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Roundup 5-26-2017

May 26, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X?

USF Area/Channel District/Downtown – Done Deal

Economic Development – Jobs

The Accidental Event

Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – A Very Hard Problem

Downtown – City Or Not?

Walking/Biking/Transit – Tales from the Field

Temple Terrace – At Serious Risk of Blowing It

Airport – News?

Economic Development/Tourism – ¿Q?

St. Pete –Oh, Those Consultants

Art – One Brick at a Time

____________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X?

FDOT unveiled its TBX restart this week, Tampa Bay Next. (website here)

From the Times – click on picture for article

The landing page of its website tells us: “Tampa Bay has a traffic problem. We’re working on a comprehensive set of solutions.” Setting aside that the Tampa Bay area has a transportation problem – not just a traffic problem, we are fine with the idea of a comprehensive set of solutions (contingent on what they are).  We have been asking for that for a long time.

The website does not really say much after that (what can they say, really, other than “we’re looking at it”), but the Times had an article:

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Tampa Bay Next on Monday as its replacement for the controversial TBX plan, which faced steady community backlash for the past couple years.

DOT officials said the most controversial aspect of the old TBX plan is still under consideration: spending $6 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to Interstates 4,75 and 275 that do not currently have tolls. Any projects that were part of TBX will be evaluated under Tampa Bay Next, along with alternatives, said local DOT director of development Bill Jones.

“The department — right, wrong or different — two years ago focused on express lanes as the method of solving congestion in the Tampa Bay Region,” local DOT secretary Paul Steinman said. “What people are saying is they want to see the department reach out and look at all the potential solutions …so that all opportunities are considered.”

Ok, but

Express lanes will still happen, officials said, in some parts of Tampa Bay. But the purpose of Tampa Bay Next is to make sure other options — such as transit, bike lanes and other creative road solutions — are included.

* * *

Under Tampa Bay Next, DOT is still planning express lanes for the Gateway Connector in Pinellas, the Howard Frankland Bridge and I-4 and the Selmon Expressway Connector. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is building express lanes on portions of the Veterans Expressway.

But the future of the express lanes planned along I-275 from the bridge up to the University of South Florida, along with those on the Westshore and downtown Tampa interchanges, is dependent on the conversations that happen at these community workshops over the next several years, Steinman said.

If you are looking at all the different solutions and really want input, you do not predetermine segments, especially to include something that many people do not want at all.

There’s no end-date for these community meetings, Jones said. As the meetings continue, DOT will build incremental projects that have received community consensus.

This new approach puts the department about two years behind its original schedule to implement TBX, Steinman said.

“When people propose something, we’re going to look at it,” he said. “I’m not saying you’re always going to get what you’re asking for, but we’re going to look at what the best opportunities are as we sit here and reopen this thing.”

Best opportunities as defined by whom?  And if you are going to have comprehensive solutions, they should be integrated and coordinated.  That goes back to the new website landing page – the solutions need to form a transportation system to fix a transportation problem, not just traffic – with emphasis on transportation and system. Determining a few segments before having any idea about the rest makes no sense.  Though, maybe, just maybe, they are really reevaluating everything:

For all the discussion of this “reboot” as a way of starting over in coming up with a transportation plan the community can buy into, express toll lanes remain an option the FDOT is considering, but not necessarily in areas where Tampa transit activists are most concerned.

That would be the downtown interchange area just north of downtown Tampa on I-275, as well as the Westshore interchange.

“That’s all under re-evaluation,” says Danielle Moran, program consultant for FDOT on the Tampa Bay Next project. “FDOT is doing exactly what everybody asked them to do last year. They have slowed down the pace of the project to wait for the results of the Transit Feasibility plan.”

Also known as the “premium transit plan,” that study recently came up with five transit routes that are being considered a “starting point.” It will continue deep into 2018.

That sounds good, but it should be noted that it does not necessarily mean any actual changes to TBX.

