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Roundup 10-28-2016

October 28, 2016


Downtown/Hyde Park – A Big Project Proposal

— One More Thing

Transportation – Autonomy Downtown

Transportation – A Lesson In How It All Works

Transportation – The PTC Investigates

Economic Development – The Annual Meeting

Downtown/Westshore – Office Market

Channel District/Built Environment – Compare and Contrast

Airport – The Competition Continues

Economic Development – No Fiber

St. Pete – Channelling 1980’s Tampa

Rays/List of the Week


Downtown/Hyde Park – A Big Project Proposal

Since the early 1980’s, there have been plans to push downtown across the river.  (see this and “InVision Tampa – Of Will, DNA, and Familiar Pictures” )  Everyone who goes downtown on Kennedy has seen the big, empty lots on the west side of the river across from UT.  Many years ago, there was a hotel and restaurant there.   That was torn down, and a big office building, Hillsborough River Tower, was proposed for the lot.   However, due to our boom, bust cycle, that never got built.  This week, there was another proposal for that area.

A new mixed-use development is being proposed for downtown Tampa at the former Lafayette Street Bridge, that will add to the city’s skyline and aims to bring in new office, hotel, retail and residential space.

Tampa-based real estate firm Hillsborough River Realty Company (HRRC) is applying for a mixed-use development rezoning of six acres near the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge that will be known as “Lafayette Place,” according to a release.

The three-parcel development plan will provide for a blend of residential, hotel, office and retail uses and will total approximately 1.7 million gross square feet.

So what exactly are they proposing?

Lafayette Place will offer three new structures:

A sky bridge is planned to connect Lafayette Tower with Lafayette Parkview. Additionally, the development Lafayette Place will also expand the Riverwalk to the west bank of the Hillsborough River.


Lafayette Tower, with 355 linear feet of Hillsborough River frontage, is planned to be 40 stories tall. The skyscraper will be home to office, hotel and retail uses. The other two buildings, Lafayette Central & Lafayette Parkview are planned to be 26 stories tall to be used as residential units and parking spaces.

So far, so good (for the most part).

There will be parking well in excess of requirements, HRRC said. The original plan contemplated a high-rise office tower with ancillary retail space and two 10-story parking structures devoted to the office tower. 

And that is where it gets a little tricky.  But first, here is a map of the project:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

And here are some renderings of the main buildings:

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

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And the other building:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We like the mixed use, the addressing the river and Kennedy, and the general look of the main building (not super exciting but nice enough).  We even like that they are trying to add some decorative elements to the parking garages.  And we like the name and its reference to the past (That portion of Kennedy used to be Lafayette. See here and here)

But as you may have noticed, those parking garages. . .  those are some huge parking garages.  They dominate the Grand Central neighborhood and dwarf all the buildings there (as well as the Related project on the river.  The article says they are 10 stories, but the renderings have them more like 15 stories (though renderings are notoriously inaccurate.)  Regardless, they are really obvious (and look to be taller than pretty much anything at UT).  We get they need parking, but there has to be a better way to design it.  Maybe cover them up more.  Something.

Moreover, we do not know if they have retail on the street or just a more parking (the renderings and one of the quotes above seem to indicate that there is no retail on the street, just dead streetscapes), but the garages are way too prominent.  And since the developer is overdoing the parking anyway, maybe they should reduce it some.

It is still early in the process and there is much to recommend this proposal.  We would really like to have downtown jump the river there.  If only they would do something about all that really bad parking and lack of street interaction.

— One More Thing


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

That is one huge parking garage (as is the Slade’s across the street, though the Slade put some retail space on the street).  Once again, we get that parking is needed (especially without real transit).  However, the City surely can avoid just having hulking parking garages sitting right on the sidewalk.

Transportation – Autonomy Downtown

There was an interesting article on HART seeking autonomous vehicles.

The Florida Department of Transportation is making available $1 million to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to fund an Autonomous Vehicle Circulator Service in downtown Tampa. 

Setting aside that $1 million seems kind of small, what is the plan?

The service, expected to launch sometime in 2017, will run from the Marion Transit Center through downtown along the Marion Street Transitway. That road is closed to driver traffic and offers only low-speed transit and emergency vehicle access.

“Our mission is to help solve the transportation needs of our area utilizing all transportation modes, while maximizing the use of the funding sources available,” FDOT District Seven Secretary Paul Steinman said in a release.

HART describes the project as “one of the first of its kind in the U.S.”

The vehicle type has not been determined because the project is still in its early stages, however passengers will ride in something smaller than a bus but larger than a car, HART said.

