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Roundup 1-6-2017

January 6, 2017


Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Square Justifies Itself

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower Details

Downtown – Kress Block

Downtown/Hyde Park – No Surprise

Downtown/West Tampa – A Lesson to be Learned

Transportation – How Is the Ferry Doing?

Transportation – An Oversight?

Airport – A Facility Changes Hands

— One More Thing

Rowdies – Campaign Starts Moving

— One Last Thing

Sarasota – What a Billion Buys These Days

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

One Last Thing


Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?

There was a mildly amusing article in the Times this week about walkability/bikeability and this area:

Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets.

But transportation planners warn not to read too much into the drop. The county is still the deadliest in the region. Bicyclist deaths are up from the past few years. And in Pinellas County, pedestrian fatalities have increased 18 percent in the past five years.

“I would welcome the news but I wouldn’t jump to a lot of conclusions yet,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization.

For one thing, the 2015 spike was unusually high, with 51 pedestrian deaths. The 39 fatalities in 2016 still is more than any other year since 2010.

Really? We measure walkability (or bikeability) by the number of deaths (what about mere long-term stays in the hospital? how are we doing on that)?  In any event,

One major initiative for transportation leaders following 2015’s deadly record was to add more crosswalks in Hillsborough, especially along busy, multi-lane roads such as Hillsborough Avenue. But even something as seemingly simple as adding a few painted stripes or a flashing sign takes time.

Transportation officials, for example, wanted to put a signaled crosswalk near Middleton High School where two students died, but got bogged down by the logistics required to get the small amount of land needed for the signal box.

Why just focus on a few crosswalks in the middle of the sprawl (or in the middle of town, like, as its name would suggest, Middleton).  What about changing planning which created the problem in the first place (see South County)?

There’s a tension in transportation planning between mobility — how quickly and easily we get around — and safety. Often, planning prioritizes mobility, sometimes at the expense of safety, especially for pedestrians.

“We’ve had a mentality of making sure we don’t have traffic signals put too close together because it slows down traffic,” Blanton said. “If you have too many signals per mile, that creates a congestion problem, but it also leave a sort of barren wasteland for pedestrians to cross.”

Regardless of crosswalks and education initiatives, wide, fast roads remain dangerous for pedestrians throughout Tampa Bay. That’s especially true for Pinellas, which is a tight, concentrated, urban community, Blanton said. And those types of roads are at odds with ongoing redevelopment in places like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which make areas a more attractive place to walk.

“That’s a positive trend, but it’s in the face of a physical environment we’ve created with a lot of fast-moving, eight-lane roads,” Blanton said. “People still need to get across those roadways to get to their destinations.”

Much of that is true, but especially true of the sprawl model used here.  Building sprawl that requires people to drive everywhere then telling everyone to slow down causes a problem.  And if someone tries to walk in the sprawling, car-centric mess, it is dangerous – even if you provide a few more crosswalks (though anyone who has walked around this area knows much of the “normal” sidewalk/crosswalk infrastructure is questionable).  Crosswalks are fine, but, once again, where is the discussion of changing the planning (and transit)?  You don’t make Dale Mabry, Hillsborough, Fowler or Fletcher walkable by just adding some crosswalks.

And while the City of Tampa was recently recognized in Bicycling magazine’s “50 best bike cities,” and earned a bronze award from the League of American Bicyclists, that, too, comes with some caveats, Alden said.

In 2016, Hillsborough saw a dozen cyclists die, the most since 2012. Pasco saw nine bicylists lose their lives, which was the highest number since 2011.

And only 6 percent of Tampa roads have bike lanes. The average for communities that earn a silver designation from the group is 51 percent.

“(That award) acknowledges that Tampa is actively working on the problem, but clearly there is a lot of work still to be done,” Alden said. “It’s going to be awhile before we get to that critical mass where we have a network of safe places where you can safely, or even predictably, cycle.”

It should be said that, if you look at building real bike infrastructure, Tampa has taken some positive steps (notably the idea of the Green Spine, which is a good start and the mostly conceptual Perimeter Trail which is in the middle of town, not the perimeter), though most of the actual work is focused on a relatively limited area (especially outside of downtown/Hyde Park). At least it is something to build on (though a lot of it is painting bike lanes on roads that most people won’t ever consider biking on because they are too dangerous or just painting some bike logos on a road to say “share the road” which is a good reminder of the existing law but not really bike infrastructure).  The County has done far less.

