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Roundup 5-13-2016

May 13, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Visions and ?

— Public Stage

— It Begins Now

— Wishing

— Hole in the Scene

— Strange Wine

— Caring Line

International Trade/Economic Development – World You and I

Economy – Reflection

Rays – Fun and Games

Parks – Plain to See

List of the Week

__________________________

Transportation – Visions and ?

As one would expect, there were a number of articles on transportation this week.

— Public Stage

First, there was a piece on a Times blog about why the tie-breaking commissioner voted against Go Hillsborough.  The headline uses the word “blame,” but we prefer to just think of it as his reasoning.

Commissioner Victor Crist told the Tampa Bay Times that Buckhorn’s demand for a 30-year tax sealed the fate of Go Hillsborough, the county transportation initiative three years in the making. Commissioners voted 4-3 on April 27 to kill a proposed referendum that would have asked voters to support a half-cent sales tax increase to fund $117.5 million a year in road construction and new transit.

Crist cast the last no vote.

“I walked into that room ready and prepared to make a tough decision, and when he said, ‘Give me 30 years or nothing,’ that ended it for me,” Crist said. “I couldn’t make a 30-year commitment.”

Buckhorn addressed commissioners before the public hearing and implored them not to pass anything less than a 30-year funding plan.

In the days leading up to the vote Buckhorn said he wouldn’t waste “our time and political capital” campaigning for less than a longterm solution.

* * *

The insistence on a 30-year plan stems from the city’s desire to build a light rail line from its downtown to Tampa International Airport. A long-term funding source was the only way to get the bonding that made it affordable, Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn sent commissioners a letter outlining how Tampa intended to spend its share of the tax revenue, though the city council had yet to approve the list of projects.

The letter allocated $36 million for design and construction of what was expected to be a $480 million light rail line. It assumed significant contributions from the state and federal government. But Crist said beyond that he didn’t see enough details about it like what it would cost to operate, how many riders were expected, where it would stop and where it would run.

“It was give me a check and I’ll give you a rail system,” Crist said.

There is some merit to that.  While we understand there needs to be an official study for Federal money, the City has not provided really any information about its rail plan. (Unlike what has happened on the streetcar which is not a full blown study but does provide some information.  See study here)  We get the funding issue, but, as we have said many times, if the City is serious, it had five years to provide some information.  As far as we can tell either nothing has been done or whatever has been done has not been released.

On the other hand,

It’s not as though a 30-year tax came from Buckhorn or out of nowhere. The county spent several years developing a plan with a 30-year funding stream in mind. The Policy Leadership Group, a consort[i]um of local leaders from the cities and county, voted to recommend the a half-cent, 30-year tax hike back in November, which was first laid out in detail by County Administrator Mike Merrill proposed last summer. 

It also had the backing of the business community.

Crist said he cast doubts at the onstart of the Go Hillsborough initiative that residents had the stomach to raise taxes for three decades so soon after a recession. But he also voted along with the majority of PLG members in November to advance the 30-year plan. 

Moving the 30 year idea forward knowing you did not like it is hard to explain.  Details could have been requested years ago.  Other funding could have been looked at years ago. And there is the simple fact that the Commission was unwilling to even entertain a plan with a vision for proper transit in the future, leaving it only to the City’s vague concept. (We are not going to get into the other details and weaknesses of Go Hillsborough.)

The article uses the term “blame.” There is plenty of blame to go around.  At this point, the thing to do is learn from the mistakes and move on.

— It Begins Now

There was an editorial piece in the Business Journal that echoed most of what we said last week.

“Go Hillsborough” never really had a true champion and was always pitched as a “best we can do” plan that seemed accompanied with an air of resignation. It ended up a smelly process that included personal attacks, a corruption investigation and allegations of cronyism.

That has to stop. This is urgent. Despite the hours of effort and public hearings that amounted to dust, it’s time for a new level of collaboration. Here are five points to consider:

Ensure that all sides are at the table: Ultra progressives, Tea Partiers, Democrats, Independents, ultra conservatives. Hire independent pollsters without skin in the game and build real consensus.

You are not going to get everyone to agree, but that does not mean you should not talk to everyone.  At least give them the choice.  If they choose not to participate or bring useful ideas, that is on them.

