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Roundup 3-10-2017

March 10, 2017


Transportation – Rearranging

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan


— Bottom Line

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

Port – Containment

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done


Transportation – Rearranging

As usual, there was much news about transportation, though the actual impact is not clear.

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

First up was this little nugget.

The Showtime Speedway, once thought to be a temporary attraction until a connecting road was built, is here to stay.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and speedway’s owner Bob Yoho recently announced that a compromise was made with the Florida Department of Transportation to reconfigure a planned road connecting Interstate 275 to the Bayside Bridge so that it bypasses the speedway. The change will allow the quarter-mile, figure-8 speedway and dragstrip originally named the Sunshine Speedway to continue operating.

Latvala said it took “just me sitting down with the department and explaining how important this was to people in the community and they just figured out a way to do it.”

“We worked with the property owner and were able to design the Gateway Expressway so the roadway alignment did not impact the operations of the Speedway,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The road will run on the drag strip’s west side and will be more compact, with walls as buffers instead of dirt. Yoho said the speedway will lose some parking. 

So, as shown with the Howard Frankland issues, it is clear that FDOT plans are subject to change.  And like the Howard Frankland, the impetus for the change came from a Pinellas State Senator (the same one, in fact) who bothered to voice concern.  That’s all it took.

Sadly, there does not appear to be anyone in Hillsborough County that cares enough to get some fixes to TBX through Tampa.  As we have said a number of times, the biggest blame for TBX and bad local planning is on local officials.  But legislators could get changes.


The other big transportation news was a move to change TBARTA.

Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers are looking to put a dent in the region’s long-stagnant access to transit by creating a regional entity to oversee plans throughout the region rather than isolating solutions to individual counties.

* * *

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and Rep. Dan Raulerson (R-Plant City) filed bills to replace the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. The bill represents a lot more than just changing “transportation” to “transit,” and aims to include local business leaders. 

You can find the senate bill here.

The Business Journal told us this about the proposed new TBARTA:

The bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would charge a restructured TBARTA with coordinating regionally significant transportation projects and creating a conflict resolution process to address problems associated with implementing regional plans.

The new board would be immediately tasked with establishing a committee structure and plan for developing a regional transit plan and bringing those findings back to the legislature ahead of the 2018 session.

The legislation would leave intact local transit agencies like the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but would create a regional board whose sole purpose would be to establish regional connectivity plans. Those plans could later be implemented through a series of interlocal agreements.

Interestingly, that is pretty much what TBARTA does.  So what are the changes? The biggest addition is (starting line 313 in the pdf):

(a) Plan, implement, and operate mobility improvements and expansions of multimodal transportation options for passengers and freight throughout the designated seven-county Tampa Bay region.

(b) Produce a regional transit development plan, integrating the transit development plans of participant counties, to include a prioritization of regionally significant transit projects and facilities.

As a general idea, we are fine with that.  However, we are not sure it solves the problem of how they would operate anything and how HART and PSTA would fit in to the mix.  It is also not clear where any money would come from.

Another issue arises from another big change, which was referred to above: the structure of the board. From Stpetersblog:

The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). They would serve two year terms, for no longer than three terms. 

What is not made clear in the articles is that the people appointed by the Governor, Speaker, and President of the Senate who would be the clear majority of the board have to be “members from the regional business community.” While, as a practical matter, people appointed to boards are often successful business people and the business community definitely has an interest and should be involved, it is unclear why there should be a statutory requirement that the citizens involved need to be exclusively businesspeople rather than people interested in serving with knowledge to do a good job.

Even more problematic though is that “members from the regional business community” is not defined.  If you are going to put it in a law, the meaning needs to be clear.  Do you have to own a business or do you just have to have a job somewhere?  Does your business have to be a certain size?  What is the “regional business community” as opposed to just a small business? What if you are retired? What if you are a professor?  What if you hit the lottery and decide to serve but never owned a big company?

And a final concern is that most of the members of the board are appointed from Tallahassee. What of local interests other than the business community?

We do not have a ready-made, air-tight solution, especially given that the Hillsborough County Commissioners put anti-transit people on the HART board. Yes, the composition of a board requires balancing various interests, but the bill as written is not very balanced.

