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Roundup 7-28-2017

July 28, 2017

Please note that the contents have links to the corresponding items.

Contents

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

Downtown – Water Street Stuff

Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

Transportation – Cycle Stories

Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

Economic Development – Employment

Transportation – Airport Audit

Port – Tax Cuts

Channel District – A Hotel

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

— Flags

List of the Week

_______________________________________________

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

The Times had a couple of articles in the last few weeks about transit board members and administrators and whether they sample their product.

While politicians hold the purse strings, it’s those on the transit agencies’ boards who dictate how the systems operate.

Board members for the two counties’ agencies — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority — are a mix of elected officials and community members.

None of them rely on the bus for work, errands or their personal life.

This isn’t unique to Tampa Bay, or transit. Many boards are composed of people who don’t use the service they help provide. But in a region roiled by transportation problems, it’s worth knowing who sits on these boards and what philosophies they bring to the conversation.

You can see who never rides the bus, who rides it sometimes, etc., here.

We would not expect them to use the bus to get to and from work.  First, some just need to be able to get to all manner of places quickly, which isn’t happening with the bus system.  Others can’t/won’t use the bus because our transit is so poor, goes too few places and/or takes too long.  It is not built by them for people like them – people with a choice.  It is only provided as a last resort for other people and is not efficient. (Yes, we know that the elected officials hold the purse strings, not the board specifically, though the boards have elected officials and are appointed by elected officials)

One thing though: As stated, we understand that for most board members it is not practical to ride the bus daily.  However, to never ride it is not really acceptable either.  It is not that hard to take a day every now and then and sample some routes to see what you are giving people.  You can say you know how bad it is, but do you really know until you ride it (or try and fail to actually get where you need to go)? (Just like local officials should try getting around by walking the sidewalks and riding in the bike lanes they provide to the public – not just a couple of photo ops, actually doing it routinely in various areas.) And then compare it to experiences in other cities.

Speaking of which, there was another Times article:

On a stifling Friday afternoon, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority stood, sweat-drenched, waiting for the bus.

When the Route 52 bus screeched into the station, Brad Miller, 47, squinted in the sunlight. The people around him reached for their bus tickets, while Miller tapped the PSTA app on his phone.

Welcome to day 16 of Miller’s monthlong experiment. He had abandoned his car to rely almost exclusively on his agency’s own buses.

He wanted to see for himself how the system he runs works on a daily basis.

“People tell me all the time, ‘Brad, it’s impossible to ride the buses,’ ” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not impossible.”

But it’s not easy, either. Already, Miller had learned how riders build their days around a transit system full of holes. The routes they rely on don’t get them near their destinations. The buses don’t come often enough. Too many layovers make them late to work or to pick up their kids.

This is an admirable effort, and you should read the article. (here)  However, in real terms, if it is not impossible to use the bus (at least HART), it is really quite hard and generally just not acceptable. That is not necessarily the fault of the CEO, but it still is the case.


Downtown – Water Street Stuff

It is pretty clear that the Water Street project is ramping up its media push, which is fine (they are in the business of selling or leasing their project after all).  As part of that there was a piece on HuffPost. While it basically rehashed what local coverage has already told us (and, in the headline, referred to “Tampa Bay” as a city), there were a few nuggets of interest:

SPP is also planning to implement the following smart technology into the development project.

We knew about some of that, but some is news. (We’ll have to see how that garage reservation idea works especially for someone spontaneously decides to come to the district.).

And this was also interesting:

Lastly, the project includes a great deal of resiliency planning, given the waterfront location. “Learning from the impacts of some of the recent natural disasters and understanding the effects of rising sea levels, we’re regrading the elevation of the land on many of the building sites as well placing the primary building systems infrastructure in protected areas of the new buildings,” Nozar said.

