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Roundup 12-15-2017

December 15, 2017

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

Transportation – Jumble

— The Legislation

— TBARTA

— Tolls on Tolls

Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

Impact Fees – The Real Point

Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point

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Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

Keeping the buzz going, SPP has now told us what brand the major hotel across the street from the Marriott Waterside will be:

Strategic Property Partners, LLC (“SPP”) today announced that it will bring Marriott International’s JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts luxury brand for the first time to Tampa, within the Water Street Tampa neighborhood. The 519-room, 26-story hotel will rise steps from the Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena, where the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning play, and feature the highest rooftop bar in Tampa Bay. Construction on the hotel will start in early 2018.

SPP, which is developing downtown’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood, announced it is also investing over $40 million to fully renovate the adjacent 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The combined hotels will create the largest collection of hotel rooms and meeting space in Tampa Bay, with 1,246 rooms and 175,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

That is a good brand and will be a step up in downtown, and we like the idea of operating the two hotels in concert. (We also like the rooftop bar).  And note construction is supposed to start soon (unlike some other projects, since they have funding already, we are less dubious about that start date).

We also like this about the Marriott Waterside:

New retail space encompassing 3,111 square feet will be added to the northwest corner of the property along Water Street, allowing the hotel to embrace the streetscape envisioned for Water Street.

Right now, that area is a loading dock, which is a bit odd given that it is right on the street and next to a park. (see here) Retail is a much better use for the frontage. They are still going to need a loading dock but hopefully the streetscape will be improved.

One thing to note about the JW:  This is the first released rendering:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

And this is the newest rendering that came out with the announcement of the brand:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As you can see, it looks a bit stumpier in the new rendering.  As we always say, renderings are notoriously inaccurate, though we tend to believe the ones that do not play up the soaring characteristics of the project.  Regardless, it will definitely be a nice addition to the area. (If only they would address the awnings/protection for pedestrians.)  And will add some more cranes, which is always nice.


Transportation – Jumble


— The Legislation

Given the Tampa Bay Partnership’s new focus on transit, last year’s TBARTA law, and all the studies regarding transit in the area, we were surprised by something we read in the Business Journal involving the Tampa Bay legislative delegation:

Florida Sen. Dana Young (R-Tampa) filed a bill Friday that would fund the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority with $25 million, to be used exclusively for dollar-for-dollar matches from either a private entity or the local government, and prioritized for autonomous vehicle and transportation network company projects.

The funds wouldn’t be available until 2021.

Reps. Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) and Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) are co-sponsoring a similar bill in the House.

Senate Bill 1200 and HB 535 would provide state funding for design and construction of “alternative transportation systems.” The bills block federal funding from replacing the local match requirement.

We have nothing against looking at alternative transportation technology, including new technology, and it seems like support for TBARTA.  Those goals seem good enough.  But:

A previous version of the House bill listed an existing statute that would have limited funding to high-speed rail projects. That version was stricken and replaced with the new proposal during a committee vote this week.

The bills could be seen as anti-rail. They would create the Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority to replace the Florida Rail Enterprise.

While the rail enterprises first project was supposed to be high-speed rail, it was supposed to be for more than that, but more on that later.

So what do the bills really do? You can find the Senate bill here   and the house bill here.

First, as said, the bills create an alternative transportation authority, in addition to the rail enterprise and some other stuff in FDOT. Both bills define alternative transportation:

(2)  For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s. 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.

See pg 8 of the pdf.

Setting aside the inherent ambiguity in that language and the question of why the state would “design and construct[]” ridesharing companies (transportation network companies), that does not seem to include normal or express buses (or, most likely BRT).  Once again, we do not have a problem with looking at new technology, but we are not clear on the overall goals of the bills, especially when this area is still working out what it wants.  And getting back to the rail enterprise, the proposed Senate bill includes this:

Section 3.

Subsection (5) of section 341.303, Florida Statutes, is repealed.

See pg 7-8 of the pdf. (The House bill shows the actual stricken language). So, what is Subsection 5 of section 341.303?

(5) FUND PARTICIPATION; FLORIDA RAIL ENTERPRISE.—The department, through the Florida Rail Enterprise, is authorized to use funds provided pursuant to s. 201.15(4)(a)4. to fund:

(a) Up to 50 percent of the nonfederal share of the costs of any eligible passenger rail capital improvement project.

