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Roundup 8-25-2017

August 24, 2017

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street Renderings

Transportation – Goings On

— Why?

— Highways, the Editorial

— Vision Zero

Downtown – Encore Retail

Downtown – TECO

Rays – What We Knew

Parks and Taxation

Transportation – Airport News

____________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street Renderings

The Water Street team has released more information regarding the project.  First, there is a graphic telling us what design teams are working on which lots:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The drawing isn’t really informative as to the buildings themselves, but it definitely gives a nice impression, including the two large buildings (offices) north of the Selmon.  Also interesting is the addition to the Amalie arena making it actually related to Water Street.

The team also produced a nice little video:

Once again, this gives more layout and massing, and towards the end (at about :56) it provides an indication of the distribution of uses throughout the project.  We thought it might be useful to have screenshots of that distribution for reference:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

 

It also seems to indicate an awful lot of good usage on rooftops, which is was a priority and is a very nice feature of the plan.

As for the list of architects, there are some good names, but we are more concerned with what they design for Tampa than what they have done before (see Arquitectonica and the Tribune site).

All in all, still positive.  We look forward to seeing the actual designs and seeing them built.


Transportation – Goings On

Of course, there was transportation news.


— Why?

While this area needs transit and improvements to its highway network, including an east-west road in Pasco, the Selmon Connector, really fixing the Howard Frankland bottleneck and Malfunction Junction, it does not really need to have the Suncoast Parkway extended north (at least not now).  Well,

Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as “Suncoast 2” is expected to start in early 2018.

The 13-mile, four-lane extension of the Suncoast Parkway has been dubbed by critics as “the road to nowhere” because it ends in the middle of Citrus County. It doesn’t bend west toward U.S. 19, or east toward Interstate 75, and there are no firm plans to extend it.

The Suncoast Parkway currently ends amid undeveloped land north of U.S. 98 at the northern edge of Hernando County. The Suncoast 2 would extend the tollroad halfway through Citrus County, to State Road 44.

We are not going to wade into the environmental argument (which you can read in the article from which the quote above comes) or the issue of inflated traffic predictions because it is not necessary to do so. There is a practical argument against, namely, the road is not needed right now.  Even with the possibly inflated projections, there just isn’t the demand to require it – especially with other local needs.  It’s not like the Suncoast Parkway, which is already underused, will draw that much more traffic from adding a connection to Citrus County. And a far bigger priority for the area is connecting the Veterans/Suncoast to I-75/275.

That does not foreclose it in the future, but why spend that money now, when there are other needs in the Tampa Bay area (like the aforementioned east-west road and the Howard Frankland bottleneck that needs a full fix).  Even if you want to help support the road builders, have them build the roads we need.


— Highways, the Editorial

The Times had an editorial celebrating the Selmon Connector and FDOT’s partial fix to the Howard Frankland bottleneck.   (Both are positive, though incomplete.)  You can read the whole thing, but this is of interest:

The DOT would add a third lane in both directions, which also would improve southbound traffic to St. Petersburg. It also has signaled a change of heart, proposing to fast-track the new lanes rather than weave the project into a larger take-it-or-leave-it proposal known as Tampa Bay Next, a controversial regional highway expansion plan. The lanes could open by 2021.

* * *

The region will not continue to grow and improve its quality of life without adding new bus and rail options as part of a modern transportation system. But it is no small achievement to make major improvements to the gateways of two of the three bridges connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough, and to bring those improvements on line at roughly the same time. This testifies to the hard work by local advocates and to the focus on local priorities by the DOT and expressway authority.

That is basically true for the Selmon, but is a bit (though not all) revisionist regarding the bottleneck.  As the Times itself reported, most local officials were fine with TBX, taking a free lane and putting tolls on it, and everything else (if they ever were paying attention), as were a number of organization in the business community.  That was part of the TBX package deal including partially fixing the bottleneck.  Local officials were not pushing for fixing the bottleneck separate from TBX.   But the fix should have been done years ago, when the Pinellas side was fixed. (That it was not pushed then is also questionable)

The people most responsible for FDOT’s change of heart now were the people who really questioned TBX – the citizen activists that would not accept the flawed TBX plan and pushed for a reexamination. (Yes, they were concerned about other elements but their activity is what opened the door to reexamine what had been presented as a take-it-or-leave-it package deal which most local officials did not question prior to public opposition)

The fact is that holding the bottleneck fix hostage to TBX never had a sound basis and should never have been allowed by local officials (including the legislative delegation).  Sometimes it seems like local officials need to be reminded that we are a major metro area in this state (and the biggest swing area in the biggest swing state in this county).  We should not have to settle.