Most people would be surprised at how fast the land rises from the downtown waterfront (for instance, just north of the Amalie Arena, it is not even in evacuation zone A, unlike all of the nearby islands, and it rise up to zone C a couple of blocks later. see here).  However, especially where most of the Water Street project is, it is still low.  While we doubt they will raise it too high, it will be interesting to see just how high they try to raise it and if they integrate any elevation change into to plan (see Curtis Hixon Park).  Just get ready for the dirt trucks.

In addition to the HuffPost article, the Times had a profile of all the young people hired by the Lightning owner to do his project. It is an interesting read though more from a human interest standpoint than substantive about the project.


Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

USF released more renderings of the Med School that will start construction soon downtown.   As a reminder, this was the last rendering released:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which was pretty much what you expect from a contemporary office building.  This is the newest rendering:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which is a different angle and looks distinctly boxier to us (admittedly with a few pieces snipped off).  Then again, as we often note, renderings are notorious for making projects look more majestic/taller than they really are, so it is entirely possible that little has changed, aside from a bigger top, and maybe some slight changes in cladding.  (We are also curious about is what is to the left of the USF building in the new rendering.  It does not appear to be the medical office building, but it does not appear to be apartments, though you never know.  It could be a space filler drawing.  We’ll just have to wait and see.)

And, for fun, compare the ground floor views:

Old:

From USF – click on picture for article

New:

From USF – click on picture for article

Basically, it is fine. (Especially, the use of trees that might provide some shade instead of palm trees).  It will be new and we are sure there will be some nice spaces and some nice views. But what will make or break it as a building is the development around it and the ability of people to get to it efficiently.


Transportation – Cycle Stories

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted an item from Streetsblog regarding why Florida’s streets are so deadly for cyclists.   That item in turn referenced an FDOT sponsored study (that study is here)  that identified all sorts of things, like the conditions under which most accidents between cars and bikes occur, the demographics, and some particularly bad location around the state.

The first thing we wanted to point out was the accident distribution map:

FDOT Report pdf pg 70

Which is quite similar to this nighttime photo of Florida

From the National Park Service – click on picture for website

Showing us that, basically, anywhere there are people in the Florida, there are bike crashes.

We just wanted to point out a few things from the FDOT report.

From FDOT Report pdf pg 57

First, looking at the chart above, it is interesting to note that the fatality rate for accidents in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties is among the highest in the state.

Additionally, on pg 64 of the pdf, there is a list of characteristics of the crashes, including things like the average age of victims and that riding against traffic has a tendency to cause worse accidents.  It also had this:

Although bicyclists were frequently hit while cycling on the sidewalk, these crashes resulted in very few fatalities.

We could speculate about all the factors involved there, but clearly biking on a path somewhat separated from traffic and/or protected (unless you are on the numerous sidewalks in Hillsborough that are not separated at all) is useful.  And to make that point a little better, the report gives overhead shots of the highlighted trouble areas.  In Tampa, they highlight Nebraska and Busch (which is even bad driving).  They also highlight Floribraska and Nebraska (see a theme), with this shot indicating where the accidents were:

From FDOT Report pdf pg 111

You may notice that the road has been restriped for bike lanes.  You may also know that Nebraska was one of the first roads in Tampa put on a diet a number of years ago. In other words, what is often held out as a proper bike environment. You can also note that there are three accidents in the bike lanes, though the two fatalities occurred in other spots.

What is the point? The point is that just restriping a road (and even putting it on a diet) does not necessarily make for good bike infrastructure. (And just saying share the road definitely doesn’t)  Proper infrastructure, especially on major roads requires protected lanes, elevated lanes, or separate routes/trails. And having a built environment that creates an expectation that there may be pedestrians and cyclists around (which is not the case in the vast majority of the Tampa Bay area – but is much more likely in a place like Miami which actually has a lower fatality rate) is critical.

