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Roundup 5-27-2016

May 27, 2016


Transportation – Non Sequitur City

— The Region Inaction

— Small is the New Big

— A Question of Priorities

— What Transportation as a Priority Looks Like

— And?

— Conclusion

Economic Development – Of Dealers, Deals and Scams

— The New Guy

– A Little Citi

— And One More Thing

Economic Development — This Is Cutting Edge?

Westshore – Tampa Bay One 2.0

Rays – It Could Be Worse

No Super Bowl Yet

Port – Award

List of the Week


Transportation – Non Sequitur City

Once again, there was much news – or rather much coverage – of transportation this week.

— The Region Inaction

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Go Hillsborough situation and its effect on the region.

Last month, seven Hillsborough County commissioners cast a vote that has implications beyond the county they govern and could shape how people move across Tampa Bay for several decades. 

Well, it has implications, but those are more dependent on what comes next (and other people’s previous failures).  Anyway, let’s see what the article says.

Meanwhile, other stakeholders across Tampa Bay are watching intently as commissioners toy with a plan more than three years in the making. They are dependent on Hillsborough taking action in order to move forward with transit plans of their own.

“We’re going to see the ripple effect of this vote for the next 20 years,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “It’s about more than just this referendum. It has a huge impact on any potential mass transit, rail in particular, throughout our entire region.”

Setting aside that anyone who wants to get around is a stakeholder rendering the word meaningless in this context (though clearly the use is meant to say “government officials more important than you”), there would be ripples whether Go Hillsborough moved forward or not.  And the effect on rail is also dependent on what comes next, particularly since there is, as of yet, no actual rail plan in Tampa and rail is subject of a two year study.  There will be no plan for two year, at least, which is enough time to come up with an actual regional plan (or at least a vision with some detail), which Go Hillsborough did not have.

Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Whit Blanton called the vote “frustrating.”

“We seem to spend a lot of effort and a lot of time but we don’t seem to gain any real traction,” he said.

Yes, it is frustrating, as are the uncoordinated machinations of local officials over the years.  The failure of a weak Go Hillsborough plan is not particularly unique.  Local officials have been spinning their wheels (and returning to office) year in, year out.  What did FDOT have to say?

Just 10 hours after commissioners voted against putting a referendum on the ballot, representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation’s local office said the decision complicates the department’s ability to invest in transit projects.

“It makes moving forward with transit a lot more difficult,” said Ed McKinney, program management administrator for FDOT’s district office in Tampa.

Debbie Hunt, the district director of transportation development, was more direct about what the vote means for the area:

“With that going down, there’s no option for transit choices in the foreseeable future,” Hunt said.

* * *

“TBX was the spine,” Hunt said. “Go Hillsborough was supposed to fill in all around it: connections, intersections, transit, streetcar …

“We need the transit part to work with TBX. It makes that part a lot more difficult, and it puts a lot more stress on the existing system because you don’t have that relief.”

And that is just silly.  First of all, TBX is not the spine of anything.  I-275/4 may be the spine of road transportation in the area – but it already is and TBX has nothing to do with that status.  On the other hand, as admitted above, without transit the express lane theory is flawed.  So why did FDOT just push TBX without pushing real transit?

As for having no transit alternatives without Go Hillsborough, that is also untrue especially since the 2 year transit study still hasn’t been done.   There are many alternatives – and they do not really involve TBX.  For instance, even if rail were to run down the median of 275 between downtown and Westshore (not preferred), that median is already there and TBX has nothing to do with it.  TBX will not fund transit – even buses in the “express lanes.”  TBX will not fund rail.  TBX does not make transit easier.  It is utterly irrelevant, except for maybe this:

Pinellas County attempted to pass its own one-cent sales tax for transportation in 2014. Even though the vote failed, the county still completed a study establishing light rail as its preferred transit option. Their plans call for it to go across the Howard Frankland bridge. But without action on Hillsborough’s part, leaders are left wondering, “What will it connect to?”

But expanding the Howard Frankland is now part of TBX only just because FDOT wants it to be, not because it has to be.  FDOT could do it without the rest of TBX.  It just doesn’t want to.