And, yes, do not repeat the consultant error.  We think the County should use its own resources, but if you use someone outside either get someone who will do it for free or get someone who has no connection to the area.

 

Abandon a sales tax as the crux of any financing effort, at least not right away. They are a now proven deal killer and have an abysmal track record here. They might make a lot more sense to voters once there’s a system underway — once there’s a tangible investment to see.

We agree – at least wait until you have a real vision and a plan (not necessarily a fully fleshed out plan, but something people can understand and that provides some answers going forward).

Dig deeper to explore a buffet of funding sources. Start with city options. Tampa and St. Petersburg must find ways to pass their own initiatives. Further effort is imperative to explore public-private partnerships, or “P3,” around transit-oriented development. Explore the 18 transit financing options cited in a March 2016 Victoria Transit Agency analysis, including vehicle registration surcharges, parking fees, tollway revenues, cigarette taxes, transportation development districts and lottery and casino revenues.

Why not?  It is only responsible to examine alternatives.

 

Pass a gas tax now. Oil prices are suppressed. Generate $27 million a year.

Certainly worth considering.

A lack of vision and lame marketing doomed Go Hillsborough. Presentation skills didn’t help, wrote Tampa author Topher Morrison, a presentations consultant. He saw Commissioner Sandy Murman and County Administrator Mike Merrill speak recently about Go Hillsborough and by the end, was left with just two options: “A turd sandwich or a crap cake,” he told me via email. “I honestly couldn’t tell if they were for or against the plan.” Obtuse terms thrown around by government leaders, like the “2030 plan” or “Go Hillsborough” mean little to average citizens.

He probably could not tell if they were for or against because they were ambivalent themselves.  It is not like they did not know that what they were selling was a less than inspiring compromise.  And we have often pointed out that the language used (like “fixed guideway,” “premium transit,” and a completely confusing array of terms for different forms of rail) does not help.  (On the other hand, we have heard the County Administrator be quite eloquent about transit, though that was before the most interesting ideas were definitely excluded from the plan.)

However, it should also be pointed out that even the most eloquent speaker can use many words and not say so much.  What would really help would be better material to sell and to free the process from the destructive factions in local politics.  And the vision needs to be a real vision for the County and region.

— Wishing

Which brings us to a Business Journal article about what Millennials want.

On an average day, Brian Willis, a young Tampa lawyer trying to get elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, says he might take a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus to work, bike to a midday meeting and then call Uber for a car home at the end of the day. “I do have a car but I don’t always use it,” Willis said.

On the other hand, Cynthia Plunkett, a 26-year-old community outreach specialist at Socius Marketing, drives every day to her job in South Tampa. She would rather have more commuting and general transportation options like the subway she used when she lived in Toronto. “I didn’t need to bring a car up there. I could get to any location and I was new to the city and dependent on public transit and was happy to be reliant on it.”

Plunkett and Willis are part of the millennial movement that isn’t looking to be stuck in traffic on their way to work or home in Tampa. They are demanding transportation modes that go beyond cars and roads. They want light rail and more frequent bus service. For this generation, seemingly always tethered to smartphones and laptops, a quick and productive commute is their vision of the future — and they want it now.

But that won’t be happening in Tampa anytime soon, following the defeat more than a week ago of the controversial Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax plan. It allowed the city of Tampa the discretion to use part of the funding to start building a light rail system. At the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners meeting, the gravity of the transportation issue was acknowledged, but what the next steps will be remain uncertain.

Actually, that wouldn’t have happened anytime soon even with Go Hillsborough, except, after many years, in a very narrow corridor between Westshore and downtown with no hope for anywhere else (including into South Tampa), except some dressed up buses, at any time in the foreseeable future.  (We’ll say it again: that was a major problem with Go Hillsborough.)  We are all for the Westshore to downtown rail, but then what?  And why do we still have to wait for studies?  And where will it go?  Will it be in the highway median making it much less attractive and much less likely to have transit oriented development?  What is the idea?

A study by University of South Florida Professor Steven Polzin on millennial travel behavior shows “economic constraints” such as high unemployment, substantial college debt, limited assets, and uncertainty about job security and upward mobility are all “substantial factors in moderating travel demand for young adults.”

Another study by the American Public Transportation Association found that “millennials are multimodal,” and “communities that attract millennials have a multitude of transportation choices.”

