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Roundup 4-29-2016

April 29, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

— Moving Money

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

— One More Thing

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Economy – Housing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

____________________________________________

Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

There were two major developments regarding Go Hillsborough this week, so we’ll take them in order.

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

First, the County Commission passed a mobility fee ordinance.

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a mobility fees ordinance to help fund the area’s transportation needs; but not without a few changes.

The mobility fees for new construction won passage Tuesday night at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, setting the stage for a vote on the controversial Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax initiative tomorrow night.

* * *

Under the ordinance, the mobility fees will be collected from five districts in the county. The majority of the fee money will be spent in the district from which it is collected. The ordinance also includes a hearing officer and appeals process for those seeking to request an adjustment of the fee level.

It is amusing that the mobility fee hearing was at East Bay High School at 6pm.  That is not really near the majority of the population.  And, given what the Commissioners acknowledge is a poor transportation system, it is not particularly convenient or easy to get to.  Moreover, it shows where they are really focused.  Nevertheless, they passed an ordinance.  That is the good part.  As for the changes:

If commissioners — and then the county’s voters — approve a sales tax hike, the amount of money developers would be required to pay decreases. The idea behind that fee range is that those developers would also be paying for transportation through the new sales tax.

“There is a benefit to having a sales tax in place to identify lower fees,” said Deputy County Administrator Lucia Garsys, who oversees infrastructure and development. “That doesn’t mean someone’s not paying their full share. They’re paying it through a different revenue, and that would be the sales tax.”

Interesting approach.

The percentage of the mobility fee assessed based on the date of initial assessment will be:

40 percent (January 1, 2017)

50 percent (January 1, 2018)

70 percent (January 1, 2019)

80 percent (January 1, 2020)

90 percent (January 1, 2021)

From the article, it is not clear if the 90 percent amount is the max fee (which makes no sense) or if it is a discount contingent on the Go Hillsborough referendum passing.

Though following the stated logic, does the ordinance provide for the non-developer taxpayers getting discounts on their gas taxes or HART taxes on the off-chance there is a sales tax increase?  If not, why not?

And, if the top amount is 90%, why is that?  In any event, the old ideas are still in play:

At the hearing, Commissioner Sandra Murman insisted that the fee levels be reviewed every year for the first five years because she felt they were “exorbitant.” She expressed concern about the effect of the fees on small businesses. “We do not want to hamper small business development in Hillsborough County,” she said.

Why is making the taxpayers subsidize development not exorbitant to them?  Don’t they need money to support those small businesses? If someone chooses to build a sprawling development in a rural area, why should the taxpayers pay for it? But such is the County Commission’s policy making.

And, even more to the point, remember that when the impact fee system was put in place there was the same hype about addressing transportation fairly, but the County Commission, in its various incarnations, let the impact fee system stagnate for decades.  They routinely under-collected and pushed the burden to the taxpayer.

It is good that now there are mobility fees, but the old philosophical tendency is still there.  Past performance may not be an indication of future returns, but past history has proven a pretty good indication of the Commission’s behavior. For the system, even a watered down version, to function properly, there will have to be strict oversight of the Commissioners to make sure they do not backtrack as soon as they can.

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Speaking of Commissioners backtracking, there was also news about the Go Hillsborough sales tax referendum.  As regular readers will know, we were distinctly undecided on it.  We thought the plan was not nearly as strong as it should be (in fact, the Commission had been watering it down as they dragged out the process), but it seemed to be the best plan that this group of Commissioners could come up with, especially with their collective lack of will and vision.  We needn’t have been concerned.  They couldn’t even move that plan forward.

A three-hour hearing Wednesday night (ed: which we endured in whole) ended in disappointment for transit advocates as Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-3 against putting a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax for transportation before voters on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Commissioners Sandy Murman, Victor Crist, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham, all Republicans, voted against both a 30-year and a 20-year tax, leaving the county’s transportation future in limbo. Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner were joined by Republican Ken Hagan in voting for the referendum.

In other words, the Commissioners could not even agree on their own plan, created by a process they created to solve an issue they all acknowledges, and, it has to be said, they have had a part in creating.

We feel bad for the one republican Commissioner who voted “yes.” He gave a long, coherent, and accurate assessment of the problem the plan was supposed to solve and why the shorter time periods proposed for the tax would not get the job done. It was by far the best comment of the night by an elected official (and we were not even decidedly for the plan). To no avail. And we feel bad for the staff that did a significant amount of work. Too bad it was irrelevant.

