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Roundup 9-30-2016

September 30, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

— Excuses

— The Delegation

— Conclusion

— Meeting Reminders

— One More Thing

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

Downtown – Block Letter Project

Channel District – Finally

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

Built Environment – Parking Diet

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

_______________________________________

Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

There was a really odd article in the Times regarding the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes, instead of the current four.

State officials say this has been public knowledge for years, part of a controversial expansion plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX.

That was not the odd part.  This was:

But transportation activists and even top officials who voted on the proposal thought TBX would add new lanes to the bridge for tolls — not replace ones that already exist. After three years of presentations and meetings, even veteran urban planners who were involved in the process were stunned to learn that the state’s plan will shrink the number of lanes for drivers.

“I certainly didn’t think they were going to reduce the number of lanes,” said Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who sits on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization and voted to allow the project to proceed in June.

That is absurd.  Even more absurd is the number of officials who claim they did not know (to be exact, the article says they “thought DOT was adding an additional lane“), from a follow-up article:

State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, was surprised to hear DOT’s plan.

“I always understood it as there was additional capacity added.” He didn’t agree with the state’s characterization of how the outside lane is used. “It’s definitely not an auxiliary lane.”

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, felt mislead.

“I never thought they would be reducing the capacity of traffic. … It’s already bad enough. They don’t call it the Howard Frankenstein for nothing.”

Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, never expected to lose a free lane.

“I don’t have a high confidence level in the plan if they’re going to cut down a lane.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO Member Sandy Murman, Republican, said this version was news to her.

She does not approve of tolls on the Howard Frankland. “I think that would kill our economic development efforts and our regional efforts.”

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, Republican, called the plan a “joke.”

“When they take these lanes and call them fancy names like managed lanes, they’re clearly trying to disguise something.”

State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, wants DOT to pull the plug on the plan.

“It’s outrageous. It’s wrong. It’s not what will help this region.”

Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, Democrat, said no one on the Hillsborough MPO realized this.

“It is interesting that there are 16 of us and none of us caught that particular nuance.” 

How absurd is it that they do not know the FDOT plan?  We cited this Times article in our July 18, 2014 Roundup (See “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away” ):

The other huge project is the construction of a new northbound Howard Frankland Bridge. The state has rated the current bridge, which reopened in January 1993 after rehabilitation, as “structurally deficient,” said Ming Gao, state DOT planning manager. By giving the bridge that rating, the DOT is saying that it needs to be continually repaired or replaced by 2025. Gao estimated that the DOT is already paying about $2 million a year to maintain it.

* * *

When complete, it would have four lanes. It would also have a substructure strong enough to be widened and to support light rail or other such fixed guideway transit, should that ever be built.

One of the four lanes would be a toll express lane. The other three would be traditional lanes. 

Not to mention URBN Tampa Bay’s posting a page from a 2016 MPO meeting transcript clearly indicating the plan.  (See more here)

If we knew it and the Times knew it (not to mention the anti-TBX folks), how did local elected officials, including those who ended up on the MPO voting on TBX, and many other people who support TBX not know it?  Isn’t it the job of local officials who make decisions to know such things?

Setting that problem aside for now, how does FDOT justify taking away a free lane from the bridge?

FDOT administrators contend they have said all along that the new bridge will have one fewer free lane. They argue it doesn’t technically remove any capacity from the bridge because they consider only three of the Howard Frankland Bridge’s four lanes to be for “general use.”

The state calls the fourth lane, the one nearest the water, an “auxiliary lane.” Its purpose is to connect the on- and off-ramps in Pinellas and Hillsborough, officials say, not to carry through traffic.

But try telling that to the thousands of people who drive it every day.

It’s not a “breakdown lane” or a shoulder and is, in fact, the same length and width as the lane next to it.

And while official documents often refer to it as an auxiliary lane, they’re not consistent. Other records say the bridge has four “travel lanes.

“Nobody’s been duped,” said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for FDOT’s Tampa district. “I’m not sure why anybody thinks it’s different. I’m truly baffled.”

With all due respect, no, not duped – screwed.  (We give FDOT points for the bureaucratic newspeak which was probably used to avoid federal rules on tolling free interstate lanes, but everyone knows that there are four free lanes in each direction.) That is made abundantly clear when you consider that FDOT is building Pensacola a new $500 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement without any tolls at all. (See “Transportation – FDOT MO”) But there is more:

Transportation activists say FDOT misled the public by promoting a more expansive version of TBX with four free lanes, two tolls and room for mass transit like a light rail connecting the two counties.