(b) Up to 100 percent of planning and development costs related to the provision of a passenger rail system, including, but not limited to, preliminary engineering, revenue studies, environmental impact studies, financial advisory services, engineering design, and other appropriate professional services.

(c) The high-speed rail system.

(d) Projects necessary to identify or address anticipated impacts of increased freight rail traffic resulting from the implementation of passenger rail systems as provided in s. 341.302(3)(b).

As you can see, that is not just high-speed rail (and why even foreclose high-speed rail?), though it leaves section 3, which says:

(3) FUND PARTICIPATION; CAPITAL ASSISTANCE.—

(a) The department may fund up to 50 percent of the nonfederal and nonprivate share of the costs of any eligible railroad capital improvement project that is local in scope.

(b) The department is authorized to fund up to 100 percent of the cost of any eligible railroad capital improvement project that is statewide in scope or involves more than one county if no other governmental unit of appropriate jurisdiction exists.

(c) The department is authorized to fund up to 100 percent of the costs of any railroad capital improvement project involving the acquisition of rights-of-way for future transportation purposes. Departmental fund participation in such project shall be credited as part of the appropriate share of the participation by the department in total project cost for any future project involving such rights-of-way.

Which seems to mean that the state can fund rail transit but there will no longer be a set mechanism, and note the remaining section is not for “passenger” rail, just rail in general.

Generally, every word in a statute is supposed to mean something specific.  So, while one could argue that “alternative transportation” under the definition given could include rail, by including both a rail enterprise and the new authority, the bills are either unfortunately drafted or intend to that passenger rail does not fall under “alternative transportation.”  And designating funds for the alternative transportation authority but not the rail enterprise obviously defunds the rail enterprise.  So, while the rail enterprise would still seem to exist, it is unclear what it is for or what it can really do (though money for South Florida rail comes from somewhere else and seems untouched). And while there still can be funding for passenger rail, the bills would remove the organization setup specifically for that purpose but provide funding for something else, plainly making implementing passenger rail more complex. (And, as noted, there appears to be no set authority for things like BRT or express buses).

Another question we have is why Federal funds cannot be counted as matching funds.  We do not see the logic in that.  If the Legislature wants to limit the amount of money it pays, that is fine.  But why do they care if the money is from local taxes, private investment or the Federal government?  As long as extra state money is not being spent, it should make no logical difference to them.

And we also do not get why these bills appear to exclude bus service, including express buses that FDOT keeps talking about for the express lanes.

We have not heard what the actual intention behind the bills is, but from what is drafted (which is not necessarily the actual intent . . . it happens) the bills just make getting regular transit done and paid for harder.

In sum, we are not opposed to the idea of having some funding mechanism for alternative transportation systems (but not ridesharing, which has enough private money going to it).  But we do not see why the local legislative delegation should take steps that make it harder to solve this region’s transportation issues or take steps that seem (whether they are intended to or not) to work to prejudge the local discussion.  It is nice to fund trendy things, but if our local decision is for rail or BRT or express buses or something else, why would our delegation make it harder? Regardless of the actual intent, the language of the bills as it now stands does not seem to be in line with the new stance of the Tampa Bay Partnership (at least as stated), the TBARTA law or any of the studies no ongoing.  Hopefully, they will fix it.


— TBARTA

The head of TBARTA is leaving.

Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte will not renew his contract with the agency, he announced Friday. It’s a position he’s held since early 2015.

Chiaramonte expects to come up with a process to search for his replacement in the spring, which will be about a nine-month process, he said. His contract expires in February 2019.

Chiaramonte decided not to pursue a contract extension after the Florida Legislature approved changing the agency from a transportation entity to a transit provider.

“For this change, they need someone ready to move in a different direction who is going to commit to three to five years,” Chiaramonte said. “I’m just not ready to make that commitment.”

We have no strong feeling one way or the other.  But it is interesting in light of the bills above.  It is also interesting in light of this:

During a recent meeting, TBARTA board members established four priorities as part of that plan, aimed at building on the agency’s strengths and mitigating its weaknesses.