And that does not get into walkability. The reality is that the vast majority of the City and County are not walkable (or safely bikeable) and, while some of it is good, much of the new development (even a good amount of the urban looking stuff) still lacks real walkability elements.

A Times editorial tells us this:

Transportation planners face an ongoing challenge of balancing crosswalks and other safety tools with moving traffic on heavily used roads. Foot traffic from visitors to the Pinellas beaches has presented a test for years on Gulf Boulevard. And as Tampa and St. Petersburg redevelop their downtowns, creating urban environments more conducive to walking, planners face increased demands for pedestrian safety in emerging mixed-use districts.

But in many ways, that misses the point.  It is far safer to walk in downtown than on SR60 in Brandon or Dale Mabry pretty much anywhere (or Henderson or most of Kennedy) – namely because it is planned and built in a more walkable way. While putting some paint on a road or a crosswalk in the middle of a vast, unbroken sprawl may be better than nothing, it will not change the overwhelmingly anti-walking and anti-biking design of the area overall (like the many neighborhoods without sidewalks, even within the cities and the countless subdivisions that have sidewalks that are only useful for a little exercise). There must be a much more comprehensive change to how things are planned and built.

The bottom line is that this area – as an area – still has not really chosen to make itself truly walkable or bikeable.  There have been some moves, but they are limited geographically and in utility. It is a matter of choices, and, aside from pockets, the real choices still have not been made.  (And it should not take people dying to get something done.)

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Square Justifies Itself

Per URBN Tampa Bay, Lafayette Square’s developers have filed a statement to justify the waivers they are seeking.

“Exhibit C-2 – Waiver Justifications

As an urban mixed-use development, the Project serves to implement the City’s InVision Plan, whereby the Hillsborough River is viewed as the center, and not the edge of Downtown Tampa and serves to implement the City Comprehensive Plan’s CBD Periphery policies. Among other reasons to justify the requested waivers, discussed below, the urban nature of the Project necessitates many of the waivers affecting natural resources, such as trees and wetlands, although, as noted on the PD Site Plan, these impacts were previously approved under a prior rezoning of the subject parcels. In addition, the requested waivers to the Kennedy Overlay are necessitated by the fact that the Overlay standards do not contemplate a project of this magnitude with its significant parking, access and loading requirements. Moreover, variances to the maximum setbacks are necessitated by the need to preserve vistas to historical community assets and the gateway to the CBD, to provide access to the proposed Riverwalk and to create plaza areas along Kennedy Boulevard. In addition, a waiver is necessary to allow for activation of the Parkview Parcel plaza area. Finally, a waiver to reduce the Tower Parcel vehicle use buffer area is necessary to allow for reasonable on-site queuing to reduce the potential for off-site queuing at the entrance to the Tower Parcel.”

As a general concept, we like them presenting a justification, and there is something to be said for some of the arguments.  However, we wonder if it really implements the InVision plan.  Does that plan call for massive, really obvious parking garages? Just look at this rendering – the shorter (well 15 story or so), well-lit buildings that dwarf any UT building are the parking garages (and that have apartment buildings attached).

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We also wonder just what parking requirements this project has if, as indicated in early reports, the developer is providing more spaces than required by the City, which is not slouch on parking requirements.  And, frankly, the fact that the developer got approvals for a different design more than a decade ago means nothing to us.  That was before Tampa had any conception (no matter how flawed it is now) of anything walkable.

We are willing to give the developer a decent amount of benefit of the doubt on much of what they are doing to connect the project and neighborhood to the river.  We even get facing one of the apartment buildings to Kennedy.  However, that really doesn’t mean that they can’t have proper sidewalks, traffic flow, shade, and decent planning.  And it certainly does not mean that the parking garages (at least as represented in the renderings) are ok the way they are.

