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Roundup 3-16-2018

March 16, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . .

— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

— TBARTA Money

— Going Cheap, Step One

— Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate

— Costs of Car Ownership

— Legislation Follow-up

USF – Hope It Works Out

Channelside – Hooray Beer

Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1

University Area – Uptown?

Tourism – High Impact

Airport – More Rankings and Records

Economic Development – Chasing Apple

Time – Some Thoughts

________________________________


Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . .


— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Since the Regional Transit Study Plan came out, we have been asking that, “Yes, it is cheap, but why else is it good?” One of the issues we have highlighted is the lack of potential for transit oriented development (TOD) due to the location of the route, the location of the stops, and the plan overall.  The engineers subsequently said they would talk to ULI about TOD.  Then, last week, there was this in the Business Journal:

The company charged with establishing a regional transit plan in Tampa Bay told attendees at a transportation meeting on Friday that access to transit-oriented development is not being considered when deciding which projects are fiscally feasible.

During the Tampa Bay Area Transportation Management Leadership Group, Scott Pringle with Jacobs Engineering said the cost estimates for various transit projects take into consideration current demographics and don’t look at the potential for future land use development.

That’s a problem for many who look at the millions, sometimes billions of dollars that can be harnessed by creating hubs of lucrative, taxable development around transit stations.

Federal Transit Authority guidelines recommend a transit project’s cost per trip come in at no more than $10. Meeting that benchmark is key to attracting federal grants. Jacobs Engineering studies of different rail corridors in Tampa Bay using existing CSX tracks all came out above that — some more than double.

* * *

Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 Secretary David Gwynn said the FTA guidelines don’t assume future ridership because the agency fields grant requests from cities and states across the nation.

“They make this very descriptive process so other places can’t conflate their numbers,” Gwynn said. The FTA guidelines keep the playing field level by forcing everyone to play by the same rules.

If projects don’t meet those guidelines, they aren’t likely to attract federal dollars.  

Whether he means “conflate” or means “inflate” rather than “conflate,” the potential problem with conflating numbers would be inflated ridership numbers giving potentially inaccurate pricing numbers.  But setting that aside, there are two issues involving TOD. First,

“If you’re not showing [transit-oriented development] I’m going to tell you you’re dead wrong because that cost per trip should go down,” said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Mariano wants a regional transit plan to include a CSX rail corridor as part of the solution, but so far, the Jacobs plan is recommending a 41-mile bus rapid transit route along Interstate 275 connecting St. Pete to Wesley Chapel.

Mariano, along with vocal CSX supporter Pat Kemp, a Hillsborough County commissioner, asked Pringle during a February meeting to come back with an update on how much it would cost to create rail routes including between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida and another north to Pasco County.

A 45-mile route connecting Tampa and Brooksville would cost as much as $2.62 billion serving nearly 5 million riders each year at a cost of about $28 per trip — nearly triple FTA guidelines. But the ridership estimate doesn’t take into consideration future development around rail stations. New development would increase population density and ridership; as ridership increases, the cost per trip decreases.

Incorporating future development, Mariano argued, would bring the CSX project closer to FTA guidelines.

The point by the Pasco Commissioner (yes, Pasco) is sound in that if you have a system that creates density, you increase usage and ridership numbers so costs per ride go down making a plan more competitive.  On the other hand, we understand why that might be questioned as overly speculative.  It is not clear at what rate development might occur and people might be tempted to pad the numbers.  Of course, potential car traffic numbers, ridership numbers, tax estimates, and a whole host of other predictions are also speculative.  But at least we understand the argument, even if it has some holes.

The back and forth on how to calculate ridership and cost per trip is indicative of the overall problem facing transit development in the Tampa Bay area. Local elected officials have repeatedly hit walls trying to fund transit improvements. One-penny sales tax initiatives failed in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in 2010 and 2014, respectively. The “No Tax for Tracks” groups responsible for squashing those efforts argued against the high price tag for rail and comparatively low ridership projections.

The BRT plan leverages existing infrastructure to bring the overall price tag to about $500 million with a per trip cost estimated as low as $8.

The plan has earned broad approval among elected officials and boards that will ultimately be responsible for implementing it, including St. Pete City Council and the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Forward Pinellas. Their support is based on the idea that the BRT “catalyst” project is attainable and would be the first in a long line of projects — one to get the ball rolling on others.  