First, the board will adopt and begin implementing a regional transit feasibility plan. Jacobs Engineering is conducting a study, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, that will create the framework for that, establishing a priority route and transit mode to best attract federal funding.

Final recommendations are expected after the new year, but preliminary results list five possibilities with a route along Interstate 275 connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties with light rail as the top-ranked plan. That could change when the study concludes.

The transit plan will pave the way for federal funding. Under legislation passed in Florida earlier this year, TBARTA will facilitate the federal funding process.

The agency will also pursue legislative funding requests and identify long-term dedicated capital and operating funds. Legislation changing the second “T” in the agency’s acronym from “transportation” to “transit” restructured the agency to be more focused on regional needs, but it did not establish a funding mechanism to build or operate a transit system. The legislation also failed to grant TBARTA taxing authority.

TBARTA will also create a regional transit development process to implement goals.

This is all fine, if a little vague.  We cannot really judge the steps until something actually happens.  Regardless, they might want to consult with the business community and legislative delegation.


— Tolls on Tolls

The Veterans Expressway express lanes opened last week.

Drivers on the Veterans Expressway will gain an extra lane from Gunn Highway to Hillsborough Avenue starting Saturday.

Actually they don’t.  Unless you are going all the way to Gunn Highway, there are only three lanes.  And even if you are going to Gunn or beyond, even when there is no traffic, you still can’t get over into the express lanes from the regular toll lanes (in other words, they are not adding a fourth lane, they are adding a separate lane), as explained here:

But there’s a catch: Once drivers enter the lane, they won’t be able to leave it — not until a designated exit about six miles later.

There will be no merging, no changing of the mind. If commuters miss the entrance, they won’t be able to jump in later. Plastic poles separate the lane from the rest of traffic. 

Right.  Hopefully no one breaks down in the express lane (we doubt you’ll get a refund for poor service).  And, of course, you get to pay another toll on top of the toll to get on the road in the first place:

Once the other three-mile stretch of the extra lane from Gunn to Dale Mabry Highway opens in the spring, drivers will have to pay an extra toll — on top of the one they already pay to use the Veterans — if they want to bypass traffic using this new 9-mile express lane. The price of that toll will rise and fall based on demand. The more traffic, the higher the cost to avoid it.

As we have explained many times, to maintain speed in the express lane, FDOT has to price people out of using the lanes.  In other words, they don’t want people actually using the lane, at least not too many. (In plain terms, the express lanes capacity is by design supposed to be lower than the normal lanes, so it is not even a new full lane).

So you can pay a toll to use the road or you can pay the first toll (presumably to pay for maintenance of the exit ramp), then pay another toll to get a road that might actually have decent speed, because apparently just paying one toll is not enough to get decent service from your government.


Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

There was news about another hotel project in the Channel District.

A dual-flag hotel will begin construction on a prime corner of downtown Tampa’s Channel district in early 2018.

The nine-story hotel, which will carry the Hampton Inn by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton flags, will have 213 guest rooms and include a ground-floor Starbucks. It will be built on a currently vacant parcel at 1155 E. Kennedy Blvd., which is just under an acre.

You may remember this project, which we originally said was quite dead on the street.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Over time, they have tweaked it to include a Starbucks and pedestrian-friendly coverings, which are good. However, the parking garage is still not very good, especially from the angle where it is really visible, nor is the little parking lot for check-in.  And, while we can’t tell what the materials will be, we have a feeling it will very much resemble a generic hotel at a highway exit (except it will have a garage). And the street will still be quite dead.

While we are all for adding a hotel (or two), we think it could be better, but this is what we will get.


Impact Fees – The Real Point

While looking up the transportation bills, we came across another proposed bill by the same State Senator, this one regarding impact fees (here).  It says this, which we think is fine:

(e) Collection of the impact fees may not occur earlier than the issuance of the building permit for the property that is subject to the fee.

(f) The impact fee must be reasonably connected to, or have a rational nexus with, the need for additional capital facilities and the increased impact generated by the new residential or commercial construction.