We could go on and on about various things, but, we’ll keep it (relatively) brief.  Of the Commissioners who voted against their own plan, one Commissioner said he opposed a plan to fix transportation (really, any plan), then said he would support it during the election, then went back to his opposition – that’s all you need to know about that. (see “Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County”)  Another Commissioner talked about solving problems, did everything possible to promote outreach, consultants, creating a plan, dragging out the process and making it more expensive, then decided not to vote for it. (“Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans”)  Yet, another Commissioner has been opposed from the beginning (at least he was honest), though he made some good comments about fixing planning, which still needs to be done, but is unlikely.  Then there was the swing vote:

As expected, Crist was the swing vote, saying he made his decision during the three-hour meeting.

“Frankly, the decision I made tonight was not based on data, it was not based on one thing I heard,” Crist said. “It was just old-fashioned intuition.”

He said he counted 31 speakers for the tax, 31 against it.

Maybe, or it could have been made by placing his perception of his political self-interest in the form of fear of a primary challenge over the needs of the area and basic principle that, if at all practicable, people should get to decide whether they want to tax themselves for a specific purpose. You can decide for yourselves.

“Sadly tonight a majority of the County Commission has refused to give the citizens of Hillsborough County an opportunity to decide for themselves whether their future includes a better transportation system,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in an email to the Tampa Bay Times after the vote. ” For over a million of our neighbors and businesses the chance to vote for a better future was denied.

“Rather than a profile in courage this vote was a profile in cowardice.”

That’s about right.  We may or may not have voted for it, but we should have been allowed to vote.  And if you are happy because you think it should have been a stronger plan, remember that is not  why they killed it. Quite the opposite.  They thought it was too much.

That leaves the issue of what to do going forward:

“We should not be rejoicing because we need to go back and keep working on this,” Murman said. “Back to the drawing board.”

Yes, the transportation problem still remains to be fixed.  But, at this point, who can trust this Commission to actually do anything to really fix it? They already dragged out the process every way possible, watered down the proposal, ran from real transit, added pork for the South County (there is no way the ferry should happen before ALL the transportation studies are done to see if it has a place on this new drawing board), and still didn’t vote for their own plan.  What exactly can they draw up that will be more palatable to both those who will never accept anything as well as the people who actually want to improve the area and make it competitive?

Sure, one can still hope for a fix, one can hope that alternative funding is identified; one can hope that real transit is part of a plan; but the history of this Commission does not feed that hope.  They could surprise us, but we will not hold our breath.  And, frankly, there are already rumblings of the Commission getting to work on a plan, but how is that different than everything that has gone on the last few years?

Which brings us to another issue. While we still think the City Tax idea is problematic and are not ready to support it, given the epic uselessness of the County Commission collectively (remember, some Commissioners were making a good faith effort) has displayed to this point in addressing transportation (and economic development, planning, and pretty much anything else other than subsidizing sprawl), we may have to reconsider.  The County Commission as presently formulated has proven itself simply incapable of dealing with our main challenges.  They appear to be just riding a national economic recovery while ignoring the structural weakness of their own creation.  It is not inevitable that they do that, but it is the Hillsborough County way.

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

That leads to what will likely be the “solution” the Commissioners settle upon: TBX. There was an article in the Tribune regarding some pre-TBX demolitions.

Tampa Presbyterian Village, the angular public housing development that formed a pink stucco mountain range between Blake High School and Interstate 275, is gone.

The complex, vacant since Dec. 30, was reduced to a dirt plot late last week to make way for the first phase of the planned Tampa Bay Express project, adding express toll lanes through downtown and rebuilding the Interstate 4/275 interchange.

The Florida Department of Transportation bought the 42-year-old housing complex for $8.4 million in October 2014, and will maintain the grounds until the interchange project begins. The Metropolitan Planning Organization board will hold a public hearing in June to give final approval.

If the project is approved, Tampa Presbyterian Village will provide space for a roadway expansion, which may include the most southern end of a ramp from downtown to I-275 South, and a stormwater pond.

Transportation department officials didn’t have a strict timeline to relocate residents, said Zenia Gallo, project manager and senior right of way agent.

