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Roundup 8-12-2016

August 12, 2016


Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part I

— Keeping Up Appearances

— Making You Pay

Ferry –Trial Run

Tampa Heights – Double the Fun

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part II

Transportation – TIA Keeps Accomplishing Something

— Well, You Knew It Would Happen

— One More Thing

Economic Development – Interesting

Planning/Built Environment – Oh, Those Suburbs

Planning/(Un)Built Environment – Tear It Down


Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part I

— Keeping Up Appearances

The County Commission continued their panicked behavior, sort of, regarding transportation:

County commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to advance a proposal that would for the next decade set aside one-third of future growth in property and sales tax collections for transportation.

Commissioner Les Miller was the holdout.

“We need to commit. Commit,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has spearheaded this plan. “It’s very important — No. 1: transportation.”

Yes, commit to a proper process to get a proper solution, not a rash (sort of, but we’ll get to that) measure that is a shot in the dark and is immediately going to be waster (see below that).

In all, it is estimated the measure would raise about $820 million for roads, bridges and sidewalk improvements, and without raising taxes.

If it sounds too good to be true, the county staff warned it might be.

Setting aside that the money is for roads – basically just roads – not transit or anything forward thinking – just the sale old mess, yes it probably is too good to be true, but not just because of the fears of the County Staff.

Still, staffers and financial and bond advisers successfully moved Murman and White away from a proposal to establish an ordinance that mandated 33 percent of future growth must go into transportation. That could have jeopardized the county’s ability to pay off debt obligations or keep up payments to reserves, they said, causing bond rating agencies to downgrade the county from its coveted triple-A status.

Instead, commissioners asked the county attorney to draft a board policy. That way, when the county administrator releases the annual recommended budget, it must include those extra dollars for transportation.

The difference may seem marginal. It would still set a baseline year, and a third of tax revenue brought in above the baseline would go to transportation. It would potentially bring in the same amount to fix roads and intersections, and other county services could face the same cuts.

However, unlike an ordinance, which a future board would have to vote to overturn, commissioners could vote to make tweaks to the budget before it passes to ensure debts are paid or take action if there’s another recession.

That flexibility to maneuver appeased the finance gurus, and won over Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist, who said they were concerned the ordinance could hurt the county’s fiscal standing.

In other words, the County Commission basically did not do anything other than express an opinion.  They said they would like to spend the money if conditions allow . . . but if conditions do not allow, they won’t. There is no commitment.  And frankly, in a way we are ok with that because they should not have committed to such a plan before vetting everything anyway.

On the other hand, we are sure they will use this fudge to say they have fixed transportation – though there is no plan, no coordinated system, no clear transit future – nothing.  And there is no fix to the horrible planning they have done for decades – and apparently plan to keep doing. Every problem that existed yesterday exists today.  And this expression of possible intent does nothing to change that.  In reality, it is political theater.

— Making You Pay

In the article about the discussion regarding tax money, one of the Commissioners had a decent point:

But Commissioner Stacy White, who led the effort to kill a sales tax surcharge for transportation, was troubled by that assertion.

“If growth is really a good thing, and growth really pays for itself, why is a guy like me that’s lived here my whole life being told that a tax hike is the only way to accommodate growth that I didn’t ask for?” White said. “What we’re telling the overwhelming majority of our citizens is that they get to pay more in taxes for the privilege of living in a growing community, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Growth will probably never completely pay for itself.  It definitely will not even come close unless the County makes it pay for itself (impact/mobility fees), which the commission has not done – and, even with their mobility fee idea, still are hesitant to really make it pay for itself.  Moreover, when you have growth, your other needs increase, increasing your costs.  One way is to help hold down growth cost is to not allow sprawling messes that waste public resources and to really promote infill where there is existing infrastructure.

In any event, before the vote on the road money above, the Commissioner answered his own question:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White has an unusual request for next year’s budget: He wants the county to pay for improvements to a state road that runs through his district.

White has proposed spending $877,875 on six intersections along Sun City Center Boulevard, also known as State Road 674, to help relieve congestion in southeast Hillsborough. With an Amazon distribution center in Ruskin, other nearby developments and the winter residents who flock to Sun City Center, White said, traffic is a permanent problem there.

Most of the road work amounts to extending turn lanes to prevent backups along SR 674.

“I don’t want to see us make the same mistakes with respect to growth management that we’ve made in other parts of the county,” said White, a Republican who campaigned for office as a fiscal conservative. “I want to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve here.”

But routes such as SR 674 are typically maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation. Some of White’s fellow commissioners are questioning why the county would pick up the tab.