We hope that, in the future, local officials are more active in pushing for this area’s needs.  They can start by pushing FDOT to fully fix the bottleneck.


— Vision Zero

Everyone who cares (or walks or bikes) knows that the Tampa Bay area is a dangerous place for walking or biking (and not so great for driving).

What would it take to eliminate all traffic deaths in the county that has the most of them?

Local planners think a combination of repainting roads, narrowing lanes, expanding data-driven policing and installing new lighting will help ensure that Hillsborough loses the dubious distinction it holds among the nation’s large counties.

They presented an action plan Tuesday at the Tampa Theatre during the fourth local workshop of the Vision Zero Coalition — a national campaign to eliminate deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization spearheaded the plan and established the coalition, which includes officials working in local city and county transportation, public safety, health and education, as well as business partnerships and hospitals.

“Hillsborough County is one of the worst counties in the state, which is one of the worst states in the United States,” said Ken Sides, a transportation engineer at Sam Schwartz Engineering.

Actually, the worst, according to research for the local coalition: Hillsborough County records more traffic deaths per resident than any other large county in the country.

It is the worst because local government made (and continues to make) planning choices that make it so. In any event, what are the ideas?

The new action plan outlines four campaigns to make the county’s streets safe:

Most of the actions in the plan are slated to start by the end of the year and wind up in 2019. The group is also planning an event Oct. 6, second anniversary of the death of 17-year-old Alexis Miranda, a Chamberlain High School student who was hit by a car and killed near school.

We are not going to fault people for trying to reduce traffic deaths and maybe it will make a difference, but there are two gaping holes in this idea: the built environment and lack of alternatives to driving.  Even with all the changes, the fact remains that people will be forced to drive to their destinations, which are almost all built in a sprawling model that not only discourages walking and biking but also discourages drivers from intuitively considering the presence of walkers and cyclists. (Not to mention we routinely see people driving into bike lanes no matter how nicely painted they are.  We need separated bike lanes and urban trails.)  Not only that, it is entirely possible that this limited plan will create more congestion and frustration. Consider a target road:

One of the areas the coalition is highlighting is Brandon Boulevard between Falkenburg Road and Dover Road. This stretch of roadway recorded the highest number of severe crashes per mile from 2012-2016, the group found.

In that time, 180 severe crashes killed 11 people and caused 169 incapacitating injuries, according to a report by the group. Among the reasons: Gaps in the sidewalks, inadequate crosswalks and poor lighting.

Here is a map. Here is a zoom in the middle of that stretch. Here is the intersection with Kings  and here is Falkenburg (complete with pedestrian).    The road is already congested much of the day.  Narrowing the lanes and slowing down traffic may help a little but it is still inherently unwalkable (even if the sidewalks were not a mess) and, even so, has crosswalks for people willing to wait for the lights.  But it will piss off drivers who still will not naturally think of people walking or biking.

The article lists a number of other troubled roads. (Here is a Times article laying out the 20 worst, though not necessarily just for walking/biking, stretches of road. )  A few, like Kennedy and Meridian could benefit right away – but they are built differently.  But most are already sprawling messes.  Without any sign that the County and City are taking real moves to change how buildings are built and providing alternatives to driving so people do not have to drive everywhere getting frustrated by bad traffic while focusing on speeding to their destination, we are not sure anything will really change.  And just look at the South County, which is being built with basically the same failed model and just will become a problem in the future. (And that is not the fault of the people involved here – it is elected officials who have the final word).

And note that the “Future is not the Past” section does not seem to address actually building walkable areas, with walkable buildings, or alternatives to driving at all.

Like we said, we are all for trying to save lives and we applaud the concern and the effort, but the reality is that this plan is treating the symptoms, not the disease, which is the poor built environment, the mentality it engenders, and the unwillingness of local government to take real steps to change.  We hope it helps, but to really address the problem much more needs to be done.


Downtown – Encore Retail

The concept of the Encore project is to build a mixed use, urban neighborhood.  Setting aside the contractor issues, so far, it has basically been a residential project.

The agency expects to enter into a contract in the next 30 days for the sale of a 1-acre parcel to a developer for the construction of a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority chief operating officer.

* * *

Moore declined to name the new grocer but said it is a recognizable name.