* * *

“The department has said that about all the other segments, that they’re not taking away a general purpose lane, that this is a new lane,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough MPO. “I think it would be really easy to have gotten a different impression about what this bridge is going to be.”

Setting aside that even the planners do not seem to know what is in the plan, you would have gotten that impression from FDOT only if you were not paying attention. The extra lanes were always portrayed in possible later phases – not the original project.  And this is made clear by this:

Not all were confused. Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said FDOT made it clear to his group the plan was to convert the auxiliary lane to a toll lane. He said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Um, no.  The bottleneck definitely needs to be fixed, but the bridge has issues going the other way, too.  The fact is that it is already too small. And the only way one would not be concerned with losing a free lane is if one is planning on using the express lanes and don’t care about all the people who can’t afford $10+ each way twice a day on their exceptionally low incomes.

Others also said they knew:

St. Petersburg City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Jim Kennedy, Democrat, said he was “surprised at people being surprised.”

“They were very clear that what they’re referring to as an auxiliary lane … which I think everybody looks at as a through traffic lane on the bridge, was going to become a tolled lane.” He opposes the plan.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Democrat, said the plan isn’t perfect but something needs to be done.

“I hate to see this be another project where we had an opportunity to do something and we turned the money down trying to wait for perfection.” He supports the plan.

Constricting traffic on the main link in the area is hardly “doing something.” First, instead of just accepting the plan, the Mayor of St. Pete could have rallied the legislative delegation and local politicians to get changes made to the plan.  Second, the fact is that St. Pete will be hurt more by the constricted access than Tampa – which has the airport, the Port and more people.

Clearwater City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Doreen Caudell, Republican, said DOT isn’t taking away a lane

“It does not slow down traffic or reduce lanes. … An express lane is still a lane.” She supports the plan.

Apparently she does not understand how express lanes work. Taking away a free lane is taking away a free lane and shoving traffic off of the express lane, which is the specific purpose of express lanes, will slow traffic. And, yes, it is taking away a lane.

The Mayor of Tampa, somewhat out of character, apparently has not said anything about the bridge, but is on record as supporting TBX.

— Excuses

Setting the last two quotes aside, of course there is an excuse for the confusion:

But even the master plan for the project, posted on FDOT’s website, shows a more expansive version of the Howard Frankland: four general use lanes and two toll lanes in each direction.

Again and again in the 172-page document, state officials refer to the wider bridge with no reduction in lanes. This is called the “ultimate” option.

It also refers to the smaller version of the bridge as a starter project, but much less prominently.

Hunt, of FDOT, said the ultimate goal is still this bigger version, but that will happen only after both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties agree on a mass transit system to cross the bay — an agreement that has eluded the region for two decades.

If that ever happens, the state will start construction on a third bridge — this time, with the extra lanes. The segment they’re proposing now would be used for mass transit.

Until then, drivers will have a choice: Sit in even worse congestion. Or pay up.

Nice try. First, as we said, the news has been out for years.  Second, for a while now, opponents of TBX have been saying that FDOT is not being forthright and that you have to read their fine print.  TBX supporters ignored them. Now we know that some people promoting and voting on the plan didn’t even know what was in it. Other politicians didn’t either. There is no excuse for such ignorance.  (We wonder if these local politicos knew, and, regardless, whether they support taking a free lane from the bridge )

But the even more interesting question is for the local officials and legislators who knew full well about FDOT’s plans and still supported the TBX plan: why are you ok with constricting the main artery of the entire area?  How does that fix congestion? (If the two answers above are any indication, the answers will be, shall we say, interesting.)

As for the “ultimate option,” if you think Hillsborough and Pinellas are going to come up with a unified mass transit plan any time soon, you probably haven’t been paying attention to transportation issues much.

— The Delegation

The fact remains that, while it has some good elements, TBX as a whole is bad for this area. And, regardless of whether people like express lanes or not, this area (and its legislative delegation) should be slamming FDOT for trying to constrict the main transportation artery of this entire area, among other things. No other area in the state is getting treated like we are (though a lot of that rests with local officials).

So what do members of the delegation say?

