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Roundup 7-14-2017

July 14, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

— The Study

— The Bridge

— And the Land

— Conclusion

— One More Thing

West Tampa – End of the Homes

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

— Show Us the Money

Downtown – AER lives

Downtown – Delay

Downtown – Why?

Downtown – Yes and No

— One More Thing

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

___________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

As always, there was transportation news this week.

— The Study

There was an article in the Times on TB(n)X this week.  There was not much new, but it had a few noteworthy points.

In 2014, the state announced an ambitious road project called Tampa Bay Express. Known as TBX, the Florida Department of Transportation planned to add toll lanes to 90 miles of interstates.

That all changed in 2016 when public outcry forced the state to scrap its plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge, put the rest of the $6 billion plan in reset mode and come back with a new project name: Tampa Bay Next.

In January, officials opened a federal study that will re-evaluate parts of the project, including a controversial segment around downtown Tampa and its urban neighborhoods. The supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS, is expected to be completed in 2019.

According to federal regulations (In this case 23 CFR 771.130), this is when you do an SEIS:

(a) A draft EIS, final EIS, or supplemental EIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS shall be supplemented whenever the Administration determines that:

(1) Changes to the proposed action would result in significant environmental impacts that were not evaluated in the EIS; or

(2) New information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts would result in significant environmental impacts not evaluated in the EIS.

That does not sound like a reevaluation of the transportation plan based on the community’s desires looking at all options in a comprehensive way.  In fact, we are a bit unclear about how FDOT can do an environmental study on a yet to be decided plan. But we’ll just go with the explanation that is the bureaucratic way to say they might be looking at something new.

So, let’s look at the map of old TBX:

From the Times – click on map for article

Note the yellow part, which is Gateway Express:

Gateway

$545 million, construction begins late 2017

The Gateway Expressway will create two elevated roadways from Bayside Bridge and U.S. 19 to Interstate 275. This is the first place Tampa Bay drivers will see toll lanes, with construction starting later this year.

Setting aside that of all the segments of TBX we are least concerned with the Gateway Express part (aside from the express lane part), those two things (doing a study until 2019 and starting construction in 2017) seem contradictory, but, apparently, the SEIS has nothing to do with Pinellas which does not fit the idea of looking at all options for a comprehensive solutions for the region’s transportation.

And this about the main part through Tampa:

West Shore and downtown Tampa

$2.835 billion for all four segments, final design awaiting results of federal study

A big part of the former TBX plan is being reconsidered under a new federal study.

Four segments — the West Shore and downtown Tampa interchanges and spans of I-275 from West Shore through downtown north up to Bearrs [sic] Ave. — are part of the study, which is expected to wrap-up in 2019. That study will determine whether toll lanes will run through each of these parts or if the state will go with another option, such as light rail or reconstructing I-275 at street level. The study might also recommend a combination of these options.

This, or at least parts of it, is where the SEIS is apparently being done, per the TB(n)X website. Of course, if you read the explanation of the SEIS on that website, it is all about interstate:

FDOT is currently working with the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to determine the preferred alternative for improving our interstate system. In its planning phase, this process serves as a community conversation and planning effort on the future of our region’s interstate system and how it integrates with multimodal choices under development across our region.

But:

The SEIS will focus on the Downtown and Westshore Area interchanges and the section of I-275 between those areas.

Which is not the same thing as the already limited purpose of how the interstate system integrates with multimodal transportation and transit.  In fact, that is extremely narrow in focus – and does not include  the Howard Frankland, I-4 or anything in Pinellas – and it does not include Seminole Heights (and even parts of Tampa Heights).  That does not seem like a fresh look at the whole project.

— The Bridge

As if to emphasize the point about studies, input, looking at all options, and all that, the Times had this late this week:

A few years ago, local leaders had approved the state’s plan for a new bridge that would include toll lanes. But what many of those leaders didn’t know was that those toll lanes would replace existing lanes. So, drivers who didn’t want to pay would lose a free lane.

Those willing to pay to get across the bridge — the price would change price based on traffic — could use the fourth lane.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the lost free lane in September. More than a dozen elected officials told the Times they did not know that DOT’s plan included reducing the number of free lanes.