The more we get into the weeds on this project the more we feel that, while we like the general idea of this project, it seems a bit too much a repackaged 1990’s project in the details.  Maybe it will be tweaked (though we like most of the main tower look in the renderings). Maybe the renderings of the garages are inaccurate.  Hopefully, it will get tweaked to make it excellent, but our optimism is tempered by Tampa’s history of settling.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower Details

Recently, more details about the Riverwalk (Trump Tower site) Tower were released.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The updated site plan for the 52 story Riverwalk Tower project in Downtown Tampa has been revealed. The plan now includes the demolition of the Captrust office building. The project now includes over 17,000 square feet of retail space, up from 10,000 in the original proposal. The project’s office component has been reduced from 205,000 square feet to 172,000 square feet but the residential space has increased from 320,000 square feet to 447,000 square feet. The residential unit count has increased from 203 to 211 units.

The tower is now 649 feet tall.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, unlike some, we have no strong opinion regarding the demolition of the CapTrust building, though making MacDill park bigger is nice – maybe the City can finally move the World Trade center steel there from the mostly ignored location in the median of Bayshore now.  At 649 feet (couldn’t add one more foot?), the tower would be taller than Lafayette Tower (which was reported as 642 feet) and the tallest in the area. The restaurants on the Riverwalk are nice while the loading docks on Ashley, which is really a dead street down there, are not (but you need them somewhere).

Given the lack of renderings and more details, it is hard to say much beyond that right now.

Downtown – Kress Block

Staying downtown, let’s check in with the Kress block.

The father-daughter pair that owns the historic Kress block in downtown Tampa are embroiled in a legal dispute over an attempted sale of the property.

Jeannette Jason on Dec. 23 filed a petition asking the court to void a sale of the property that her father, Doran Jason, negotiated and attempted without her consent. Doran Jason, according to allegations in the filing, was attempting to sell the Kress block to Accardi Development LLC. The petition also seeks a trial by jury.

Accardi Development is controlled by twin brothers John and Jason Accardi, who own 717 Parking Enterprises. Between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, the Accardis own or manage 1 million square feet.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for website

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

It is no surprise that the Kress block in embroiled in another mess.  The present owners have owned it for two decades during which there have been proposals for the block (some much better than others) that have gone nowhere.  And, frankly, the potential buyers have land-banked (or turned into parking lots) a number of properties downtown, so, without a definite proposal or at least some details, such a purchase would not really increase confidence of bringing the block back to life soon.  But, setting that aside, what are the issues right now?

“It’s just an action I have to take to protect my interest in the property,” Jeanette Jason said Wednesday.

The petition also alleges that Doran Jason improperly and without valid corporate authority diluted Jeanette Jason’s ownership interest in the corporate entities that own the Kress block. He also allegedly appointed a close friend, Joe Harbaugh, a manager of the corporate entities that own the property, the complaint says.

His wife, Patricia Jason, was also appointed a manager, though she subsequently resigned, according to the allegations.

And that sounds quite messy.  Regardless, it would be nice to get the Kress block buildings repurposed and redeveloped.  When that might happen, no one really knows.

One final note:  URBN Tampa Bay suggested that the City should use eminent domain to take over the block.  We understand their reasoning, but we disagree. First, the City does not have a great track record of picking good, major projects that get built and it is not like.  And, second, all parties involved in this matter have connections to City Hall which could make it even more complicated.  We think it is better to let it play out for now.

Downtown/Hyde Park – No Surprise

After a failed (and not very inspiring) proposal at the former Crescent Bayshore lot, there was news on December 15 that Liberty Group would be buying the property.  At the time, we were told this:

Shah said he doesn’t have any plans in mind for the site yet; it was just one that he “had to have.”

“It’s such a dynamic site, so there’s a myriad of possibilities,” Shah said Thursday, “and I just don’t want to rush into any plans right now.”

Two weeks later, per URBN Tampa Bay,

Liberty Group is now asking for a substantial change determination for the lot at 319 Bayshore, for a 10 story version of what was previously proposed for the site. The new proposal has 113 units and is 98 feet tall.

As URBN Tampa Bay points out, it is not clear if that is a real proposal by Liberty or just a trial balloon to see what they can get from the City without too much effort.  However, based on past proposals and some business logic, we would not be surprised if Liberty just want to build something quick and not too expensive and sell it for a good profit. (see here, here, and here)

Of course, the lot in question has a great deal of potential so, if it were built, such a proposal would really be shame.