The service will provide an additional transit option for downtown commuters and could serve as a solution to first mile/last mile problems for commuters coming into downtown on public transportation.

Other than running on the Marion Street Transitway – basically a dead road downtown – there do not seem to be many details other than it will be some sort of autonomous shuttle, which is interesting, though it sounds basically a rubber tire people-mover.  How that would work with an extended streetcar is unclear, as is the price (of course, it should cost money if the streetcar does).

We have nothing against this experiment conceptually.  But the thing is that HART’s big problem is not the first mile/last mile thing.  HART’s big problem is the 10 miles in between.  It does not provide enough service.  The service it provides takes too long and has few clear benefits to someone with the choice of whether to drive or take the bus (which is basically being stuck in the same traffic but for longer). HART, by design, is basically a service for people who have no other choice.

Nevertheless, maybe the shuttle can move people from parking lots in downtown (though more people work in Westshore where there won’t be such a shuttle).  Like we said we have nothing against the experiment, it just does not solve the real transit problem in this area.

Which brings us to an editorial in the Times’ Tribune section:

From Seattle to Atlanta, communities across the country will make decisions Nov. 8 on whether to raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements, chiefly mass transit. Tampa won’t be one of them. The Go Hillsborough transportation initiative was supposed to be decided on Election Day, too, but county commissioners failed to assemble a plan they felt confident they could take to the voters.

Their two-year effort wasn’t a complete waste of time. The Hillsborough County Commission last week approved $600 million to tackle a serious backlog in road improvements using a list drawn in part from the Go Hillsborough public outreach effort.

But catching up on roads while so many other communities are moving forward with transit — in many cases, their second and third generations of transit — just points up how far behind Tampa is falling.

Setting aside the well documented flaws in Go Hillsborough, that is accurate.  The editorial then lists a host of transit referenda in other cities, touches on the need for transit for proper economic development efforts and concludes:

Whether any of these measures will pass remains to be seen. But they represent, at least, a community consensus strong enough to get transit improvements on the ballot.

And they serve as a reminder that while Tampa may dither over the future of mass transit, many of the communities we compete with for jobs, influence and matching federal transportation money do not.

We could not say it better.

Transportation – A Lesson In How It All Works

There was an article in the Times regarding the new shuttle service downtown (not the autonomous vehicles – but it seems like there sure is a lot of focus on downtown and not much anywhere else)

The 12 electric vehicles took to Tampa’s streets offering free rides to anywhere within the downtown district, which spans from the north end of Harbor Island to Interstate 275, and from the University of Tampa area to the Channel District.

The only tips exchanged are advice from drivers, who are also trained Tampa tour guides.

“They’ll know where goods and services are, what events are coming downtown and when, and can be a great touch-point for all of our visitors and residents,” said Greg Minder, chairman of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

The mobile app-driven service works similar to Uber or Lyft. Users request a ride to a certain location on their smartphone or tablet, putting in their location and the number of people in their party, and the app shows who will pick them up and how long it will take. Links to download the company’s app are available at

* * *

The electric vehicles only travel 25 mph and are allowed on all roads where the speed limit is below 35 mph.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership estimated the shuttles, which seat 5 passengers, would net about 860 riders a day, or about 26,000 a month. 

And that is all fine.  We are not opposed to shuttle idea.  But how is it funded?

Funding from the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the City of Tampa, the Florida Department of Transportation and local businesses will keep the service operating for the next three years for seven days a week — 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The total cost of the service was not disclosed. In April, Tampa City Council agreed to pay $560,000 from downtown and Channel District community development funds to launch the project, and the Florida Department of Transportation pledged $150,000 for three years.

Once funding runs out, the hope is the vehicles will pay for themselves through advertising or help from the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates the county’s for-hire vehicles, such as taxis.

“This kind of thing wasn’t really considered when the PTC was formed,” Minder said.

And there is the rub.  Why?  Because, as we have pointed out previously:

A similar shuttle service operated in downtown Tampa until the PTC shut it down in 2010, saying it competed with taxicab services and that the open-body vehicles were unsafe.

Unlike the old privately run services, some of which carried passengers as far as Ybor City and Hyde Park, the Downtowner has a limited area of operation and PTC members have indicated they would not oppose the project. 

So let us summarize.  There was a service that was entirely private, with no public money involved.  It could have covered the first mile/last mile issue and saved the taxpayers money. It was killed by the PTC because the cab companies complained it went to Hyde Park and Ybor.  Many years later, a similar service comes in with more limited coverage and using public money.  And when that money runs out, the PTC might subsidize it, even though we could have had the service years ago for free.  (Note that the article says “hope.” No one knows.  Chances are there will be a bigger, taxpayer subsidy.) And even better, the previous service was a local company while the new service is not so local money is taken out of the economy.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of our local government in action.