Here are a few of problems with all that.  First, it is not leveraging existing infrastructure.  The hardened lanes, express lanes, segment with dedicated lanes, ramps on and off the highway, and stops do not exist yet.  The money spent by FDOT on all that could be spent on other transit projects. If anything, it is piggybacking on other projects and in existing rights-of-way.  Moreover, the plan still costs hundreds of millions of dollars even when you do not count all the money spent on the interstate expansion.

Second, what are those other projects that will be “catalyzed”?

Third, it is entirely unclear how an express bus plan with poor TOD prospects, not that much connectivity, and a number of other issues, will make people pine for real transit or catalyze a movement for it.  It is also unclear how, if the anti-rail faction is so strong, any further projects including rail (or even true BRT) will get support even if the express bus plan is implemented.  (More likely is the argument will be made that express buses are fine (or a waste of money), and we don’t need more.) And, of course, there is the wholesale revamp of the local bus systems that must occur to make the express bus idea make any sense. (Not to mention does anyone really think major corporations are going to be impressed by the express bus plan?) And, finally, there is the question of whether one county will support a project exclusively in another county even if there is a chance of expansion some day to more than one county.

But let’s accept the TOD valuation argument above at face value for now.  Even with that argument, it only explains why they did not choose the CSX tracks – because it is cheaper not to.  It does not address any of the issues with the bus plan nor tell us why it is a good plan other than being cheap (and it does not tell us why essentially the same result could not be obtained without being even cheaper and not falsely claiming that the “BRT” – read “express bus” – plan is a spine around which a true transit system can be built). One of those issues with the “BRT” plan is still the problem with not having TOD potential and plans, regardless of whether you count TOD in cost estimates.  The “BRT” plan likely will not create TODs (and if it does, they likely will not be extensive) which will limit ridership, limit the potential of the plan, and generally make the plan less worthy of consideration – and less likely to inspire support for the unnamed constellation of other plans it is supposed to catalyze.

Which leads to this from the engineers this week:

Addressing complaints that the route wouldn’t be faster than driving and would do little to attract new ridership, Pringle said the route could be set up with some express services, where the bus would skip stops to connect major employment centers like USF and downtown Tampa quickly. He said all but two of the 21 planned bus stops would be off the highway in and around neighborhoods, to provide better access to communities while also encouraging transit-oriented development.

That is interesting because the whole point of the plan seems more aimed at connecting residential areas to offices for commuters (it is not very good for just moving people around the area as they go about their business), so just connecting employment centers would not necessarily be useful.  Additionally, taking buses off the highway to stop would just slow them down, while stops next to the highway would still be next to the highway and would either require the buses to go back and forth under the highway slowing them down or to drop people off at the side of the highway leaving the highway as an impediment to TOD.

That fact is that real BRT should be in a dedicated roadway along surface streets.  Trying to do it on the cheap like this plan, you just don’t get the benefits of proper transit, including good conditions for TOD.

Not to mention, from a few weeks ago:

He said his firm is in the early stages of working with the Urban Land Institute to address concerns about transit-oriented development.  The urban design standard among industry professionals asserts transit-oriented development is successful when created around fixed guideways because it provides investors with certainty that the route funneling business into the area wont’ go away.

The bus route won’t do that, critics argue.  Proposed dedicated lanes could be converted back to general use lanes if BRT is not successful.

Pringle said he’s hoping ULI can serve an as independent panel to offer pointers on hot to increase development opportunities.

That hardly sounds like TOD is a feature of the plan or that the engineers are already convinced about the TOD opportunities of their plan.

Though, it has to be said, we don’t actually blame the engineers for that.  They were basically told to find something cheap.  They did that.  TOD is not an element of the bottom line calculation.  Even acknowledging that, yes, it is cheap, but it is not clear why the plan is good otherwise.  The problem is the task they were given in the study, and, it seems, they might recognize that:

There’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay regional planners from moving forward with two transit projects in its plans for a catalyst project instead of one, according to the firm studying options.

Jacobs Engineering Project Manager Scott Pringle told the Hillsborough County Planning Commission on Monday that the results of the regional premium transit feasibility plan could include bus rapid transit and a rail corridor. Pringle acknowledged a CSX rail corridor between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa has its benefits, but his overall talking points still heavily favored what his firm is describing as bus rapid transit.

