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Roundup 12-2-2016

December 2, 2016


Transportation – FDOT Changes

Transportation – PTC Anyone?

Economic Development – Incubating

— And One More Thing

— Conclusion

Tampa Heights – Good News

West Tampa – Repurposing

Built Environment – A Kennedy Project

Moffitt – Growing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Update On the Trib Site

MacDill – Hurricane Hunters to Lakeland

Look At That Sprawl


Transportation – FDOT Changes

There was a strange occurrence at FDOT.

A top official at the Florida Department of Transportation’s local district who oversaw the controversial Tampa Bay Express project resigned last week.

Debbie Hunt was director of transportation development for the Tampa Bay district. She led new road and transit projects, including the $6 billion overhaul of the area’s interstates known as TBX.

“It was her decision,” district spokesman David Botello said. “It’s a big loss for us.”

* * *

Botello said he did not know why Hunt resigned and could not say if the decision was linked to TBX. The department faced heavy criticism from elected officials earlier this fall for how the project was explained to leaders and community members, especially the state’s plan to put a toll on one lane of the Howard Frankland Bridge. 

And we are not going to speculate.  It really does not matter.

Whatever the reason for the resignation, the questions about TBX and the process going forward remain and are amplified.  Just a reminder of where we are on that:

Emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times showed that top DOT officials in Tallahassee paid close attention to the Howard Frankland controversy. DOT’s Tampa district office was instructed to send its responses to Tallahassee for review. When a story quoting angry local officials was posted online, DOT Secretary Jim Boxold replied to an internal email containing the article with a wry remark: “That went well.”

Boxold later stepped in to scrap the department’s plans for the bridge, and the department indefinitely postponed public hearings that had been set for October. District officials have said they don’t expect to have a new plan for the bridge ready before June.

Where we are is still having a mess of a plan that has some positive elements (like the intent to fix some completely messed up junctions) and a number of negative elements (like not actually fixing them fully, being way to wide through the core of Tampa, and express lanes).

The plan can be fixed.  The question is whether it will – and whether local officials will actually pay attention from now on – because, as the Howard Frankland plan screw up showed, TBX can be changed and the real problem with the whole TBX process was not FDOT, it was that local officials for the most part were just going along for the ride.  Regardless of FDOT staff, if local officials do not step up, it will still be a mess.

— Speaking of FDOT

While we are on the subject of highways and FDOT:

“Siemens is working with the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to realize the first large-scale connected vehicle project in the United States,” said Siemens executive Marcus Welz.

Company leaders are in Tampa this week giving the new system a whirl.

* * *

As the car drove around town, the software determined if traffic signals ahead were red or green. That information helped the driver slow down or speed up as he approached.

“It also allows to give some harmonized speed recommendation in order to have the traffic flowing in a smooth fashion throughout the city with minimized stop,” Welz said.

The software will likely be built into future vehicles or drivers can put it in their existing cars.

It’ll also have the capability of warning drivers about pedestrians and bicyclists making roads safer for everyone.

We’ll set aside the possible privacy issues of having your car tracked by the roads every second.  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, the article tells us this:

“It’s a technology where the U.S. Department of Transportation says it can prevent 80% of unimpaired vehicle accidents,” Welz said.

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority leaders like the idea of using the technology instead of constantly re-building or re-developing highways and roads.

“You’re going to see more of the intelligent transportation systems used, especially in cities and areas where we don’t want to widen roads,” said Bob Frey of the Expressway Authority.

In 18 months, 40 intersections in Tampa should be equipped with the technology.

If so, even using FDOT’s logic, do we really need 18 lanes of interstate through the middle of Tampa?  And if it is not clear, should we really spend $6 billion dollars on TBX to destroy and disrupt neighborhoods before knowing?

Transportation – PTC Anyone?

Just before Thanksgiving, it was time for the new County Commission to board on committee assignments.

County commissioners met Tuesday to organize for 2017 and dole out assignments to various boards and committees. Commissioner Victor Crist begged to be taken off the Public Transportation Committee, where he just spent as chairman during the acrimonious and litigious Uber/Lyft debate.

“I’m respectfully requesting the board to allow me to move on from the Public Transportation Commission,” Crist said. “I don’t wish to serve on that board any longer.”

Commissioner Stacy White, a few minutes earlier named the county board chairman, then asked if anyone was willing to take the seat.

Can’t say we are surprised that no one wants to have to deal with the PTC mess.

Finally, Commissioner Les Miller, offered himself up as tribute.