Downtown/West Tampa – A Lesson to be Learned

The saga of the Tempo at Encore took a strange turn this week.  You may remember this:

The Tampa Housing Authority thought it had seen the last of the Siltek Group when in July it fired the contractor building a signature $25.6 million mid-rise apartment block on the edge of downtown Tampa.

The Tempo at Encore was behind schedule and had fallen prey to shoddy workmanship and poor management, said Housing Authority officials. And Siltek owner Ana Silveira-Sierra continued to let her husband, Rene Sierra, work as project manager even after he had pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving affordable housing in South Florida.


The project was already 70 percent complete but the THA wanted no part of the Plantation, Florida-based company known as the Siltek Group, especially after the company’s founder and husband of the current owner pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme that targeted public housing in South Florida.

After Siltek stopped construction, THA workers spent months removing rain-soaked drywall and other interior elements damaged by water because Siltek had failed to seal the outer shell from the elements before beginning finishing work inside.

That’s when things got a bit odd.

So Housing Authority officials were outraged to learn that Berkley Surety Group, the firm that underwrote the project, has hired a new company owned by Silveira-Sierra to finish the seven-story building.

Officially Berkley has contracted with Tron Construction. But records show that the firm was established by Silveira-Sierra less than one month after Siltek was terminated from the Tempo project and operates out of the same Plantation office.

It means that completion of the 203-unit building intended to provide affordable housing will effectively be in the hands of the same developer that the Housing Authority and its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp., are suing for botching construction.


Housing Authority attorney Felix Rodriguez expressed frustration at Berkley’s decision in an October letter. He said the underwriting agreement gives the New Jersey firm the right to choose its own contractor.

* * *

The decision to go back to the same developer is likely about protecting the bottom line, said Jack Neu, a surety bonding specialist with Nielson, Wojtowicz, Neu & Associates.

That does not mean that the behind schedule project cannot get done properly or that the Housing Authority has no leverage, but it raises some questions about how this could happen.  It also raises questions about whether the Housing Authority will do things differently when the North Boulevard Homes land gets redeveloped – like having an agreement that if a contractor has to go, the people connected with that contractor can’t just be put back on the job without the Housing Authority’s consent.

Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way, which can be ok if the lessons are learned.  Hopefully they will be.

Transportation – How Is the Ferry Doing?

The Cross Bay ferry trial was begun with great fanfare.  We like the idea but have always had concerns about the cost and the schedule which make it more a novelty than really useful, even for a trial run.  It started off well, so how is it doing now?

A Gulfport city leader is calling the new Cross-Bay Ferry pilot program a waste of tax dollars saying it’s barely selling tickets.

Dan Liedtke, a city councilman in Gulfport shot a video on his cell phone showing just one person getting off the ferry on a run on December 6th.

* * *

The Cross-Bay Ferry is a six-month pilot project launched by Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and the City of Tampa and City of St. Petersburg. Each local government pitched in $350,000 in tax dollars for the project.

“Today, for example, they’ve only sold seven percent of the tickets,” Liedtke told ABC Action News. “There’s 500, 600 seats available and they’ve maybe only sold 42 seats.”

Liedtke said one of the biggest problems is that the ferry is not simply fast enough going across the bay, with the average trip taking about 50 minutes. As a result, he said most commuters don’t see that as a good regular option to get to work.

One video does not tell a full story.

However, the City of St. Petersburg believes differently.

“Is it working?” ABC Action News asked Ben Kirby, Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“You know, we’ve seen great, great numbers,” Kirby said. “Better than expected on weekends.”

Kirby said they have seen more commuters using the ferry during weekdays too. They say a video shot by Ed Turanchik, a local attorney, shows a much more accurate picture of the number.

Turanchik’s video shows several dozen people getting off the ferry on the same ferry run a few weeks later.

It would be nice to have actual numbers (especially since there is public money involved).  Given the politics of transportation in this area, without actual stats it is hard to form any real opinion.  That being said, we still think that, even for a trial run, the cost and schedule are not really optimal to find out if the service has real utility and would not be surprised if some days few people use it.

And we are still wondering what happened to the much more logical ferry service between South County and MacDill.

