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Roundup 5-20-2016

May 20, 2016


Transportation – Go Hillsborough Spasms

— Flogging Half a Dead Horse

— What Is It?

Economy – Are We Going to Get Caught in the Cycle?

— Stating the Obvious

Politics – So Obvious You Will Be Shocked

Transportation – Obviously, We Want SFO

Rays – Ignoring the Obvious

Downtown – A Spoonful of Sugar May Be In Order, Obviously

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Broward Express Lanes

— Port Canaveral

Just In Case

List of the Week


Transportation – Go Hillsborough Spasms

— Flogging Half a Dead Horse

There was an odd column in the Times regarding the Go Hillsborough mess:

Amazingly, against all odds, the chance that voters could get to decide for themselves on a sales tax to pay for our transportation needs — killed last month in a late-night 4-3 Hillsborough County Commission vote — has risen for a last, feeble gasp. 

Except it really would not address our needs, but never mind that. As we noted last week, some version of the plan for 15 years may be tentatively alive – but is that something to hope for?  In any event, how does the column describe the strange resurrection?

So the show looked to be over with that big no vote last month. But we do like our political theater around here.

At a meeting this week, Commissioner Ken Hagan went through some not-particularly-doable alternative options to pay for transit improvements. One by one, those “options” fell away and you sensed something afoot. Anti-tax Commissioner Sandy Murman saw it coming but, pardon the pun, could not stop the train bearing down. Suddenly, they were back to the idea of a referendum whose death they had already witnessed — this time, for a 15-year half-cent tax potentially more politically palatable than the previous 30- and 20-year options.

It is interesting to note that two previously no-voting commissioners —Victor Crist, who flirted with the idea of progress before his swing vote killed it, and Al Higginbotham, who once indicated he’d support it and later didn’t — both voted to let the new 15-year version go to at least a public hearing.

It is life support, I know. But it’s something.

Yes, it is keeping something that is not very good and making it even worse, instead of trying to do something right.  That may be something, but it is nothing desirable.

And what about a gas tax is not doable? It is easily doable with less theater and a little more will and vision. What of the other taxes?  Quite an assumption made with no evidence whatsoever.

Finally, columnists, lobbyist and politicians like political theater.  Most people want decent transportation, good schools, public safety, good amenities, and high paying jobs and do not care about or for the silly machinations of a self-absorbed political class that says/promises much more than it accomplishes.  We thought maybe people should get to vote on the original plan, but now people are just playing games.  Everyone knows Go Hillsborough is questionable at best – though fixing it wouldn’t be that hard.  Instead of trying to revive half of a half-baked plan, the Commissioners should actually fix the plan.

Nevertheless, the Commissioners will now discuss the 15 year idea (and presumably other ideas) at a public hearing on June 9.  They would be better served to seriously address transportation in a comprehensive way.  Maybe they will finally realize that at their hearing.

— What Is It?

But don’t let that lack of substance or reasoning get you because, having failed to develop a good plan and having failed to convince enough Commissioners to get the plan to a referendum, even if the 15 year option falls away (which it probably should), there is another option:

There’s already chatter about a petition drive to collect signatures for a referendum that would ask Hillsborough voters to raise the sales tax by a half cent for transportation projects.

The effort won’t go forward if commissioners approve the latest iteration of the Go Hills-borough transportation initiative: a half-cent sales tax hike for a duration of 15 years. A vote is tentatively scheduled for June 9.

But people are watching closely and keeping open the option to amend the county charter by petition, said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay.

It is an interesting idea (it would be more interesting if Go Hillsborough was a better plan) though we are not sure what kind of constituency there really is for it.

It will also take a lot of money. An undertaking like a petition drive typically requires a private canvassing company that charges by the signature. Costs can escalate well into six figures.

Thurman thinks it’s doable.

“We’ve built a large network and a progressive business community. We’ve built that alliance over time,” Thurman said. “We have zero doubt that we can mobilize enough people and the resources to be able to get the signatures in time.”