Given the seemingly conflicting information, it will be interesting to see how much of the new TB(n)X is basically the old TBX in new wrapping.  While talking about community input and putting a picture of a bike and some nondescript transit vehicle is positive (sort of), what counts is what plans emerge.  As the FDOT consultant said:

DOT consultant Len Becker said the differences will show through once DOT starts rolling out projects that the community supports.

“Trust is built with time,” Becker said. “To me, this is all about follow through.”

Exactly.  The acknowledgement of that is positive.  We’ll see about the rest.

USF Area/Channel District/Downtown – Done Deal

For anyone who thought that the MOSI move was not a done deal:

The Museum of Science and Industry this fall will begin seriously preparing for a relocation to downtown Tampa, with a goal of opening in 2022.

MOSI on Thursday announced a “visioning” process that will begin after Aug. 13, concurrent with the reconfiguration of its current real estate into “a reimagined, financially sustainable science center.”

The museum will close for two to three months during the reconfiguration process which begins in mid-August. There is no firm reopening date, but spokesman Grayson Kamm said Thursday that it could be in October or November.

The reconfiguration should save money, slashing “massive operations costs,” according to the museum. It will also mean the end of the museum’s IMAX theater, some outdoor features like the butterfly garden and new, lower ticket prices.

Robert Thomas, incoming MOSI board chairman and CEO of 2 Rivers Ranch, said Thursday that the closure was timed to coincide with the museum’s slowest time of year to minimize impact to the bottom line.

“This will serve as a proof-of-concept testing ground for fresh ideas that may be implemented in the new downtown facility,” MOSI said in a news release.

At the same time, the museum, along with the Vinik Family Foundation and Hillsborough County, will form a task force to shape what a potential downtown location might look like. A feasibility study MOSI released in 2016 showed that a downtown location would be a financial boon to the organization. 

All of which got an enthusiastic editorial from the Times:

Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry made a difficult but necessary decision Thursday in announcing it would significantly downsize its campus in advance of relocating to downtown Tampa. The move will save MOSI money while preserving its presence and educational mission, and it signals that museum leaders are willing to confront the reality of the marketplace. This is a good move that should bolster public confidence in MOSI and better position it to succeed at its new location.

It’s not that we necessarily oppose moving MOSI to a downtown/Channel District location (depending on the plan).  It’s just that it sure seems like a decision made without any real public input or discussion.  (Of course, that is not really unusual for local decisions historically.) It is entirely likely that, even with such input and discussion, there would be the same outcome.

The thing we really wonder about any new location is whether MOSI can actually be made interesting enough to really bring people in.  And what will the county do with the present MOSI site?

Economic Development – Jobs

There has been a lot of news about the good job performance in this area (and the state) over the last few years. This week is no exception, like this:

The state’s unemployment fell from 4.8 percent in March to 4.5 percent in April, the lowest rate since November 2007. Nationally, unemployment was slightly lower than the Sunshine State’s, coming in at 4.4 percent for April, according to figures released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Tampa Bay’s overall unemployment rate shaved off 0.3 percentage points over the month to hit 3.8 percent for April.

* * *

The entire Tampa Bay region saw declining unemployment in April. Hillsborough County’s unemployment was 3.7 percent, down from 4 percent in March. Pinellas dropped from 3.9 to 3.6 percent, while Pasco dipped from 4.6 to 4.2 percent. Hernando also saw a drop from 5.4 percent to 5 percent.

Since March, Tampa Bay added 2,300 jobs, and a total of 33,400 since April 2016. Among the sectors with the greatest job growth in the region were professional and business services and construction.

“The Tampa area also led the state in job openings, which means there are thousands of opportunities for Floridians to find the opportunities they need to succeed in Tampa Bay,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a release. “We will keep fighting to make Tampa, and our entire state, a top destination for job growth.” 

So it was interesting to see this in the Business Journal:

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area showed strong job growth from 2012 to 2016, but was well below other Florida metro areas.