“This hurts, Mr. Chairman,” Miller said, followed by a long pause. “I’m going to be a nut, lose my mind, jump off a cliff, and take the PTC.”

The board applauded.

Well, someone had to do it, at least until the PTC is abolished – which it should be.

Economic Development – Incubating

A few weeks ago, we wrote about economic development, clusters, etc. (See “Economic Development – Biotech, Clusters, and the Connection of Everything”)  We noted a report about our “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that, per a Times column, told us:

So how exactly is Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem doing? That’s tough to answer. Anecdotally, regional start-up activity appears strong. But it is scattered in incubators, accelerators, universities, coffee shops and (yes) garages across the bay area. One attending entrepreneur, SavvyCard CEO David Etheredge, noted that area start-ups tend to hit a ceiling here once they grow to a certain size and feel pressured to relocate to find stronger investor interest in the next stage of funding a company.

And that thought was echoed by the Lightning owner:

-The ecosystem is fragmented. There are pockets of organizations and communities. They’re not funded as well as they should be. They try to talk to each other, but everyone has to worry about their own success. I’d like to explore convening the leaders.

And that is all true, which was why it was interesting to read this in a column by the same Times columnist as the column referenced above:

A plan to build a major business incubator in downtown St. Petersburg — one big enough to catch the attention of entrepreneurs across Tampa Bay and beyond — has won key initial backing of the city and Pinellas County.

Here is a vision:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we do not know whose attention it may or may not catch, what exactly are we talking about?

The incubator would encompass at least 40,000 square feet, with an additional 10,000 square feet set aside for an anchor business tenant, at a cost of about $12 million. Funding would come from federal and state dollars.

“This is significantly larger than most incubators — by intention,” said Pinellas economic development director Mike Meidel. “We want it to be unique and a true asset to the county and all of Tampa Bay.”

So, naturally, this is a unifying effort for the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Three players are behind the new incubator.

The facility will be run by Elmore’s Tampa Bay Innovation Center. [St. Pete] will provide the land for the incubator, to be located at the southwest corner of 11th Avenue S and Fourth Street.

And Pinellas County would own and help develop and maintain the incubator. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center recently won a memorandum of understanding with Pinellas County to facilitate the next phase of the project, including tenant recruitment and fundraising.

Meidel says proceeds from the expected county sale of the old Star Center will assist in funding the new downtown incubator. Federal grants will be sought via the U.S. Economic Development Administration, while state funds will be pursued via a bill to be introduced in the Legislature.

Not exactly, though it sort of consolidates a bit of effort in Pinellas.  So what exactly will it be doing?

The as-yet-unnamed incubator is expected to house some technology startups. Beyond that, a choice will likely have to be made. The incubator may support life sciences and marine sciences startups. Or, more likely to Meidel, it may support advanced manufacturing sectors, including medical device startups and rapid prototyping businesses.

Of course, a few days later, the Times had a column about another “innovation district” initiative in Tampa. (You can read it here.) While it focused on actually revitalizing the area around USF, what do you think the focus of that innovation district is planned to be? You can be sure biotech is high on the list.

And what is the timing of all this?

Elmore says the new incubator is at least two years from opening, if the rollout happens as planned.

In other words, we shall see.

We are all for working to develop our start-up culture, but we do question how this actually works to create a more unified, effective effort for the area as a whole.  We get that it is near some hospitals and USF St. Pete, but if the area’s problem is a fragmented, uncoordinated entrepreneurial ecosystem, shouldn’t we work to get that effort less fragmented and more coordinated?  It really seems like everyone is still just going their own way (if not actively competing with other efforts in the area) without solving the basic problem first.

— And One More Thing

We have often said that we do not care about hype and proposals, we care about actual accomplishments.  Everything above is still in the conceptual phase.  The concepts have some merit, but they are still concepts. While running the columns referenced above, the Times also ran a yet another column that gives us a cautionary tale regarding economic development (though the story is not unique at all).  We are not going to go over the whole column, but here is the background:

In the spring of 2015, a growing tech firm based in Lakewood Ranch on the Manatee-Sarasota county line announced plans to move its headquarters to downtown St. Petersburg.

GeniusCentral Systems Inc. agreed to add 40 new jobs paying at or above 115 percent of the state average annual wage of what was then $42,446 a year. Those jobs would include some paying as much as $200,000, the company said. In exchange, GeniusCentral would be eligible to get an incentive package of as much as $320,000 from the state, county and city — if it met its jobs commitment.