Transportation – The PTC Investigates

Speaking of the PTC, last week, we discussed all the interesting emails that showed that the Director of the PTC was working with cab companies against ridesharing companies.  Now, the PTC wants to investigate (as though no one knew).

“It is clear to me that the public has lost trust in this agency,” Crist said.

But PTC members Frank Reddick and David Pogorilich described Crist’s actions on this issue with words like “unethical” and “sham” and described the process as “a circus.”

“Let’s keep our eye on the bad guy here. Uber and Lyft are the ones breaking the rules,” Pogorilich said.

Pogorilich and Reddick both supported Cockream’s actions, claiming he was doing his job. Cockream’s personal attorney compared his client’s actions to an attorney reporting another colleague to the Florida Bar.

But board member Ken Hagan contended Cockream should have known better.

“The executive director should enforce the laws. However knowing the agency’s history, the sensitivity with the ridesharing issue and the public perception of the agency, the executive director should have the utmost prudence and discretion,” Hagan said. “I do not believe that happened here.”

We are not sure if the difference in perceptions is legitimate or the result of perceived self-interest, but, given the divide, you can guess how this might go. A better solution is to eliminate the PTC. Why should we waste more time on the dysfunction?

Economic Development – The Annual Meeting

The Hillsborough EDC held their annual meeting this week:

One of Tampa Bay’s premier economic development groups gathered Tuesday evening to celebrate a strong year of regional growth, broaden its mission to encourage millennial entrepreneurs here, and hand the baton of leadership to a new chairman.

Held once again at the Amalie Arena, the annual meeting of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. featured an upbeat mix of speakers and a heavy dose of rousing pro-growth videos pitched under the evening’s theme of “Thrive.” 

You can read the article for the highlights.  One thing that apparently was missing was a lot of talk about “swagger,” which is a welcome change.  As is this tone from the Times column covering the meeting:

Granted, annual meetings like this one are designed to be feel-good events that highlight the positive. Still, it’s important for this entire metro area to understand that saying “Tampa” or “Tampa Bay” is the hottest metro commodity around is one thing. Proving it day after day is another.

Yup, especially when we are failing to address our main issues, like transportation and planning.

The think tank Brookings recently identified Tampa, accurately, as a “middleweight” city aspiring to raise its bar and join those metros like Atlanta, Boston, Austin and Denver (among others) that have the deeper economic and educational horsepower that Brookings says makes them “knowledge capitals.”

That is a category leap Tampa Bay certainly desires but is still years from achieving. And there is no guarantee it will happen.

One of the well-recognized but underlying weaknesses Tampa Bay suffers from is a limp identity or brand in the eyes of the bigger world. Incoming CEO Richard cited that to me in our first breakfast together last summer. Others say much the same.

Some cities have strong or at least emerging brands. Atlanta’s got one (even a new TV show by the same name.) Nashville’s got it. Charlotte’s working on one. Orlando has one based on its theme parks but is trying to broaden that brand to something beyond mass tourism.

It’s all good. The EDC seems headed in the right direction and on Tuesday had much to crow about. Its meeting theme – “Thrive” – felt right for the times, even if there is much yet to do.

We don’t know about “all good,” but without the swagger talk, it is much better. Other than that, the column is pretty much on point.  As we always say, we are getting better, but so are other areas that are already ahead of us. In fact, the main thing holding us back is ourselves. We need to seriously address our issues without hype.  Real accomplishments speak for themselves.

Now, it is time to really address the main question we keep asking (because it really is THE question), which will help clarify the branding issue and a whole host of other issues:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

Downtown/Westshore – Office Market

As everyone knows, there are a number of office project proposals in downtown. Which leads to the question: how is the office market doing? This week, the Times, in an article on St. Pete, provided some numbers.

Tampa Bay Office Rents and Vacancies*

Area Average square foot rent Vacancy rate
Downtown St. Petersburg $25.67 7.1%
St. Petersburg Gateway $19.93 18.9%
Downtown Clearwater $17.07 11.8%
Downtown Tampa $25.20 12.6%
Westshore $26.43 8.9%

*Third quarter 2016

Source: Cushman & Wakefield

First, the vacancy rates overall (except Gateway) are pretty good.  It is interesting that downtown Tampa has lower rents than downtown St. Pete (though there is much less space in St. Pete).  And note:

And though it’s gone up, the average rent for prime Class A office space in downtown St. Petersburg is just $25.67 per square foot — well below the $33 to $35 needed to justify the cost of new office construction, experts say.