Transportation – An Oversight?

The Business Journal had a very interesting article:

The city of Tampa released a video highlighting transportation options ahead of events this weekend surrounding the College Football Playoff National Championship being played at Raymond James Stadium.

It highlights eight options to get around the area, including the newly launched Cross Bay Ferry, the popular Downtowner and transportation network services Uber and Lyft. It does not mention taxi services.

* * *

Other transportation options referenced in the video include the TECO Line Streetcar, the In-towner Trolley, Coast Bike Share, the Pirate Water Taxi and Zipcar.

* * *

Yellow Cab Co. of Tampa President Louis Minardi is not happy about that.

* * *

Minardi ended his email saying he is “under the distinct impression that this was not an oversight.”

Maybe.  What did the City say?

Ashley Bauman, a spokeswoman for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, said the video was meant to highlight transportation options that are unique to Tampa and the region.

Which is an odd explanation given that Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar are definitely not unique to this region.  If they were going to mention those three and try to be helpful to visitors, they should have mentioned taxis, too.

Was it intentional or not?  Who knows, but we would not be surprised either way.

Airport – A Facility Changes Hands

Anyone looking to the east from the landside building at the airport can see the two large PEMCO repair facilities on the other side of the runway.  The facilities had some financial problems at one point, but business has picked up.  Now, they are changing hands.

Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services Inc., a subsidiary of Wilmington-based Air Transport Services Group Inc. (NASDAQ: ATSG), has acquired PEMCO World Air Services Inc.

* * *

“Based on PEMCO’s existing domestic and international scale, this acquisition will expand access to maintenance service for customers of ATSG’s expanding fleet of Boeing 767 cargo aircraft,” ATSG president and CEO Joe Hete said in a statement. “It is consistent with our goal to diversify ATSG’s revenue and earnings for an investment in the same price range as our planned and completed stakes in cargo airlines in China and Europe. The combination of PEMCO’s conversion and MRO sales of both Airbus and Boeing products with AMES’ existing offerings will create a sustained, growth-oriented aircraft maintenance product and services portfolio.”

Wilmington and Tampa will house heavy maintenance and modifications, while Tampa, Central America and Asia will be home to passenger-to-freighter conversions. Aircraft-on-ground field teams, line and turnaround maintenance, component repair and overhaul, engineering repair and design, and extensive manufacturing and kitting capabilities will be based in various locations.

It all sounds positive (of course, when a deal gets done, it usually does). Hopefully, it will turn out well.

— One More Thing

Another NYC connection is coming:

Southwest Airlines will begin two new, daily nonstop flights between Tampa International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City, giving local passengers more options to get to the Big Apple.

The new flights will start June 5, 2017 but are on sale starting Thursday in time for summer travel, said Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s senior vice president of network and revenue. The flights will have an introductory fare of $89 each way or approximately $178 round-trip.

The more flights the better.

Rowdies – Campaign Starts Moving

As noted a few weeks ago, the Rowdies are making a push to jump to the MLS and play in an expanded Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Pete.  Things are moving rapidly.

… Darden Rice is ready to help. The St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman has scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting to discuss scheduling a spring referendum that would authorize the city to negotiate a 20-year or more lease agreement with Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for the waterfront Al Lang Stadium.

Edwards current lease for Al Lang expires in 2018. The proposed new lease would be contingent on the Rowdies being selected as an MLS expansion team.

If council agrees, the referendum would take place in late April or early May. Edwards will reimburse the city for the estimated $250,000 cost of administering the special election, Rice said.

That is fine with us – and good for the owner for reimbursing the city. (Though there still are some concerns.)  Moreover, it appears that he has other investors on board.

In other developments:

Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards tells EoS that he has secured the services of former Orlando City SC executives Brett Lashbrook and Forrest Eber – both who played important roles in bringing MLS to Orlando a few years ago.

“I’ve got the best people on board,” Edwards said. “I’ve got Icon. I’ve got Populous. I’ve got Manhattan. Those are all people that do stadiums. I’ve recently engaged the services of Brett Lashbrook and Forrest Eber. They’re on board with us and we feel very strongly they’ll help us a lot in what we’re trying to get accomplished. After all, they’ve done it several times before and they know MLS pretty well.”

