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Roundup 9-23-2016

September 23, 2016


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

— Per Capita GDP

— Incomes

— Conclusion

Transportation – TBX Meeting

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

— Phase I

— Channelside

— Conclusion

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

Transportation – Trial Ferry

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

It is that time of year again.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its GDP for metropolitan area stats, and the news reports are in. “Tampa Bay area among the largest economies in the U.S.” says the Business Journal.  Well, it better be.  From the Times:

Tampa Bay’s economic output rose from $127.3 billion in 2014 to $133.8 billion last year, a 2.7 percent rise that outperformed most other metros, according to government figures released Tuesday.

The bay area’s economy currently ranks as 26th largest in the country among all metros, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Indianapolis. Miami has the 11th largest economy and Orlando came in at 31st.

Which sounds good, until you go back to the fact that we are 18th biggest metro area and Indianapolis has about a million fewer people than we do and is the 34th largest metro area.  That is why we have been much more interested in per capita GDP – it tells a more accurate story of how we are really doing compared to our competition. (You can see last year’s analysis at “Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really?”)

— Per Capita GDP

As with last year, we have gone to the BEA website and pulled up numbers for a relevant comparison on usual suspects around our size, regional cities, and areas in the state.  There is one caveat.  Some of the numbers from this year’s data set are a little different than last year.  We are not sure what the BEA is doing in all their calculations, but they are probably making corrections.  That is why we use this year’s data.  Even if the set is a little inconsistent with last year, it should be internally consistent, given a decent picture of what is going on.  Here is this year’s chart:

From the BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From the BEA – click on chart for bigger version

If you compare it to last year, you see a little shuffling of the cities at the top (and all over).  One thing you do not see is the Tampa Bay area rising any higher on the list (though that may be coming in a year of two).  We are still behind the major Florida cities (Miami and Orlando by a decent amount), regional cities, and usual suspects list.  We are still behind Jackson and Birmingham.  We are even still behind Buffalo.  We are nowhere near Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin.  Never mind Denver.

What are even more interesting are the growth rates.  While we hear a lot about employment growth – and it is there – the per capita GDP growth rates, while not negative, like some areas, is really lagging. Even Buffalo is growing faster.  And, remember, the areas growing faster already have higher per capita GDP.

And, as last year, we have done a chart of the Top 30 metro areas.  And, as last year, we are second from the bottom:

From BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From BEA – click on chart for bigger version

Not good.

— Incomes

Which brings us to a column in the Times last week:

We are poor. Thin of wallet and purse. Paycheck laggards. At least when it comes to the rest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

* * *

The Tampa Bay metro area comes in last among its 25 peers with the only median household income below $50,000. Household incomes in some wealthy metro areas, like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston, are so far ahead of Tampa Bay — as well as Orlando and Miami, which also rank poorly in the top 25 — that the comparison feels more like a First World versus a Third World country.

Even Detroit, the city that went bankrupt, is part of a metro area that enjoys higher household income than any of Florida’s three major metros.

Tampa Bay, Orlando and Miami rank 25th, 24th and 23rd in income among the top 25 U.S. metro areas.

How bad is it?

The Census Bureau pegs Tampa Bay’s median household income at $48,911. That’s $44,383 less than what the median household of $93,294 in Washington, D.C., the richest large metro area by this household income measure in the country. That’s an extraordinary gap.

Median household income means half the households in each metro area have income above this amount, and half have income below the amount.


Atlanta, for example, enjoyed a median household income of $60,219. That’s more than $11,000 higher than a Tampa Bay household.

Does that matter? Consider that prices of homes for sale in Atlanta and Tampa are currently very similar — the median home price in both markets is about $265,000. The sharp disparity in household income means Atlanta residents are in far better financial shape to afford a house than their Tampa Bay peers.

Worse, the Census Bureau numbers show median household income in Tampa Bay grew an estimated 4.3 percent in 2015 from 2014. Yet Atlanta’s income grew 7 percent.

So what do we do about it?