That was for St. Pete, but the same goes for Tampa.   That does not mean there are no potential tenants for new construction downtown – there are.  However, it remains to be seen if downtown can attract a big enough tenant willing to pay $8-10 more a square foot for a large amount of space, especially when they have to pay for parking because there is no transit for what would be a large work force.

Channel District/Built Environment – Compare and Contrast

Now that the Channel Club/Channel District Publix has broken ground (and we have seen the coverage), it seemed like we should revisit the design issues.  First, coverage from the Channel Club groundbreaking, from 83 Degrees media.

Longtime residents of downtown Tampa say they’ve been waiting for a supermarket for at least 15 years.

They will have to wait a little while longer — about 620 days — but a Publix supermarket is definitely in the works as part of The Channel Club mixed-use development project in the Channel District. 

And it is definitely a good thing.  We do not question that.

The 40,000-square-foot grocery will be built adjacent to The Channel Club, a 323-unit complex in a 21-story building near the corner of East Twiggs Street and Meridian Avenue. The city plans to spend $1.5 million on a public park next to the grocery, further enhancing the area’s attractiveness to current and new residents.

“It’s the ultimate amenity,” Tampa lawyer Ron Weaver says of the park-grocery nexus. “It’s hard to compete with this. You’re two or three minutes from the concerts and the museums.”

Not unless you run, but, yea, it is close.  It is a necessary condition, though not an ultimate amenity.  It is what you are supposed to have – and the lack while all around (including Orlando, St. Pete, and Sarasota) had them says something.

So is the addition of Publix to the downtown core really such a big deal?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, no stranger to hyperbole, called the coming of the grocery store a “signature project that has told the world that we’ve arrived.”

Definitely no stranger to hyperbole.

He compared the Publix to other recent blockbuster events such as the University of South Florida medical school moving to the 40 waterfront acres being redeveloped by Strategic Property Partners and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and completion of the city’s Riverwalk.

“But I’m here to tell you, in terms of rounding out that mosaic and making this a true live, work and play environment, a grocery store is absolutely critical to that equation,” the mayor says.

Setting aside that USF hasn’t even broken ground, once again, yes, a supermarket is a must to having a real urban neighborhood.  But what is more interesting is this:

Ken Stoltenberg, a director at Mercury, says he tried for nine years to get Publix to build a store in the shadow of the 12- and 14-story buildings at Grand Central at Kennedy. The company turned him down five times, he says.

“They wanted a prominent, drive-by location, and our spot at Grand Central didn’t give them that unfortunately,” Stoltenberg tells 83 Degrees.

But it only took one phone call to the Lakeland-based grocery chain to get a positive reply after they saw the plans for The Channel Club. The big difference? The proposed complex is near an on-ramp for the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

“It was the traffic pattern,” Stoltenberg says. “Everyone leaving downtown this way, either taking the Crosstown or going on (Highway) 60, goes right by it.”

Publix was interested in the traffic.  And the design shows it.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is ok, but, as we have noted before, the store creates an unshaded wall with nothing at all of interest on Meridian and a faces Twiggs with a quite boring front (though at least it has an awning).   It is also not integrated in the urban environment (though it has parking on top) and the entrance is about as far from the apartment building entrance as you can get which creates almost two blocks of inactive space, aside from the curbcuts for the garages.

It is also interesting that in Tampa Publix insisted on the need for traffic, because in Orlando, they have no such insistence.  This is where their downtown Orlando Publix is located.  Nowhere near a highway.  And this is what it looks like:

From LRK Architects - click on picture for website

From LRK Architects – click on picture for website

As you can see, it is fully integrated in the building on a nice shady street with parking integrated into the larger building.  Frankly, it is much nicer.  And the difference in location and design tells you about where we still are in developing downtown.

So while, yes, it is great to get a grocery store in the Channel District (and really we are happy about it), it is what we should have to have a decent downtown.  We will have arrived when being by the highway (and serving people rushing home to Brandon) is not so important and much more attention is paid to design.  If it can be done 90 (or 20) miles away, there is no reason it can’t be done here.

Airport – The Competition Continues

Last week, we brought you a history lesson about flight development at the airport.  In it, we lauded the present airport administration for building our portfolio of international flight.  And they deserve it. (And also getting ranked 3rd best airport in the US by Conde Nast.) However, we also noted that the competition never ends.  This week, we have another example.  As many know, London has two major airports: Heathrow and Gatwick. (There are others but those two are the biggest.) Heathrow is actually much bigger, has a lot more connections (especially on British Airways), and is more business oriented. Gatwick is thought of as more an airport for tourist based flights. Thus, it is better for long-term business development and connections to have a flight to Heathrow.  But that is hard because the airport is pretty much full.  So flights from places like Orlando and Tampa (and Las Vegas) tend to go to Gatwick.