Setting aside that the Times actually reported it (maybe a little vaguely) in 2014 (as we noted at the time “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away”) and local officials could have known then (some did and did not really care), what about all the discussions and studies?  Nevermind.  Here is what the Times tells us:

A new, six-lane bridge will be built to the north of the existing bridges. It will carry traffic south, from Tampa to St. Petersburg. Two of those lanes will be tolled (one in each direction). A concrete barrier will separate them from each other and regular traffic.

Looks like this:

Present Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

New Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not only that but:

The state plans to start construction in 2020, and expects the entire process, including tearing down the old bridge, to take about five years.

Aside from the whole express lane concept (and the mess that will ensue if there is a crash somewhere in the walled off lanes – do you get a refund of your exorbitant fee if you get stuck?), at least keeping the four free lanes in each direction is better than the original plan.  However, it does leave an open question: what about transit, and not just express buses?  What about the whole regional transit study and integrating it with all transportation planning?  Is the bridge going to be built for transit?  (Not to mention: what about the bottleneck on the Tampa side which isn’t the whole problem but is a big problem?)  What about outreach for what people in this area actually want?

In sum, what is actually going on here?

— And the Land

And then there is this:

. . . the Florida Department of Transportation continues to buy land intended for the toll lanes and other aspects of the expansion that are supposed to be on hold.

Critics say those property buys make it hard to believe the state has any intention of considering alternatives to easing the interstate bottleneck from Ybor City through downtown Tampa and into the West Shore business district.

“You can’t in one moment tell us the project is in reset and that all other options are now on the table and in the next moment tell us you’re still acquiring properties secondary to the original plan,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “Those two things put together simply don’t make any intellectual sense to me.”

So why are they doing it?

Officials are considering everything from the previously proposed toll lanes to light rail to a relatively new concept known as a boulevard. That option involves tearing down I-275 north of downtown Tampa and rebuilding it at street level with more options for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians. Examples around the country include Canal Street in New Orleans and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, DOT officials say something still needs to be done to fix that part of the highway.

“The interchanges, no matter what option we choose, they need to be reconstructed,” Jones said. “We want to be in the best position possible to actually implement whatever option we choose, because Tampa Bay needs a solution as soon as we come to consensus.”

Which has some logic to it, but:

But that explanation doesn’t sit well with some of community members who have seen properties DOT already bought in historic neighborhoods become worn-down and grungy.

“You end up with a house or business that is boarded up and goes derelict in a relatively short period of time, and it winds up being a weight on the neighborhood,” Fernandez said. “There’s absolutely no telling how long that situation will continue. Until there’s a plan, we continue having FDOT-created blight.”

Without an identified footprint, Fernandez said, it doesn’t make sense to further damage neighborhoods. And he said it certainly doesn’t build trust with a community that has been skeptical of the DOT since the project was rolled out.

Which also is logical.  We get that with pretty much any plan, some land is going to be needed, but since we do not know (and FDOT says it does not know) what the plan might be and exactly what land might be needed (are they buying land for possible rail lines?) and buying up this land is hurting a neighborhood as opposed to just like buying some parking lots fronting strip malls, it makes one wonder.

It does so especially in the light of this FDOT document dated January 2017 (the URL implies it was posted in February) about the time there was supposed to be a TBX reset.  What is really interesting is section 6, stating at pg 46 of the pdf concerning public outreach, which is not about getting ideas, it is about selling ideas.  For instance, look at their audience section 6.1.1:

6.1.1 Audiences

The Draft Tampa Bay Express Master Plan defines key audiences for the initial planning phases. The initial outreach focused on elected  officials,  regional  leaders,  transportation  agencies  and  professionals, transportation  supporters,  and  the  media.  Following this initial outreach, outreach should include neighborhood groups, business associations, political, social and religious organizations and underrepresented communities.

As  the  projects move towards  implementation,  continued  outreach to  these  individuals  and  groups is  needed.    Additionally, outreach shall occur to identify and publicize success stories to the general public, as well as to understand and mitigate any consumer concerns with the TBX EL network. 

In sum, after everything is planned, then talk to the affected people.