“If the DOT thinks it’s worthy, then they can fund it,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, also a Republican.

The state already has plans to repave SR 674 in 2018 so Sun City Center residents asked to have the intersections improved, too, while work is already under way.

After study, the FDOT determined that four of the 10 intersections between Cypress Village Boulevard and U.S. 301 met criteria for federal safety funds because of the high volume of accidents there.

But the other six intersections had so few rear-end collisions and sideswipes that it couldn’t qualify for federal assistance and the FDOT won’t pay to fix them with state money.

FDOT officials did tell White and the county that the state would include the remaining six intersections in the work plan for SR 674 if the county pays for them.

White called that a win-win.

Remember, before there was any potential of extra money, he wanted to commit local tax money to pay for a state responsibility (that is apparently not even really needed, just wanted).

We don’t really see the win-win aspect.  Why should we pay for road fixes that are not necessary when so much of the county actually needs road work – including repaving?  If the County was flush with cash and they wanted to get ahead of a problem, maybe it would make sense (not really).  But the County is not flush with cash and there are other needs; not getting unnecessary repairs is a consequence of not having enough money.  It is also a consequence of the sprawl-centric pattern of development favored by the County. Unfortunately, the County Commission is reverting to 1995 (or 2015, like there is a difference) behavior.

The reality is that, even with the TIF plan, this idea takes money from other needs (or wants) to pay for something that, if needed, others should pay for.  To paraphrase the Commissioner proposing the spending, why should anyone not in south County pay for turn lanes that they will never use, especially when the state should pay for it? Every cent spent on one thing is a cent that cannot be spent on another.

Finally, given that it is spending $3-9 billion on TBX, surely FDOT can find a little pocket change for some turn lanes on its own road – and a spare billion to fix all the other roads (or build some real transit) in one of the most important, if not the most important, Counties in the country during the election.  Of course, with our local officials, FDOT can always use the excuse that there is no local plan because . . . well, there isn’t.

Ferry – Trial Run

Pinellas County gave the final local approval necessary to have the trial ferry between downtown Tampa and St Pete (really between St Pete and Tampa since it was an idea pushed more by St Pete).

Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the ferry, which is expected to start running Nov. 1. The ferry plans two runs a day — three on Friday — for fares that are expected to be $10 for the one-way trip.

Though there still is this:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still needs to approve the service by Sept. 15. St. Petersburg has an “out” in its contract with the Seattle-based HMS Ferries if the deadline is not met.

Not to mention:

The ferries are only available on loan from northern cities during the winter months, limiting the length of the test program. The agreement between St. Petersburg and HMS said they will measure demand for both commuter and non-commuter services and impact on vehicle use.

The agreement is structured so HMS Ferries would get the first $125,000 of the ferry’s revenues. Anything above that would be split among the four governments.

The ferry has 149 seats, and projections show that with 25 percent ridership, each participant in the agreement would get about $50,000 back, St. Petersburg development administrator Alan DeLisle said last week. At 75 percent of capacity, each could expect to receive $200,000. 

Regardless, at the price and the (lack of) frequency, it is still a novelty (it is much cheaper for four people to drive than spend $80 going to a game or event) and even if someone wanted to use it to commute, there is the question of how to get to the ferry (you know, all those great transit links).  Nevertheless, we are all for seeing how it goes, as long as you keep this in mind:

“We hope that it’s successful,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who spearheaded the project, said after Pinellas County commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the project.

“It’s not the cure to our transportation challenges. It’s just a tool.”

Exactly. Ferries may someday form a piece of the transportation puzzle but there are much bigger issues (that pretty much all of the local officials, at least in Hillsborough, who voted for this project have failed to address in any meaningful way).  Not to mention that there is no money (or probably any idea what to do) after the trial period is over.

Nonetheless, we are still for the trial – though we wonder what happened to the South County to MacDill ferry idea that actually seemed to have more demand and utility as a transportation alternative, at least in the short and medium term.  It seems that is languishing because it has no real champion (and the Port inexplicably opposes it), as opposed to the trial run which was basically willed to happen by the Mayor of St Pete (his leadership on this and some other issues should be commended.)

And, while we are for the trial, we also wonder whether the expense, infrequent service, and short term trial will really tell us anything about the potential for real, useful, coordinated, connected ferry service in this area.  We will have to see.

Tampa Heights – Double the Fun

As has been reported previously, the Armature Works building in the Heights project is going to have a market and what seems to amount to a nice food court for fancy food (and we say that descriptively and with no derogatory intent).  This week, it was announced that an old, cool building on north Franklin Street in Tampa Heights is also going in a slightly different collective dining direction:

A historic storefront in Tampa Heights could be filled with a collection of some of the biggest names in the city’s food scene.