* * *

“What would preclude merging the two plans?” Planning CommissionerShaun Metzger asked. “To me it seems like a good marriage of the two because they sort of serve different constituencies.”

“We feel that both are competitive for federal grant dollars,” Pringle said. “When we’re looking at CSX, we do still have to have that conversation [about obtaining right of way]. So it’s going to take a little bit longer. … 275 is most ready to go today.”

The I-275 bus project would run on existing and improved infrastructure rather than requiring entirely new bridges and overpasses. The buses would run on shoulders in some areas, in express lanes planned for the Howard Frankland Bridge and in dedicated lanes. Leveraging the Florida Department of Transportation’s highway improvement plans saves money to the tune of about $800 million, according to Jacobs Engineering’s analysis.

The cost estimate for the 12-mile CSX route is $780 million and would require negotiating track acquisition with CSX, a process Pringle said could take up to 10 years.

It is true, regional planners could have two projects going at the same time (though the bus project is not a catalyst).  In fact, we have already said that the bus project could be made cheaper and accomplish essentially the same thing while the area focused on real transit.  The CSX project has a far higher likelihood of catalyzing more transit given where the rest of the CSX lines run in the area (though, yes, negotiating with CSX is an issue). Of course, that would require regional buy-in to what would initially be an essentially local Tampa project.  And rail opponents would come out in force.  But if this area ever wants real transit, it will have to deal with those things anyway.

While it is small progress that the CSX idea is being bandied about, the discussion of the merits of the bus plan itself is still not really going anywhere. Yes, the plan is cheap, but, as we have argued, you could essentially get the same effect for less money without losing much if anything from the existing plan and also not hurt future prospects for transit by pretending that express buses are the spine of a real transit system.

The more we hear the more we are convinced that we should go cheap on the bus plan and focus on real transit solutions.  Whether there is political will to do that remains to be seen.


— TBARTA Money

One of the biggest problems with TBARTA has been a lack of money.  It seems that it is probably getting a little:

The Florida Legislature has approved $1 million for the recently revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority to create a 10-year plan for transit projects in the five-county area.

Known as a Regional Transit Development Plan, the clunky term refers to 10-year plan that would outline what projects the region should focus on, such as bus rapid transit, streetcars or rail, and when they should be built.

Last year, the Legislature restructured TBARTA to focus solely on transit. That decision also narrowed the scope of member counties from seven to five. Citrus and Sarasota didn’t make the cut. The agency and its 10-year plan, instead, will focus on Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas.

This appropriation, should Gov. Rick Scott approve it, gives the agency $1 million to hire a contractor. Michael Case, Principal Planner and Project Manager for TBARTA, expects the project to take about a year.

That means it will wrap up around the same time as a state-funded initiative to chose a preferred regional transit project. Planners are still refining that concept, but currently a 41-mile bus rapid transit line between Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg is the lead concept. 

While it is something, it is not much.  Nevertheless, theoretically, TBARTA could give us some of the other projects (in fact, they should focus on other, real transit projects), though there still would be money and support questions.  We doubt it will stray too far from the Regional Transit Study, but one can hope.

Then, there was this:

TBARTA’s 10-year plan compliments the regional premium transit feasibility plan, Case said, which could take as long as 40 or 50 years to complete.

We’re just going to assume that is a typo and should be 4 or 5 years.  Otherwise, it is not even worth discussing.


— Going Cheap, Step One

As we said a few weeks ago, if connections to the airport are a priority, there is nothing stopping anyone from providing them now (except lack of funding and political will).

Pinellas County will finally get a direct bus to Tampa International Airport starting this summer.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller announced the new route Friday to a group of politicians from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who had gathered at the airport to talk about regional transportation options.

* * *

The service will start in June and operate out of the Gateway area. There is currently no bus from Pinellas County to the airport.

The bus route will only run during peak travel times on the weekdays.

Miller stressed this is not an ideal service. But it is the kind of service PSTA can launch as quickly as possible.

“The number one thing that service is lacking is more frequency,” Miller said. “It will be a great start, but in order to serve more air travelers it will have to operate on Saturdays and Sundays and later in to the evening.”

We are not sure a bus from Gateway to the airport is the best route from Pinellas, but it is a start.

And there was also this:

A Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority committee voted Wednesday to accept funds from the Florida Department of Transportation to pay for extending an existing route. The downtown connection fills a transit gap that has existed for decades.