There is no easy “fix” for mediocre pay. Longer term, creating better-paying jobs is the key. Just remember: Better jobs demand a workforce with higher skills and more education. 

That is certainly true.  It is also true that we need to create the environment to attract and retain talent that brings better jobs and incomes.  We need real transportation solutions (not TBX).  We need to create amenities and provide lifestyles that attract that talent, which requires better planning and investment in more than just downtown (though investing in downtown is good).  We need to create an overall environment that is conducive to creating, attracting, and retaining the talent and jobs we need.  That very much includes elevating our governance and decision making as well as the political culture. And we need to do more than sell this area as a cheap place because if all you do is sell a low cost workforce, all you will get is low income employment.

The reality is that the bellwether of whether local leaders are serious about really improving the economy is whether they are really serious (that means more than just rhetoric) about having a true, coordinated, comprehensive transportation system and proper planning.  If they are not willing to invest in this area’s future and to make this area truly competitive, they are just not serious.  And, so far, for the most part, they have not been serious.  Given that the approach to economic development and infrastructure investment has not really changed, there is no reason to expect the economic results to change much.

— Conclusion

In short, it is not much different than last year, when we said:

The point is that we are growing and there are definitely people doing well in this area, but we are still far behind places like Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, Charlotte, etc. So, when you see the hype and puffery, remember the reality.  Is that acceptable or a cause for celebration?

Yes, we are growing, there is much to recommend this area, we have many assets, and a lot of interesting proposals, but there is also a whole lot of work to do to actually get the point of actually being a global city.

Good things are happening – see below – but there is a message to local officials (and all those who are not satisfied with occupying the basement any longer).  What they have done in the past and are doing now is not enough.  Get to work on things like proper transportation, infrastructure, planning, and proper investment.  All of these things, plus education, are connected to economic development.  Local officials need to act like it.

The reality is that status quo is not acceptable. We can and should do much better than this.

Transportation – TBX Meeting

The foregoing leads to the question of how it makes sense to rely (at least at this point) solely on variable rate (“express”) lanes that charge our low income residents to try to get out of congestion (though it is questionable if that will happen) ever increasing rates – or, if they don’t pay, provides no relief at all.  And that would be the only transportation plan around right now: TBX. (Though the lack of logic extends statewide).

And it gets even worse – as we have noted before – the (at least interim) plans for the Howard Frankland actual take away a free lane and make it an express (toll) lane.

If you don’t like that idea – and we don’t – there is a meeting about it, from Sunshine Citizens:

Please attend FDOT’s public hearing for Segment 3 of the Tampa Bay Express project! This segment will rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, while converting existing lanes into variable rate toll lanes.
This project was previously funded as a life cycle replacement of the span, but the state government has turned it into a project to convert the bridge into a toll facility that FDOT will pocket the money from. We think it’s wrong for the state to impose this on the region with little meaningful input from the general public, who is scarcely aware of this, let alone understand the long-term ramifications to their commute and quality of life. This is why it’s vital we spread the word and get people informed!
The hearing is in an open house format. Doors open at 5:30pm, with a formal presentation at 6:30pm, with public comment after that. The event is scheduled to end around 7:30pm.
There will be an opportunity to speak and/or provide written comments. We encourage everyone who is able to attend.
There is also a corresponding hearing in Pinellas on Oct 4th. For more info, click here 

Maybe FDOT will say that the project has changed again.  Maybe it won’t.  You can find out at the meeting:

Thursday, October 6 at 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM in EDT

Tampa Marriott Westshore, 1001 N Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607

Go and see.  And tell them what you think.

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

Of course, the big news this week was the unveiling of a couple of aspects of the Lightning owner’s plans.

— Phase I

First, there was a press preview of Phase 1 of the overall project.

While plans to redevelop downtown Tampa are still years in the making, the local real estate firm in charge of the $2 billion project is moving quickly to map out what goes where. That includes some new updates, like a 30,000-square-foot grocery store and a 150-room boutique hotel tower with 30 condominium units.

Strategic Property Partners is still drafting the blueprints for the 50-acre urban core owned by the company’s backers, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. But the plans are coming together, said SPP CEO James Nozar.