— Bottom Line

We are all for having a real regional transit authority that can actually do something.  We appreciate that the State Senator is out front in efforts to get the region to work together and has been the one to show that TBX is not set in stone.  We think the TBARTA bill is a start, but it needs some tweaking.

We are all for the involvement of the business community.  Like we said, as a practical matter, many appointed members of the board will be business people, but the language used in the bill is ambiguous and will lead to problems.  Additionally, there are others who can also provide useful service, and there are other interests that should have a voice.  The bill would be much better if those things were fixed.

And there is always the question of funding. . .

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

This week, the City held the first of three public meetings regarding the streetcar in downtown.  From Monday’s Times:

The city’s project, being called “Invision: Tampa Streetcar,” will look at a range of corridors and equipment, including autonomous transit vehicles, and will recommend alternatives and possible funding. If an upgrade is seen to be doable — that decision should come by this summer — then local officials will start to consider a preferred alternative.

Tonight’s meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St. Officials say its agenda is to brainstorm on the purpose of and need for the streetcar.

A second meeting to discuss technology and alignment alternatives is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 4, also at the history center.

A third and final meeting to discuss results of the effort will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 2 at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus at 2001 N 14th (Republica de Cuba) St.

Setting aside the small number of meetings, there was something in interesting from the first meeting.  URBN Tampa Bay linked to another Facebook page:

From Kevin Thurman – click on picture for Facebook page

At the streetcar public meeting and when asked the biggest barrier to expanding the streetcar. It wasn’t even close: “Political Will”

Are you listening Tampa/Hillsborough elected officials?

Any regular reader will know, we totally agree with that sentiment about political will. And the best way to develop political will is to call local officials on it.

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

The Business Journal had an item about a recent economic report from Brookings:

Median earnings in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area slipped 3 percent from 2000 to 2015.

A meager 0.1 percent gain in median earnings in the metro area between 2014 and 2015 still left that benchmark short of where it was at the turn of the century.

Those figures are part of a new Brookings Institution report about economic growth in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

In other words, for all the much-talked-about recent boom and job announcements, our incomes are still lacking.  Sure, some people are doing very well, but overall, not so much.  And, while over time, there has been improvement, it is not strong and steady.

We decided to dig a little deeper into the Brookings report (which you can see here), but it only mentioned Tampa once, in the “Inclusion” section, on page 19 of the report (21 of the pdf):

Tampa ranked eighth on reducing the gap in the employment rate between whites and people of color from 2009 to 2014, but its sizable increase in the median wage gap ranked it 85th on that indicator. 

Do with that what you will.

There is a related Brookings database that can be accessed here.  The database measures changes in three categories for three different periods 2005-2015, 2010-2015, and 2014-2015.  The categories are growth, prosperity, and inclusion. You can see the methodology here. To summarize, growth tracks GMP, jobs, and jobs at young firms.  Prosperity tracks standard of living, productivity, and average annual wage.  Inclusion tracks employment rate, median wage, and relative poverty.

Because the report tracks three categories for three different periods, it is difficult to determine an area’s overall rank.  Instead, we have made a chart of major Florida cities and a number of the usual suspects to which we are often compared and/or which are of relatively similar size to us.  We compiled the numbers over the three categories for the three periods.  Finally, because of the difficulty in comparison, we decided to add up the ranks for each area for each period to give a “total” (in red).  The lower the number, the better they have ranked across the three categories.  It is not an exact rank, but just gives a quick reference.  This is a chart of those numbers:

Click on chart for a larger version

A quick glance tells one that Austin and Denver consistently have done pretty well.  The Tampa Bay area did well in the 2010-2015 category which tells us that we have recovered somewhat from the depth of the recession.  On the other hand, the 2005-2015 numbers are not so good, which means we still have not gotten back to where we were before the recession.  The 2014-2015 numbers are not that good either.  There is good growth, but prosperity and inclusion are lacking – which is another indication of our poor wages/incomes, which also can be seen in the relatively poor scores of other Florida areas.  (And note that in this study increased growth can just be more people having low paying jobs, which is better than unemployment, but not really optimal).

As with most of these reports, the most useful part of them is tracking performance over time.  And over time, our Achilles heel has been our low incomes.  The cheap land, cheap labor, real estate based economic model has long been standard in these parts, and, while it has gotten a bit better, it is not clear that it is substantially changing.  Yes, people are working and we are growing (and that is great), but it we still have a long way to go, especially compared to the best performers.  Hopefully, we will get there.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

Last week, the City Council approved Lafayette Place.