A new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors shows the Tampa metro area had a 2.9 percent growth in jobs from 2012 to 2016, ranking in No. 54 nationally. While this indicates a strong job market, eight other Florida metros grew at a faster rate.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers had the highest rate of growth at 5.1 percent, which ranked third-highest in the country, followed by North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota at 4.3 percent (sixth nationally), The Villages at 4.1 percent (eighth) and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (ninth) at 4 percent.

While Tampa’s mouse-eared neighbor up Interstate 4 outpaced it in growth rate, Tampa still ranked higher in total number of jobs. However, that gap is now only 78,700, with 1.28 million jobs in the Tampa metro and 1.2 million in Orlando.

The other two major Florida metros, Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, also outpaced the Tampa region. Lakeland-Winter Haven fell slightly lower at 2.4 percent.

(The report can be found here) Note that those numbers are over a period of time, which is truly a better measure of performance than a one year or quarter snapshot. (There were also predictions about the future, but we are not going to put much stock in those.)

We are not going to put down the overall numbers of new jobs in this area.  However, as we have said numerous times, you can compare present performance to our previous performance and/or you can compare how we are doing to how other areas are doing.  On the first, we are doing very well.  On the second, the results are mixed.  And then there is always the issue of our low incomes.

So, yes, we are doing better, but we still have a way to go.

The Accidental Event

Sometimes opportunity just falls into your lap.  Thus it was this week with Super Bowl LV.

NFL owners voted unanimously Tuesday to shift Super Bowl LV, which will be played in February 2021, from Los Angeles to Tampa.

It will be Tampa’s first Super Bowl since 2009, when the Steelers scored a last-minute touchdown to beat the Cardinals 27-23. Tampa also hosted the NFL championship game in 1984, 1991 and 2001.

The league had originally awarded the game to Los Angeles, which is building a stadium for the Rams and Chargers. The stadium was set to open in 2019, but heavy rains have delayed construction and pushed back its debut to the summer of 2020.

Because NFL rules prohibit stadiums from hosting Super Bowls during their inaugural season, owners decided to relocate the game to Raymond James Stadium, which has seen more than $150 million in renovations that have included video board and sound updates as well as concourse improvements.

Tampa was a finalist for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls but lost out to Atlanta and Miami.

In other words, we were originally snubbed but Mother Nature gave us a reprieve.  Cool.  We are all for big events in the area.  They may not do all that some boosters say, but they definitely show off the area, and they often bring some fun stuff for locals.  We’ll just say that usually having them is better than not having them.

Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said his organization had been monitoring the situation in Los Angeles and began to seriously prepare for the possibility of hosting the game about three or four days ago.

Higgins said his group will now revisit its previous bid, reaching out to hotels, event venues and other community leaders to ensure their commitment to the 2021 game. That has to be done before the league will officially award the game to Tampa, Higgins said.

Based on the Sports Commission’s past efficient performance in big events, we expect they will get everything worked out.

Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – A Very Hard Problem

There was an article in the Times about what is one of the hardest problems in trying to redevelop areas – how to deal with the homeless.  Clearly, there have to be facilities to deal with the homeless and others down on their luck.  However, if we are honest, it is harder to get investment or attract customers to places where the homeless congregate.  On the other hand, if you move a facility serving the homeless from one area to another, you just move the problem and just put it on different people.  With that in mind:

The Salvation Army operates the Red Shield Lodge in Tampa Heights, the city’s only homeless shelter that takes in single men and women. It provides temporary emergency housing for up to 110 people each night.

But the organization’s 90-year-old building on N Florida Avenue is well past its prime. And the land, in a flourishing part of the downtown corridor near Water Works Park and Ulele Restaurant, is a coveted piece of property that has generated plenty of interest.

And, yes, we have often wondered about that location.

Hillsborough County has a vacant building in Seminole Heights. The Salvation Army is weighing a move of its homeless shelter out of downtown.

Might there be a match?

Hillsborough officials have approached the Tampa branch of the Salvation Army about turning the old Emergency Operations Center on E Hanna Avenue into a homeless shelter.

The conversations were described as preliminary, but both sides have expressed interest in a partnership.