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Republican, said he knew DOT planned to convert a lane, but called it “controversial.”

“I’ve also been under the impression that before the DOT pulls the trigger on any action there will be additional opportunities for dialogue.” He thinks the bridge is “probably not going to end up with toll facilities.”

* * *

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the plan is still changing.

“FDOT will build what we tell them to build. If the public wants additional lanes and additional capacity, then they will put on as much capacity as we fund them to put on.” He supports Tampa Bay Express, but his discussions with DOT about the proposed plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge always included adding capacity.

State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said officials and community members need to voice their concerns.

“To the extent we can put pressure on DOT to oppose, we will.”

State Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, urged residents to attend next week’s public hearings.

“I feel pretty confident there will be an outcry over this.”

Yea, there is an outcry, but what are you going to do about it?  And it is all well and good to say that FDOT will build what you tell them to build, but then you have to tell them to build something good.  So far there basically have been crickets, followed by a couple of statements to a newspaper (and whole-hearted support for TBX from one State Senator quoted above) Why didn’t you already do something?  For the delegation in this case, silence is has to be construed as assent.

There is one notable exception to the crickets, though still after the original Times article came out:

Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, wrote a letter to DOT District Secretary Paul Steinman conveying his “great concern” about the agency’s plan to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes instead of the current four.

“This would be an immediate impediment to creating a business environment uniting the entire Tampa Bay region,” Latvala’s letter said.

* * *

Latvala said he was told the bridge would also be an expansion and urged the agency to reconsider its proposal to put a toll on a free lane.

“In discussions with previous Secretaries from the Department of Transportation, they assure me that if express lanes with tolls were to be implemented, they would be new lanes, not taking already existing lanes and designating them as express lanes,” Latvala said.

They may or may not have said that, but they were pretty clear on taking a lane away, at least in the interim (of unknown duration).  Regardless, he is right about the plan being an impediment to the area.  Now, the delegation should hold their feet to the fire to change that.

— Conclusion

The reality is that we are not surprised that FDOT plans to take away a lane.  We are not surprised that local officials lined up to support the plan.  And we are not surprised that local officials now claim to have not known what was in the plan – either because they really didn’t or just for CYA purposes.  The real question is what they are going to do now.

Then again, as we said back in 2014, when we first discussed FDOT’s plan to remove a lane:

That’s ok, though, because, if you want to avoid crossing on new but shrunken Howard Frankland, you can just take the very effective regional mass transit system . . .

Welcome to Tampa Bay.

— Meeting Reminders

Once again, if you don’t like what FDOT is proposing, you can go to a meeting and tell them:

DOT is planning two public hearings on Oct. 4 and 6 to discuss proposed changes to the bridge. The first will be at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park; the second at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Both are scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.

Tell them what you think.  And feel free to contact your legislator.

— One More Thing

Interestingly, this week, we also learned this:

The Florida Department of Transportation is partnering with Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland to create a new transportation testing facility.

SunTrax is expected to establish Florida as a transportation technology leader and serve as a high-tech hub for things like tolling, intelligent transportation systems and autonomous vehicles.

* * *

The facility includes a 2.25-mile track adjacent to the Polk Parkway outside the city of Auburndale.

And what is the first thing they will be working on?

The first phase of construction will include a toll testing facility on the track. It will include multiple lanes and will simulate parallel tolled express lanes.

Of course, tolling.  How about later?  Anything but roads and cars?

Future phases of the testing facility include less controversial components including space for automated and connected vehicle testing. Florida Polytechnic University students will be able to participate in research at the facility.

No.  Would you expect anything else?

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

There was a development in the Gandy Connector push:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of a $192 million project to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge via elevated lanes.

“As a community, we must begin to view ourselves as a region and shift our focus to regional transportation solutions,” chamber president Bob Rohrlack said in a statement about the chamber board of directors decision.  “This project is an initial step towards a robust regional transportation system.”

That’s something, but, given the absolute failure of local officials to do anything about transportation, the Chamber has been seemed ready to support any improvement, including TBX with its removing a free lane from the Howard Frankland.

The South Tampa and Brandon chambers already have voted to support the project, expected to start construction in December 2017. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to extend the Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge. The elevated toll lanes will be at least 30 feet above street level and will be built atop pilings anchored in Gandy’s median.