Tampa entrepreneur Jamal Wilson has signed a lease for 8,000 square feet at 1701 N. Franklin St. where he hopes to open The Hall on Franklin by the end of the year.

The Hall on Franklin will be a restaurant collective, featuring new concepts from names like Ty Beddingfield, former master barista at Buddy Brew Coffee, and an Asian fusion spot by Kevin and Singh Hurt of Anise Global Bistro.

The restaurants will share a waitstaff, with full-service, sit-down dining available. The coffee shop will open at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday; Monday through Wednesday, the restaurants are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and hours are extended until 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Sundays feature all-day brunch, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with live entertainment.

* * *

These are the tenants that have committed to the space:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We’ve liked this building for years. (Streetview here) It should look great. (TBX will mess up a big chunk of North Franklin and cut it off more from downtown – part of our great city planning – but at least this building will be out of the way.)

The developer sees this project as complementary to Armature Works.  So do we.  And it can help bring the whole of North Franklin, which already has some businesses, back to life.  It is easily within walking distance of all those residences and businesses that are going to be in the Heights. And there is no reason the North Franklin area can’t get more (re)developed.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part II

The PTC just won’t stop being useless.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is set to vote on raising fines against drivers and companies operating for-hire vehicle service outside of the agency’s regulatory scope.

While the fines would apply to anyone operating against the rules, it would most predominantly affect transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

The companies also face potential rule changes that could implement mandatory background checks, vehicle inspections and other regulations Uber argues would be detrimental to rider experience and customer service.

So the rule changes are still possible, even though it is unknown whether the PTC even has authority (it certainly lacks the competence). You can read all about it in the article linked in the quote.  We’ll just point out these juicy tidbits from a Business Journal article:

That board includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist who has been largely supportive of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and PTC board member Al Higginbotham told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he would not be supporting the measure.

“My preference is that we focus on finding a solution with the TNCs,” Higginbotham said.

Setting aside that no one on the PTC has been supportive of ridesharing companies, there are models all around the country where TNCs operate.  If it wanted a deal, the PTC could have had one long ago.  The PTC does not want a deal; they want TNCs to accept the PTC/cab company terms. There is a difference.

As if to prove that point, the PTC dropped the fee idea until they bring it up again, and moved forward with the previously dropped idea of new rules.

The PTC presented the companies with two possible regulatory standards. One requires fingerprint-based background checks, a provision the two TNC players have long fought against. Both companies rejected that version without additional comment.

The companies responded to a second set of rules that would instead require what the PTC calls a level 1++ background check that doesn’t require fingerprints, but did so with a series of amendments to the proposal. Those checks would be conducted on a “semi-annual” basis. Uber wants its drivers to only be subject to such checks once a year.

“None of the 70+ jurisdictions in the country that have enacted TNC-specific regulations – including the five jurisdictions in Florida that have acted on this issue – require TNCs to conduct background checks more frequently than once a year,” Uber’s response read.

The other sticking point for Uber and Lyft has been the PTC’s vehicle inspection requirements. In the proposal, the PTC would have required drivers to obtain an inspection before operating as a for-hire driver. Uber asked for a 42-day wait period, citing drivers’ often busy schedules with primary jobs as a barrier. They also noted Uber drivers utilize personal vehicles of which there is no vehicle inspection requirement to operate.

Other provisions Uber objected to include requiring vehicles to be no more than 10 years old and levying fines of up to $5,000 against the company for any breach of the agreement. Uber wants vehicles to be up to 12 years old and a maximum $2,500 fine.

Lyft shared similar concerns.

“Of the 33 states that have enacted legislation … zero of those states require fingerprinting,” said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson.

Like we said, if the PTC really wanted to have a deal there would have been a deal a long time ago. Instead they pretend to care but then just work to pass something that is aimed to support who they really care about (and it is not consumers or safety).

Over objections from the two rideshare giants, PTC board members voted Wednesday to move ahead with regulations that mandate fingerprint background checks for all rideshare drivers. The same requirement led Uber and Lyft to abandon the lucrative Austin, Texas, market in May.

That is classic Hillsborough County (see road money above) – after wasting a lot of time, do something unproductive just to be able to say you did something, then try to move on.

Hopefully, the legislature will finally get around to statewide rules so the PTC members can back to their days jobs of planning poorly and not providing a proper transportation system.