A three-tower complex with more square footage than International Plaza has won final City Council approval, setting the stage for a huge transformation of the area south of the University of Tampa.

John Avlon, president of the Hillsborough River Realty Corp., which owns the property, said the company can now move to the next stage of design for the project, which does not have an announced start date.

“City Council’s unanimous approval of Lafayette Place reflects public confidence in the emerging development which brings new urban density to the west bank of the Hillsborough River,” Avlon said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lafayette Place will be anchored by Lafayette Tower, a 40-story building rising south of Kennedy Boulevard at the foot of the bridge leading to downtown. It is planned to include 12 floors of hotel rooms and 24 of offices, plus retail.

Lafayette Tower will be connected by a skybridge over Parker Street to the Lafayette Parkview, a neighboring 26-story tower with high-end residential, retail and a parking garage.

A couple of blocks away at Cleveland Street and Hyde Park Avenue will be Lafayette Central, another 26-story residential tower. 

As regular readers will know, our biggest concern about this project is the parking garages, which are really big.  The developer had said that it will have a light feature screening part of one of the parking garages.  Below is the most recent rendering of the project:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the screen on the parking garage to the rear of the rendering on the left side.  From the rendering it does not appear to be much, but it is better than nothing.  Still, you can see how big the garages really are, especially for the neighborhood.

In any event, we did not think the City Council would really address the issue.  That’s just not how they work.  The biggest question remaining is whether this project will get built, especially given that the same group has owned the land for decades and had previous proposals that never happened.  We shall see.

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

There was more news about the old New Port Tampa Bay project site.

A Fort Lauderdale company, BTI Partners, is moving steadily ahead with plans for what will be a new waterfront community near the intersection of Gandy and Westshore Boulevards. If all comes to pass, there will be apartments, townhomes and condos with sunset views of Tampa Bay. There will be a hotel, shops, a marina and two boat-up restaurants. The public will have access to a waterfront park and up to three miles of trails.

At an estimated cost of more than $600 million, Westshore Marina District will rival other mega-projects that are transforming Tampa’s Channelside district and blighted areas along the Hillsborough River. 

So what is the plan now?

Since 2015, BTI has been successfully marketing the site to builders:

BTI is keeping about eight waterfront acres to develop a pair of condo towers, each about 16 stories with ground-floor shops. A third tower might be added later along with shops, a cafe and hotel.

In all, Westshore Marina District will have about 1,250 residential units — 500 fewer than originally proposed for New Port Tampa Bay. 

We have not said much about this new project, because, while large, it has not been very inspiring. (You can see a site plan here)   The rendering of the Related proposal (here) is quite ordinary.  The other aspects have no renderings.  The one thing that still give us a little hope that this can be more than a generic development is the part about the condo towers with ground-floor shops, but, as New Port Tampa Bay taught us, there is no guarantee.

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

While we’ve come to expect the airport to get awards and high rankings, it is always nice when it happens.  This week:

On Monday, TIA was named Best Airport in North America in the 15-25 million passengers per year category, as part of the Airport Service Quality awards. The program is conducted by Airports Council International, the international trade group representing airports.

You can dig into the awards more here.

Well done. We still think it is the best overall airport, not just for its size.

Port – Containment

It is well-known that the Port is lagging in container service compared to other ports in Florida.  This week, WFTS had an interesting report on what might be going on.

While Anderson brags about the weight of containers coming in, “…for an annual total of over 37 million tons!” he says during his 2017 State of the Port speech.

The Tampa Port is lagging way behind when it comes to the number of containers coming in.

In 2015, Tampa, the largest Florida port land wise, shipped a total of 39 thousand (39,761) cargo containers, according to the most recent data by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But smaller ports like Jacksonville shipped more than 700 thousand (755,452). Miami (765,980). And Port Everglades (716,182) Also topped 700 thousand.

Usually, when you are trying to attract business from competitors, you go for competitive pricing and features.

“Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business” says Omer Ozer.

Omer and his brother Ugur own Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. They have been using Tampa’s port exclusively for 15 years. But now, they are considering leaving and alternative resources.