As for Pinellas, they still do not have a funded transit system which they will be connecting to anything in Hillsborough (the real question is, even if the Tampa city rail got built, what would it connect to in Pinellas.)  That connection is a long way off – and FDOT has previously said that it will spend a little to make the bridge capable of having transit but the locals will have to pay for actual connection (if that has changed, we’d be happy to see the official FDOT statement saying so).

“It’s always better when there’s funding potential from both local governments and counties,” Blanton said. “I think it probably makes it more likely that you’d have a cross-bay connection if you had a funding mechanism in place and a commitment from both counties to provide funding.”

That disconnect highlights a larger problem of finding ways to help people travel around all of Tampa Bay while still relying on individual jurisdictions to plan, fund and execute transportation plans that work on a local and regional level.

What one county does affects the other — and vice versa.

“It’s perfectly fine for us to have county-oriented transportation plans, but if people don’t see that there’s a regional component in that, I think it really loses the regional effectiveness,” Blanton said. “I think people are tired of that. We’re a mobile region and people want to move around.”

And there is the rub – we need regional transit planning.  But Hillsborough blocked looking at merging HART and PSTA.  There has been no coordination on any other transit planning.  Basically, there is no regionalism (other than officials bending over backward for TBX).  Local officials talk about regionalism but seem quite loathe to give up any power to make it work.

— Small is the New Big

Is there a solution?

The city of Tampa desperately wants to expand its streetcar line and build connections between downtown, Westshore and Tampa International Airport. But in order to get state and federal grants, the city first has to show local buy-in. That’s hard to do without a county referendum since cities in Florida cannot levy their own sales tax hikes.

“I think, in essence, they threw the city under the bus. Or the lack of buses,” Buckhorn said. “It was hugely disappointing. And I don’t think that anger has subsided at all.”

Somehow having a plan for a subdivision of a county does not seem to be a way to create a regional plan.  While we are all for a downtown to Westshore rail line, we have to note that, especially at this point, but really from the beginning, instead of pushing so hard for city power, it would be better to push for a regional plan – or at least a reasonable county plan.

— A Question of Priorities

Of course, the City is also looking at other things:

Without a 30-year tax, Buckhorn said there is no opportunity for light rail moving forward. It also puts at risk the expansion and modernization of the streetcar — a downtown transit option supported by powerful business players such as Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. The city is currently in the middle of a yearlong study to determine what that extension would look like, where it would stop and how many potential riders it could serve.

But the lack of a dedicated funding source jeopardizes the city’s ability to raise necessary dollars for the project.

“My hands are tied,” Buckhorn said. “It is a painful reminder that elections matter. If the legislature won’t give me the ability to change the law (and authorize a city referendum), then the only people who can change the outcome are the voters who elect these commissioners.”

We are fine with expanding the streetcar (a system which the Mayor opposed and, which, if not built would have made getting transit for the Lightning owner’s project – if there was one – far harder and more expensive), though in a discussion on URBN Tampa Bay there was a comment by a local transit activist that makes it seem that the Mayor’s hands may not be so tied on the streetcar – with hundreds of millions in future CRA money to spend on the streetcar.  (And the silly CSX insurance still needs to be dealt with). Of course, other causes want the CRA money, too.  But that is a question of priorities, not hands being tied.

And, as for Westshore to downtown, the City just decided to spend $35 million on Julian Lane Park, which is fine (except for removing all vertical elements in the park), but, once again, you have to set priorities.  If the priority is the park, so be it.  But if the rail line is really a priority, a good portion of the money going to the park could have been designated for a rail line.  It is only a portion of the money needed for the full line, but it is a large chunk – in fact, it is larger than the City’s money designated for the rail line under the Go Hillsborough plan in the first ten years:

Under the Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax initiative, the city of Tampa estimates that a rail project between downtown and Tampa International Airport would cost it $27 million during the first 10 years of the 30-year transportation plan designed to fund the region’s transportation needs.

Even if the City only used all the BP settlement money for rail, it would almost get to the $27 million. More would be needed later, but it is a start.  Once again, it is a question of setting priorities.