With a new Publix so close by, Encore’s grocer is likely to be a store aimed at lower-income shoppers, predicted Paul Rutledge, first vice president at CBRE Inc., a commercial real estate services firm.

“Let’s say Publix captures all the high-income buyers, then you are limited to another tier of grocers,” Rutledge said. “Maybe it’s an Aldi, a Lidl or a neighborhood Walmart.”

A grocery store is a good development, especially if it does not have a big surface parking lot, like proposed by Walmart.  Frankly, an Aldi or Lidl would be a good addition to downtown overall.  We think it would be nicer if a grocery was integrated into one of the residential buildings rather than freestanding, but we’ll have to see what actually emerges.

And there’s more:

The negotiations for two new hotels on the southwest part of Encore come after the Housing Authority last year terminated a $7.4 million contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings. Officials said Pinnacle was given two years but failed to close on a deal to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block.

Pinnacle fired back in February by suing the Housing Authority to release records it states would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

Moore said the two hotels now being proposed are different brands under the same parent company but declined to name the firm.

That would also be welcome (though it would be nice to have a nicely designed building).  The more activity in the area the better.

Faedo’s, a restaurant with Latin cuisine, and a barbershop are expected to be the first businesses to open at Encore in the next few months, using retail spaces on the ground floor of the community’s residential towers.

But a planned Westshore Pizza location will not happen now because of a change in ownership, Moore said.

Which is fine. The neighborhood will have to figure out what retail works.


Downtown – TECO

Those who were around for TECO’s installation of really large power poles in people’s front yards know that sometimes TECO is not really overly concerned with aesthetics.  With that in mind, we noticed this from URBN Tampa Bay:

According to documents filed with the city, TECO is looking to expand their electric sub-station in Downtown. The block bound by Pierce, Jackson, Jefferson and Washington is currently half surface parking and half electric sub station. TECO’s plans would convert the parking into electric sub-station.

While this is likely due to increased power demand in Downtown especially with Water Street Tampa looming, we wish it wasn’t taking up a perfectly good Downtown block like this.

For those interested the address is 708 E Washington St. We, too, wish it did not take up a whole block.  However, given the increased electric needs once the lightning owner’s project get going, it is understandable.  On the other hand, even though it may be needed infrastructure, it would be nice if TECO would not just surround the facility with a relatively low wall which allows everyone to see the facility (which has been done elsewhere and, from Accela, appears to be what they are planning on this lot).  It is possible to actually build something mildly aesthetically pleasing.

That’s not really the way things are done in this area, but one can always hope.


Rays – What We Knew

While anyone taking an interest in the Rays stadium search knew that the most likely Hillsborough location was around the Tampa Bay Park apartments, this week we got basically confirmation of that.

Officials trying to lure the Tampa Bay Rays across the water are aggressively working to secure a site for a ballpark in the Channel District-Ybor City area, and hope to make an announcement soon.

Hillsborough County and its lawyers have had dozens of conversations this year with the Rays, its financing team at Goldman Sachs and Populous, the architect for the new ballpark, according to legal records. They’ve discussed financing options, reviewed sites and compared economic development proposals.

More recently, they have spoken with land owners about assembling a package of parcels that can fit a ballpark, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan confirmed recently. And they’re looking to the Atlanta Braves for ideas on how to pay for it.

So where exactly?

The officials are narrowing in on the Channel District-Ybor City area and have approached landowners about an option agreement that would secure the rights to those parcels if the Rays chose to move.

There are still moving pieces, Hagan cautioned, but “that fits perfectly in our belief that the ballpark needs to be in an urban environment. It also aligns with many of the Ray’s guiding principles for their next ballpark.”

* * *

The area south and east of a roundabout off Nuccio Parkway not far from the gates of Ybor City “has received a lot of attention,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “and I think it’s appropriate.” He wouldn’t say it was the leading site, adding there were “other potential parcels,” but said it’s walkability to downtown, space for parking and access to the TECO streetcar line are an advantage.

“Far better,” Buckhorn said, than the area in Ybor east of the revamped 22nd Street, another rumored site.

An investor group led by BluePearl Veterinary Services CEO Darryl Shaw has bought quite a few sizable parcels off Nuccio Parkway and the surrounding area in recent years, with the largest flurry of activity coming in the past 18 months. TECO and a couple of investment firms out of New York own some land there as well.

Shaw did not respond to a request for comment. Asked in April whether he spoke with the Rays brass about a particular parcel, the former gasification plant called Gas Worx, Shaw said, “they don’t believe a ballpark can fit on that site.”