What do they have to tell us now?

Here are the specifics of Phase 1 of vertical construction that Nozar shared on Monday:

Here is a map of the ground floor developments:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

And here an overall of phase one:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Overall, it looks good.  We like the green space running through the project and what appears to be a lot of street activity, including what appears to be development right around the arena. One downside is that there are a few blocks (especially around Jefferson) that seem to be fronted completely by parking garages, which is bad for connecting the area to the rest of downtown.  With all the good they have done, surely they can make sure that dead space is avoided.  Still, it is a work in progress, so we shall see.

— Channelside

The second major announcement was their proposal for redoing the Channelside complex.

. . . developers want to tear the 230,532-square-foot plaza down and start all over.

James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, wants to raze Channelside Bay Plaza to make room for new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park.

Nozar presented a proposal for redevelopment of the outdoor retail and entertainment complex to the Port Tampa Bay board of directors Tuesday morning. The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve Nozar’s proposal.

We have no problem with just scrapping what is there.  The question is what do they want to do?

The redevelopment will be done in four phases, Nozar said. View the renderings and site plans in the photo gallery for a visual tour of the redevelopment plans.

Here’s a breakdown of each phase:

Here is a site plan:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And some renderings:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The new buildings would be pushed back 50 feet or so from the waterfront so the public could walk along a new seawall and docks there. Some of this access would be blocked when cruise ships were in port.

Nozar said the company chose to propose new development because Bay Plaza is outdated and hardly functional. 

The setback is a good idea for activating the waterfront, and there is no question the original design had issues from the very beginning (like blocking the area off from both the street and the water (some may remember that the access from Channelside was not in the original design).  Given that, we are for the rebuild. Once again, it looks good, if it is fully built out and built as presented.

Alfonso Architects and David Conner & Associates, both based in Tampa, have worked on the initial designs for SPP.

Which is a good sign the approach will continue into further design.  Those architects have done some very good work in this area.  And the Lightning owner’s team has proceeded in a very deliberate and well thought out way.

Of course, all this is just a proposal.

The port would have to negotiate a new lease agreement with SPP to oversee development, leasing and management of the new mixed-use project.

Members of the port’s board of directors had little to say after Nozar’s extensive presentation Tuesday.

As a general idea, it is not a hard issue, provided there are safeguards in the lease (which were not in previous leases). Of course, the devil is in the details.  On the other hand, it is another reason for the Port to focus on being a port on the rest of its land while this project and the Lightning owner’s bigger project get built.  It is not logical at all for the government to compete with private developers when there is ample desire by private developers to build.  Right now, there is no need for more.

— Conclusion

As has been the case for most of this project, we generally like what we see. If things proceed under the plan, ground could be broken on phase 1 of the Channelside rebuild at the beginning of 2018. On the overall project:

Vertical construction is expected to begin next year and the first phase of the project should be completed by 2020. 

We shall see, but it all appears very positive. Hopefully, the finish product will look as good as the renderings.

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

There was a very interesting article in the Times about Cuba.

Before the embargo against the island-nation, Tampa and Cuba were major trading partners. Tampa primarily sent cattle and got tobacco.

Local leaders who favor normalizing relations are now pushing for a renewed trade relationship with Cuba. And they believe Port Tampa Bay has an edge over competing U.S. ports because of a century-old connection between Tampa and Cuba that includes the use of Ybor City by freedom fighter José Martí as a staging ground during his War of Independence against Spain in the 1890s.

Port Tampa Bay is indeed a preferred partner for Cuba’s Port of Mariel, according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times by TC Mariel, the company that runs the container shipment operation there.

But access to Orlando is the reason, not any shared history, according to the statement, forwarded to the Times by TC Mariel’s managing director Charles Baker.

Orlando is coveted because it is a destination for tourists and home to many regional distribution hubs for inbound cargo that would prefer their containers land in nearby Tampa rather than Miami.