* * *

“I just didn’t instantly appear with a stadium plan or expansion plan, or decide to go to then USL and instantly decide to go to MLS,” he said. “I had conversations with MLS, with builders, with architects, with contractors for a year and half or two years now. Yes, it was something in the background. I was working, not openly necessarily, trying to get my plan together so when I did make that announcement, I’d be prepared.”

That definitely seems serious. And the Mayor of St. Pete is supportive.

Edwards said he hasn’t reached out yet to downtown residents, who led the charge against the Rays plans, but plans to do so.

Albert Scafati, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said his group hasn’t formally discussed the issue yet, but he’s personally thrilled.

“I think St. Petersburg is on the map and Edwards has done a lot of great things here,” Scafati said. “It would be a coup for the city.”

From what has been reported, it sounds like the ownership is going about this process properly.  It is still early, but promising. (For a MLS-expansion competitor’s view of the Rowdies see here)  The more we see and hear from the Rowdies (and some supporters) on this, the more we are becoming convinced it just might work.

— One Last Thing

While all that is good, some things just never seem to go away (maybe we can just put it to rest now):

. . . reminiscent of former St. Petersburg franchise dramas (St. Pete Rays, anyone?), the possibility might emerge for the Sunshine City to have a franchise named after itself, not a body of water.

“An intriguing thought for the council to think about —stipulate the team be named for St. Pete,” Rice said Friday.

We’ll just say it: that would be silly.  Is it a regional team or just for St. Pete?  Do they want to alienate potential supporters from beyond the city limits before there is even a vote?  We get that some in St. Pete has never gotten over the Bucs being named Tampa Bay (see this footnote for a St. Pete Times April 25, 1975 article in Wikipedia.  You used to be able to pull up the article in Google newspaper archives as well), but that is the name of the area – and the body of water around which it has grown. Not to mention that the team has always been the Tampa Bay Rowdies. (No one has any warm feelings for or memories of the “St. Pete Rowdies.”) If they want to change the first part of the name, they should change the second part.

As the owner pointed out a number of times in his previous comments:

The Rowdies already have one strong selling point as one of the largest media markets without an MLS team. The fact that Edwards also controls his home stadium and has plans to privately fund expansion certainly helps as well. With discussions ongoing with brokerage companies and a handful of wealthy local investors, Edwards is confident he has enough options on the table to convince MLS he has the capability of pulling things off.

No better way to neutralize that advantage than changing a 40+ year old team name to exclude most of the people in the region. And, being a good businessman,

Edwards isn’t interested. The Rowdies have a history of 40-plus years as a franchise and have fans on both sides of the bay.

“I have no plans whatsoever for that,” he said.

Even the Mayor knows it is counterproductive to change the name:

As St. Petersburg’s mayor, Kriseman said, he’d love to root for the St. Pete Rowdies, but understands the team’s long history.

A perfectly rational position. If you want to let people know where the game is being played, do what cities around the world hosting major tournaments do and put “St. Petersburg” on a sign at the midfiled sideline so it keeps showing up on tv.

Sports teams played a major part in identifying this region in most people’s minds.  It should stay that way.

Sarasota – What a Billion Buys These Days

We don’t touch on Sarasota much, though it has a lot going on, but recently, a proposal to redevelop the old Quay property was approved.

The massive mixed-use Quay Sarasota development received final city approval Monday night after years of planning.

The potential $1 billion project will combine commercial, residential and office buildings on the long-vacant property and transform the downtown waterfront over the next decade.

The approval sets into motion a series of initial design and permitting efforts for water, sewer and road infrastructure that will serve the overall project, and for the first residential building and waterfront public space on the property.

The new development agreement also requires GreenPointe Communities to begin permitting with the Florida Department of Transportation within the month on the long-planned two-lane roundabout at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road that will serve as the main gateway to the bayfront project.

Those efforts will take most of next year. On-site construction of infrastructure will begin in late 2017 or early 2018, said Rick Harcrow, GreenPointe’s regional president.

So what are we talking about?