“We’re seriously considering it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. “It would really benefit everyone.”

It appears to be the property at 2711 E Hanna Ave.  First, that is not really Seminole Heights.  It is more East Tampa.  Second,

Salvation Army Capt. Andy Miller acknowledged the value of the [Tampa Heights] property “might make it a wiser move to liquidate our assets downtown and we can accomplish our mission better elsewhere with the right situation.”

But he said a deal with the county is not the only option under consideration and nothing is imminent.

“If we can accomplish the mission best by staying downtown, we will,” Miller said. “If we can accomplish it best by going someplace else, we will.”

Which, from the perspective of the Salvation Army’s and their mission, totally makes sense.  We know the City would like them to move, so what is their approach?

The discussions come as relations between the city of Tampa and some groups that help the homeless — including the Salvation Army — are strained.

* * *

In fact, Buckhorn refuses to talk to the Salvation Army and the two haven’t talked since Miller took over nearly a year ago.

“Some people had said to me, ‘The mayor is putting pressure on you and that’s why you’re leaving,’ ” Miller said. “He’s not even willing to talk to us. It’s really frustrating to me.”

Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman confirmed the mayor won’t meet with Miller.

“He’s never found them to be good partners nor recognize the impact of that use on adjoining communities,” Bauman said. “He’s met with them repeatedly during his tenure as mayor and has never had a productive conversation.”

Frankly, that characterization is a bit odd (everyone knows what the Salvation Army does and what their priorities are) and not talking is also not productive (miscommunication/lack of dialogue seems to be an issue this week. See here and here), but anyway . . .

Working of this one report, like all issues dealing with this matter, we have mixed feelings.  Would it be nice to move the homeless facilities from Tampa Heights?  Yes.  But just pushing the homeless into another neighborhood out of sight is not really fixing anything.  And will they even be able to get to the new facility or will they just be where they are now without and facilities? And what of the neighborhood where the new facility is put? Do they want it? Who speaks for them?

Like we said, it is a complicated issue, which is why talking, even if people disagree, is important. Nothing is going to improve without talking about it.

Downtown – City Or Not?

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a proposal to renovate a three-story building downtown.

There’s a proposal for 1007 North Franklin Street causing a stir. The owners of Drynk SoHo want to renovate the 3 story masonry building at that address into a restaurant/bar/lounge combo, including utilizing the rooftop for lounge space. Some residents have already sent in letters opposing the project on the grounds of noise, excess alcohol consumption, parking (or lack thereof) and other miscellaneous objections.

We have a different perspective. This is Downtown, and Downtowns of major metropolitan areas like our own get larger entertainment venues like this. It is up to the city to enforce their noise ordinances and for businesses to comply. If businesses can’t comply, they get shut down and owners lose out on their investment for not complying. The Franklin Manor has already been successful and reviving their little pocket of Downtown, and these types of entertainment options are necessary in creating vibrant live, work, play neighborhoods. Also, Downtowns are inherently “loud” due to their density and mix of uses. That doesn’t mean residents should have to put up with sources that break code or are unreasonable, but if you want dead silence outside at 1 AM on a Thursday night, then we have a gated cul-de-sac or noise preventing window tint to sell you.

Unlike Franklin Manor, the vast majority of this venue is indoors, with the exception of the rooftop part. Therefore, we suggest a condition that would restrict or ban live music and also set certain volume standards for DJ’d music on the roof. That should remedy all of the legitimate fears the residents in opposition have brought up thus far.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are generally in agreement with that view.  We are all for renovating the remaining old buildings downtown (far too much has been torn down over the years).  And, it is downtown.  If you choose to live there, you should expect some nightspots to be open a bit late with some noise.  We are also good with the proposed restriction of the rooftop portion of the bar.  One other issue brought up in the comments is that the people proposing this project have another business elsewhere that has drawn some complaints.  We do not know all the details behind that and those facts may change this specific proposal.  However, if there is such an issue, it can be dealt with and has nothing to do with the basic idea.