The news conference that spring was attended by Gov. Rick Scott and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, among others celebrating what appeared to be another economic victory. A 50-employee software developer, GeniusCentral said at the time that in order to sustain its fast growth it needed better access to skilled technology workers. It said it had considered relocating to such tech-laden markets such as Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., far from Florida. But in the end the firm said it found nearby St. Petersburg to be “ideal” for expanding its operations as a leader in website and loyalty marketing programs for the organic grocery industry.

Just not ideal enough.

The company had relocated to a 17,000-square-foot warehouse, bedecked with funky exterior murals and cool-vibe interiors, in the Warehouse Arts District on Fifth Avenue S.

Things soon went wrong. By this fall, GeniusCentral was out of St. Petersburg, relocating to a more run-of-the-mill (and cheaper) building on State Road 70 in Bradenton. That move back to Manatee County will likely nullify the company’s incentive package from Pinellas County and prompt a re-evaluation by state economic developers on the remaining part of the deal.

So what lessons does the column tell us we should learn?

Lesson One: It is easier to recruit a business with sweetened financial incentives than to hold on to it.

* * *

Lesson Two: It’s tough to recruit young, cost-sensitive companies to downtown St. Petersburg when employees struggle to find affordable places where they actually want to live.

* * *

Lesson three: St. Petersburg is enjoying a boom in apartment and hotel construction, new museums and artist studios, and a lively nightlife from entertainment venues, restaurants and bars. But the city needs more balance. And that means more businesses and good-paying jobs in the downtown area. The city prefers “cool” innovative firms that can pay decent wages and amplify the vibe St. Pete wants to nurture. The challenge: St. Pete may be pricing itself out of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Fair enough.  But this is the key:

There’s a familiar pattern to economic development. First, an incentive deal is struck to recruit a business to the area. Second, public officials gush over the perfect fit of the new player coming to town.

* * *

We’ve heard versions of this before, especially in the hype around the recruitment of New York’s IRX Therapeutics, a cancer-fighting biotech firm, that won incentives to relocate to St. Petersburg — but never did.

Stuff happens. Predicting small tech company strategies in a changing economy is tricky. But St. Petersburg should be careful it does not become a punchline as the city that too often gets stood up (or dumped) at the prom.

Or, to put it another way: Announcements are not accomplishments, no matter how much you hype them.  Accomplishments are accomplishments.

That is not to say local officials should not be trying to grow, attract, and retain business.  They definitely should be.  But the success is when the company is well established and thriving, not the announcement.

— Conclusion

This is our take away: we are all for developing the economy of this area.  We are all for strong efforts to do so.  We only want this area to reach its actual potential.  But, the key is actually getting things done, not the gushing statements when something is announced.

Likewise, we are all for developing a good entrepreneurial system.  We are all for fixing up the area around USF in Tampa and south of USF in St. Pete. We should be aspiring to be better.  But if everyone agrees about a deficiency, maybe we should fix that deficiency rather than carrying on with business as usual.  Maybe.

Tampa Heights – Good News

For those who have been waiting to see if the Heights project was really going to happen, there was news this week.

Developers of an $820 million mixed-use development on the Tampa Heights waterfront have secured a construction loan for a portion of the project’s first phase.

* * *

That loan will fund the construction of The Pearl, a 314-unit apartment building with 28,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. In addition to The Pearl, The Heights’ first phase will include the revitalization of Armature Works, slated to house a market hall, event space and restaurant.

Adam Harden, a partner in SoHo Capital, confirmed the loan’s closing Thursday afternoon and said construction on The Pearl would begin Friday. The total project cost is $70.3 million, Harden said.

From the Business Journal - click on pciture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While we like the Armature Works project, we are actually more excited by the Pearl because it shows that the full project may actually get built – not just an event space or marketplace.

West Tampa – Repurposing

There was a report in the Times of something that could really make us happy.

The former Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory at 1202 N. Howard Ave. was purchased for $1.4 million this week by a partnership between a Tampa hotelier and a Louisiana-based hospitality company. Though still in the early stages, plans call for a hotel with about 70 rooms that likely will be part of a major chain but with a name reflecting its local heritage, partner Mike Desai said Friday.


From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Of the 200 or so factories that operated during Tampa’s cigar-making heyday between 1885 and the Great Depression, only about 25 survive. 

(You can see the area here) The fact is that the old cigar factories are some of the coolest buildings in Tampa.  We do not know any of the details and it is early days in the process, but, done right, it would be great if those old buildings were all brought back to life (especially since there are quite a few in the maybe soon to be hot, one can only hope, West Tampa).  We only hope that the City will care enough to have rules that any new buildings in this part of the city will be truly urban in design to take advantage of the old buildings in the area.