In other words, rather than replace the “mountain range” (hardly) with a park connected to a Riverwalk or an urban development that can help make the West River more attached to the actual river, it will be replaced with paving (plus a nice new retention pond) that makes the interstate divide the neighborhood and separate it even more from UT and downtown.  Oh, and the highway will abut a high school. Excellent urban planning.

Just so you get it, this is the complex:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

And another, really nice, angle (at least downtown looks good):

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

That is not a small piece of land for a couple of lanes (something we could understand). That is basically doubling the width of the interstate through the heart of the city, right near downtown and in an area the City says it wants to totally redevelop into an urban neighborhood.  It is also right next to where the City wants to spend $35 million on a park that will be even more cut off from the area north of it.  And a good chunk of the Riverwalk going to Tampa Heights being built right now will be under that highway (because what is more inviting than walking under a superwide highway on your daily stroll? Though we guess some might welcome some shade).

We have said many times that we think that the highway system in this area needs to be fully developed, but TBX is a mess and its reality needs to be fully understood.  We still have a hard time reconciling the rhetoric (and spending) by the City on the area in and around downtown with the archaic plan that is TBX.  So when you hear discussions about it, just understand the massive barrier that TBX will create right through the middle of the “InTown Tampa.”

— Moving Money

Which brings us to an interesting development, maybe.

The Florida Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on buying up land around the Tampa downtown interchange, but the state said its plan to expand the highway is still going forward.

FDOT reduced the money budgeted for voluntary property acquisition downtown in fiscal year 2017 from nearly $25 million to about $500,000,  Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden told an MPO committee Tuesday morning.

Those opposed to Tampa Bay Express — the state’s plan to widen the areas interstates and add toll lanes — celebrated the news on social media. Tampa City Councilmember Lisa Montelione called it a “huge win.”

“The Community Redevelopment Agency had been pushing for the acquisition phase to be delayed until all the impact studies could be completed,” Montelione wrote on Facebook. “Thank you to our citizens and to my fellow board members for your perseverance.”

But Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the local FDOT district, said “nothing about TBX has changed” and the project is still going forward as planned.

The money that was originally budgeted for the downtown interchange for 2017 will instead be used to buy the land where Charley’s Steakhouse and the Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport currently stand. That’s where FDOT plans to build a future transit hub for buses and trains.

And that is fine because the Westshore transit concept is, theoretically (though, in reality, it probably is not relevant in the near to middle future), much more useful an idea than TBX.

But, if you don’t like TBX, don’t get too excited.

The change in the budget — moving millions of dollars planned for the downtown interchange to the [W]estshore area — is a shift in the timing of when the department will buy up land, not a nixing of that part of the project.

“It doesn’t change the total that will go toward right of way acquisition,” Hunt said, “It just changes what got purchased when. We always said right of way will occur over many years.”

But Alden said the shift in the timeline does buy more time before the state can purchase the land it needs downtown. Many opposed to TBX have asked that the state hold off on buying that land until the project can be further evaluated.

“I think that will help give some extra time to wrap up that (project development and environment) reevaluation, so that’s all for the good,” Alden said.

Of course, that does not mean the actual TBX project will be reevaluated. Probably, that just means that they will look at putting some more precast images on the side of the overpass to gussy it up. And, even if the delay did allow for a reconsideration of the project, that only matters if the MPO is open to discussing anything (doubtful) and if FDOT is open to discussing anything (more doubtful).  Remember, FDOT has said that TBX is all or nothing because you do not have a choice, other than rubber stamping what you are told you should have.

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

There were two columns in the Times that seem to us to encapsulate the confused approach our region takes to economic development recruiting efforts.  We’ll take them chronologically.

The aging images and outdated perceptions of St. Petersburg are so pathetically passe that they are practically banned in conversation among economic development and business leaders in the city.

After all, this is 21st century downtown St. Pete, a vibrant and hip melange of waterfront living and public parks, creative artists and innovative museums, rising entrepreneurial activity, university learning and Johns Hopkins-branded medical research. This is a city energized by diverse nighttime entertainment, foodie fare and craft beer, multiple sports teams, high-end condos and frenzied apartment building, and the fresh possibilities of an 80-plus-acre swath around Tropicana Field about to get an urban redo with a big emphasis on urban innovation.