Back to the larger point: what we really need is a regional approach, which was the idea behind TBARTA before the political machinations made sure it had not money or power.  And then there was the push to merge PSTA and HART to get coordinated transit, but that was killed by more machinations.  Now we have what we have – which shows the priorities of local officials.

To summarize, creating even smaller transit systems that do not even cover a whole county will not create regional transportation.  On the other hand, there is a possible plan in the CSX lines (with additions).  They move between Hillsborough and Pinellas.  They connect many activity centers.  Go Hillsborough would have done nothing for regional transportation – it barely did anything for Hillsborough transportation (which is why Go Hillsborough should be put out to pasture in favor of doing things properly, not reviving the original, failed idea or the 20 year plan.)  TBX has nothing to do with transit (aside from needing transit to have any hope of doing anything it promises), and FDOT is disingenuous when it tries to say that it does.

It is time to actually do thing properly.  If transportation is the priority, actions should show it.

— What Transportation as a Priority Looks Like

Which brings us to Denver.  There was an interesting article in Politico about its transit system.  Because we think it is important, and really telling, we are going to go through it in some detail.

The 22.8-mile spur from the airport to downtown is the latest addition to a regional rail system that has transformed Denver and its suburbs. Using an unprecedented public-private partnership that combines private funding, local tax dollars and federal grants, Denver has done something no other major metro area has accomplished in the past decade, though a number of cities have tried. At a moment when aging mass transit systems in several major cities are capturing headlines for mismanagement, chronic delays and even deaths, Denver is unveiling a shiny new and widely praised network: 68 stations along 10 different spurs, covering 98 miles, with another 15 miles still to come. Even before the new lines opened, 77,000 people were riding light rail each day, making it the eighth-largest system in the country even though Denver is not in the top 20 cities for population. The effects on the region’s quality of life have been measurable and also surprising, even to the project’s most committed advocates. Originally intended to unclog congested highways and defeat a stubborn brown smog that was as unhealthy as it was ugly, the new rail system has proven that its greatest value is the remarkable changes in land use its stations have prompted, from revitalizing moribund neighborhoods, like the area around Union Station, to creating new communities where once there was only sprawl or buffalo grass.

“We are talking about a culture-transforming moment,” says Denver mayor Michael Hancock. “Light rail has really moved Denver into the 21st century.”

And into the usual suspects.  Anyway,

How the $7.6 billion FasTracks project saved Denver from a dreaded fate locals call “Houstonization” is the story of regional cooperation that required the buy-in of businesspeople, elected officials, civil servants and environmentalists across a region the size of Delaware. Their ability to work collectively—and the public’s willingness to approve major taxpayer investments—has created a transit system that is already altering Denver’s perception of itself, turning an auto-centric city into a higher-density, tightly-integrated urban center that aims to outcompete the bigger, older coastal cities on the global stage.

Right.  REGIONAL planning and cooperation.  So why did it happen?

By the early 1970s, the baleful effects of these [sprawl inducing anti-transit] decisions were clear. Downtown Denver featured blocks of surface parking lots where once had stood historic homes and buildings. Traffic congestion kept growing and the city took over the bankrupt Denver Tramway Company. The relationship between the stagnating city and rapidly growing counties was competitive and often confrontational, even as an energy boom attracted people and investors to the region. Air pollution from automobiles was becoming hard to ignore, especially in the winter of 1971-72, when carbon monoxide levels broke federal standards on 108 of 183 days. 

(By the way: Hillsborough air pollution in 2014 is here  and 2016 is here. Not good. And the only real plans for the area are road plans?)

Then the oil price dropped.

Economic development consultant Tom Clark arrived in town in the middle of the crisis. “We lost what little corporate leadership we had: They were running district offices and they just left town,” he recalls. “The head of the Denver Post left to run the L.A. Times. What we had left was the merchant class, those who depended on the area economy for a living.”

“After three years of finger-pointing trying to figure out who the hell screwed this up so we can drag them into the city square and tie them up and spit on them, people realized it didn’t matter; we had to move forward,” Clark, now CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., says. “They looked around and they said: ‘This place has been boom and bust for as long as we can remember. The Gold rush. The silver boom. The three-legged stool economy of Coors, carbon and the Cold War, where the only one that was stable was Coors. We’re sick of this.’ So we got serious about diversity in the economy.”