However, as a general rule, downtown is downtown.  There will be some noise (though some reasonable restrictions make sense).  If you don’t want it, don’t live there.

Walking/Biking/Transit – Tales from the Field

There were some interesting articles about what it is like to walk, bike and use transit in the Tampa Bay area.  We are not going to get into all the details but, first, from the Times:

Six months ago, Kyle Simon ditched his car and pretty much walked where he needed to go. And he did this here, in one of the most dangerous places in America to be a pedestrian.

Can you see where this story is going?

Yea, you can guess.  Or you can read it here.

A few weeks ago, we noted a Creative Loafing series where the head of the Innovation Alliance was going to write about getting around only using transit.  The latest installment is here.  It is also going pretty much as you would assume.

The whole point of these stories is to detail what is actually happening the in the area while there is much talk about fixing the alternative transportation infrastructure.  And if you actually have tried to use it, you know it is not too good (though there are a few places where walking or biking actually work).  As far as we can tell, decision makers still do not really understand how bad it is (probably because they do not get out and try it.  Why else would you have so many sidewalks to nowhere and bike lanes that no sane person would use?)

While FDOT is reevaluating its “traffic solutions,” they need to be mindful of the alternatives to driving and the impediments that exist to them.  And so should local officials.

Temple Terrace – At Serious Risk of Blowing It

Over the years we have touched on Temple Terrace’s attempt to build a “downtown” on a large property at 56th and Busch/Bullard.   So far, despite much talk and many proposals, nothing has actually happened.

Some in Temple Terrace are concerned an empty plot of city-owned land will be turned into another big-box store or chain retailer.

* * *

Instead of empty parking lots, they would like to see a mixed-use plan for the land, including apartments, condos, restaurants, office spaces and green space.

This is all a part of an original idea city leaders and community members came up with together several years ago, Long said.

“We just need some place where people can shop and go and enjoy themselves and have a good meal,” Long said.,

But then, community members say delays happened when it came to developing the land and it has since sat vacant.  Now, the City of Temple Terrace is planning to sell the land again.

However, some community members are concerned the city will sell the land only to the highest bidder instead of what they feel is the best option for the area to grow and develop.

* * *

City Man[a]ger Charles W. Stephenson said he could say very little at this time about the plans for the land because it is currently up for bid. . .. City leaders are taking bids from all different kinds of companies. Stephenson said. However, just because a bid is taken doesn’t mean that city leaders will approve it, he said.

The city will stop accepting bids for the land on May 26th.

The last thing Temple Terrace needs is big box retail on that lot, especially given that many big box retailers are on questionable footing at this point.  The original concept of building a walkable, mixed use project on the land is plainly the best idea for the neighborhood, the city, and the area.  Given all the development around the area, why Temple Terrace cannot get it done is somewhat of a mystery. All we can say is don’t blow it.

Airport – News?

While there has been no official announcement (and like Bahamasair, you never know), it appears that next year there will be additional Canada service:

Canadian carrier airtransat in winter 2017/18 season is adding several new nonstop sectors to sun destinations, including Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. Planned new sectors as follow. Note operational date listed above is based on departure from Canada.

* * *
Montreal – Tampa 18FEB18 – 29APR18 1 weekly 737-800
* * *
Toronto – Tampa 18FEB18 – 29APR18 1 weekly 737-800

The flights are also listed on their website. Any new service is welcome.

Economic Development/Tourism – ¿Q?

The headline from the Business Journal daily update really caught our attention: “How Visit Tampa Bay is reaching out to the Spanish-speaking tourism market for the first time.”  How could that be, especially given this:

“Tampa Bay has one of Florida’s oldest and most dynamic Spanish-speaking communities,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “On top of that, our 131-year relationship with Cuba enhances our status as a must-see destination for Spanish-speaking travelers.”

* * *

Research shows that the Hispanic travel market likes to go to areas like Tampa “where there is some similarity but also something a little different from home,” said Patrick Harrison, Visit Tampa Bay’s chief marketing officer.