“Millennials are attracted to light rail and it’s not because they like riding on a train,” said Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance. They want “the freedom to work on their laptops.”

Sharpe insisted that Tampa Bay needs a transportation system that goes beyond cars and roads if the region is to continue to grow. “If we’re going to be a competitive region and draw and attract the jobs we want and the talent we want, there are certain things we must do,” he said. “We need more buses and rail — we need rail. Taxes are an element of paying for infrastructure.”

First, do not believe that they do not like riding light rail over buses.  They may ride buses if they have to, but anyone who has routinely used both knows there is a difference.  Second, yes, we need to move into the future.  Third, we need a plan that actually gets us (or at least shows he way) there beyond a first line that basically runs the distance from the Georgia Capitol to the northern end of midtown Atlanta.

There is now a blank slate (except for people who want to stew over Go Hillsborough) and work to be done.  Frankly, the work on a plan for the CSX lines (with needed connections) should already be underway.  It has always been the most obvious plan. (There have already been ideas floated of running rails around the airport property to get near HCC and the stadium on to Westshore.  That would leave the connection to downtown, which is needed. And note that County areas, like Town N Country, Westchase, and Carrollwood are closer to Westshore (and many parts closer to downtown) than New Tampa is – though the transportation connections are not very good.)

And a little context to Millennials from the article.  There was a chart that showed the percentage of 18-35 year olds in the city and county: Tampa 28.1% Hillsborough 24.5%.  That is a difference, but not a huge difference, especially given that the County has far more people.  In other words, there are still more Millennials in the County than the City.  They need to be served as well.  Go Hillsborough did little to nothing for them.

The another chart showed that the Tampa Bay area takes one of the largest shares of income for transportation.  That is basically all car oriented and won’t change with the present car oriented plan and TBX. In other words, the present proposals do nothing to help with the economic issues.

We get the frustration about not having real transportation solutions.  But the frustration should be properly directed.  There is a much broader failure than just the four who voted against Go Hillsborough.

— Hole in the Scene

Which brings us to an interesting article about one Commissioner who actually is far more aggressive in addressing some issues that the other commissioners.

Since he was elected in 2014, Stacy White has been a consistent conservative voice on the Hillsborough County Commission. That was especially true during the transportation debate of the past year, when he strongly advocated against a half-cent sales tax hike to pay for much-needed road repairs and other upgrades. That plan failed 4-3 in a vote late last month. White, 43, said he agrees transportation is a major issue in the county, and the east Hillsborough representative recently sat down with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Steve Contorno to explain how he would fix that problem. 

So what did he have to say?

While the rest of the county commission has focused on how to pay for road construction and transit, you’ve instead talked about changing land use policies to encourage dense urban development and prevent more sprawl. Why?

It can’t be ignored. If we don’t get land use right, we’re going to continue to spin our wheels. We’re going to have this funding problem in perpetuity.

How does that go hand-in-hand with the transportation conversation?

If we continue this model of sprawl, we take it to all edges of the county, from Tampa Bay to the Manatee (County) line to the Polk line to the Pasco line, you can’t provide enough transit options to a county that has a land mass over 1,000 square miles. It’s just not economically feasible. That’s where the planning piece comes into place.

Trying to come up with that carrot and stick model so you find a way to incentivize developers to engage in more dense urban development near that urban core, to try to have a paradigm shift away from that sprawl model.

That is totally reasonable.  We agree with that – especially since transit should be focused on more built up areas of the county.

What are you willing to consider as far as revenue, short of a sales tax increase?

I don’t know the answer to that yet. I’m very much in favor of taking a microscopic view of our current budget. This county has a budget of around $4 billion. I know the county administrator and others say that a lot of that gets skimmed off the top by constitutional officers and others.

Nevertheless, I think we can scratch up a few more nickels out of that big budget of ours. Once we accomplish that, I would like to see where we stand. We have mobility fees in place, we’ve already made a policy to direct 50 percent of our year-over-year surplus to transportation. Now I think if we slice and dice the budget as the next step, from there I think that tells us what we need to look at in respect to revenues that are lacking.

Where would those cuts come from?