Such is the buzz driving city and business leaders about to launch St. Petersburg’s own Economic Development Corp. The EDC’s mission:

First, to sell St. Pete’s current mojo beyond the city and Florida borders.

Second, to recruit talented folks who city leaders think can be persuaded to live here — once they sample it.

And third, to pitch — selectively — companies with specific skills such as marine science, specialized manufacturing and data analytics on expanding or relocating here, and adding their capabilities to the city’s business core and key neighborhoods.

The column goes into some details, but we will stick with the macro view.  Ok, St. Pete wants to do economic development on its own.  We can understand that, to some degree.  They want to bring in talent and use their mojo (almost as overused a term as “game changer” and “swagger,” but what would mojo be without being trendy).  As for the selective recruitment, we get having some target industries, but it is clear that the modern innovative economy requires multidisciplinary cross-pollination. You really have no idea from where innovation might spring. It really makes no sense to limit yourself.  Why would they do that?

I sat down recently to discuss the soon-to-launch EDC with Steinocher and Mike Vivio, president of St. Petersburg-based Cox Target Media/Valpak. Vivio currently heads the chamber group focused on honing the EDC’s goals.

The two executives used the analogy of the Tampa Bay area as a huge shopping mall full of stores of all kinds.

Vivio points out St. Pete is a specialty store. The new EDC can’t go shopping for a big corporate relocation that wants a big campus setting on lots of land.

“We’re not Macy’s,” Vivio says, a store more fitting of Tampa’s way of pitching its many assets to a broader base of business.

“We’re the Apple Store in the mall,” Steinocher chimes in. “We’re the store that draws people to the mall and lifts the anchor stores, just as the other stores lift Apple.”

* * *

Vivio, former publisher of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, sees in St. Petersburg’s bones many of the qualities that made Austin a vibrant go-to town. Both cities attract creative talent, which in turn and with the EDC’s marketing help, should help draw the kind and scale of companies that can prosper in St. Petersburg.

Um, ok.  Setting aside the whole mall thing, considering yourself the Apple store may be a bit of an overestimation, but being ambitious is ok. We even get going after small companies because there is less land.  (We won’t even get into the “having the same bones as Austin” thing.)

Will it work?

An EDC certainly can’t hurt. St. Petersburg’s far behind in actively recruiting specific businesses. An EDC run by the right person may change that. Major momentum is palpable in St. Pete. It would be disastrous to waste that energy by doing nothing.

Just remember. If Tampa Bay is one great shopping mall with many different shops, even the much-touted Apple Store must keep reinventing itself to keep the crowds flocking to its doors.

So, having a number of EDC’s is good.

That was one column.  But then came this:

Two major Florida chambers of commerce said Monday they may merge, explaining they can solve more regional issues at lower costs if they operate as one organization.

Not to worry, Tampa Bay. That level of cooperation and strategic thinking? It’s not happening here.

The two chambers talking merger are the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. Both chambers issued releases Monday explaining their reasons to explore combining their resources.

“There are many issues that are more effectively addressed with a regional approach,” stated Christine Barney, chair of Miami’s chamber and CEO of Rbb Communications.

“By consolidating our power bases we increase our ability to shape key issues regionally while continuing to address the matters that impact our local businesses and economy,” added Heiko Dobrikow, chair of Fort Lauderdale’s chamber and general manager of the Riverside Hotel.

Could Tampa Bay ever seriously consider a single chamber of commerce for the entire metro area? After 25 years of watching this issue grow and shrink with interest, I see little on the horizon to change this area’s entrenched and balkanized behavior. Separate chambers of commerce exist for each of Tampa Bay’s major cities (Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater). Another dozen or more represent everything from the beaches to Pasco and Hernando counties to South Tampa and Temple Terrace, to name only a few.

Lately even the economic development corporation, or EDCs, have begun multiplying with St. Petersburg and Plant City adding their own job recruiting organizations to the EDCs already operating for Pinellas County, Tampa/Hillsborough and Pasco.

Note that they “may” merge. It is not definite, but if you are a regular reader, you get where this is going.

Sure, there’s been plenty of talk of greater cooperation — if not consolidation — of economic development groups in the Tampa Bay market. Relations between counties, chambers and even mayors are better now than they have been in decades. But they remain separately driven organizations, separately funded with their own economic and political agendas.

The climate between Hillsborough and Pinellas business groups wavers between cooperation and testy competition depending on topic and time of day.