But Buckhorn pointed out it could become a parking lot or support development.

Hagan said he also regularly meets with S. Kay Andrews, the publisher of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and the leader of the nonprofit that owns the Tampa Park Apartments. The housing complex, just west of Shaw’s land near Ybor, is often mentioned as a potential future home for the Rays.

The Tampa Bay Times recently reportedly that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development put the owners of Tampa Park Apartments on notice that they could lose their Section 8 rent subsidies after a substandard inspection.

The Rays have not publicly weighed in on potential Tampa locations for a ballpark, though Sternberg said in July that team leaders “have sites in mind.” County Attorney Chip Fletcher said, “We’ve gotten some mixed messages on what the Rays think about our site options.”

First, a surface parking lot on the Gas Worx lot would be an odd way to create an urban connection, but there are other things that can be done.  The Tampa Bay Park Apartments would be better for the actual stadium but it remains to be seen if a deal can be done.

In any event,

Hagan could not give a timeline on when the county might announce a potential site.

He anticipates, however, that the Rays don’t want to be accused of influencing the St. Petersburg mayoral race and therefore won’t weigh in on where they’re going until it’s over. The team is also in the middle of a competitive baseball season and negotiations over the rights to a new television contract.

* * *

The county may not wait until the Rays are ready to announce a site, Hagan said.

One area of near certainty is how the county would like to pay for a ballpark. Officials are hoping to mimic the pact between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, Ga., that led to the new SunTrust Park.

Cobb County borrowed $397 million to finance the stadium and the team contributed $230 million.

The public-private partnership relied on the potential growth in taxes collected on development and entertainment around the stadium. The new ballpark is just a piece of a massive development and entertainment district around the new Braves home for fans and a growing community.

In other words,

“It really is the model for future ballparks and the important thing is the paradigm for stadium financing continues to include increased team participation,” Hagan said. “The days of 100 percent taxpayer funded stadiums are long gone.”

We can’t wait for the discussion on how much public money goes into it.

Anyway, things have moved a bit, but are still quite uncertain and likely will not become more certain until after the St. Pete Mayor election.   And even after a site is chosen, there will be a lot of work to do selling the plan.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

And though stopping short of an ultimatum, Manfred got closer to one, stating that pressure from owners tired of subsidizing the Rays through revenue sharing could soon force MLB to consider options such as moving the team.

Aside from St. Pete’s refusal to let the Rays look around for years, it seems to us that local officials have been working on it.  And it should be noted that it is not just up to local officials to develop a plan.  The Rays have a role, too.


Parks and Taxation

A few weeks ago, we touched on the Tampa budget, a proposed tax increase, and the cost of Julian Lane riverfront Park. (see “Of Taxes, Parks, and Things” ) We noted that the City has some good reasons (and some not so good reasons) to consider a tax increase. We also noted, as we have done before, that the cost of that park seems a bit high, and while, setting aside some issues we have with the plan that are not relevant here, we are all for nice parks, maybe it should have been done in stages to allow for other needs.

Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a $35.5 million price tag with something for everyone, including a rowers’ boathouse, a sheltered cove for beginning paddlers, an event lawn, a community center with sweeping views of downtown and all kinds of athletic courts — even pickleball! — when it opens next spring.

But a majority of City Council members say the park might have turned out differently if they had known when they voted on it last year what they know now.

And that is, starting next year, the city will have to pay off two long-deferred debts from the mid 1990s. The smaller one amounts to about $6 million to be paid next year. The bigger one will mean making several years of $13.6 million debt payments starting in 2019.

To meet those commitments, Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes to raise property taxes. His proposed tax rate would be 15.7 percent higher than this year’s rate. It would be nearly 22.6 percent higher than if the city accounted for the growth of property values by rolling the rate back to a point where it would generate the same amount of revenue as this year.

Council members said they weren’t told about the 1990s debt until they got budget briefings with Buckhorn’s staff a month or so before he formally presented it on July 20.

Had they known, several said, they might have cut features out of the park when they voted on it in May 2016. Or they might have phased construction. And they likely would have pushed to spend less of the city’s $20 million BP oil spill settlement on the park.

Not knowing about such large obligations seems odd.  What is the story about the obligations?

At the time of the partial refinancing in 2015, Buckhorn said his staff told the council that the problem wasn’t solved entirely. And he said the deferred debt has been a part of budget briefings for the council the last couple of years. So they should not be surprised now.