Built Environment – A Kennedy Project

For a city that has a history of settling and, even when appearing to try to build something urban (or claiming to want something urban, see retail on Westshore near Spruce), there was a small but interesting proposal for Kennedy near Dale Mabry.

A South Tampa church could be demolished to make way for a new retail development.

WPG, a Tampa-based developer, is asking the city to rezone the half-acre property at 3702 W. Kennedy Blvd. so it can build two multi-tenant strip centers totaling 22,600 square feet with surface parking, according to site plans filed Monday.

Here are a rendering (sort of) and site plan:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From Business Journal - click on diagram for article

From Business Journal – click on diagram for article

Not extremely exciting, but based on those documents, the building actually is up to the street and even, shockingly, has front doors facing Kennedy and not the parking lot. It is only a proposal and a small one at that.  But it is nice if the idea of building something even mildly walkable and urban gets spread beyond a few isolated neighborhoods and around the city – even if the city does not require it.

Moffitt – Growing

A few weeks ago, we discussed biotech clusters and noted that one of the main anchors to any biotech cluster in this area would be Moffitt.  It seems Moffitt is working to grow:

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center is moving forward with an ambitious $800-million expansion that will include a new hospital wing, two research buildings, a clinical support building and additional outpatient facilities, CEO Dr. Alan List told the Tampa Bay Times Thursday.

* * *

The first step, scheduled to begin in 2017, will be the construction of the clinical support building to house faculty offices and laboratories, List said. The expected cost is between $38 million and $40 million.

The new space will allow the 206-bed cancer center to add beds — something that will be necessary if Moffitt moves forward with the immunotherapy treatments, List said.

But that’s not all:

Later, the plan calls for additional research space, where doctors can put more work into finding treatments and cures.

* * *

The plan will eventually include construction on a new bed tower so Moffitt can serve additional patients. The goal is to shift most of the center’s outpatient services to another facility nearby on McKinley Drive and free up the University of South Florida campus for in-patient services and research.

That is all quite ambitious.  We are all for it, if it can be done.  How will it be funded?

The entire expansion is expected to take 10 years. Moffitt leaders plan to raise $500 million and hope to finance the rest with a bond bankrolled by state cigarette taxes.

Though note:

The expansion will be mostly funded through philanthropic contributions, but Moffitt is asking the state for $300 million from cigarette taxes. The state legislature would have to approve that funding and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve it.

The plan is very ambitious, but can get done. And we hope it does.  Not only is Moffitt’s success good for the area economy, it is good for the people it serves.  (But it does leave open the question of connecting it to the USF Med School complex downtown.)

Downtown/Hyde Park – Update On the Trib Site

It seems that the Related project on the old Trib site is going to be delayed.

The Tribune‘s building will be razed to make way for an eight-story, 400-unit luxury residential building with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor. Related has also reached a conceptual agreement with the city to build a riverfront trail as part of the development.

Environmental issues stemming from the printing presses and ink contamination have delayed that process, said Arturo Pena, Related’s vice president of development.

* * *

Removing ink contamination and dismantling the printing presses have been underway for months, Pena said, and Related expects to begin demolition in December.

So how long will it take?

But don’t expect the drama of a wrecking ball. Pena said demolition will be done gradually over the course of several months and isn’t anticipated to wrap up before April or May 2017. 

We wish they would take that time to make the project better – including reworking the major feature of the project: the parking garage – but we doubt that will happen.

MacDill – Hurricane Hunters to Lakeland

A while back, it became clear that the Hurricane Hunters were probably going to have to leave MacDill, because the space was needed for other uses.  Now we know where they are going.

NOAA Aircraft Operations Center will be located at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. “AOC serves as the main base for NOAA’s fleet of nine specialized environmental data-gathering aircraft, including the agency’s three ‘hurricane hunter’ planes,” the agency said in a release.

While it would have been nicest to have them at MacDill, Lakeland is about as good a choice as you can have, except maybe St. Pete-Clearwater.  We are glad they are staying in the area.

Look At That Sprawl

The Times had an interesting item on their website that showed how various parts of the area had developed over time. It is cool and can be seen here.

What is really interesting is that almost all of them are in areas that were filled in with sprawl.  There is no doubt that the growth has been impressive.  Then you remember that local governments did not really account for the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure of all that development and that now you are going to pay for it.  What it really emphasizes is that planning decisions made now have an effect for decades and that this area could have avoided many of its transportation problems with a little more foresight, planning, and investment over the last few decades.

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