(Diversify the economy . . . there’s an idea.) Which led to regionalism:

The result was a great pact organized by the metropolitan chamber of commerce. All the cities and towns in the nine-county region agreed not to poach jobs and businesses from one another, but rather to work together within Clark’s economic development corporation to attract opportunities to the region or push for major collective investments like a proper transit system or a new airport to replace the aging Stapleton Airport. “The idea was that as we work together, everyone will get their fair share in the long run and collectively we’ll all gain by making the pie bigger,” Schroeppel notes.

“No more moving around the chairs in the Titanic,” Clark recalls. “And the ethics were: If you steal from someone else, you’re out of the family forever.”

And there was the need to deal with air pollution.

Ok, that lays the foundation.  As a result Denver decided to build a proper transit system.

At the outset, the Regional Transportation District had two strikes against it.

First, it had lost the trust of voters who in 1973 had approved a 0.5 percent sales tax increase in exchange for improvements to its lackluster bus system and the creation of a whiz-bang network of four-passenger “personal rapid transit” rail cars. “RTD’s inability to keep a clear and straightforward promise, together with its unforgiving collection of taxes morally tethered to that promise did not set well with the community at large,” the late Jack McCroskey, RTD’s former chair, wrote in his sharp-elbowed history of the era, Light Rail and Heavy Politics. Getting citizens to support another sales tax hike—even a smaller one—was nigh impossible.

Second, an army of critics insisted rail was a dead letter. “They loudly proclaimed that Colorado was not New York or Philadelphia or Boston, where people embraced and used mass transit; this was Colorado, where the car was king and transit was an unacceptable alternative,” RTD head Cal Marsella, who died in March, later recalled. “They eagerly awaited the opening of this ‘boondoggle’ so that they could verify their predictions of empty rail cars and empty parking lots.”

That all sounds very familiar (We did not have a tax increase already but the results are the same – poor transit and lack of trust).  So, did they go straight to a sales tax increase?

To prove the critics wrong RTD issued $116 million in bonds to pay for a pilot project, a mere 5 miles of light rail. The line ran south toward the sprawl, ending in a giant parking lot in a former industrial zone under Interstate 25. On opening day in October 1994, everyone at RTD held their breath.

No.  They did not depend on a referendum right away.  Denver showed foresight and political will and built a starter line.  Of course, we have the beginnings of a starter line but it needs to be completely built to Westshore.  However, local politics and the lack of political will makes it unlikely that this will happen here, now.  (Though, as we noted, the money is there if it is a priority.)

The long and short of it is that the starter was a success. Then Denver passed a real referendum on real expansion and has built and is building out a real transit systems that connects to the suburbs.  But it did not start with a major tax increase.  And it was a regional effort, not county or even smaller.

In other words, when you are told there are no other ways to get anything done, that is not true.  There are just not other ways that local officials have thought of or are willing to try.

And when you see people going through the motions of regionalism but not actually doing anything in a regional way, know that it does not have to be that way.  While we are not saying that the Denver story is completely analogous to our situation, it does offer a lot of lessons.

Our situation is not inevitable.  It is the result of choices.  Choices in local officials and choices of local officials.

— And?

The Denver article was posted on URBN Tampa Bay and drew a comment from a prominent local Tea Party member, which is worth examining.

Denver contracts out about half of its bus service. Privately run buses cost just over $5 per vehicle revenue mile to operate vs $10 per vehicle revenue mile that RTD operates.Transdev Awarded Bus Contract Renewal in Denver, CO…/Transdev-Awarded-Bus… And then there is this about RTD’s pension plan:…/200-million-rtd-pension…/ 

First, we have no problem with outsourcing some bus service, if it can be done efficiently.  But the funny thing about that comment is that it negates the argument that bus service removes the need to build or is a substitute for building a first class rail system.  In fact, given that Denver is still building a first class rail system, that comment supports rail transit and obviates the visceral opposition to rail among the Tea Party.

The second link in more interesting.  It refers to an article that tell us:

A $200 million pension fund that union Regional Transportation District drivers, mechanics and other on-the-ground employees count on for retirement is slowly going bust.

