tampa Bay” as it relates to employment is a nine county area not just Tampa and St. Pete. This is all the more reason a realistic regional transportation plan is necessary, especially if we want to change our economy from being entirely service based.

    Any more development at Westshore without fixing traffic issues is just a bit crazy. It takes 20-30 minutes to get from Westshore to downtown or 15-30 minutes to the airport which is around the corner depending on traffic. I understand people want to live here and need grocers, restaurants, etc. but traffic is horrid and must be addressed. As for MOSI, they will require a lot more than just a change of scenery to be successful. Similar museums across the U.S. struggle to survive. Locations in downtown areas have not made them more solvent, why would MOSI be different? Taxpayers are funding this move but they don’t get a vote either. I am sure Mr. Lang will pursue his lawsuit and likely prevail adding another $2-3M to the cost of the move and if he is joined by others the number could easily reach $10M. How long would it take to recoup that money and the cost of the move including the “free land”. Would we be better off to seek a for profit entity to put a tourist venue downtown instead?

    What seems to be the most concerning is that no one is looking at the big picture today and tomorrow. People constantly question why we can’t attract to tech talent, why can’t a we get large businesses to move here, why do we lose headquarters and regional offices for F500 companies to other cities? Because we don’t have a comprehensive regional plan and no single city offers everything needed. For instance, Metro Atlanta is geographically larger than the area covered by the Tampa Bay Partnership. The same holds true for Silicon Valley, Boston, DC, etc. We have to work together as a region if we want progress.

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