Remember, this is Jan/Feb 2017 – after the reset. We don’t know if FDOT really open to changing the plan or just implementing the previous plan more slickly.

— Conclusion

The problem is that nothing is clear.  Information does not flow smoothly and clearly from FDOT and local oversight has not been very good.  The whole process is marked by confusion, which is a shame.  There could be a logical explanation of how this all fits together, but such an explanation is never forth-coming.

FDOT has the opportunity to really start doing things in a new, better way.  We still hope that is what they are trying to do, but it really is not clear.  And that does not create confidence.

— One More Thing

One final bit of FDOT news:

David Gwynn will take over District 7, which comprises Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, according to an email FDOT Secretary Mike Dew sent to employees. Gwynn currently serves as the director of transportation operations in District 1, which is based in Bartow.

We have no opinion about that other than we hope he gets that his new district has very different needs than his old one and that we hope he actually follows through with FDOT’s promised new approach.

West Tampa – End of the Homes

There was news about the “West River” project in West Tampa.

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

First, a start/finish:

Change was in the air.

Tampa’s oldest public housing complex is about to undergo a major change.

On Thursday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn kicked off the process by partially bulldozing one of the buildings at North Boulevard Homes. Residents actually started moving out two years ago. The project is a multi-million dollar community.

That has been a long time in coming.  So long, in fact, that what seems to be the first really public discussion (at least as far as we can tell) of what was in the dirt was a bit surprising:

But clearing away concrete may be easier than dealing with a mess that lies below the surface: a sludgy plume of toxic groundwater that has been spreading for decades, according to state records.

Located about 10 to 30 feet below ground, the water contains unsafe levels of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen known to increase the risk of cancer, especially in the liver. Pollutants leached into the ground from a long-closed chemical supply firm.

Tampa Housing Authority leaders remain confident that West River can still proceed. The agency is in talks with state environmental officials about how to work around the spill. But there is concern whether they will be able to build proposed residential towers or retention ponds directly above the plume.

Kind of odd that this issue was not really worked out (and publicly discussed) with the years of public discussion and master planning.  It should have been.

Housing Authority officials were not aware how far the pollution had spread until a 2014 study found pollutants in monitoring wells dug close to North Boulevard Homes and recommended a full site assessment be conducted. That report, published in March, shows the plume has spread northeast and lies beneath a sizable portion of the public housing complex.

The above paragraph seems to say the information was sat on for around 3 years, which is a bit odd.

In any event:

Buckhorn said the city often has to deal with contamination left behind from abandoned industrial sites. The city will look for grants and other funding if required to clean up the site, he said.

“We’ll collectively find a way to fix it,” he said. “It’s not insurmountable.”

No, it is not, but if there is a clean-up, it will cost money.  Will it be public money or private money (like from the chosen developers) or a little bit of both?  And there is this:

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials said the plume poses no health risk. The contamination is not in the soil. Homes and businesses in the area use city water.

Still, the Housing Authority may be required to sign a covenant with the environmental agency that it will not disturb the plume. Even retention ponds may be prohibited above the plume.

“Until we know what their redevelopment plan involves, such as where they plan to have green space versus roads, buildings, ponds, etc., we would not be able to determine which restrictions would apply to their construction project,” said Shannon Herbon, a DEP spokewoman.

That last part is interesting in that it points out something important – DEP apparently does not know the actual plan.  We know visions.  We know things have changed a bit.  But the actual plan to be built is still a bit vague.  It’s not that we don’t like the basic vision.  We do (with some caveats), but it would be nice to know what actually is going to happen.  And it would be useful to know, in light of the fact that how much the whole thing will cost is contingent on it and there is public money involved.  And it would be nice if all the facts were just put out there now, so there are no more surprises.

— Show Us the Money

And, speaking of public money, there is more complication:

Now, the Tampa Housing Authority and a developer backed by the Hillsborough County Commission are in direct competition for a similar award, a situation that strained relations between the two government agencies.

The Housing Authority won the award for the Boulevard at West River, a $50 million apartment complex that would create 200 affordable housing units as part of its West Tampa revitalization project.