Which is bad.  However, interestingly:

RTD officials said the ATU pension is falling victim to some of the same woes dogging similar public employee pension plans.

“We are a victim of our own success,” said Sisk. “People want to stay here working at RTD longer, and you have a plan where a lot of people are entitled to have benefits that are much more significant dollar-wise than a new employee.”

* * *

The ATU pension is governed by six trustees, three appointed by RTD and three by the ATU president.

Investment strategies may have also played a role in the decline of the ATU fund. RTD’s Salaried Employee Pension Trust returned about 20 percent on investments last year, compared with 14 percent by the union plan.

In other words the union plan, not transit agency itself, has issues.  Moreover, investment strategies played a part.  Was there anything else that played a part?

Rivera blamed a law passed in 1988 that mandated RTD contract out at least 20 percent of its bus service. Today, about 50 percent of the agency’s bus service is run by contractors, Rivera said.

Currently, he said, there are nearly 800 bus operators working for two private companies who would have otherwise contributed to the union’s pension.

“Over the last two decades, that drain of participants has damaged the pension plan,” Rivera said. “If not for privatization, all of our members would have a pension and it would be in a much better shape.”

Privatization of the bus lines.

You can’t have it both ways.  If you favor privatization, you are taking away new pay in to the union pension plan and can’t then complain that the pension is underfunded.  Moreover, if there are some poor investment strategies that add to the decrease in funds, that has nothing to do with rail systems or other transit.  And, interestingly, RTD itself has had a much better return on its investments. (It also does not tell us whether the privatized bus drivers even get pensions).  For the sake of the union members we hope they get it worked out, but, frankly, it is wholly irrelevant to transportation.

— Conclusion

The fact is that other areas have managed to work as a region.  They have managed to build transit.  They have managed to truly lift and change their economies.

Go Hillsborough was basically (and by design, really) irrelevant to a real, regional transit system (and TBX has basically nothing to do with transit – remember that the Howard Frankland transit build out is supposed to be paid for by locals)

Nevertheless, we can have transit. It can be done, but it will not be done by further Balkanizing our area or hiding from the problems. And, annoying as it can be, it is not even (fully) FDOT’s fault.  Most of the blame is on local officials – and not just the Hillsborough County Commission.  It is a comprehensive failure – and finger-pointing, hyperbole, and machinations will not change that basic fact.

It is time to stop acting like a collection of medium-sized cities and counties and really start acting like a top 20 metro.

Economic Development – Of Dealers, Deals and Scams

— The New Guy

The Hillsborough EDC hired a new director

Craig J. Richard, an economic development veteran for such high-growth cities as Houston, Dallas and, most recently, Atlanta, on Thursday was named president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., the principal jobs and business recruiting organization for that core market of Tampa Bay’s regional economy.

Ok.  We don’t know much about him.  What little information was given is not helpful:

Craig Richard most recently was president CEO of Invest Atlanta, an organization that’s a catalyst for residential and commercial economic vitality in that city. He left that job in January after about 14 months, according to Atlanta Business Chronicle. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported he was asked to resign.

He’s also held executive economic development roles in Louisville, Kentucky and several Texas cities, including Houston, Arlington and Dallas, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

We don’t know what that was all about, so it may have no bearing here.  Setting that aside, what did he say?

Richard, asked Thursday what potential he saw in Tampa, said he wants more time to “get on the ground” and to know the area. “But the key things corporations are looking for are talent, a great quality of life and a strong infrastructure to help companies move people, product and information in and out quickly.”

He called the “bones” of Tampa and Hillsborough’s infrastructure “very strong.” And he praised Tampa International Airport, calling its latest round of investment and expansion “impressive.”

Well, the airport is great.  The Port is ok.  The bones of the rest of our infrastructure is questionable – but, then again, he is going into salesman mode, so he can be excused for now.

To us, the real question is whether he will work for the whole area or get compromised by the backroom, factional silliness that mars most of the politics in Hillsborough County (and the area).  In other words, will he bring a fresh approach or just be a repackaged version of the same old, same old. We will just have to see.