The South Tampa chamber endorsing it is more important because it combats some of the long-standing opposition by a couple of neighborhood groups (whether they are representative of the residents or not is unclear) and some businesses on Gandy.  Still, there is a way to go on this and the proposal is not optimal (for instance, should be a full 4 lane road, though that is unlikely) – but at least the concept opens up a connection across the bay, unlike TBX.

Downtown – Block Letter Project

In July, the City put out an RFP for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall.  Three developers submitted proposal.  The City now has selected a proposal, but, before we get to that, let’s recall what we were told about this lot and the vision for the RFP:

Buckhorn has called the block, now home to a parking lot across N Florida Avenue from City Hall, “the most prominent undeveloped parcel” in downtown and said it could be “the new crown jewel of our skyline.”

Could be. So what did the City choose?

HRI submitted a bid to pay $7.5 million for 1-acre lot surface parking lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. and build a mixed-use tower on the site — 21 stories that will include 225 residential units, a 223-room Hyatt Centric Hotel, 7,000 square feet of commercial space and retail space and a 408-car garage, the city announced Thursday.

HRI’s proposal estimates a total project cost of $120 million. The hotel would occupy floors six through 11 and will include 9,600 square feet of meeting space, a 22,000-square-foot rooftop pool, cabana, fitness center and poolside bar.

The residential units — built with condominium-level finishes and private balconies — will be built on floors 12 through 21.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Aside from paying a decent amount for the land, what is there to recommend this project? Well, the mix of uses are ok (though the amount of retail, which is key for the street, seems small).  And while the building looks ok, though it is quite squat, it is hardly a crown jewel of the skyline.  Frankly, from many angles, it will be hard to see (the rendering seems to demolish every building around it).  Moreover,

The ground level commercial space will be on North Marion Street and East Jackson Street and “will serve to further activate the North Marion Street pedestrian promenade and provide an additional destination stop along the Marion Street Transit Parkway,” HRI wrote.

Assuming the building in the rendering faces Kennedy, it will put essentially a blank wall and dead street directly across from historic City Hall (even if the building faces City Hall, most of what faces City Hall will be a parking garage, to go along with the one across Kennedy) which is quite poor. (Is that really what you want on that corner for the next 50 years?)

Second, while the proposal has the aforementioned mix of uses, it does not add anything that is not already being added or going to be added by the various project under construction or proposed. A few blocks away, the Lightning owner’s $2 billion project is moving forward.  Other projects are also moving forward.  And there are a number of other proposals. This project would not really change the nature of the area in which it is proposed. There is no need to stimulate development by getting rid of public land.

It is not clear why the City is determined to sell this land.  All that is going to happen if downtown develops is that this land will become more valuable – with more likelihood of a real signature project.  There is no reason to sell it for a project that can be built on any block downtown – including on the (mostly) parking lot across Kennedy from this lot or any number of other privately owned surface lots. (See this map)  The land is a public asset that will be more valuable held in trust for the future use.  It can always be developed later if a truly signature proposal comes along. (Frankly, the other two proposals are pretty bad too – especially how they push the tower portion right up to Florida and block views of City Hall. )

The bottom line is that this project were private, we’d probably say, except the awful the treatment of City Hall, it was tolerable filler  but nothing special unless they fixed the obvious deficiencies.  But it is proposed for public land (which makes one wonder why it is not just being proposed for nearby private land such as across the street and if there is a problem with land banking of private land downtown). There is no good reason to support it.

Channel District – Finally

After about 10 years of discussion and news reports, Channel Club (the latest name for the project), finally broke ground.

Construction work on the Channel Club, a 21-story apartment tower and Publix Super Markets Inc. store, began Friday morning on a vacant lot between East Twiggs and East Madison streets.

* * *

Ken Stoltenberg, a principal with Mercury Advisors in Tampa, declined comment Friday. Mercury Advisors has been working on this development for years.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

A developer declining comment is a bit odd, but whatever. While we think it could be more pedestrian friendly, it is good to get this project, and its Publix, finally going.  We look forward to watching it go up.

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

There was news that another apartment complex downtown is moving forward.

A Charlotte, North Carolina developer has closed on a site near downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk where it plans to build nearly 400 apartments.

Crescent Communities paid $8.1 million for a 5-acre site at 109 W. Fortune St. in a deal that closed Friday, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Tuesday.

It is not clear when the project may start.