Transportation – TIA Keeps Accomplishing Something

There was an interesting, if not really groundbreaking, article in the Times regarding the airport director.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority thinks Joe Lopano has been doing a great job running Tampa International Airport, and it wants to keep him around for years to come.

To that end, board members decided Thursday to draft a new contract for the airport’s CEO. Board chairman Robert Watkins will spearhead the effort.

* * *

The move to negotiate a contract extension for Lopano came as board members provided him with his annual performance review. He scored top marks in nearly every category from every board member, giving him a final score of 4.96 out of 5.

“It’s not just what you see, but it’s what you don’t see,” said Brig. Gen. Chip Diehl, treasurer of the board. “The airport runs as efficiently as ever even with this project going on, and that’s a tribute to his leadership and the culture he’s built behind this team.”

Since 2011, Lopano and his team have brought more than a dozen new flights, including a handful of high-profile international routes to Frankfurt, Panama City and most recently to Havana, Cuba, to the airport. Lopano is also leading the airport’s single largest renovation since the terminal was built in 1971.

Lopano’s current contract expires in April 2018. He accepted a $500,000 bonus in 2013 contingent on him staying with the airport until that time. Lopano makes $347,287 a year. He last received a raise of 5 percent last August. 

It is a big chunk of change, but he airport has continued to be  a very good performer and the master plan is moving along nicely.

The airport’s revenue is projected to grow by $4.1 million next year. That number will jump to $14 million in 2018 with the completion of Phase 1 of the master plan. Operating expenses for 2017 is expected to increase by 7.1 percent as compared with this year to $122.3  million. 

If revenue actually grows by $14 million a year, that is quite good. As is the debt rating upgrade this week.

Good leadership comes with a cost. Especially when you are playing catch-up because of previously poor leadership and lack of vision.  (It is good he did not leave when there was a previous issue about his pay and his “lack of performance.” Though there was no similar whining about the port. We leave it to you to figure out why.)

That is not to say there is no limit to compensation.  It is just to say that the airport is a local model at this point and that is due to the staff.  If that changes, so does the dynamic for compensation. Up until this point, though, well done.

— Well, You Knew It Would Happen

Now that commercial flights are coming, the Cuba charter business is starting to shrink.

Cuba Travel Services will cease operations from Tampa and the future of the two other local charter companies — Island Travel & Tours and ABC Charters — remains unclear.

“We don’t believe charter companies will be able to compete with the major carriers,” said Michael Zuccato, general manager at Cuba Travel Services. “We will stop operating charters from Tampa on a scheduled basis in early September. We’re still working on an exact date.”

Bill Hauf, president of Island Travel & Tours, could not be reached for comment. Tessie Aral, president of ABC Charters, said she has no plans to leave the Tampa market but acknowledges that her company’s future is up in the air after Oct. 31.

There likely will still be room for some charters, but that will all have to be sorted out.  Thankfully, we will have a commercial flight.

— One More Thing

It is also worth noting that the nearest major airport, the one in Orlando, is beginning a large expansion  and adding international flights and rail connections. (For more detail, see here)  Just more reason that we need inspired leadership.

Economic Development – Interesting

Most people probably did not know there was a company in Riverview that got a big cash injection.

BlueGrace Logistics is on the fast track to become a major Tampa Bay employer, feeding off a $255 million investment from New York-based private equity giant Warburg Pincus.

Riverview-based BlueGrace, a 6-year-old transportation logistics company, is using the money to hire 500 to 700 employees in the next few years and will be on the hunt for a new, larger headquarters, possibly in downtown Tampa.

From currently $200 million in revenue, “by 2020 we’d hope to be at $1 billion … with a mix of organic growth and some (acquisitions),” BlueGrace CEO and founder Bobby Harris said in an interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times.

* * *

The company has already far exceeded a tax incentive-tied commitment made with the state a year ago to add 100 jobs. It now has 350 employees, most of them in Riverview. The next jobs spurt isn’t tied to tax incentives, but business demand and a confident equity partner.

“Over the next two years, we’ll go well over 500 employees, and in the next three to five years have about 1,000 employees just here in Tampa,” Harris said.

It adds up to a major jobs explosion for a company that started out, as Harris notes, “in the jaws” of the Great Recession in 2009 with 20 employees. Today, it works with more than 10,000 companies nationwide that make everything from auto parts and beauty products to pharmaceuticals and sporting goods.

You can read about their business model in the article and the speculation that they might move to the Lightning owner’s project (they might, they might not).  In any event, it is interesting to have a local company growing that quickly and that quietly.

Planning/Built Environment – Oh, Those Suburbs

The Business Journal had an interesting article on a ranking of local suburbs.