– A Little Citi

There was new about Citi moving some jobs to Tampa.

Hartford’s pain is Tampa’s gain with the news that banking giant Citigroup is relocating 150 jobs from Connecticut to the bay area, the bulk of them in human resources.

Citi says it’s all about clustering its expertise in one place.

“While this was a difficult decision, the new model will enable our HR Shared Services Regional Operations organization to leverage the benefits of being co-located with key clients and partners,” Citi spokesman Kamran Mumtaz told the Hartford Courant late last week.

* * *

Citi’s HR center in Tampa handles accounting, travel expenses management, procurement, accounts payable, payroll and payroll analysis and similar duties. Citi began the Tampa center in 1998, and as of 2014 had about 700 workers locally in the division. 

Which is good.  We are still waiting to hear more about this:

Citi already announced plans to grow its employment in Tampa by 1,163 jobs by 2018 in exchange for $14.9 million in incentives from the state and Hillsborough County. Those positions are expected to pay an average of $75,000.

Citi has about 5,500 employees in Hillsborough County and is looking for a possible corporate campus of up to 1 million square feet. The possibilities include creating a larger campus at a new location or keeping Citigroup’s existing operation at Sabal Park near Interstate 75 and finding additional space elsewhere.

Like we said, there is nothing wrong with the back office jobs (though HQ jobs would be nicer).  On the other hand, the jobs are less than 10% of what was in the aforementioned deal.  We are all for getting as many jobs in the area as we can, but celebrations should not happen when a deal is announced (or partially fulfilled) but when it is fully s fulfilled.  (Especially when so many incentive deals seem to fizzle.) We’ll see what happens with the rest of the Citi jobs.

— And One More Thing

That brings us to a really interesting column in the Times regarding incentive deals in Sarasota County.

Sarasota’s county commission voted 4-1 Tuesday against offering $720,000 in local incentives to help lure an unnamed national roofing company’s headquarters because about 20 local contractors and professional associations balked. They argued subsidizing a new roofing company to the area would make it harder for existing businesses to hold on to hard-to-find human resource, IT and other key personnel in a county with an already low 4.3 percent unemployment rate.

The recruiting effort, dubbed Project Mulligan, included an additional $864,000 in state incentives with the roofing company committing to bring its headquarters to the area along with 180 jobs over time averaging $59,000.

So what was the reaction?

It seems unlikely the Sarasota denial of a deal would influence Vinik’s efforts, but it’s early to assess the Sarasota impact. Site selectors are a clubby bunch and talk to one another frequently — more so when one of them feels unexpectedly spurned in what should have been a slam-dunk deal. And Sarasota’s county commissioners bowing to the wishes of local companies, however well intentioned, could spark more pushback against economic development in other metro areas.

“It’s a small tribe, these site selectors,” University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith told the Sarasota newspaper. “They’re going to know what happened here, and there will be a black mark against Sarasota when they start winnowing down site locations.”

University of North Florida economist Paul Mason called Sarasota’s decision “protectionism” and warned that it sent an unfortunate message. “If you’re going to act like this with roofers, what will you do with other industries?”

Which raises an interesting question: can you ever reject a “deal”?

If the argument is that any deal you reject will be a black mark against you for other deals, then maybe you can’t.  (Though, to be honest, we think that is crap. Though, if that is the case, governments have no bargaining power and taxpayers are guaranteed to be ripped off.)  On the other hand, maybe the staff in Sarasota should have worked closer with the commissioners so this did not get on the agenda for a vote.  Yet, if all the deals are secret before they come up for a vote, the public cannot have impact until the voting stage, where the argument will be that one can’t vote “no” without destroying one’s ability to attract more jobs.  It seems a bit of a Catch 22.

Maybe that is an argument for focusing more on developing local talent.

Economic Development — This Is Cutting Edge?

This week also had one the routine fluffy articles on how cutting edge we really are, headlined “Why did cutting edge businesses like Shipt, Drizly and Carvana choose Tampa Bay?”  A good question.

Several things about Tampa Bay caught Bill Smith’s eye last summer when he was looking to expand his cutting edge grocery delivery business Shipt.