It could mean cuts to other services. I very much agree with Ronald Reagan when he said the best social program is a job. We have a strong economic development department in Hillsborough County. Perhaps if we continue to foster that department, nurture that department, continue to bring high-quality jobs to Hillsborough County, maybe we can realistically get to a place where we can make cuts to some of those entitlement programs.

Such as?

Particularly on the social services side of the budget. I think we need to take a look at how we can free up some unrestricted funds that can easily be diverted to transportation.

We are all for cutting fat but what services exactly are going to be cut?  He gets the sprawl part.  He gets that money is needed.  Then he seems to forget that there are a lot of people in the County who need services.  The first thing to cut is not needed services.

Do you think east Hillsborough, your district, would ever support light rail or transit line that services the downtown corridor and connects to West Shore or St. Petersburg?

I don’t think so. Not in the near future. Not in the next decade. Maybe 50 years from now.

Why?

My constituents are very savvy when it comes to things like smart growth. And if they see just a continuation of the sprawl model, and they see you’re going to have to lay many, many miles of rail that would be difficult to operate efficiently, I just don’t think you’re going to get the buy in.

We are all for getting rid of the sprawl model and making transit more efficient.  Transit oriented development is a great thing.

But there is a problem. How are people going to get around?  You can get rid of the sprawl model of buildings, but if do not provide an alternative to driving, you still need to expand roads and have a place to park – which leads, inevitably, to the sprawl model. If you just create density without a way to move people around, you just get more congestion.  Reducing sprawl and having transit are intimately connected.  (And cuts just do not produce enough money to really address transportation.  On the other hand, that does not mean there is no fat and it does not mean there aren’t places other than a sales tax that you can get some money.)

We think he is honestly trying to work this all out, but if you do not account for how to get people around, you will not accomplish anything.  If you reject real transit while trying to reduce sprawl you just get trapped in a cycle of contradictory policies that negate each other.

— Strange Wine

Which brings us to the oddest development of the week.

In a 5-2 decision Wednesday, commissioners voted to hold a public hearing in the near future where they will vote on the 15-year option. If it passes, it will go to residents in a ballot referendum this November.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Stacy White were the two “no” votes. The date of the public hearing is to be determined.

During the meeting, commissioners also said they would not tap into reserves or cut from the budgets of the constitutional officers, like the Sheriff’s Office and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, or fire and rescue department to pay for transportation. They also took a 5-cent gas tax increase off the table.

On April 27, commissioners voted 4-3 against measures that would raise the sales tax a half cent for 30 years and then 20 years. A 30-year tax was the recommendation of County Administrator Mike Merrill and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce endorsed a tax of at least 20 years.

We get why some do not want to lock in a 30 year tax, but the 15 year tax idea has not really be fleshed out.  It leaves a number of questions. Once again, what is going to get done?  What happens after 15 years?  Go Hillsborough is a 10 year project plan.  Then what?  What of the extra 5 years – what is that money for? What of a possible regional approach? That all needs to be answered.

And, even more to the point, what is the vision?  That was a major flaw with Go Hillsborough – how does this fix it? How does this not become even more of a lame road plan?  Maybe they have an idea of how it will work.  If so, they need to clearly tell everyone.  And if they can’t explain it, they should not do it.

And what of other funding?

Hagan went one-by-one through some of the options and asked his colleagues to vote whether they should be on or off the table.

First, the commission voted 7-0 against dipping into $968 million in reserves, fearing it would hurt the county’s bond rating. That included leaving intact $22.7 million from the BP oil spill settlement.

Next, they unanimously decided not to touch the budget for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and followed it up with a 6-1 vote to leave the rest of the constitutional officers, like the clerk of the circuit court and the property appraiser, unscathed as well. Crist, who had previously called for a 2.5 percent across-the-board budget cut, voted no.

Then, they said they wouldn’t touch the fire and rescue budget.

Finally, Hagan brought up the fuel tax, a key pillar of a November proposal from Murman. At the time, Murman suggested the county could fund transportation by raising the gas tax from 7 cents for every dollar spent at the pump to 12 cents.

At this point, Murman sensed a set up. “I think what’s happening here,” she said, “is we take things off the table, we’re going to get backed into a corner and back to the referendum, and I don’t want to go there.”

But that’s exactly what happened.

After the commission voted 5-2 against a gas tax hike and 7-0 not to consider raising the utility tax, Commissioner Kevin Beckner reintroduced a referendum to raise the sales tax.