“We told them that we had a looming problem out there as a result of the previous bond deal that was done and that we were working to try and find a solution,” Buckhorn said, though he also said the discussions didn’t delve into all the details of the bond issue. “It was part of the discussion over the refinancing.”

No, council members say, it wasn’t.

“He better have it in writing,” Capin said, “because it didn’t happen.”

He doesn’t. Asked whether there were emails, memos or briefing papers shared with the council, Buckhorn said, “There was no paper trail.”

We do not know who knew what when (you can draw your own conclusions).  We do know this all seems a bit sloppy, but not necessarily unusual for Tampa.  So what is the Mayor’s view on the spending priorities (and needs in other parts of the city):

On Riverfront Park, Buckhorn said he felt the BP oil settlement money should be spent on something that would benefit the city for decades to come.

“We made a decision that Julian B. Lane was in the best long-term interest of the community,” he says. “We knew that it was going to be expensive … but we also recognized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would have generational impact.

“You really don’t want to use one-time revenues to pay off recurring debts,” Buckhorn said. The BP money could have retired about 1 ½ years of what he expects to be a five-year obligation, but “when you weigh the long-term impact of (the park), it was a worthwhile investment. I think, over time, people won’t remember who did it, but they’ll be thankful.”

Setting aside the proclivity of elected officials for putting up signs on projects built during their tenure, there is a certain logic to that, though, since there is a tax increase involved and there were other ways to do it, there are questions.  (And there are other one time needs in other parts of the City that we discussed previously.)

Of course, it is done now.  The bigger issue is that the Imperial Mayor form of government in Tampa lends itself to such things happening and that there are ongoing communication issues in the Tampa government (not just this administration) that need to be fixed now and for future administrations.


Transportation – Airport News

There are number of tidbits about the airport.  First, UPS is moving from St. Pete-Clearwater to Tampa:

United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

* * *

The location handles next-day and second-day air packages. Tampa’s facility, Mayer said, is about six times larger than its current space at St. Pete-Clearwater, allowing UPS to move some sorting indoors.

* * *

The company is also shifting a postal handling facility that was not previously located in an airport to Tampa International.

Operations in Tampa will begin Oct. 16.  

We are not sure if the new incentives for cargo are playing a role, but developing cargo operations is definitely a positive.  Hopefully, the bigger facility allows them to grow their business which is good for the area generally (though it would be even nicer if it was completely new business in the area).

The UPS move will be boon for TIA, where air cargo and mail has been on the rise. Between 2011 and 2016, air mail has grown 32 percent while cargo has increased approximately 21 percent during that same five-year period. Much of that cargo increase at TIA is a result of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) the Seattle-based online retail giant.

“Cargo has been a growing business line for us,” said Janet Zink, assistant vice president for media and government relations at TIA. “Our cargo volume grew by 50 percent from July 2015 to July 2017.” She noted that TIA is the second fastest growing cargo volume in the country, behind Cincinnati, based on numbers from 2016.

And that growth is nothing to sneeze at, even if it started from a relatively low level.

Next, amid audits and odd comments, there was news from the airport:

A major ratings agency has affirmed its strong ratings on revenue bonds issued by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority for Tampa International Airport.

Moody’s Investors Service has affirmed the Aa3 rating on the authority’s general airport revenue bonds and the A1 subordinate revenue bonds. The ratings agency also said the outlook is stable, reflecting “the expectation that there will be no major deterioration of the rental car market, transaction days will remain at current levels, and debt service coverage ratios will continue to meet the projected levels.”

Which is good.  On the other hand:

A $32 million legal battle has erupted over two major, ongoing construction projects at Tampa International Airport.

Archer Western Construction, a subcontractor who did concrete work on the automated people mover and the consolidated rental car facility projects now in progress at TIA, alleges that the main contractor, Austin Commercial Inc., owes the subcontractor nearly $32.2 million in payments.

We are not going to get into details on this, but it is noteworthy that the suit does not involve the airport itself.  Whether it messes up any of the construction schedule will remain to be seen.

Back to the good news a SleepinginAIrports survey featured on HuffPost ranked the five best airports for layovers. Listed first, and the only US airport, was Tampa International.

A streamlined travel experience puts Tampa International Airport at the top of the best airports for layover list in the U.S. The airport boasts a simplistic, hub-and-spoke layout that helps ensure you couldn’t get lost even if you wanted to. Friendly staff, pay-per-use lounges, free Wi-Fi, and 24-hour food options keep this airport ranking high.

And for those interested in route development, you may want to check out this video on the airport Facebook page:

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