Westchase is the Tampa Bay area’s best suburb, according to a Niche report.

Niche compares and ranks schools and neighborhoods. The report, which compiled statistics on crime, public education, job opportunities, diversity and other characteristics, gave the suburbs grades on how they did. Westchase received an overall grade of A+, and when the grades were broken down, the suburb’s only C coming from the cost of living.

* * *

Other top Tampa Bay suburbs include Carrollwood, Lake Magdalene, Pebble Creek and Town ‘n’ Country, which all finished in the top five. 

You can see the report here.  We are not completely convinced by specific rankings (and we would have ranked them a bit differently), but there is a trend, even a bit lower down: the closer in suburbs get better rankings.  While Westchase is not as close in as some others on the list, it is relatively close to West Shore and has the urbanish West Park Village, which adds a lot (and is actually quite transit ready).

And the fact is that a lot of close in suburbs are not really much less dense (if at all) than much of the City of Tampa and many are closer in to the core (and equally as or more walkable) than much of the City of Tampa.  That is why a real transit system needs to include real connectivity, not just token connections.  Something Go Hillsborough did not really do at all.  And the County Commission shows no actual interest in. And something which will not happen with the city rail/city tax idea.

Planning/(Un)Built Environment – Tear It Down

URBN Tampa Bay found a gem this week in an blog post about how in the 1950’s Louisville’s paper called for basically destroying its downtown to rebuilt it.

The editorial was titled “A Bomb at Fourth and Walnut That Would Bless Louisville.” (Today, Walnut Street is Muhammad Ali Boulevard.) It grimly concluded that “The old shell of downtown Louisville will have to be cracked open if real progress is to be made. We don’t want it done by the violence of enemy bombs, heaven knows. But another kind of bomb falling on Fourth Street would be a blessing—a bomb of imagination and civic ambition.”

* * *

In the end, Louisville did bomb itself into a parking lot oblivion, but unlike those European examples cited in the newspaper, we put too much faith in the private automobile and didn’t rebuild after the bombings. Our pedestrian mall was was a failure because it relied on a suburban notion of shopping and driving rather than living in the core city. Much of urban renewal had ulterior motives that better served keeping the city segregated than any true attempt to craft a better Louisville.

The interesting thing is that the old editorial did not seem to actually call for a car-centric plan.  But that is what Louisville got.

And they are not alone.  That is basically what Tampa got as well – and with which we are still dealing. Interestingly, most of the newish buildings downtown – say after 1980 – were not built on surface parking lots, they were built after older buildings were torn down because why remove parking?  As pointed out by URBN Tampa Bay, there is no lack of space dedicated to parking (in red) in downtown, even if you take out the land that will hold actual buildings in the Lightning owner’s project:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

And that is just downtown.  There are other areas of Tampa that were built up that have also given way to the pavement model (not to mention basically every area developed since the 50’s).

Moreover, even with the new awareness of urbanness and walkability, much of our codes and default planning and design decisions revert to the car-centric model from the 50’s and 60’s.  Urbanness and walkability is still something you have to work to accomplish rather something that comes naturally, especially in an area with basically no transit.  One reason the Lightning owner’s plan and the Heights draw attention is because they are actually looking at making them walkable.  That is the exception, when it should be the rule, literally.  Sadly, Tampa/Hillsborough County still mostly embraces 60 year old postwar thinking.

Just a little window into how we got where we are today.

One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    August 12, 2016 8:39 AM

    Regarding the county commission’s transportation shell game, this is just more of the same delusional thinking that you can create something out of nothing. Maybe Sandra Murman should start riding a winged unicorn to work.

    Regarding the ferry plan, the only good thing about it is that it resulted in a refreshing display of regional cooperation; however, the ferry will be too slow, and too expensive; much like the toy streetcar in downtown Tampa. Only tourists and people on leisure excursions will use it, which is not likely a large enough market to make it feasible. (Maybe someday if waterfront activity in Tampa Bay approaches that of Sydney, Australia, the idea could become viable.)

    Meanwhile, although the ferry and streetcar do not qualify as real transit, transit naysayers will try to use their failures as proof that transit will never work in this area, which will further damage efforts to advance a plan for real transit.

    The regional cooperation and political capital being spent on this project is misplaced and would be better utilized to create an elevated backbone metro line from downtown Tampa, above Kennedy Blvd, to Westshore, the airport, across the Howard Frankland bridge to Gateway, and on to downtown St. Pete. Then, barring an overarching regional entity, each county could decide how to build out transit off of this backbone within their borders.

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