Beckner said it was the “only viable funding source” that could pay for infrastructure and transit. Raising the sales tax by a half cent would generate $117.5 million a year.

Murman contended the commission still hadn’t exhausted all of its options. “It’s premature,” Murman said. “I thought we agreed to go back into our budget.”

Good theater. Crappy governance.  But you have to have your priorities.

While we understand the lack of desire to cut sheriff or fire funding (and oppose cutting them), it is quite early, and irresponsible, to take every possible revenue source (other than a sales tax) off the table even if they do not fund every need.  Such rash moves contribute to the mess rather than fix it.

Frankly, none of this move makes sense to us.  Why not consider funding alternatives, even if you need a sales tax at some point? And still, what is the vision?  The whole event smacks of the black box of local politics.  Whatever it is, it is definitely not calculated to get us closer to having a proper, integrated, coordinated, modern transportation system.

There are a lot of questions about all this. We shall see if we get (real) answers.

— Caring Line

And the last thing we think needs to be remembered is that the actual important thing is to actually get transportation fixed.  If that is done, there will be credit to go around.  It should not be about getting credit or avoiding blame.  It should be about doing the right thing.

Right now the political establishment, collectively, is holding us back.  They still have the opportunity to quickly and obviously change that.  But it will take work, not halving half solutions.

International Trade/Economic Development – World You and I

There was an article in the Business Journal on the Tampa Bay Export Alliance’s International Town Hall.  As you may remember, the alliance was a number of groups getting together to develop international trade, which is a good idea.  So what did we learn?

The Alliance showed how collaboration between leaders of various Tampa entities led to economic progress — from more international flights at Tampa International Airport to the effect of the Panama Canal on Port Tampa Bay to attracting more tourists via Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

Details?

At TIA, Edelweiss Air is celebrating four years in this market, with flights between Zurich and Tampa.

“We started with a small group of visionary people,” said Michael Trestl, head of corporate development for Edelweiss. “We sat together and worked out a plan,” he said referring to the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and representatives from the airport.

In the first two years of operations, there were doubts that Edelweiss would stay in Tampa once its initial incentive program expired, Trestl said.

“Many voices in the general public said well Edelweiss, they are coming to grab the money. They are going to say thanks and bye.” But four years later, Trestl noted, Edelweiss is still flying in and out of TIA.

Edelweiss has gone from two flights per week seasonally in 2013 to three weekly flights year round and in 2016, the airline has gone up to four weekly seasonal flights. Edelweiss is part of Lufthansa Airlines, the German airline that began service between Frankfurt and Germany last fall.

Definitely a fine achievement.

Chris Minner, TIA’s vice president of marketing, said not only is the airport celebrating the fourth anniversary of Edelweiss coming to the area, TIA has also hit another milestone — a 100 percent increase in international passengers.

“We now have one-stop access to Bahrain because of Lufthansa,” he said.

The Latin American market continues to grow for TIA in part because of additional flights in the last two years by Copa Airlines, Minner said. Recruiting new airlines has not stopped and TIA is also trying to get direct flights to San Francisco, Minner said in response to a question.

“It has been uniquely frustrating,” he said. “Even though we don’t have nonstop flights, we’re talking to all the airlines that serve that market.”

Creating a link between California and Tampa is also on the mind of the official tourism marketing groups for the area. David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, has placed sales representatives in California. “There should be air service to San Francisco,” he said.

And growth is great, too. (Despite San Francisco not being international, it is definitely needed.) But that is all airport. Other than the airport, what did meeting address?

Downing also said China is being targeted with a mission next Tuesday to Shenzhen, one of China’s largest industrial centers. Meanwhile Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay said, “Mexico is super important. We think there’s a lot of travel potential.”

And, more than just travel potential (though, of course, his job is tourism not exports), there is trade potential with Mexico.  But, yes, there should be a flight to Mexico City, especially given the fact that there are low cost carriers in Mexico and regional jets can make the trip. (And Tampa used to have non-stop flights in the early 1980’s).  Anything else?

Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay, said the port is “looking to build upon Mexico” and other countries in Latin America. He noted that Port Tampa Bay is 10 times as large as PortMiami and even though Miami will lead Tampa when it comes to cruises, he predicted that his port will hit new records in the cruise and container business. 