The general development agreement approved Monday provides an overall layout for the site and allows for up to 695 condominiums, 175 hotel rooms, 189,050 square feet of retail space and nearly 39,000 square feet of office space in buildings up to 18 stories high. Plans call for the property to be developed in nine “blocks” that would be reviewed and considered at public hearings as each is individually designed.

The southwestern corner and southern edge of the property are likely to be the first “blocks” developed with around 100 condominiums overlooking the bay alongside retail and office space, said attorney Charlie Bailey, who is working with the developers.

A planned “waterfront district” with a public plaza, shops and restaurants is likely to follow either around the same time or slightly after, Bailey said. The rest of the development will bloom around the site in what is expected to be seven years of active construction, he added.

From Genesis Studios - click on picture for website

From Genesis Studios – click on picture for website

Redeveloping the Quay land would be quite a big deal for Sarasota (though it would still be hampered by the odd high limits that impede views in their downtown rather than open up view corridors), which has done quite a nice job with their downtown.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Pittsburgh is often held up as a model for (re)development and building a tech cluster where you do not necessarily expect one.

The Pennsylvania city’s rebirth as a center of technology and high-tech manufacturing still seems shocking to those who incorrectly picture the city as some Rust Belt casualty. With the intellectual capital of top-flight schools such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh attracting international talent, and companies such as Apple, Google, and Uber setting up offices, the city has been reborn over the last decade.

Neighborhoods such as the East End and the Strip District, home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, have emerged as tech hubs, but this is only the beginning. Tech employment in the city jumped 19 percent from 2010 to 2013, and the industry is predicted to employ more than 200,000 people by 2020. 

Notably, much of Pittsburgh’s “tech” employment is actually in tech development rather than customer service and back office jobs for a tech-related company.  Also, one cannot overstate the importance of a school like Carnegie-Mellon in helping that.  However, it is also notable that:

“Pittsburgh is an overnight sensation that took 35 years to grow,” says Smith. “A lot of the things bearing fruit now were planted all the way back in the ‘80s, when the steel industry declined, and the city was hit arguably harder than any city in the country.”

Even back in the 1980’s, there were not just preliminary efforts to build on the universities but also nascent redevelopment efforts that have, over time, borne fruit.  And, now,

On a 178-acre section of riverfront a few miles south of downtown Pittsburgh, a former steel mill is being reborn into mixed-use development heavy on tech offices and incubation spaces for entrepreneurs. It’s a familiar pattern for the city, but given that Almono—a contraction of Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio, the names of the three intersecting rivers that helped shape the city—is the largest undeveloped piece of land in Pittsburgh, the impact could be an order of magnitude bigger than what’s come before it.

For decades, the site used to ring with the sounds of steelworkers and shipbuilders. Now, its supporters hope, it’ll hum with the sound of servers, tech workers, and the self-driving cars that ridehailing giant Uber has started testing earlier this year at a new facility on site.

“We think it has the potential to be the largest-impact project the city has seen in the last 50 years,” says Donald F. Smith, Jr., president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), a public-private partnership that’s shepherding what could be a multi-billion dollar development that carves a new neighborhood out of the vast brownfield site on the city’s southeast side, near the Hazelwood neighborhood. 

From - click on picture for website

From – click on picture for website

In other words, an innovation district.

Will it come off like the model?  Who knows?  Will Pittsburgh really have 200,000 people in the tech business in 2020?  Who knows, but they are moving towards it.

There are lessons to be learned from a place like Pittsburgh which has some advantages we do not have (Carnegie-Mellon – which is quite close to this land, some transit, and established money used to industry) but also does not have a lot of advantages we have (strong population growth, weather, environment).  We think one of the biggest lessons is to be single-minded in consistently pursuing ambitious goals – something we seem to have a hard time doing.

List of the Week

Cost of living is often cited as a major selling point for our area (though housing prices keep rising and the cost of transportation does too), so this week, we present Glassdoor’s list “The top 10 cities where you can live well on a $60,000 salary.”

Coming in first was Detroit, followed by Memphis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Kansas City, and Louisville.

You may not want to live in any of those places, but it is interesting to see Pittsburgh and another up-and-coming tech town, Kansas City, on the list. We are not.

One Last Thing

Kudos to the SunTrust tower for its lava lamp looking pyramid lights on New Year’s Eve.  It was very cool.


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