But Blue Sky Communities, the developer backed by the county, is asking an administrative judge to disqualify the Housing Authority because of “errors” in its application. It wants the tax credits for a $25 million, 144-unit affordable housing complex it planned for Williams Road in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

If the challenge is successful, it would likely delay construction of the Boulevard for at least a year, said Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority’s chief operating officer.

A year delay is not a huge thing in the greater scheme of things.  But this is important:

The Boulevard, planned for the northwest corner of Main Street and Willow Avenue, was the choice of both the Housing Authority and the city of Tampa.

Records show that the county also planned to support it with the understanding that the Williams Road project, which would be built just north of Broadway Avenue, would get the recommendation the following year.

But at a December meeting where commissioners were scheduled to approve that decision, Assistant County Administrator Eric Johnson told commissioners to ignore the recommendation in front of them. Instead, he urged them to make the Preserve at Sabal Park the county’s recommendation.

When questioned by commissioners, Johnson said there was concern that the Housing Authority was already facing a legal challenge over the choice of the Boulevard, and that the Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommended the county support a project outside the city of Tampa.

Either project would benefit the county, he said during the meeting.

Actually, the redeveloping North Boulevard Homes and West Tampa would benefit the entire area much more, but we’ll set that aside for now.  What is the legal challenge?

Blue Sky’s legal challenge against the Housing Authority states that it failed on its application to list all of the development officers from its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp. It also overstated how much experience Banc of America development officer Eileen Pope has with affordable housing development, the complaint states.

Officials from Blue Sky did not return a phone call seeking comment.

A hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled on Tuesday in Tallahassee. The judge is likely to then issue an order on the case in the next 60 days.

So the legal challenge is by the developer that stands to benefit from the County choice, which is based on the legal challenge.  Let’s just say, on its face, that seems like odd reasoning.

Downtown – AER lives

After quite a bit of inaction, there was news about the AER project next to the Straz:

Miami-based American Land Ventures has submitted its design plans for a residential tower near the David J. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts to the city of Tampa. That approval will ensure the tower — named AER in the Arts District — complies with city guidelines on items like the proposed elevations, green space and setbacks.

AER was originally proposed in January 2013. One reason for the project’s delay is that roadwork construction must be scheduled around the Straz’s Broadway series, giving it a narrow window in which to break ground.

Those design plans detail a 33-story tower with 271 residential units and 7,335 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, fronting West Tyler Street and a portion of Doyle Carlton Drive. A 5,335-square-foot amenities lounge will also be on the ground floor.

It’s difficult to peg exactly when construction will begin. The site for the tower where the tower will be built does not yet exist — Cass and Tyler streets must be reconfigured to create the 1-acre footprint for the building.

Let’s just say we are not going to hold our breath for this project.  More interesting than the news that nothing is happening soon is the rendering dump:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Given its location, this building will be prominent for a while (like decades) so where to start?  We like the basic art deco idea.  We think the overall size is fine, as is the height.  We never have liked the revision that had the odd shape that looks like a shorter, boxy building was stuck onto side (and back) of the larger one.  We are also not fond of the bland back (east side) and parking garage.  Yes, we know you need a garage and we understand why it is in the back, but the bland back of the building and parking garage will be very visible (the garage screens will probably be ok but the tower is very bland in back) – including from the interstate.

Other than that, here is a first floor plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While we would have liked more retail frontage, there are real uses along the part facing the river and the Straz.  As URBN Tampa Bay noted, with other developments along Tyler, it could make it a nice little activity center.

So, right now we give it an “ok.” In any event, according to the Business Journal, not even the road realignment is finalized, so there likely will be more changes (though probably not anything substantial).  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – Delay

There is a new delay in the City’s attempt to sell off land next to City Hall.

The New Orleans developer selected by the city to develop a publicly owned vacant lot in downtown Tampa needs more time before it can close on the site.

Tampa City Council on Thursday will consider an amendment to the sales agreement between the city and HRI Investments, which was entered into in December 2016, extending the close date until Dec. 29, 2017.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we are not fans of this deal (See “Downtown – Block Letter Project” and “Downtown – Mixed Feelings”), especially with all the other buildings proposed for downtown, what is the problem?