Here’s a recent example. This month, six prominent national corporate site selectors toured the Tampa and Hillsborough market on a multiday visit, then gathered in downtown Tampa to discuss what they saw. They praised much of the economic progress. But several expressed some frustration that they did not see what Tampa Bay has to offer but only what Tampa and Hillsborough County could deliver. Companies — site selectors’ customers who want to know the best places for expansion — could care less about city limits and county borders.

“Frankly, you are diminished when you limit the tour to Tampa and Hillsborough,” said one site selector, Andrew Shapiro of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co. “What about Pasco, Polk and Pinellas and,” he added, “spectacular St. Petersburg?”

St. Petersburg Area chamber CEO Chris Steinocher, in a recent interview, acknowledged that St. Pete had missed an opportunity to coordinate with the visiting site selectors and hopes to make it happen next time. At the same time, St. Petersburg is about to launch its own EDC.

Right about there. So, St. Pete’s EDC is good, but having separate EDC’s is bad?

Is there a lesson in the making here for Tampa Bay? You know how the old saying goes.

When Florida’s economy is growing, everybody starts to prosper and feels little inclination to change the status quo. It’s only in the economic downturns that the need to share resources gains brief credibility.

If the Miami and Fort Lauderdale chambers do merge and their combined economy starts pulling away, we may learn the hard way how more cooperation can go a long way.

Actually, the fact is that in this area, when things are good, people do not feel the need to cooperate.  When they are bad, they bring up excuses, like funding or separate needs, to not cooperate.  There is a lot of talk of cooperation, but the cooperation is definitely limited.  (Maybe, St. Pete should have been pushing to get in on the site selection game with Tampa more rather than trying to create an EDC.  Maybe, Tampa should have been more open to it.)

The reality is that there is still a self-destructive rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete (despite Mayoral rhetoric).  People not from here don’t care at all whether something is Tampa or St. Pete, Hillsborough or Pinellas.  And, frankly, for most people here, it doesn’t really matter.

Going back to the mall analogy, why don’t you market the whole mall and let the prospective tenant choose the space that’s right for them? (A specific location could close the deal after a decision is made.) We suppose that is where the Tampa Bay Partnership is supposed to fit in.

Just know this: when you have numerous bureaucracies that have to justify their budgets, salaries, and existence, the likelihood they will actually work at cross purposes is pretty high.

And, probably more importantly, both Hillsborough and Pinellas are still decades behind our competitors in terms of transportation, with no sign of an ability to deal with it.

And we’ll ask again the threshold question for all those trying to attract all those high paying jobs: why should someone who can go anywhere come here with the faint hope that someday we will be a real urban area (not just a neighborhood) when they can go to places that provide the lifestyle they want already?  If you want to succeed, you better have a very good answer.

— One More Thing

The second column noted this little fact:

The GDP of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area stood at $300 billion in 2014, ranking 12th among metro areas in the country. The Tampa Bay metro market generated a GDP in that same year of $128 billion, ranked 25th nationwide.

It is noteworthy that the figures mean that both areas underperform based on their population.  Times may be “good,” but they are not that good.

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

The PTC/ridesharing story just keeps going.

The chairman of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission said he’s ready to make concessions that will allow ride-share companies Uber and Lyft to operate here much like they do in other U.S. metro areas.

Commission Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a county commissioner, said only a few safety issues have to be resolved before Uber and Lyft can operate in the county legally.

Up to now, the companies have refused to obtain county permits and operate under regulations meant for taxicabs. As a result, lawsuits have been filed and the county has ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers.

Crist, who has been involved in private negotiations with the companies, said he wants the impasse to end. To do so, he’s willing to agree to more flexibility on issues that have bogged down negotiations in the past, such as insurance and background checks.

“They’ll be responsible for policing themselves,” Crist said. “Basically, what we’re asking them to do is update their safety standards. It will allow them to do things the same way they’re doing it now.”

Like a recently struck deal in Palm Beach County, Hillsborough would not require Uber drivers to get background checks that include fingerprints, Crist said. Uber has been steadfast in its refusal to require fingerprinting and the company agreed to pay Palm Beach County a yearly permit fee to avoid doing so.

Under a vote taken last week by the Palm Beach County Commission, the fee would be reduced by half if Uber agreed to more extensive background checks that include fingerprinting.