Tampa lawyer Ron Weaver, who has actively lobbied for the commission to approve a ballot referendum, said a petition drive continues to be discussed.

“It’s one of the five ways home,” he said.

First, if we are talking Go Hillsborough, it is nowhere near getting us home – particularly because Go Hillsborough’s plan has nothing to do with getting most people home – or anywhere else.  Its flaws have been documented.  Rather than spend time on a petition for Go Hillsborough, we would rather fix the plan. (And that does not even get into the question of where all that money for a petition drive would come from.)

That being said, we are not against the general idea of a petition drive to get a referendum.  But if you are going to go through the trouble of a petition drive, we think the plan should be better than Go Hillsborough – which really is not that hard or disruptive to do.

Interestingly, in some comments on URBN Tampa Bay, it seems that there may be a possibility that the referendum by petition might be a little different than Go Hillsborough – with more transit (a more defined rail plan).  Of course, the devil is in the details, like what goes away, what exactly is added, and timing.

Whether by petition or through the Commission, this is the time to fix the plan.  If it is just approving Go Hillsborough, we are not too inclined to sign a petition (though we could change our mind) – if there is one.  If plain old Go Hillsborough gets on the ballot, we may or may not vote for it – though without more detail about the City rail idea, we would have a hard time voting for it.

If the petition is something else, something better – that may change our opinion.  But we would have to see it. The fact is that, as of today, there is just not enough information to form a full opinion about the petition idea.

Economy – Are We Going to Get Caught in the Cycle?

We have often said that Tampa is a boom and bust kind of town.  Making it worse, for various reasons, Tampa’s booms (especially in large construction) tend to lag recoveries in the rest of the country, leading to busts cutting us off (especially in real estate) just when we get revved up. (Not that anyone wants that to be the case, but, nevertheless, historically that has been the case.) This week, there were two items that made us wonder if we are going to get caught in that again.

First, URBN Tampa Bay had a small item highlighting the tower cranes popping up in the city.  There is Nine15, Aquatica, and one on Harbour Island which will likely come down soon, though two others for the Manor are on tap.  All that is good.  Tower cranes give a sense of vibrancy and optimism.  We like them – and having multiple cranes (other than at the airport) has been a long time coming. And we like posting pictures, like these (thanks to the webcams):

From Truelook webcam – click on picture for website

From DPR Construction webcam – click on picture for website

But then the Times had a column, the basic thrust of which was thus:

The last national recession smacked Florida so hard in so many ways, it’s hard to believe that wrenching downturn officially ended way back in June 2009.

Seven years ago, almost. That’s a long time between economic downswings. So long, in fact, that business chatter is rising fast over how soon the next recession will arrive, and how bad it might be.

A Wall Street Journal survey, unveiled Thursday, finds most economists think the country has a 20 percent chance of falling into recession in the next year. While 1-in-5 odds are far from a sure thing, the Journal says they are twice the odds quoted last September.

Here’s a harder-edged forecast.

By 2017, this will be the third-longest (and one of the weakest) recovery without a recession since the Great Depression. At some point, it will run out of steam.

Yes, it will.  The question is when and will we, by that point, have sufficiently changed our economy so that we do not suffer the oversized busts that we usually suffer.  We do not know when it will happen, but there is no real evidence that our economy has changed enough structurally to avoid the boom-bust cycle.  Yes, there may be some cushion with some things like the Lightning owner’s project (if he chooses to build during a recession) and some public projects (like, potentially, some at the airport).  And yes, even if there is a downturn, eventually many projects being built will still get filled (as happened with many projects in the Channel District that were completed close to or after the end of the last boom but form the basis of what is going on now).  Nevertheless, we still have much work to do to really get our economy where it should be.

— Stating the Obvious

Which brings us to another column in the Times by the same author.

In an in-depth ranking of the nation’s 25 best cities to find jobs and satisfaction by doing so, not one city in Florida makes the cut.

Silicon Valley and San Francisco, despite their stratospheric costs of living, made it. So did such diverse cities as Detroit, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Atlanta.