“We really love to stay in this town, we really enjoy here for family and everything but of course from business point, it doesn’t really make sense to stay in Tampa.  I’d rather be in Jacksonville or Miami” Omer says.

Omer says Tampa’s port only has one major ship line run by Zim, and the other ship line, MSC, piggybacks off Zim’s ships. They say a lack of competition drives up prices.

 “If we were in Jacksonville or Miami we would be making more than a million dollars a year and have less overhead.” Ugur says.

 “Tampa bay customers will end up paying more because the cost of freight to Tampa port is higher” Omer adds.

That would be a unique strategy for building business.

National chain, Rooms To Go, while headquartered in our area, is using Jacksonville’s port way more than Tampa.

According to industry used data company, Import Genius, they’ve shipped more than 11 thousand (11,775) containers in Jacksonville, and only 588 in Tampa all of last year.

Rooms To Go’s CEO Jeffrey Seaman tells us there just aren’t enough ships coming into Tampa.  

Local Kanes Furniture shipped 1,536 to Jacksonville while only shipping 122 to Tampa.

Badcock Furniture shipped 1,507 in Jacksonville and only 89 in Tampa.

“Tampa freight has always been higher than the rest of the ports” says Scott Taylor

Scott knows about freight costs, he’s Vice President of American Chung Nam, he says they’re one of the largest exporters per container in the world.

Scott tells us they have business in Tampa, but use other ports to save money.

“We have been forced to haul a lot of our business up to Jacksonville” Scott says. 

So what does the port have to say about it?  First, apparently nothing:

Reporter: “Mr. Anderson, Jarrod Holbrook ABC Action News good to meet you. Is there a reason why you won’t sit down and interview with us sir?”
Anderson: “No I have no reason not to sit down and interview with you.”
Reporter: “Ok we got an email from your office saying you have no interest in sitting down and talking to us.”

An email to the I-Team from Edward Miyagishima Port Tampa Bay’s VP of Communications and External Affairs states, “…..we believe there is no reason for a face-to-face interview.”

Setting aside that the port is partially funded with taxpayer money and is not a private company so the reticence to speak to the public is a bit odd, he finally said something:

Reporter: “Can you explain why businesses based here in Tampa, are using other ports other than Tampa?”
Anderson: “Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida. That’s something our citizens are so happy for.  It’s like your portfolio of your 401k.”

Diversification is a good thing.  Lack of competitiveness is not.  We all know that the Port underperforms in terms of containers. We get there are some challenges to building business at the Port. But some of the issues raised above have little to do with the usual reasons for not handling many containers.  What would be really helpful would be if there was an honest discussion about them and a clear plan to overcome them. (And less focus on real estate development.) Trying to avoid discussing obvious problems will get us nowhere.

No one wishes the port ill. We all want the Port to do well and help drive the economy. Nevertheless, reports like this and a seeming reluctance to address them head on creates concerns.

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

There was new about the Morrison, mixed use (really mixed use) development on South Howard this week.

A Pilates studio and a new concept from a Tampa entrepreneur have committed to ground-floor retail space in The Morrison, a mixed-use development under construction in South Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood.

The Morrison, at 936 S. Howard Ave., will be home to the region’s second Club Pilates studio as well as the third location of the Blind Tiger Cafe — one that will be open for happy hours and dinner, serving food, wine and cold-pressed juices alongside its coffee menu.

We are actually not that interested in what retail will actually be in the building.  We are more interested in the building itself.  It looks like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

What is remarkable about the project is that it is remarkable at all.  It is a building built to the street with apartments above and retail below.  In other words, it is a standard, urban building.  It may be nicer than some but the concept is not new (just look literally across the street to the building that housed Hugo’s.

It just makes us wonder why it seems so hard to get something so straightforward to be the basic model of development (not necessarily even of that size, 2 stories is fine) in all of our urban corridors.  It does not have to exclusive to “upscale” areas.  Yes, we have gotten better, especially in historical areas (and with renovations), but we still have too many new buildings that either are set back with surface parking out front or that, if built to the street, fail to interact with it (or are built up with parking underneath and barely even have a front door) even in areas that the City says it wants to be walkable (like this in Westshore).

Hopefully, the success of this project will breed copy-cats.  Having a truly supportive code would be even better.

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