The area was growing. It was getting younger. And rents and mortgages were reasonable, meaning people here had more money to spend on other things.

And while the community was becoming more tech-savvy, it wasn’t awash in tech venture companies that clutter markets in the Northeast and California.

“We liked that Tampa wasn’t so big that it would be too hard to cut through the noise,” said Smith, whose company allows customers to order grocery delivery from Publix through a smartphone app.

Or said another way:

In choosing Tampa Bay and other mid-sized metros in the Southeast, these companies largely eschewed more high-profile areas known for a tech-driven youth culture with money to burn.

That they chose Tampa Bay is an acknowledgment that considerable buzz is building that this is an up-and-coming metro with a burgeoning crop of young professionals who are spurring new development and reviving downtown corridors.

“We love Tampa,” said Smith, whose company is now in more than a dozen markets, mostly in the Southeast. “Think of someplace like New York City, where there’s so much going on and there’s new tech coming out all the time. It can be hard to connect with people.”

In other words, it does not have much to do with up-and-coming metro stuff.  It has to do with less competition from other tech because we are not a major tech development area and aren’t a big tech magnet.

Though Drizly operates in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, it has found success launching in mid-tier metros like Tampa, St. Louis and Providence, said Justin Robinson, the Boston-based company’s co-founder.

We are in the same category as St. Louis (maybe – at least sort of similar size) and Providence (ouch).

Carvana, an online buying, selling and delivery car service, debuted in Tampa Bay in April. Co-Founder Ryan Keeton said the company chose to build their headquarters in Atlanta instead of in a more tech-driven place like Silicon Valley because the real estate was cheaper and the marketplace was less crowded.

The company came to believe there was an under served “tech-forward” audience in the south.

“Our experience in Atlanta unlocked Nashville, Birmingham, Charlotte and now Tampa,” Keeton said.

That’s right, we are not just behind Charlotte and Nashville, we are behind Birmingham. We guess you have to start somewhere, but we thought we passed that point already.

What this article tells us is that, as a tech market, we are still behind our competition – in fact, it seems (maybe) quite far.  There is much work to do.

Westshore – Tampa Bay One 2.0

Tampa Bay One (corner of Cypress and Dale Mabry) has released a modified site plan.  We have no idea if it is an actual site plan or just a concept they are playing with.  Here it is, courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Just a few comments.  We like that it appears that there is more retail/walkability on Cypress, except for the driveway/parking for the office building.  We also like that at least one of the buildings (near Cypress) appears to have a pedestal.  The thing we can’t quite figure is why there is so much land used for parking and so few buildings with pedestals. The height limits are not so bad that they need to use what very well may be more land for parking than actual buildings.  Also, if, for some reason there is rail down the interstate median, this complex will have a horrible connection.

We think this is better than the original but still it can be even better. And we’ll see what happens with the competition in large mixed use projects that is shaping up in the area.

Rays – It Could Be Worse

The Rays stadium situation has moved a bit recently.  And the team is still competitive, if not quite doing as well as we would like as of this moment.  But we should be thankful that we have a pretty solid ownership group that has a lot of patience and has worked with various parts of the area.  If you don’t think so, you could look south:

Mickey Axelband may be the Miami Marlins’ biggest fan.

Ever since the baseball team’s first game in 1993, the 59-year-old, bald veterinarian with lively green eyes has been a season ticket holder. He’s attended every single home opener and final game of the season. He sweated through thousands of brutal summer innings at Dolphin Stadium before the team moved to its air-conditioned Little Havana digs, and he even once threw out a first pitch. When the Fish won titles in ’97 and ’03, he was there partying with the teal-draped faithful. When fewer than 600 fans showed up to a dreadful afternoon game in 2008, he was on hand, too.

“I was a pretty hard-core fan,” Axelband says in voice still tinged with a vibrant Bronx accent. “I was there for some great moments and a lot of the big lows, too. But I stuck by the team because it’s baseball, and I love the game.”

Then last year the Marlins sued Axelband, alleging he had illegally backed out of a two-year season ticket deal. He might have reacted angrily, but that’s just not the kind of guy he is. “I wasn’t shocked, just disappointed,” he says. “After all these years, I wondered, why now?”