But Florida, for all its self-promotion about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” comes up with a goose egg, zilch, on this top 25-city list analyzed by the jobs website Glassdoor.

Not just Florida – more specifically, the Tampa Bay area where officials are constantly over-hyping.

What gives?

Glassdoor looked at four factors in picking the best jobs cities in 2016. First: How easy is it to get a job? Second: How affordable is it to live there? Third: How satisfied are employees working there? And fourth: How’s the pay?

The top six cities in the Glassdoor rankings (Silicon Valley/San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas) are longtime standouts as technology leaders. Glassdoor and other workplace surveys have long found tech employees tend to have higher job satisfaction (including pay), even if they live in high-priced cities. Silicon Valley/San Jose got the highest job score from Glassdoor with a median base salary of $112,000 and despite a median home value of $965,500.

(Guess where Glassdoor is based? Marin County, on the water near the Golden Gate Bridge)  Anyway,

Yet the 25-city ranking also includes lower-cost places, especially in the Midwest, that include Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Pittsburgh. In fact, of the 25 best cities for jobs, nearly half are Midwestern cities. The others are concentrated in California and the west, and in the Northeast.

Only two of the 25 cities are in the Southeast. Raleigh, N.C., a standout for its highly educated population, was ranked No. 8 of the 25 by Glassdoor’s metrics after ranking No. 1 in the country in 2015. Atlanta also made this year’s cut at No. 24, down from 17 in 2015. Three other southeastern cities to make last year’s top 25 rankings — Memphis, Nashville and Richmond, Va. — did not make this year’s list.

From Bloomberg via Yahoo! – click on chart for article

That is interesting.  One would assume that Nashville or Richmond might be more of a draw than Detroit or St. Louis.  Of course, it depends on what you are looking for (like, what job can you get that is actually satisfying) and at what you are looking.

So, Florida and Tampa Bay, what’s the bottom line?

As a state, we remain fixated on job quantity over job quality. We celebrate, rightfully, year after year of record tourism. But we fail too often to admit that industry runs largely on low-wage, low-opportunity jobs. And while technology jobs are clearly growing in Florida and Tampa Bay, just remember that tech jobs are growing fast in many U.S. (and global) metropolitan areas. Alone, tech growth is no guarantee of success.

To become a real player on the national “best jobs” scene, Florida’s cities, universities, economic development leaders and business communities are on the right track. But clearly they need to step it up — if, in fact, the Sunshine State really wants to be a 21st century competitor.

So this is the thing.  It serves politicians of all stripes (the Times is a bit obsessed with the Governor to the exclusion of other politicians who do the exact same thing) and EDC officials to tout low unemployment numbers.  And there are people who make a lot of money off the low wage industries in Florida. That can easily mask the reality that we are laggards.

The fact is that we need a lot less of the normal Tampa Bay discourse about swagger and fluff, and we need a lot more of this kind of column.  There is a lot of work to do.

Politics – So Obvious You Will Be Shocked

We don’t even know how to introduce this, so we’ll just start.

The Tampa Bay Partnership wants to form a Tampa Bay Area Congressional Delegation consisting of members of Congress who represent the region.

Leaders with the Partnership, along with several high-profile business heads, took the task to Washington, D.C. where they had face-to-face meetings with Representatives to discuss the value of regionalism in growing Tampa Bay economies.

Huh?  They do not already have an organization for the delegation? How can that be?

Though it would explain a lot about our lack of influence.  Is leveraging the biggest swing area in the biggest swing state in a coordinated fashion really something that has to be advocated for by local business?

Transportation – Obviously, We Want SFO

The airport is pushing the Tampa-San Francisco flight:

Tampa International Airport started a Facebook page Thursday morning in an effort to drum up support for getting direct flights to San Francisco.

The page, #TPA2SF, is part of an overall social media push that TIA is using to urge airlines to start flying from Tampa to the popular West Coast city.

“It’s the first time we tried a campaign like this,” airport spokesman, Danny Valentine, said. “We’re just trying to start some conversations about a San Francisco to Tampa Bay route. It’s our priority to get a nonstop flight to that region and not only from people traveling for leisure but our business community is asking for that route as well.” 