“We’re saying if it’s good enough to do down in Palm Beach County, it’s good enough for us,” Crist said.

Exactly, if Palm Beach County does not need a PTC, neither does Hillsborough.  As for the deal,

Hillsborough also would refrain from imposing any additional insurance regulations beyond what the state of Florida requires, said Kyle Cockream, executive director of the Public Transportation Commission.

“Whatever the state mandates, that’s what we’re going to enforce,” Cockream said.

The county will continue to require that vehicles driven by Uber and Lyft contractors undergo yearly mechanical inspections, Cockream said. But the drivers will be allowed to take the cars to their own professionally certified mechanics rather than working through the commission.

On the other hand,

The negotiations have no commission members other than Crist. Cockream said the talks are at a “starting point” and not ready for the commission board as a whole.

We tend to think the other PTC members probably want this issue behind them, though they have made it more of an issue that it needs to be.  The Palm Beach ideas have been floated in various forms for a while.  The problem has been the PTC.  Which makes this interesting:

Crist said he has dealt with mounting threats and bullying from the cab companies, whom he described as [] operating “like a cartel in this market,” for years. On Tuesday, Crist said, the insults and aggression continued. Enough, he decided.

His solution: Help Tallahassee revoke the PTC’s state charter and remake it into a county agency with an appointed board with the power to regulate taxis and rideshare companies, which he hopes would remove legislative gridlock from the equation. 

If he knew it was a cartel, why has he defended the status quo for so long?  Why has he championed the cartel and its policies?

It has been obvious for years that the PTC should go.  As for an appointed board – that does not necessarily change anything.  Though, given its collective inability to solve problems, one wonders if the County Commission as presently constituted can handle the job either.

We’ll see what happens.

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Speaking of the PTC, years ago, the PTC, acting as the cartel’s enforcer, killed free, private, electric shuttles in downtown Tampa.  Last week:

Free electric shuttles will begin whisking downtown employees from remote parking lots and the Marion Transit Center to businesses throughout the city’s core within a couple of months.

The Tampa City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Area board, voted Thursday to give the Tampa Downtown Partnership $550,000 toward the $1 million it will take to offer rides from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.

The app-based shuttle program, coupled with another new initiative to bring the car-sharing program Zipcar to the city, should “put a real dent” in the issue of finding a parking space downtown, said Karen Kress, the partnership’s director of transportation and planning. She has been working on this shuttle project for about two years.

The money approved Thursday comes from two different CRA districts — the Channel District and the downtown district. It’s an 80-20 split, since most of the use will be in downtown. The remainder of the funding comes from federal, state and local entities as well as private sector donations.

The on-demand shuttle service will begin operations with 12 vehicles, each able to hold six passengers. Called an on-demand “micro-transit” service, the shuttles will help solve the last-mile puzzle — getting people from transit or parking areas to their final destination and vice versa.

In other words, we used to have a private shuttle service, but government killed it.  Now, we have public shuttle service.  We are all for having the new shuttles, but it is hardly a triumph for conservative, market-based principles (see County Commissioners on the PTC).  And it is hardly a sign of our openness to innovation to kill what was obviously a good idea only to bring it back years later using public money (even if it is CRA money).

It also was announced that Zipcar is coming downtown.  Given that Zipcar has been around for a while, it is about time.

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

There was interesting, though not necessarily important, news about a project in/near Westshore originally proposed long ago:

A New York developer is laying the groundwork to be ready to move forward with one of the most anticipated developments in Tampa’s history.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will consider a height variance for Tampa Bay One, a long-awaited development just off of Interstate 275, near the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and West Cypress Street.

The owner of the site has requested a variance to build four mixed-use towers with a maximum height of 260 feet or more than 20 stories, according to the authority’s May 2 agenda.

Bromley Cos., based in New York, has owned the 17-acre site for almost two decades. It assembled the parcels in the late 1990s. It could hold 1.2 million to 1.5 million square feet of development, depending on the tenant mix and range of uses — retail, residential, office and hotel — that Bromley is able to land.

The variance request doesn’t mean a groundbreaking is imminent, said William Haines, Bromley chairman. But his team is increasingly fielding more interest in the site.

* * *

Bromley’s original clearance from the aviation authority expired. The group has unveiled mixed-use proposals for the site in the past but those were ultimately stymied by the real estate market.