The environmental inspection period is taking longer than expected, according to the proposed amendment. The sales agreement has already been extended once, from May 17 to July 20.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official, said Monday that HRI isn’t able to complete the inspection because a portion of the lot is being used as a staging area for materials in the renovation of old city hall.

A spokeswoman for HRI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The lot was previously how to two gas stations, and inspections so far have turned up six underground gas tanks, McDonaugh said.

How did no one know about that?

Downtown – Why?

In more City oddness, from URBN Tampa Bay:

We’re upset to learn that the city is insisting on $3 million fee on the developer of 220 Madison in Downtown Tampa due to the fact the micro-apartment project would not include on-site parking, and would lease units touting this as a feature, not a shortcoming. The developer still plans to close on the purchase of the land and appeal to the Tampa City Council, but this approach from the city is upsetting nonetheless. We think there’s a problem with the city telling residents who don’t want a car, too bad, every residence in Tampa comes with parking, or pays as if it did anyways.  

If the city insists on the parking fee, the developer plans to keep the building as office space.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

If the City is truly insisting on the $3 million, it is unfortunate and ill-considered (whatever the validity of the reasoning – which we do not know – it looks more like a cash-grab and/or backward thinking).  We find it hard to see the logic of making a building that has been there for decades without dedicated parking pay for parking now.  (And, if the City insists, we totally get why the new owners would just sit on the building until the administration changes). And if people want to live downtown in that building it without parking, let them. Why punish the idea?

Downtown – Yes and No

The City announced the winner of the RFP for a restaurant in the little building in Curtis Hixon Park.

City officials announced Wednesday that Four Green Fields has won the bid to build a restaurant in Curtis Hixon.

With its thatched roof, white-washed walls and Irish memorabilia, the pub on W Platt Street has long been a popular watering hole for downtown drinkers.

A rendering of the proposed new pub shows an equally Gaelic looking venue. It will include a raw bar with inside and outside seating and will cost an estimated $680,000 to build. Construction is scheduled to start in mid August and is expected to take just 16 weeks.

Here is a rendering of the exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And here is one reason (there are other possibilities we won’t get into) for the City’s choice:

City Hall received seven proposals in response to its invitation to put a restaurant next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and the company it picked — Irish pub Four Green Fields — offered the most money.

* * *

“I’m happy with the selection we got at Curtis Hixon,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had indicated before this week’s announcement that price would probably drive the city’s choice. “They were creative. Some financially were better for the city than others. … There were some legitimate, credible and serious folks who bid.”

Setting aside that it would be nice for the City to consider aesthetics in its signature park, we said earlier that putting a restaurant in this space was not a major issue for us.  The park is fine without it. It will be ok with it.  That being said, Four Green Fields is a fine establishment.  We are not sure about the Irish Pub cum Raw Bar concept, but that is a private investment.  We’re sure people will drink in the park (there needs to be a little planning for that if people will be drinking all the time instead of special events) and a bunch of them probably would like a raw bar.

The one thing we don’t like is the exterior.  We get what they are trying to do.  And we have no problem with the Irish-theme pub interior – you see that by choice.  However, the rustic Ireland exterior motif does not go with anything in or around the park (we like diverse looks but even with that, it does not really go).  Maybe it will be ok, but there are questions.  (The other proposals that have been revealed are not really much better in our view, but still.)

— One More Thing

There was also this:

The Tampa Convention Center awarded Smuggler’s Enterprises Inc., with its Harpoon Harry’s Crab House concept, the contract for the Tampa Bay Convention Center retail space.

The Punta Gorda company is investing $3.6 million to convert a 10,000-square-foot storage space into a family friendly restaurant that will open in six to eight months.

We don’t know anything about the restaurant, but fine with us.  It is good to fill that retail space, and we’ll find out if it is any good in a few months.

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

When NoHo Flats and its surface parking was approved, we said this:

In other words, this project is not urban and it has no shops. (So much for the ULI and changing DNA.) It is a suburban apartment complex with some urban veneer.  Once that surface parking lot goes in, it will be decades, if ever, before it disappears.  Once the grid is disturbed, it likely will not come back in your lifetime.  However, the developer tossed out the usual warning – to which the City, to its discredit, usually caves:

“It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking,” he said.