Setting aside that we are not sure why we are not coveted, that is an interesting idea.  And, while it should not be the case, being a port that the Cubans apparently want to use may lead to some complacency here, until you realize that Port Canaveral (on the other side of Orland) also wants to grow its container business, so even if they avoid Miami, there is competition. (Not to mention Port Everglades or Jacksonville).  Nevertheless, there are some issues:

Even as the embargo endures, according to the TC Mariel statement, the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay still can prosper from a relationship if Congress or the president repeals a separate federal rule — one prohibiting ships from any country that dock in Cuba from docking in the United States within 180 days.

Direct trade with Cuba would still be forbidden in the United States because of the embargo, but a repeal of the 180-day rule might allow other nations to send cargo to Tampa through Cuba.

That echoes what Baker recently told the U.S.-based global trade publication, the Journal of Commerce.

“If you allow transshipment to take place from Mariel to U.S. ports, you could open up service to Tampa, which is the closest port to Orlando,” Baker is quoted as saying.

The Port’s entire container strategy is based on being at the end of spoke of the transshipment business and to serve all of Central Florida, so this would seem to be exactly what they wanted. Whether Congress would cooperate is an open question, but it is still an idea that should be pursued.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the 2017 financial appropriations bill to repeal the 180-day docking rule.

If the amendment fails, the 180-day rule can still be worked around, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

By order of the president, the Treasury Department can issue a general license allowing cargo ships to sail between the United States and Cuba as frequently as needed.

Let’s say that happens, what has the Port done to really push this business?

This falls in line with efforts by Port Tampa Bay to market its facility as a gateway to Central Florida, made possible through the recent purchase of two giant gantry cranes to help grow cargo container business and by the state’s construction of the Interstate 4 Crosstown Connector that moves traffic quickly from the port to Interstate 4 and on to Orlando.

“Port Tampa Bay is Cuba-ready and we are open to any legal opportunities,” said Edward Miyagishima, the port’s vice president of communications.

A delegation of Cuba’s port leaders is expected to visit Port Tampa Bay within the next few months.

Not much.  Being “Cuba-ready” just means that they have the ability to handle ships.  They still have not done much to get the business other than wait for the Cubans to come here.  Why?  Who knows?  The Port should be actively pursuing the opportunity to get a jump on all the other ports in the state.

Tampa-based international public relations firm Tucker/Hall will lead a separate delegation of local maritime officials to Cuba in October to speak with maritime counterparts there.

“If Mariel picks Tampa Bay as its priority entry point to the United States, it will be transformative for our region,” said Bill Carlson, the president of Tucker/Hall. “We will have access to the world’s markets.”

Right.  And the Port should be actively working with them and going to grow their business.  It’s not like the container docks are so overflowing that they could not use more business.  The last thing this area needs is complacency and inaction.

Transportation – Trial Ferry

The information on the ferry trial between downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa is now out at its own website, here.

You can check out the whole site on your own, but we will note the times:

Monday – Thursday

St Pete Departure            7:00 am

               Tampa Departure              9:30 am

St Pete Departure             3:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              5:15 pm


St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            11:00 pm


St Pete Departure             1:00 pm

Tampa Departure              2:00 pm

St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure               11:00 pm


St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            10:00 pm

See here

Remember that it is $10 each way.

While we are all for the trial, the times and the cost do not make it a real test of the potential ridership or viability of ferry service as a form of transit.  It also does not connect to a proper transit system on either end.  So, the trial is fine, but we are not sure what exactly it will show.  We also still wonder why the more practical ferry from South County to MacDill seems to have faded from view and why the Port opposes it.

So go ahead and ride the trial ferry, but it should not distract from the real questions about why transportation is still not being systematically addressed.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

With all the talk of the Lightning owner’s project this week, it is interesting that the New York Times featured Orlando – and not just Orlando but “wellness” development – in an article entitled “Orlando’s Latest Theme Park Is a City for Wellness.”  The wellness aspect of the Lightning owner’s project has been well documented, though we haven’t discussed it much because we think it is low on the list of actual selling points for a well-designed project (which the Lightning owner’s project shows all the signs of being, so far).