As we said, we have a flight to Gatwick, which we love. But we would rather have Heathrow.  This week, we saw this:

British Airways is to launch a new route from Heathrow to New Orleans next year.

The four times-weekly service will start on March 26, 2017, and will be operated with a three-class B787-8 Dreamliner aircraft.

New Orleans?  Heathrow?  Really?  Yes. Our flight is more frequent and has a bigger plane, but Heathrow sure would be nice, especially since Phoenix, Denver, and Austin, and other usual suspects have flights there.  Maybe when Heathrow expands . . .

Just a sign the competition never ends. Which brings us to this, from the Business Journal:

Tampa International Airport has its eye on Dublin, Ireland as a possible new route to Europe.

“Dublin is on the list,” said Joseph Lopano, TIA’s chief executive officer, at the Tampa Bay Business Journal‘s Business of Transportation event Tuesday morning, attended by 130 local business executives. “We’re analyzing that right now.”

The airport is in the middle of creating its next strategic plan, which includes new flight routes, and will be making presentations to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, he said. The authority is the governing body for the airport. 

Despite the headline, which is a little more definitive, it is not clear if a Dublin flight is close or if the airport is just considering pushing for it.  Given the destination, it is likely that the Dublin route would be Aer Lingus and rely on connecting through the Dublin hub to other parts of Europe, especially a lot of UK cities), which was alluded to previously.     It is also notable that Aer Lingus, which already flies to Orlando, is owned by the holding company that owns British Airways (and Iberia)  but is considered a “low-cost” carrier.  (It also appears that, like Canadian airports, Dublin has immigration pre-clearance, which is nice. )

We are all for getting another European flight, be it Dublin or elsewhere.  And we like that the airport is still pushing heard for more.

Economic Development – No Fiber

A while back, Google was reportedly considering pulling back on its potential Google Fiber expansion, including in Tampa.  Now it is official.

Google Fiber is stepping back from plans to bring its superfast internet service to a handful of cities, including Tampa.

Google announced about one year ago that Tampa was a finalist to compete for the fiber service— a move that drew a quick response from Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others as a key piece of what makes a city technologically advanced and appealing to businesses and workers.

(For possible reasons, see here) Of course, Tampa already has a fiber-optic network.  It just does not function at the speed of Google. Frankly, nothing has changed except the hype.  Tampa could still get superfast internet for some other provider or do it itself, like Chattanooga.

St. Pete – Channelling 1980’s Tampa

St. Pete has made admirable progress on its downtown.  Part of that involves new buildings – with street interaction.  Part of that involves renovating old buildings to create a nice mix of old and new.  This is in contrast to Tampa – at least past Tampa – where old buildings were demolished en masse to be replaced with buildings that had little or no street interaction.  (That has changed somewhat in Tampa.)  Given all that, we were pretty surprised by this as related by URBN Tampa Bay:

“City Council denied historic district designation for First Block in a 4 to 4 deadlock vote late Thursday night. Mayor Kriseman and city staff had recommended approval. Thanks to councilmembers Darden Rice, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes who gave an elegant explanation for why voting for designation was the right thing to do. Thanks to our many supporters who sent in messages of support. Unless Council decides to reconsider their decision next week, the denial is final. Block owners have submitted a redevelopment plan calling for much of the block to be demolished.”  

First, it is crazy to destroy the Janus block.  It is a block central to the renaissance of downtown St. Pete.  Even worse is what is proposed for that lot, which the Times described as a “conceptual plan to develop that resembled some of the recent high-rise development downtown.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Really? That is a mess, and it could be built anywhere in St. Pete (and still be a mess).  We have no idea what possessed the St. Pete City Council to not protect the Janus block and why they would ever consider that project.  The one bright spot is that the City Council still has time to change its mind.  Whether they do or not is anyone’s guess.

Rays/List of the Week

Speaking of St. Pete, Wallethub came out with a list of best baseball cities.   The methodology is here.

Looking at the list, what is clear is that the presence of a major league team in the respective cities is the biggest factor in the score. Given that, it is not surprising that St. Pete is 16th, especially when you factor in accessibility of the stadium (from St. Pete) and the price of tickets.  Before you start thinking that said accessibility would pull up scores from other area cities, note that Tampa is 86th, Clearwater is 250th, Lakeland is 251st, and Bradenton is 269th (Sarasota did not make the list).

It is only an internet list, but it is just another statement (the biggest being attendance, of course) about the location of the Trop.

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