And that brings us to Jackson Street.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The project was awarded to a contractor in May, and a construction contract is now in place. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

From bikewalktampabay.org – click on picture for website

We will set aside the lingo and just say we are happy they are building a protected bike path.  We still have concerns about the west end of Jackson because it does not connect to the Riverwalk or a bridge and the only connection to those things, Ashley, is often not a particularly friendly road as people come off of the Kennedy Street Bridge.  And on the other end, Jackson ends at Meridian and does not continue into the Channel District or have a crossing, which makes it an odd choice for connector of the Channel District to the Riverwalk. We also have concerns about reduced street parking.  And we wonder if the plan predetermines any route the streetcar would take if it were extended north.

In any event,

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year. “We are planning to break ground in late October or early November,” says Johnston-Schultz. “We estimate 6-7 months of construction, and the cycle track should open next year in early summer.”

Aside from the concerns above, that’s all fine as long as FDOT doesn’t actually put all the street signs in the middle of the sidewalks as indicated in the renderings.

We’ll see what happens.


Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

The Mayor of Tampa made big news recently with his new budget proposing a tax increase in the City.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city’s property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges.

The Mayor has a number of reasons for proposing a tax increase, such as:

In the next few years, he expects the city to get squeezed by rising health care and pension costs, the burden of paying off tens of millions of dollars of city debt that was taken on in the mid-1990s but deferred until now and the prospect that voters next year will expand the homestead exemption.

The deferred debt includes a $6 million federal loan used to help develop Centro Ybor and nearly $24 million spent on the fire and police departments in 1996. Because the principal and interest payments on the public safety debt have been put off for 20 years, the city will soon begin making several years of debt payments of more than $13 million a year.

And because of the way that debt was structured, the bonds were not “callable,” Buckhorn said, meaning that they could not be refinanced at lower interest rates.

“If we had been able to refinance that debt, this would not be an issue,” he said.

Plus some stuff from Tallahassee.

Frankly, we are not going to get into the reasons specifically. We’ll just say some of them are solid, and some are possible but not necessarily now.  But at least trying to anticipate future challenges is good.  And you need to plan to pay for the things that you want.

However, something in the coverage did catch our eye:

The budget includes 3 percent raises negotiated with the unions for police, firefighters and general employees. It also would add 79 new positions to bring the city’s total payroll to 4,476 full-time positions.

Of those, 48 would go to Tampa Fire Rescue, which is looking to staff the new Fire Station 23 on Trout Creek Drive in New Tampa and provide emergency medical service under a contract with MacDill Air Force Base. Another 19 would go to staff new parks, mainly the $35.5 million Julian B. Lane Park now under construction on the western bank of the Hillsborough River.

And:

But with the additional funds from the tax increase, Buckhorn proposes to:

The cost of the list of park and road needs is $17.84 million.  When the Julian Lane ($35.5 million) project came up and kept growing we specifically said it would be better done in stages.  Setting aside that there are parts to the Julian Lane plan that we do not like, it is being done but, while we like getting projects over with, it did not all need to be done at once.  (And that does not even get into the well-known debt payments that still have to be made) When discussing the tax increase, even the Times editorialized that the spending on parks and the like is nice but should slow down.

We are not against raising taxes when needs require or the people decide to tax themselves for a specific purpose.  And there may be  good and unavoidable reasons for a tax increase.  However, we’re not sure that the City spending an inordinate sum at one time on one project while other parts of the City predictably do not have their relatively modest needs (that together cost half of the park cost) met is one of them.


Economic Development – Employment

There were new Florida employment numbers.

Unemployment in Florida hit a 10-year low in June, clocking in at 4.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent in May. The state added 19,400 jobs over the month, and saw growth in most industries. But there’s one glaring missing piece to the economic recovery puzzle: wage growth.

“Wage growth has been the Great Pumpkin of this economic recovery,” Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, said. “Like Linus, we keep waiting for it to show up, and it hasn’t really come in earnest.”

It’s the only factor standing in the way of full employment. All other indicators, however, show a healthy and recovering economy that outpaces national averages.