Axelband isn’t alone. In fact, the Marlins have sued at least nine season ticketholders and luxury suite owners since 2013. That virtually never happens in sports, experts say. Two stadium vendors are also locked in court battles with the team, both alleging the Marlins promised robust crowds and then didn’t deliver. 

We just hope that when the time comes to get a little state money for a new stadium (as will inevitably be tried), the Marlins have not poisoned the well for us. (Hey, if Miami can get state money, why shouldn’t we?)

No Super Bowl Yet

The NFL has spoken:

The NFL has chosen Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles as Super Bowl host cities over Tampa Bay.

The league announced Tuesday that Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz stadium will host Super Bowl 53 in 2019. South Florida’s Sun Life Stadium, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation, will host the championship in 2020.

That is disappointing, though with all the new stadiums and with LA coming back on the scene (and maybe Las Vegas), it is only going to get harder.  Nevertheless, we should keep trying.

Port – Award

The Port won an award.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Port Tampa Bay has been named North American Port Operator of the Year by a maritime industry publication.

Lloyd’s List honors ports, port officials and other maritime achievements in its annual North American Awards, which were held at Pier Sixty in New York City last week. Port Tampa Bay was among a dozen winners honored in different categories.

“Our awards support the best in the shipping business, as well as the best in shipping generally — from courageous seafarers to innovators who through their inventions save lives, and organizations that go the extra mile to improve environmental standards,” said Craig Eason, deputy editor of Lloyd’s List, in a statement.

The Port Operator of the Year award recognizes the port authority for its high standards of operational efficiency, customer service, safety and environmental commitment. This is the first time Port Tampa Bay has won the award.

Sounds good.  We don’t know exactly what it means or how it will make the port more profitable, but it definitely sounds good.

List of the Week

This week, with Memorial Day coming up, our list of the week is’s list of best cities for boat owners – something we should be able to beat Denver and Austin in.

Coming in first is Brownsville (TX); followed by St. Pete, Corpus Christi (TX); Tampa; Cape Coral; Jax; Miami; Newport News; Mobile, and Hampton (VA).

Do we need to do more than the top 10?


Please, while you are enjoying the weekend, remember what Memorial Day is actually about.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 27, 2016 11:18 AM

    With regards to the Sarasota “roofing” issue, perhaps the county should continue to focus on the positive things it has done of late such as bring the University of Florida Innovation Station to Sarasota or the forming of Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast. It is these type of activities that create a sustainable talent pool and change communities.

    As for the cheeky headline on tech in Tampa Bay perhaps the questions which should have been asked is why didn’t you choose to start here versus Atlanta, Birmingham, or Phoenix? This excludes Drizly, headquartered in Boston, obviously a “tech forward” city. Shipt, chose “Tampa Bay” for St. Pete, Sarasota, and Bradenton where the bulk of their customers are located. Tons of high rise condos, affluent customers as well as part time residents and rental properties is the reason and if a bit of research was done or a question asked it would have come out. As for Carvana, that’s obvious as well. Florida ranks second in the number of used car sales per year in the U.S. As for Drizly, the alcohol laws in Florida are lax, we have tons of college students, tourists and wealthy people who pay for services. They however chose to open in Austin, Boulder, Chicago, Denver, New York, Seattle, St. Louis, Vail, Hoboken. Washington D.C. and Jersey City before coming to Tampa Bay. By the way it’s important to note that while Boston has venture capital and talent, Atlanta is just starting to emerge and Phoenix certainly has no more than Tampa. These decisions were not made based on venture capital, they were based on customers and market demand.

    Shouldn’t we really be asking why we are so enamored with the companies outside of our community versus the companies being built here? What about companies like Fair Warning, AcceptOn, Star2Star, Venuetize, myNFO, WeVue, BioLucid, Genius Central, Citizinvestor, Pilgrim Software, MIZE, and a list of others. All of these companies are building great products here from Tampa to Sarasota. They have all been funded and are growing. What if we focused on helping them grow versus whining about what we don’t have or creating more fluff? Perhaps then we would have something that attracted other founders to start here. Just saying.

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