An important part of Orlando’s emerging presence as a mature and innovative city is the 14-square-mile Lake Nona project, which is being built on land that only a decade ago was mostly pasture.

Once finished, the development, being built by Tavistock Development Company, will resemble a city in everything but name, with hospitals, hotels, office buildings, schools and colleges, recreational and sports training facilities, retail centers, entertainment spots and, ultimately, about 11,000 homes and more than 25,000 residents. More than 10 million square feet of construction has been completed at a cost of more than $3 billion.

“We didn’t want to pave over this project with a bunch of production housing — we wanted to do something greater,” James Zboril, president of the company, said over the summer in the project’s Laureate Park Village Center. Nearby, children splashed in a large pool and adults worked out in a state-of-the-art gym, facilities built for the residents.

Beyond the normal, profit-driven imperatives of brick-and-mortar projects, Lake Nona has an additional purpose — wellness — a notion that is intended to permeate virtually every aspect of the community, Mr. Zboril said.

Lake Nona is not a downtown area, so what are they getting at?

About 13 percent of Lake Nona’s home buyers work at a Medical City institution, and 11 percent work elsewhere in the area. An additional 13 percent are employed at Orlando International Airport, which is northwest of the project and within sight of much of it, and 27 percent work from home. At-home workers benefit from a high-bandwidth infrastructure that delivers internet service at one gigabyte per second.

Mr. Zboril said that, in an effort to build a place that inspires and helps create good health, Tavistock invited Lake Nona residents — about 11,000 people so far — to consider themselves a “living laboratory” and participate in formal health studies run by on-site institutions over many years. In the shorter term, residents are offered free activities like bike races, tai chi and yoga. Trails in the area will eventually total 44 miles.

To encourage what they describe as “environmentally conscious” lifestyles, the developer is limiting the community’s use of nonrenewable resources like gasoline by installing electric vehicle chargers. The developer is also minimizing the project’s impact on the environment by applying “green” construction practices, reducing energy and water use and reducing waste.

“There’s not anything like this in all of North America,” said Mayor John Dyer of Orlando, who said the city had spent more than $80 million to build roads and other infrastructure in and around the development. “Lake Nona is a great expression of what Orlando is all about,” said Mr. Dyer, who is known as Buddy. “It wasn’t just a place where someone was going to build tract housing. It was a place that was going to be an economic engine for the area.”

You can read the whole article for the glowing discussion.  Lake Nona may not have a wellness certification, but it has already gotten the media coverage.  That is not saying anything about the Lightning owner’s efforts, but it is a reminder that competition never ends.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 23, 2016 1:54 AM

    The “wellness” trend appears to be striking everywhere. I am glad to see that people are jumping on board now as this type of development has existed in Manatee County for nearly two decades. Lakewood Ranch was the first and it is complete with a “main street” multiple gyms, recreation, more than a dozen parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, pools, theatre, restaurants and every type of housing you can imagine including multiple live/work options.

    About seven years ago Realize Bradenton began the same in downtown Bradenton which now boasts an award winning riverwalk, amphitheatre, live music venues, farmers markets, restaurants, hotels, bike lanes, free public transportation and more than 30 art studios, a calendar of monthly events, aquarium, planetarium, and museums along with the top performing arts venue on the gulf coast. The riverwalk is expanding another 2 miles by this time next year over 4000 new residences will be in place from co-living, to single family residences with 4 new mixed use developments.

    Currently two more developments that will dwarf these are planned; for those who want to be in the pre-planned suburbs and near the massive mall there is Shroeder Manatee Ranch and for those who prefer to be on/near the water and city they can have the best of both worlds with the combo of Peninsula Bay and Lake Flores both eco-friendly with a “main street” and community amenities including access to the intercoastal waterway and an easy bike ride or a $5 Uber to all the craft breweries as well as public transportation options. The later two communities have also dedicated 20% of the housing as workforce housing. Our millennial population is the faster growing in the state and we are being proactive in helping the next generation.

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