We are for anything that gets us that flight.  You can check the Facebook page here.

Rays – Ignoring the Obvious

There was a column in the Times about the Rays attendance woes.

Let’s face it, this was never love at first sight.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Tampa Bay has taken its sweet time getting cozy with its first Major League Baseball franchise. When it comes to devotion, the market and its team still haven’t gone all the way 18 years into their relationship. 

Actually, we know lots of Rays fans.  They just are not that fond of the Trop – the building or the location (Which everyone, except a select few in St. Pete, knows).

The column then goes on to detail moves by the Rays try to get more people into the stadium – which you can read in the for yourself.  And then we get to this:

The idea is not radical. The Tampa Bay Lightning have used a similar strategy for years to great benefit. Using comp tickets to fill empty seats creates a more vibrant atmosphere in an arena, and helps forge a greater bond between a community and a team.

But it’s easier done in a 15,000-seat hockey arena 41 nights a year, as opposed to a 30,000-seat baseball stadium 81 nights a year.

First, the Lightning arena is over 19,000 seats.  Second, the Lightning average crowd (admittedly for half the number of games) is higher than the Rays (See Lightning here and Rays – this year and last year).   What the column fails to mention is the location of the games.  Until that is addressed, nothing will change.  Downtown St. Pete has its high points, but centrality to the population and ease of access for about 2 to 2 1/5 million of the three million people in the area (as well as the big metro area to the east) are not among of them.  And that is only going to get less so moving forward.

We hope they get some better attendance, but, long-term, downtown St. Pete is not a solution.

Downtown – A Spoonful of Sugar May Be In Order, Obviously

There was an interesting article about Cass Street in the Times:

Downtown modernization is coming to E Cass Street. For some businesses there, that is not good news.

Some customers have stopped coming to businesses between N Tampa and N Franklin streets.

For those businesses, some of which have been there for nearly a half-century, the combined road construction, redevelopment and loss of parking spaces is spelling financial disaster.

One massive project, the $90-million, 23-story Nine15 residential tower on the corner of N Franklin and E Cass, will expand the area’s potential customer base by 362 rental one- and two-bedroom apartments, offer 8,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, and provide a 460-space parking garage — by 2017.

But for now, the biggest problem for existing businesses is the lack of parking, according to Dan Mouniemne, owner of John Rolfe Lounge, which describes itself as “Downtown Tampa’s premiere cigar bar and lounge.”

“I am down 91 percent from this time last year,” says Mouniemne. “My overhead is $11,900 a month and now I’m only taking in about $160 a day.”

He says he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep his 3-year-old business open.

Construction always causes some issues.  So we are sure that the City worked with the business owners to mitigate the effects.

Kevin Craft, who opened City Bike Tampa on E Cass almost seven years ago, reports losses in the “six figures” just since last August.

He is considering filing a financial claim against the city, and, like some other business owners, doesn’t understand why the city did not warn them of the planned elimination of parking spaces.

“We used to have over 100 parking spaces on both sides either on E Cass or around the block on Franklin and Tyler. Now most are gone,” says Mouniemne .

(Odd, how the bike lanes can alienate the bike store.) Or maybe not.

As part of the city’s Invision plan to convert the downtown core to a more accessible pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city, parking on the south side of E Cass was replaced with a wide bicycle lane and one-way traffic was converted to two-way.

Now there are about eight long-term metered parking spaces on the north side of E Cass, but they must be shared by all the businesses. Other parking spaces on side streets are largely restricted to 15 minutes, an inadequate time, the business owners say, for most of their customers.

“Our customers are having trouble getting to us. A lot are very sick and can’t walk very far,” says Paramount Hair manager Drew Kim. “They call in and say they can’t find parking.”

The store, which began selling wigs on E Cass Street in 1970, has seen a 30 percent drop in business.

Many of Kim’s customers used to park on N Franklin, but those spaces are now short term and often filled with Nine15 construction worker vehicles.