And, yes, the employment level is good (though there are better).  And, yes, the wages are still low.  In fact, the Times had a column about the numbers:

All good for Florida’s economy, so far. Let’s take a closer look at where Florida stands among its peer states. Here are five takeaways based on new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  1. Florida’s job market still has momentum. Florida was one of just 10 states with lower unemployment rates in June than in May. Two states saw their rates rise while jobless rates remained stable in 38 states and D.C.

  2. Compared to Florida, half of all states — 25 — have lower unemployment rates. That means this state hardly has a lock on a tight job market. Not even close. Colorado and North Dakota are tied with the lowest jobless rate of 2.3 percent in June.

  3. Florida, usually a leader in adding jobs month to month, did not quite make the cut in June. The largest increase in employment over the month versus May occurred in Texas (+40,200), followed by Georgia (+27,400) and New York (+26,000). Florida trailed with a still respectable gain of 19,400.

  4. Over the past year, though, Florida remained a top job generator even as it fell behind rival Texas. When this state outperforms Texas in sheer job growth, Florida Gov. Rick Scott loves to crow about it —and he has had ample opportunity to do so in recent years. Less so, now. In the past year ending in June, the largest job gains occurred in Texas (+319,300), California (+261,400) and Florida (+238,600). Keep in mind Texas and California are much bigger states in population. When measuring job growth by percentage, Florida’s annual gain rose 2.9 percent, beating Texas and California, and ranking third nationwide behind Nevada (+3.8 percent) and Utah (+3 percent).

  5. Hey, Florida isn’t Alaska or New Mexico, right? Alaska had June’s highest jobless rate, 6.8 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.4 percent. Even those “high” rates are hardly alarming, especially after the country’s last withering recession.

And the bottom line:

So what does this jobs snapshot mean for Florida? The state is doing well but could do better, based on the bulk of U.S. states with lower unemployment rates than here.

There remains the matter of boosting job pay and income. Florida paychecks still land close to the bottom third among states. To borrow the Guv’s phrase: Let’s get to work.

In other words, the same issue as always.


Transportation – Airport Audit

The audit of Tampa International’s construction project is apparently underway:

Airport CEO Joe Lopano confirmed Thursday that state audit is now underway.

“With respect to the senator, someone with his gravitas to say ‘corruption’ is unfortunate, but having an audit is not unfortunate, and I have no problem with that,” Lopano said on the WMNF 88.5 FM “MidPoint” program.

“We’re a very transparent group,” he added. “We try to do things right. We’re doing what we said we would do.”

It is still not clear why the audit is necessary, but as the director said, fine. As we said before, we just hope all sorts of other large FDOT projects around the state also get audited.


Port – Tax Cuts

There was interesting news from the Port:

Port officials said Tuesday that they plan to reduce the millage rate in fiscal year 2018 by more than 11 percent, according to a press release.

“This continues a trend and our goal is to eventually use no county taxpayer money at the port,” Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson said in a statement. “With strong growth in our lines of business and positive financial performance combined with our ongoing reduction in the millage rate, this will allow us to gradually reduce our ad valorem to zero.” 

That is a worthy goal.  It would be great if the Port was self-sustaining (at least operating costs). We also assume the Port administration would like to get away from the pressure of having them use taxpayer money (at least on operations).  And that is fine with us, as long as they focus on being and developing the port and not on real estate development.


Channel District – A Hotel

While it is not really a design we like (though it does have awnings, which is something a lot of other designs neglect):

Liberty Group’s proposal for a 10 story, 213 room Hampton Inn and Home2 hotel received approval from city staff yesterday. The project will likely go through the building permit process now and begin construction once that is complete.The project includes a 1,500 square foot Starbucks at the corner of Meridian and Kennedy.

Having a hotel is nice, but with the Lightning owner’s project, this building will look (and be) out of place.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We just wish it weren’t so bland but with both the developer and the City not particularly concerned with aesthetics, it is what it is.  Anyway, it will likely be built.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

We have discussed business incentives a number of times, and we have discussed Amazon warehouses a number of times.  This week, we go to an Orlando Sentinel editorial on the subject:

When Mayor Teresa Jacobs ruled out taxpayer-funded incentives from Orange County for a new Amazon warehouse near Orlando International Airport, she set an example worth following for other leaders across the region and throughout the state — especially the new head of Florida’s lead business recruiting agency.