We are not quite sure how he is measuring port sizes (maybe land area?), but Miami definitely has a dominant position in cruises and containers.

Despite those very visible big new cranes (which are cool), we are still very small in terms of containers – where much of the shipping money is.  But, at least, there is movement to improve that a bit.

More than 2,000 Tampa area companies engage in exporting goods, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development. “If you are not exporting now, you’re leaving money on the table,” he said.

As any regular reader knows, we are all for the airport expanding service (like, very much for it) and having those connections certainly helps develop business, but, if the article was anything like the actual meeting, the focus seems to be very airport heavy for an “export” group.  Maybe they should look a little more at developing manufacturing, which is where you get things to export in the first place.

Economy – Reflection

There was an article in the Business Journal regarding economic performance in Florida.

The Tampa metro area is a star among Florida communities when it comes to a handful of economic measures.

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater was a clear standout in population growth, life science employment, tourism spending and apartment completions, according to a new report from Wells Fargo Securities.

You can get the report here.

Here’s a look at the metrics in which the Tampa metro performed well:

Population growth has ramped back up, as job seekers flock to Florida’s stronger employment markets and retirees move south. “Among Florida’s largest metropolitan areas, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg were the clear standouts this past year. Population gains in Florida’s largest metro areas tend to be more driven by employment conditions rather than retiree inflows.”

Life science is a notable bright spot. Florida’s life sciences industry employs 63,000 workers across the state. The Tampa metro area has the second-highest number of life science workers, more than 10,000.

Tourism spending, as measured by sales tax receipts, rose 8.8 percent in 2015, with the bulk of the increase coming from Orlando, Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

The housing market statewide has slowly and steadily improved since the it went bust in 2006-2007, but home sales have slowed in recent months, the report said. Apartment construction, however, has been “robust,” across Florida’s major markets. The report said there were 426 apartment units completed in the Tampa metro in Q1 2016.

First, population growth:  The report does not clearly give numbers, but Orlando and the Tampa Bay area are growing.

Second, life sciences:  After a paragraph on the growing aerospace industry in the Orlando/Melbourne area, which we may benefit from slightly through some imports of parts through the Port, there is a discussion of life sciences.

The life science sector is another notable bright spot. While pockets of pharmaceutical companies, medical instrument manufacturers and medical products companies have long operated in the state, Florida’s healthcare industry has primarily been driven by the state’s large and growing elderly population. Concerted efforts began about a decade ago to bring more higher-value-added jobs to the Sunshine State, including life sciences companies and well-established marquee healthcare providers that would keep more patients in the state that had previously left to seek specialized treatment elsewhere. A great deal of effort has also been put in place to recruit life science companies. Scripps Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience both set up operations in Palm Beach County, and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies set up shop in Port St. Lucie during the past decade. Separate efforts in the Orlando area helped attract MD Anderson Cancer Research Center and the Burnham Medical Discovery Institute to Orlando, forming the hub of what is now known as Medical City. Florida’s life sciences industry has grown steadily over the past couple of decades and now employs 63,000 workers across the state (Figure 5). Healthcare, which has long been a key employer in Florida, now employs more than 900,000 workers in the state.

(pdf pg 4).  Note the lack of mention of the Tampa Bay area.  That may change as the Lightning owner’s project moves along (though it is also notable that other areas are not standing still, such as Jacksonville’s proposed MD Anderson complex).

In terms of actual employment, there is a chart on page 3 (figure 6) which shows “life sciences” employment by metro area.  It is not entirely clear but Miami looks to be about 18,000 jobs, the Tampa Bay area around 11,000, and Orlando about 10,000.  Those numbers make sense in terms of population distribution.  Given that we are the second biggest metro, we should be second.  The Tampa Bay area employment might be slightly high relative to Miami and Orlando is high compared to both Tampa and Miami. And the biggest growth is Orlando.

Next is tourism spending:  The report says most tourism money is spent in Orlando, Miami, and the Tampa Bay area, which, given populations, once again makes sense.  It also says that Orlando is out front (obviously).