Collecting the fees with the permit has a certain logic, and the fees should be connected to the impact.  Though, it should be noted, that whether the impact is connected can be an issue. For instance, it can be fairly argued that the impact of a house in Riverview can be quite high, especially if the resident works downtown, the impact will be on roads being all the way to downtown.  Yet, others would argue that the impact would just be in Riverview right around the house.  But, we’ll set that aside for a minute because the bills also have this:

(g) The impact fee must be reasonably connected to, or have a rational nexus with, the expenditures of the funds collected and the benefits accruing to the new residential or commercial construction.

(h) The local government must specifically earmark funds collected by the impact fees for use in acquiring capital facilities to benefit the new residents.

(i) The collection or expenditure of the impact fee revenues may not be used, in whole or part, to pay existing debt or be used for prior approved projects unless the expenditure is reasonably connected to, or has a rational nexus with, the increased impact generated by the new residential or commercial construction.

While section (i) makes some sense in that impact fees should not be levied to make up for past deficiencies, there is a problem with the three overall.  Impact fees are not levied for the benefit of the new residents, tenants or developments.  They are levied to mitigate the impact of new residents, tenants or developments on what is already there.  As such, they are for the benefit of the people already there.  For instance, if a road has a level of service before a new development, the impact fee it to pay for improvements to maintain the level of service after the new development.  That is a benefit to the people who are already there and using the road – so they do not have to pay the cost of the impact of the new development on their roads.   In other words, it is not just about building new intersections at the entrance just to make the new development more attractive.  It is about fixing a road so people who are already there can still get around, not necessarily right around a new development. (The same with schools – it is so the new residents do not overburden the existing schools.)

In fact, part of the problem with how impact fees have been levied (aside from waiving them so often) has been that they have ignored impacts caused by development that have been farther away for those development.  Those burdens have been borne by other residents and businesses whose tax money has essentially subsidized new development and profits for developers.   And, of course, it is not just for roads, it can be other infrastructure (especially with mobility fees).

As such, any properly levied and used impact fee arguably will not comply with the language this proposal.

We are not going to speculate about the motives or intent to the bill.  We will assume that it has been proposed to prevent possible abuses (such as the county Commission trying to get new development to pay for the rank failure to properly plan in the past).  However, the language should be tweaked to properly represent the purpose of impact fees – to protect the tax payer from having to subsidize new development – which is benefit to the present taxpayer, not the developers and not the new residents.


Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point

URBN Tampa Bay pointed out an interesting article on density. You can find their post here and the article here.

It is not long so you can read it yourself, but the main point is this:

Putting aside the loaded language of that last quote, what each of these share is the belief that there’s a “right” way to build cities. In their view there’s a balanced amount of development—somewhere between two-story dingbats and 80-story skyscrapers—that will make everyone happy. This mindset is no less destructive than Goldilocks herself, but on a scale far beyond that of a single household’s personal property.

Most people probably don’t want to live in a city full of skyscrapers, but some surely do. Manhattan is a real place, after all. Not everyone wants to live in a sprawling, suburban neighborhood either. Some people enjoy the anonymity of the big city, others hate it. To state the very obvious, different people are different. They like different foods and different cars, or they don’t like cars at all; they have different political ideologies and appreciate different art; and they enjoy different urban environments to different degrees.

Imposing my values to ensure that only a specific type of urban environment exists robs others of the opportunity to find their own Happy City. Unlike Goldilocks, who breaks some dishware and a chair or two, successful NIMBYs are taking away entire homes from people who would like to live in their city—they remove those potential homes from the market, and they drive up the cost of living for everyone else in the process. . .

The interesting thing about that is that right now, the rules are biased against the market.  In the vast majority of cases, they limit density and urban development and favor sprawl (even before local government subsidize it).  They favor cars.

We think people should have choices.  Not everyone wants to live in suburbia, and not everyone wants to live in an urban environment.  The problem is that the system (particularly the building code, but also in other ways) is skewed to one model: suburban, even in urban areas.  If you want to live in suburban sprawl and drive everywhere, that’s fine, but others should not have to subsidize it (hence the impact fees).  And if funding is going to go for that, it should also go for people who want to live in an urban environment.  (And the same goes for an urban environment, though funding of suburbs hasn’t been an issue for a while.) That does not mean no regulations or infrastructure spending.  We understand that it means balancing regulations, planning, and spending to allow for choices, including some in which we have no interest.  But right now, in this area, there is little to no balance at all.

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