“Listen, I like Amazon,” Jacobs recently told Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. “ … But we need to use tax incentives for high-wage jobs.”

Amazon confirmed last week that it would employ 1,500 workers at a new warehouse now under construction on Boggy Creek Road near Lake Nona. A developer, Seefried Industrial Properties, is building the warehouse; Amazon will have a 15-year lease on it.

While Amazon didn’t disclose the salaries workers at the warehouse will earn, most full-time employees at other company warehouses in the region reportedly make between $11 and $13 an hour. That’s a nice pay hike for someone earning minimum wage, and a lifeline for someone out of work, but it’s not a high-wage job. In fact, it falls far short of metro Orlando’s average wage, which was $20.70 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Low-wage workers often end up needing their own taxpayer subsidies for food, transportation, housing and health care.

Yet Amazon has been awarded more than $40 million in incentives for other warehouses in Florida, mostly from county and city governments. Nationwide, the company has reaped more than $1 billion this way.

Yup, and even more to the point:

State incentives in this case would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, and not just because the jobs aren’t high-wage. Amazon has built warehouses in other locations without incentives when the company calculates there’s sufficient demand for its products. Is there any reasonable doubt that metro Orlando meets that requirement?

Exactly.

We like Amazon, too (for the most part).  But they are building warehouses to get their goods to people as fast as possible.  And we have people (and are getting more).  The warehouse jobs are not the kind of jobs that limited taxpayer money should be spent on, and it definitely does not deserve hyperbole.  It is just the way business is changing.  (And Amazon was a good deal compared to Bass Pro Shops)

Orange County has it right. Hopefully, local officials are paying attention.

— Flags

A while back (and a while before that) we discussed city flags and how Tampa (and St. Pete’s) are a little a lacking.  Well, as things would have it, Orlando just approved a new flag.

From the Orlando Sentinel – click on picture for article

The flag appears to follow the rules that it should be simple, easy to identify, not have real writing on it, and all that.   But, to us it is just ok.  The thing in the middle is supposed to be the Lake Eola fountain but somehow keeps reminding us of a pineapple, which is not really Orlando.  Anyway, it is not worse than Tampa’s flag. (Though it is all better than Hillsborough County’s new logo featuring a silhouette of something that, while vaguely referencing Plant Hall or the old County Courthouse, is not a local historical landmark – as far as we can tell, it is actually the gazebo at Chillura Courthouse Square Park – rendered in pastels)

List of the Week

We haven’t done this in a while but this week we have Wallethub’s 2017 Most & Least Educated Cities. Here is the methodology.  Before we do the top 30, we’ll point out some major Florida metros: Brevard County (69th), Sarasota Bradenton (76th), Orlando (77th), Naples (82nd) Tampa Bay area (91st), Jacksonville (93rd), Miami-Ft Lauderdale (94th), so you get the idea.

Here is the top 30:

1 Ann Arbor, MI
2 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
3 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
4 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
5 Madison, WI
6 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
7 Provo-Orem, UT
8 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
9 Austin-Round Rock, TX
10 Tallahassee, FL
11 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
12 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
14 Lansing-East Lansing, MI
15 Raleigh, NC
16 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
17 Colorado Springs, CO
18 Trenton, NJ
19 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
20 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY
21 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA
22 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
23 Portland-South Portland, ME
24 Lexington-Fayette, KY
25 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
26 Eugene, OR
27 Huntsville, AL
28 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
29 New Haven-Milford, CT
30 Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA

As you can see, it is most of the usual suspects plus some college and/or research towns.  There are also some usual suspects floating around near the Florida cities.  And we are not saying that the list is dispositive of anything or completely accurate.  However, we think it is pretty clear that long-term economic success and educational attainment are most often related. And being 91st is not very good.

 

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