Finally, the housing market: The report does not provide much detail on actual houses.  Regarding apartments, the Business Journal says that 400+ rental units were built in our area in Q1, which is taken from there is a chart (figure 15 on page 6).  Of course, Orlando had 1886 and Miami over 1000 (not to mention West Palm Beach having 807 and Ft. Lauderdale 224).  On the other hand, in some quarters before 2016, the Tampa Bay area outperformed other areas.  The chart is not entirely clear (especially since the Miami-FLL-WPB metro is broken down), but it appears to be a wash over time between major metros.

The point is not that the economy is doing badly.  However, relative to other major Florida metros, it is not a “clear standout” either. Yes, there are good employment numbers but bad income numbers (a Florida constant, apparently).

As with so many things, are doing better, but it is nowhere near where it should be.  And hype is not productive.

Rays – Fun and Games

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding a possible funding source for a Rays stadium in Hillsborough.

Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada told Hillsborough commissioners Wednesday that the county is on pace to collect $30 million in tourism taxes by the end of the year, the first time passing that threshold.

It’s not just a symbolic goal. State law allows counties that surpass $30 million a year in room taxes to raise the fee collected from 5 cents on every dollar spent to 6 cents.

And that extra cent could go toward financing a portion of a Hillsborough County stadium that would be the future home of a Tampa-based Rays team, advocates of a move say.

“It’s a big deal,” Commissioner Ken Hagan. “It’s huge.”

Tourism taxes, collected on every dollar spent on hotel rooms, rentals, RV parks and campgrounds, have restricted uses. They can be used for promoting tourism to the county or for financing projects like museums, convention centers and stadiums.

* * *
It will take a super majority of Hillsborough commissioners, five of seven, to vote to raise the levy.

* * *

The sixth cent is expected to bring in another $6 million a year, but how much the tax will generate in the future and how much it could finance for a stadium could be capped. While Hillsborough has gone far on its convention crowds and marquee events like the NCAA National Championship game, it doesn’t have the beaches or attractions of Florida’s other high-profile tourist destinations. 

And that is something, as long as the economy holds.  There are also other ideas:

It likely won’t be the only piece, though. Local leaders expect that an incentive package for the Rays will likely include a creative mix of other sources, like revenue generated through Community Redevelopment Area funds. Less likely is a direct tax on residents, like the Community Investment Tax used to build Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Of course, none of that money is just sitting there.  Other people want access to it as well.  And there is the question of what the Rays will bring to the table.  Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Parks – Plain to See

Last week, we noted that San Francisco is building a celebrated park over a freeway that will afford really nice views.  At the same time, in Julian Lane Riverfront Park, the City is determined to flatten the landscape.  We urged them to reconsider.  Now, you might say to yourself, the landscape in San Francisco is very different from Tampa (which is a reason to maintain the vertical element, but anyway).  The mounds in Riverfront Park are artificial to the landscape.  Well,

A park consisting of towering hills designed by Dutch landscape firm West 8 will open this summer on Governors Island, offering sweeping views of the New York Harbor and the city skyline.

The Hills, as the project is called, consists of four mounds ranging in height from 25 to 70 feet (seven to 21 metres). The undulating park is made of construction debris and clean-fill material.

The project adds 10 acres of green space (four hectares), 43,000 shrubs and more than 860 trees to the island, along with pedestrian pathways and playground slides.

Apparently, New York City is ok with artificial mounds.

From Curbed.com – click on picture for website

You can see some more photos here. (You can Google it for a number of articles celebrating it.) They are all man-made. And note that, like Riverfront Park now, one of the mounds will have slides (Riverfront Park only has one slide).  The Hills in New York are designed to look more organic, which is good (and something we have previously mentioned).

Once again, people like real views, vertical elements, and things to do.  Like we said last week:

You make parks special by responding to their special circumstances.  And you open up the river to parts of the city more by giving people an elevated, unobstructed view of it with downtown as a background they can get nowhere else.  If the photographers can see it, surely the planners can, too. 

And if New York and San Francisco can see it, we are not sure why Tampa can’t.  There is still time to fix it.

List of the Week

This week, we have Money magazine’s best domestic travel destinations.  This is how they describe the list, which is plainly subjective (like most of these lists):

For MONEY’s first Best in Travel Awards, we identified the seven domestic destinations that offer the best travel experiences at the best prices in 2016.

Coming in first is San Diego followed by NYC; Memphis; Ft. Lauderdale; Las Vegas; Austin; and Santa Fe.

Do with it what you will.

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