We are all for more residential.  Unfortunately, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay, this project does not appear to have retail and does not seem to have any street interaction.    According to some comments on URBN Tampa Bay, this lot for some reason was exempted by the City regarding such things. If that is true, that makes no sense.  Regardless, we can do much better.

If Tampa is serious about having a solid downtown, it needs to insist on such things.  Remember, if one project can be exempted, so can any of the others (which would not be a unique occurrence in this area).

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

There was another project proposed for Seminole Heights (from URBN Tampa Bay):

A 5-story mixed use project has been proposed for 6000 N. Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. The project features 84 residential units and approximately 7,000 square feet of retail space. The developer is Milhaus Development from Indianapolis.

The first rezoning hearing is set for January 19th.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We admit that, from the rendering, you can’t tell that much.  However, the basic outline is it is an L shaped building that is on the west side of Florida with part facing Idlewild.

Based on past experience, there will be some opposition to this project.  Some will say it is too big.  Some will say that it is different architecturally from the area (though it is not in the historical district).  Some will object to the 56 foot height (though it will not cast long shadows into yards in the afternoon).

From what we have to look at, we tentatively support the project. (Another option, which we would actually prefer, for the lot is to have a wider 5 story building closer to the street without the part of the L stretching back closer to the houses.  That way the project still can have a decent number of units but less effect on the houses behind it.  However, that was tried with a previous proposal on another lot and was killed by opposition.)

First, the architecture does not bother us.  There is much worse on Florida.  We are not bothered by the height either.  It is not that we think Seminole Heights should be filled with huge buildings, but it is just not huge.  It is like a Main Street building, which is what Florida is for Seminole Heights.  There is retail on the bottom and residential on the top.  The most of the bulk of the building is away from the residential in behind it.  And it fits with what every envisioning of what Florida in Seminole Heights was supposed to be.  It will definitely not destroy the nature of the neighborhood or the plans that have been made for it.  It will not take the quirkiness and small business aspect away (unlike the Dollar General, and it ilk, which had no problem opening a store with the one story + parking model or the Wa-Wa on the hill).

Finally, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

Resident Concern #2: This project will gentrify and destroy Seminole Heights’ “charm.” There is absolutely no proof to back this claim up. The people that would be interested in moving into this project would be interested because they like Seminole Height’s charm an want to escape the land of cookie cutter chain restaurant suburbia. Many of America’s most eclectic neighborhoods have projects that absolutely dwarf this project. There is no correlation with project density and charm. If anything, denser neighborhoods tend to not be designed for cars and therefore be more eclectic in nature, not less. This project compares favorably to the SH Starbucks for example, in maintaining the charm of the area.

If Seminole Heights is ever to become a truly urban residential area (and we focus on residential area), it needs some density of Florida to support transit and street activity (this street could use more) and help support the amenities that the people who live there now want.  We do not see this as detracting from Florida at all.

We know that may bother some people, but that is how we see it.

But this all gets back to the simple question:

What really matters is that the neighborhood (and the City) needs to decide what they want.  Do they want to have a real, urban neighborhood in the middle of a city where the major commercial roads are activated and thriving or do they want to promote the status quo on Florida and Nebraska (which have improved but have a long way to go) and hope for a small town main street on a major thoroughfare (which is not the adopted plan)?  We have an opinion, but the decision is theirs.

Just know that if Seminole Heights rejects enough projects that bring an urban approach and try to activate Florida (which, as we said, is their prerogative), eventually, even if there are some small developments like the pharmacy/café under construction now, a good amount of the investment money, and the people, businesses, and energy they have, will go elsewhere.

That may be the choice Seminole Heights want, but make it with eyes open.

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

There was an interesting article in the Times about three outdoor marketplaces built in the late 1990s/early 2000s: Bay Walk, Channelside, and Centro Ybor.

Nearly two decades ago, real estate developers wanted to build open-air shopping centers in Florida.

Between October 2000 and February 2001, three of them opened in the Tampa Bay area.

With movie theaters, shops and restaurants tucked inside, shopping centers like Centro Ybor, BayWalk and Channelside Bay Plaza were meant to be bustling community centers, a draw to residents and tourists.

But in the 16 years or so since they opened, each has suffered more than they’ve flourished. Centro Ybor was nearly bankrupt by 2004 and is mostly office space today. St. Petersburg’s BayWalk was bought by hometown entrepreneur Bill Edwards, who spent millions to renovate the center and put it back on the market.