Mike Chucran, the city’s director of Contract Administration, said once roadway construction is completed in August the number of parking spaces in the E Cass area will be almost identical to those available before construction began last summer.

As for notification to the businesses, Chucran said aside from the contractors keeping businesses updated during actual road construction, there was no need for specific notification before the project was approved since the number of parking spaces was not ultimately unchanged

Whether or not the City had to work with the businesses is not the same as whether it should have worked with the businesses.  We know construction causes unavoidable disruptions.  But there should be mitigation (maybe make sure the construction workers have another place to park).  We are also curious how the City will manage to get the same number of parking spaces onto streets when they are eating up whole lanes with bike paths and other features (not putting more spaces somewhere else) – and we are for protected bike paths.  It’s not like it wasn’t entirely predictable – especially with the lack of alternatives to parking.

Together with the mess a few weeks ago when multiple events were being held downtown, it makes one wonder about the level of preparations at the City.  The increased activity downtown is really good.  But it requires increased work by the City to make sure things function properly.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Broward Express Lanes

Let’s check in with the South Florida Express Lanes that FDOT and the Tampa Bay Partnership are touting.

The plastic poles are still going up and tolls are not yet being charged, but many drivers say the new express lanes on Interstate 95 in southern Broward County have already made the road more crowded and more dangerous.

The new lanes, two in each direction, run 13 miles from the Golden Glades interchange to just south of Broward Boulevard, occupying space cleared by narrowing existing lanes and eliminating the lane for high-occupancy vehicles.

* * *

Hollywood City Commissioner Richard Blattner, who chairs the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, which decides how to spend federal transportation money, said the response to the new lanes has been overwhelmingly negative.

“People hate them,” he said. “The general consensus is they’re a pain in the butt.”

Oh yea, take out that HOV lanes and replace it with a toll road. That should definitely be popular.  (Of course, we haven’t even tried HOV, or HOT, lanes.  Why?  Because.) Aside from that:

The number of crashes has gone up since the poles went up. Last year, from January to April, there were 16 crashes between Stirling Road and I-595, according to Florida Department of Transportation records. This year there were 30. Tish Burgher, spokeswoman for the project, said “there is no indication that these are directly resulting from the new traffic pattern in this area, so it is impossible to speculate that this is directly related.”

The department said traffic should improve as drivers learn the new configuration and the entire express lane system comes on line over the next few years. It said the express lanes were an attempt to accommodate the growing number of drivers on I-95 as quickly as possible, without resorting to the more costly and time-consuming option of widening the interstate. 

Of course. Double the crashes.  Clearly there cannot be any causal relationship.

Why FDOT did not go just convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes is beyond us.  It would have made sense, encouraged more people to use the lanes (rather than discourage everyone) and even raised some revenue (though not as much).  If you want to actually move people, that would make sense.  Hmmm.

— Port Canaveral

This week we learned that business at Port Tampa Bay was down.   Some of it is based on a weakness in the global container market, where we were very small players in the first place.  There is also weakness in bulk cargo and in cruises from Tampa.  As such, it would be good to develop some more markets and lines of business.  We know the Port has some plans in this direction.  We thought we’d check in on some competition, namely the port across the state from us – Port Canaveral.

The cargo shipping industry is tackling trade with Cuba, climate change and environmental issues starting Sunday in Cocoa Beach.

The event for the Caribbean Shipping Association features experts on global goals for limiting greenhouse gases, disaster response and insurance issues throughout the two-day schedule.

One of the sessions on integrating Cuba into Caribbean trade features two speakers from Havana: Ricardo Torres, economist from University of Havana; and Charles Baker, director general of the shipping container terminal at Port of Mariel in Cuba.

Two speakers will address how to handle disasters and climate change: Rick Murrell, chairman and president of shipping giant Tropical Shipping; and Charles Serrano, director of Cuba Trade for the Antilles Strategy Group.

For times and dates, see the association’s website at Port Canaveral is hosting the conference, at the Hilton Oceanfront Cocoa Beach.