We can wait. It should be developed properly, but it appears that the City does not care.

(See “Tampa – the Same DNA” ) It is worth noting that a project with a parking garage is across the street from NoHo Flats.

The NoHo Flats developer was wrong about market conditions, which we knew then. What is more annoying is this, from URBN Tampa Bay:

NoHo Flats, which is already a suburban-style development in what should be an urban neighborhood, wants to make itself even worse. The owner has put in a substantial change determination request to demolish the project’s dog park in order to put in more surface parking.

It is worth noting that the owner of the complex is not the same as the developer.  The project was sold in 2014, probably for quite a nice profit.

Looking at the documents on the City’s swell Accela database, the request says it should be granted because a building was previously proposed for the dog park location.  It appears that it was, but so what?  A building built along the street and a dog park are potentially urban (and desirable) uses.  10 parking spaces facing the street is not.

The City Council should not compound its original settling by allowing NoHo Flats to get rid of the dog park in favor of more surface parking, even though it is a small amount.  It is on the street and has a good use now.  This is a test on whether the City Council will maintain even the lowest standards of sort of urban design that it claims it wants or just cave like Councils of the past.

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Just a little airport update:

Tampa International Airport had a busy Fourth of July holiday with the number of passengers increasing by 5.2 percent over the same period last year.

A total of 378,457 travelers passed through the airport for the Independence Day weekend, up from 359,723 in 2016. The passenger rate for the holiday was up 15 percent from 2014 when 328,768 visitors came through TIA. There were 356,368 passengers for the holiday in 2015.

It is a small snapshot, but it is good snapshot.

Also worth noting that the airport came in third for domestic airports in a Travel & Leisure ranking. For whatever reason, it still comes behind Portland and Indianapolis.

And, just as a reminder that the competition never ends, read this and this.

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

Pinellas is making a stronger play to be the beach associated with Orlando:

For years, Florida’s east coast has been known as Orlando’s beach.

With the shorelines of New Smyrna, Cocoa and Daytona all one-to-two hours away from the nation’s theme park capital, it makes sense. But tourism officials in Pinellas County are making a targeted push to snag the title.

For the second year in a row, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is funneling more marketing dollars into the Orlando area this summer to try to entice travelers who visit Disney World and Universal Studios to head West — not East — for a few days at the beach. It plans to spend $1 million this summer alone on a marketing pitch that also includes Jacksonville and Miami, as well as the Greater Tampa Bay market.

“We’ve always been marketing in Orlando, but we’ve noticed lately that there’s a higher volume of people coming to our beaches than we thought previously,” said David Downing, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County’s tourism marketing agency. “Travelers always looked east of Orlando for the beach. We want to convince them to look west, where we have two of America’s best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater) according to TripAdvisor.”

* * *

Television, radio and print advertisements are circling through the Orlando metro market this summer and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater staff bought the website BeachesOfOrlando.com, which automatically takes users back to VisitStPeteClearwater.com for more information about visiting Pinellas County. In addition to year-round television/digital marketing, the local tourism group also is launching its first-ever summer/fall/winter specific campaigns in the Orlando area.

We especially like the domain name purchase (though they needs some SEO work), but to be honest, the article is a bit vague on whether the target is tourists or people living in Orlando, or both. (Both are worthy but they are different targets and have different needs)  Of course:

Despite an infusion of marketing dollars from Visit-St. Pete Clearwater, it won’t be easy to upend the longstanding relationship with Florida’s east coast. Brevard County’s tourism office has pushed the link between Orlando and its beaches for years.

Still, Downing says he doesn’t see this as a competition.

“If anything we compliment each other. We see this as our next evolution in Orlando,” Downing said. “We want to continue to build our relationship there.”

No, it is a competition, and for more than just one night stays.  And it all means that we need better connections to Disney to cut the time between the beaches and the theme parks (and, frankly, from the beaches to Tampa).

Speaking of beaches, it’s Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches for 2017:

  1. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

  2. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

  3. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina

  4. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida panhandle

  5. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

  6. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

  7. Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

  8. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii

  9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

  10. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina

That is two in the Top 10 in our general area, plus the all of our other beaches.

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