And Channelside Bay Plaza could be bulldozed if Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors approves a plan from Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. The plan would raze the 230,532-square-foot nearly empty structure to make room for new waterfront development, which would include residential towers, restaurants, shops and a park.

They all came online with great fanfare and hype (though it should be noted that some questioned whether both Centro Ybor and Channelside could thrive with the other nearby).  In fact, for a period, all did ok, but then started to struggle.  Why?

“They were way ahead of their time,” said Paul Rutledge, first vice president with real estate company CBRE, Inc. in Tampa, of open-air shopping centers. “By the time they had enough people, it wasn’t the right design anymore.”

The retail industry is always evolving. And thanks to e-commerce giants Amazon and others, brick and mortar retailers have had to reinvent the role of the traditional store’s experience to keep customers coming back. It doesn’t help that BayWalk, Bay Plaza and Centro Ybor were built just before the Sept. 11 attacks and before the onset of the Great Recession, which squashed consumer confidence and dried up discretionary spending. 

Timing is one issue, though other areas have had such development do well.  And, yes, to some degree, they were ahead of their time.  The areas around them were not nearly as developed as now in terms of residents and businesses.  What else?

Analysts say these once ambitious retail developments failed because they were unable to adapt as shopper preferences changed and the market took a turn for the worst. Developers also overestimated the power of tourist spending — especially in a recession, said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. Consolo worked as a consultant at Sundial for a short time.

We would suggest that the last factor was the biggest, at least for the Tampa complexes. Both were built with tourists as a main contemplated market.  To be truly successful, such development must draw strongly from the local market.  Tourists come and go, and often never return (just because they are not around).  Repeat and consistent business must come from locals. At first, there were not enough locals in the immediate area.  (And then there was Channelside’s poor layout and bad management.)

We are not saying that a tourist focus was the only problem.  It wasn’t. (There was bad press, arguments about what Ybor should be, and other competition.)  And there is also the question about whether retail complexes are really what people want in an urban environment – as opposed to lively streets with retail on them that form a part of a larger urban area.  But, unless you are Disney, if you are planning a major complex based on tourists, you are probably going to have some very big issues (like the streetcar).

If you build something good that locals will enjoy, tourists will come with them.

Built Environment – Parking Diet

This week, we look at an article in the Guardian about parking.

The US has long been the world leader in building parking spaces. During the mid 20th century, city zoning codes began to include requirements and quotas for most developments to include parking spaces. The supply skyrocketed. A 2011 study by the University of California, estimated there are upwards of 800m parking spaces in the US, covering about 25,000 square miles of land.

“As parking regulations were put into zoning codes, most of the downtowns in many cities were just completely decimated,” says Michael Kodransky, global research manager for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. “What the cities got, in effect, was great parking. But nobody goes to a city because it has great parking.”

Increasingly, cities are rethinking this approach. As cities across the world begin to prioritise walkable urban development and the type of city living that does not require a car for every trip, city officials are beginning to move away from blanket policies of providing abundant parking. Many are adjusting zoning rules that require certain minimum amounts of parking for specific types of development. Others are tweaking prices to discourage driving as a default when other options are available. Some are even actively preventing new parking spaces from being built.

We are not going to get into the whole article.  You can read it here.

Of course, to make it work you would have to have a complete change in the mentality of development and transportation in this area. There are few signs of that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

URBN Tampa Bay and Sunshine Citizens had an interesting post on their Facebook pages about the potential to use a tunnel for 275 through downtown rather than the massive and destructive TBX plan. While tunneling in Florida sounds kind of crazy, in the last few years, Miami opened a tunnel from downtown to the port – so it can be done.  And Miami is also looking, though it is still not clear how seriously, at a tunnel under the Miami River.  FDOT has even looked at putting tunnel through downtown instead of this “signature bridge.”

From Sunshine Citizens - click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not saying it wouldn’t be expensive.  We are not even saying it is the best idea (though TBX definitely isn’t the best idea).  But if FDOT is going to spend $6-9 billion and still take away free travel lanes from most important artery in the area, FDOT can look at building a tunnel with a connective park above it – which would do a lot for downtown. (They could always focus on transit, but we know that isn’t going to happen).

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