The conference will be addressing concerns over a recent maritime study on greenhouse gas emissions, conducted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which estimated that for the period 2007 – 2012, shipping accounted for, on average, 2.7% of annual global carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. That amount is also growing, according to the study.

Even though it stands ready to trade with Cuba, maybe the Port here should consider such a conference to boost its profile (though it may not make sense too soon after its competition).  Maybe a little motion might be a good thing.  Oh, and there is the car thing, where the Port is working to get business:

A Delaware-based company has signed a lease to operate a 16-acre auto import/export facility at Port Canaveral.

It’s part of ongoing expansion of the port, particularly in cargo operations. Port Canaveral will become the first southeast location for AutoPort Inc. when it opens in January to process and modify vehicles for U.S.-based automotive manufacturers.

AutoPort handles U.S.-based manufacturing for Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, American Honda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Toyota.

The new facility will start small, eventually adding about 50 jobs, according to port spokeswoman Rosalind Harvey.

Port CEO John E. Walsh said the company will export from to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and the Honduras. An announcement said AutoPort would create new jobs, but no number was given.

* * *

The AutoPort announcement follows news in September that the Port signed a  one-year trial agreement with Japanese car transport giant NYK, or Nippon Yusen Kaisha. NYK will load up one ship per month with cars at the Port, which will tap into Central Florida huge rental car resale market.

It would seem that most of those countries are closer (at least equidistant) to Tampa than Port Canaveral.  But you can’t win them all.  In any event, the Florida Port’s Council is very optimistic about container business, where Port Canaveral is just getting going:

The Florida Ports Council is projecting major TEU growth for all of its major ports: By the fiscal year 2018-2019, Jacksonville will increase from 1.1 million container TEUs in fiscal year 2013-2014 to 1.8 million. (The council includes TEUs from public and private terminals.) Miami will increase from 876,708 to 1.2 million TEUs. Tampa will increase from just less than 50,000 TEUs to 200,000.

And the council predicts that Canaveral’s big move will pay off. After seeing just 388 TEUs in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, it is projected that the Central Florida port will move a volume of more than 100,000 TEUs, a 266 percent increase over five years.

That would be good.  We shall see.

Just In Case

We also saw a piece on this handy tool:

While traditional disaster risk management meant the city was well prepared in terms of strict building codes, limiting damage and loss of life, what was not foreseen was the total breakdown of communications networks. With critical services like water, electricity and sewerage networks severely disrupted, officials were unable to communicate with each other, coordinate help from the government in Santiago or keep the public up-to-date with what was happening. Reports of food shortages and theft escalated into looting and panic, until the military were brought in to restore order.

What traditional risk management missed became clear, though, when Concepción used the City Resilience Index (CRI), a new tool developed and launched today by engineering consultancy Arup for the Rockefeller Foundation.

* * *

The CRI measures a city’s resilience. Participants (usually municipal governments) answer 156 questions covering issues from health and wellbeing to economy and society, infrastructure and ecosystems to leadership and strategy. How affordable is transport? How robust is planning? How much green space is there?

Answers to these questions – both qualitative and quantitative – give the city a holistic ‘resilience profile’. It is not a single aggregate score, but what da Silva at Arup likes to explain as a representation of the city’s immune system.

So if you are a hybrid urbanist/disaster prepper, someone who cares about their city or someone in government that thinks emergency prep is important – check out the resilience profile website here.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2016 American Fitness Index.  Their methodology is here.

The Top 30: the fittest city is Washington, DC; followed by Minneapolis; Denver; Portland (OR); San Francisco; Seattle; Boston; Salt Lake City; Hartford; San Diego; San Jose; Chicago; Sacramento; Atlanta; a tie between Austin and Raleigh; Baltimore; Richmond; Virginia Beach; Milwaukee; Providence; NYC; Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Tampa; Pittsburgh; St. Louis, LA; and Kansas City.  (Ok, so Jacksonville is 31st and Miami is 32nd.)

Interestingly, the top of the list is dominated by the usual suspects. (And in the top 10 all but 1 has local rail – and we don’t mean just a small streetcar line.)  Conclude what you like.

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