Don’t get us wrong.  We are no opposed to such marketing.  We are wondering how, with our long history, it could possibly be the first time such marketing is done (aside from the normal Tampa Bay are complacency).

We sure hope they are actively marketing to markets in Latin America.

St. Pete –Oh, Those Consultants

We don’t really get too much into the whole Pier discussion in St. Pete because, well, it just seems to go on and on.  However, recently, something caught our eye that has broader implications.

An economic analysis of the future Pier District promises a rosy return on the project’s current $66 million pricetag.

The study by Lambert Advisory of Miami estimates that the district — which is not yet under construction and is expected to open at the end of 2018 — will have a potential annual economic impact on St. Petersburg of $80 million, create hundreds of jobs, bring in close to two million visitors a year and boost demand for hotels and restaurants.

Lambert expects spending by the anticipated crowds of local and out-of-town visitors to have a broad impact beyond the 26-acre Pier District and the surrounding downtown area. Visitors are expected to spend about $30 million for food and beverages, $10 million for retail and services and $15 million for hotels.

And

Lambert also said many of the assumptions were conservative, and echoed the city’s stance that the recently-increased project scope and budget will produce a major tourist attraction for the region.  But he admitted there was no accounting for “displacement,” which is money locals might spend at the new pier instead of other parts of the region, possibly hurting other local businesses.

It’s not that we don’t like downtown St. Pete (we do) or that we were big fans of the upside-down pyramid (we weren’t), but those conclusions seem a bit inflated. As Creative Loafing put it:

. . . whether it’s a pier or a stadium or a shopping mall, all predictive economic impact reports commissioned by invested parties are bullshit. Now, we’re not saying we think the pier will be bad for the city. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re just saying that ALL PREDICTIVE ECONOMIC IMPACT REPORTS COMMISSIONED BY INVESTED PARTIES ARE BULLSHIT. Learn it, know it, live it.

Ok, that may be overstating a bit.  Such reports are not universally overly sunny, but very often are. Sometimes, rarely, they underestimate impact.  Occasionally, they come close.  But you can never really tell beforehand except by knowing the market generally, the market for the specific thing, and what has happened elsewhere (which is what studies are supposed to do, but …). In sum, with economic impact reports, it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Given all that, whether we are for something or opposed to it, we generally don’t put that much faith in such reports unless it can be clearly quantified.

That does not mean don’t do it.  It doesn’t mean it is a bad investment. It does not mean that there may be a number of reasons to do something and it may attract more interests in a longer time frame or when a better support structure gets built around it. And it does not mean a project will definitely not be a success. It just means that view such reports with healthy skepticism.

Art – One Brick at a Time

In another sign the Lightning owner gets it,

The Vinik Family Foundation is announcing today that it will sponsor a free, family-friendly art installation from June 23 to Sept. 4 called “The Art of the Brick.” It’s a touring exhibition of imaginative Lego creations by Nathan Sawaya that has been drawing huge crowds around the world since 2007.

In an interview at the couple’s art-filled home in South Tampa, the Viniks said it’s the kind of public art experience they plan to seek more of as the Channelside area is remade. It’s not just for fun, they said, it’s good for business.

* * *

The exhibit will be set up in a Channelside area warehouse that used to be the District 3 nightclub at 802 E Whiting St. With more than 18,000 square feet of space, it will be roomy enough that organizers are not requiring visitors to obtain tickets, like they did with The Beach Tampa.

At the end of the exhibit, there will be a Lego play area and visitors will be invited to leave a creation of their own on one of the shelves to be uploaded on social media at #artofthebricktampa.

The exhibit will arrive just as dirt starts turning on the redevelopment plan devised by Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, which formed the development company Strategic Property Partners. The development will have a strong public art component for what he envisions is a walkable urban experience, Vinik said.

“We want a vibrant downtown urban district with artwork, parks, green space, dog parks and all these different amenities to give you a great street-level experience,” he said.

The exhibit looks interesting and fun.  And it is just another instance of the Lightning owner following up on what he says with action.  We can only hope his development overall does the same.  The evidence so far is encouraging.

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