This is for property between Dale Mabry, Himes, Cypress and 275.  Nothing is imminent.  Nothing may happen at all.  It would not be the first time a major project never happens.  On the other hand, it could be nice, especially if any rail line does go between the airport and downtown (some day), it is truly walkable and bikeable, with street retail – not just a mall – and does not have surface parking. So maybe they have to go back to the design board a little if this is the plan:

From the Westshore Alliance website – click on picture for website

From Bromley – click on picture for website

That is about as unconnected from the surrounding area as possible (and it has surface parking lots?) and does nothing to promote a walkable, urban environment.  They need to update that 1990’s design.

One funny thing in the article:

The site is close to the Westshore business district, where the retail vacancy rate is 3 percent and rental rates are the highest in the Bay region.

It’s funny how marketing lines are drawn.  If a building at Waters and the Veterans can be in Westshore (which it isn’t), how is it that a building at Dale Mabry and 275 is not?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Because of time and space (though not space-time), we did not get to this last week, but the County Commission approved renovations to Steinbrenner Field.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a $40 million renovation of George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, greenlighting an agreement that will keep the New York Yankees here for spring training through 2046.

The deal commits more than $13 million in Hillsborough County tourism tax dollars to the project and is contingent on Florida matching those dollars through a spring training retention fund. The Yankees will pay the remaining $13 million.

There are a number of things here.  First, the Yankees spring training does bring a decent amount of business and exposure to the area and the deal includes them staying here until 2046.  It does promote tourism.  Second, the money comes from tourism taxes, which by statute are limited in the ways they can be spent.  They cannot be used for transportation.  They can be used for stadiums.  Finally, the Rays do not seem to care.  So we do not have that much of an issue with the spending.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look at the housing market.

Tampa Bay home prices shot up nearly 11 percent in March, the third consecutive month to show healthy gains.

The volume of single-family home sales also rose — up 4.2 percent over the same month a year ago — although the slower pace reflects a continued shortage of moderately priced homes.

That would seem to be a vicious cycle (as prices go up, the number of houses that are moderately priced will keep going down).  Then again, the situation may support the rental market. (And, then again, the price increases may not continue in that manner. )

The bottom line is that housing seems good for now.  The real issue is whether people will end up paying beyond their means creating and eventually bursting a bubble – and whether our economy is sufficiently developed to withstand the inevitable housing downturn.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Last week, we noted that Orlando had begun the first expansion of SunRail.  This week, we look at Denver:

Local authorities on Friday launched a new Denver-DIA train service aimed at whisking people from the airport to Denver’s Union Station in just 37 minutes for $9. The train leaves the airport starting around 4 am weekdays, and runs every 15 minutes until nearly 1:30 am. DIA is the country’s fifth-busiest airport, with 53 million passengers a year, and the train is a long-missing transportation option.

“This is a major element for our growing up as a global city,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

The airport, although technically in Denver, is actually 23 miles from downtown, and the drive often takes far longer than the usual 35 minutes due to heavy traffic on Interstate 70. The train makes six stops between downtown and the airport, carrying up to 180 passengers at a time. The cars were designed to accommodate travelers with luggage, and have power outlets to charge cellphones.

* * *

Even before it opened, the train began spurring new growth in the area, including an under-construction 400-acre transit-oriented development adjacent to one of the train line’s stops. A key part of that project is offices for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, which plans to create 300 additional jobs in the company’s audio-video and eco-solutions business.

From Denver RTD – click on map for website

It is the product of vision and political will.  Something sorely lacking in certain places around here.

List of the Week

Some like to say this is Tampa’s time.  Well, we found one area where Tampa runs with the big boys: lawyer ad spending.  According to Bloomberg, this was the breakdown of spending on legal services ads last year:

From Bloomberg – click on graphic for article

In fact, if you add Tampa and Orlando, which is still not as big a population as LA (and certainly not New York), they blow away the competition ($12 million more than LA).  Who needs transportation improvements?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    April 29, 2016 12:07 PM

    So Hagan made a very thoughtful statement to support transportation tax. What would be really interesting: Florida Sunshine 119 request for all communications between Hagan and Leytham (to include Hagan’s assistants) for the past month. Leytham writes his speeches. I have seen it from other sunshine requests. Maybe they have learned their lesson and used the “old fashion” methods: phones and paper.

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