FDOT agreed to pay PSTA $234,000 annually to cover the cost of expanding the 100x route currently serving mid-Pinellas County, South Tampa’s Britton Plaza and downtown Tampa over the Gandy Bridge. The expanded route would extend to downtown St. Pete along Fourth Street with another extension north of Gandy Boulevard to the Gateway Mall near Ulmerton Boulevard.

* * *

The PSTA board is expected to make its final approval of the June route change at a meeting next Wednesday. The change has not faced opposition because it won’t cost PSTA any money, the agency would use its existing fleet and there wouldn’t be any other capital costs.

Though frequency will still be a problem:

However, service frequency would not improve under current plans. The 100x route doesn’t run on nights or weekends and provides limited service on weekdays.

“There’s a lot of frequency that needs to be added to make this viable for a lot of people,” said PSTA Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers.

PSTA ultimately hopes to increase service to seven days a week from 5 a.m. until midnight.

The fact is, if this area can’t fund basic, frequent, daily service with normal buses, what makes you think that it can build a useful fancy system? Going back to the airport route:

Though its a barebones service that will need additional funding to expand, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the ability for PSTA to launch a direct bus to the airport was a challenge to other counties in the region. She also serves on the board of Hillsborough’s bus agency.

“I think the takeaway from me is that we need to step up our game,” Murman said,  “because we need to pass you.”

That is a nice sentiment.  Talk is abundant, probably because it is so cheap.  Let’s see some action.  The County Commission should fund HART properly.  We look forward to seeing the budget proposal.


— Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate

There was also news about Tampa Bay Next and FDOT.  First,

The agency is also no longer considering express lanes north of the downtown Tampa interchange along Interstate 275, District 7 Secretary David Gwynn told the Tampa Bay Business Journal Tuesday.

It is also not considering the boulevard concept north of downtown for now, which we get.  While it is an intriguing idea, there are a number of questions about it we discussed previously (See “Transportation – On the Boulevard”).  Setting the boulevard idea aside, what does that mean for those neighborhoods?

Eliminating express lanes north of downtown in the new Tampa Bay Next concepts reduces the amount of land FDOT needs because the agency wouldn’t be adding additional infrastructure to accommodate more lanes.  However, under some scenarios FDOT could still add a general-purpose lane without expanding its existing footprint.

In fact, adding a lane could easily be done.  Just drive down that stretch of road and see how much space there already is. Of course, that could easily have been considered in the first place had there been the desire to do so.

Anyway, a bit closer to downtown (and, note, the concepts are not really new):

One Tampa Bay Next option would force FDOT to buy between 30 and 50 parcels of land, far fewer than any other concept.  The agency would be able to keep right-of-way acquisition low by elevating express lanes, which could be tolled or not, and keeping the existing infrastructure in place.

The lanes would go from I-4 over the downtown interchange and then continue west toward St. Petersburg.  That plan would spare most of the right-of-way needs in the Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights areas north of downtown proposed under the original Tampa Interstate Study on which TBX was based.  The Mobley Park Apartments for low-income residents would also remain untouched under than option.

There would be some drawback.  FDOT would have to acquire land around Perry Harvey St. Park and the adjacent skate park, but that acquisition would not affect either other than by building a fly-over bridge above it.

First, the lanes should not be tolled.  Second, that would be good for Mobley Park, but also shows that moving the Bro Bowl was ill-advised in terms of preservation.  Putting it under a highway would not be preserving it.  Nor would it be good for Perry Harvey Sr. Park.  Regardless, there is another option:

Interruption to the two parks could be avoided with a similar fly-over concept that would place the overpass to the north of I-275 rather than the south, but that version would mean Mobley Park would be in the wrecking ball’s path.

Those two concepts have received the widest support during public meetings, according to FDOT.

Obviously, that option would be good for the park but bad for the apartments.  Is there anything else?

Another concept would include the express lanes at the same level of the rest of the highway and would require FDOT to obtain 130 to 150 land parcels including in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights.

We have no idea why express lanes downtown would have anything to do with Seminole Heights (and if they do, that is unacceptable).  Setting that aside, we appreciate not having express lanes on I-275 north of downtown, but none of the options around downtown is particularly good. If we have to have express lanes, the flyover idea is better than massive widening.

Finally, it is also certainly noteworthy that the Mobley Park Apartments and Perry Harvey Sr. Park, both attempts to rebuild and/or revitalize a traditionally active African-American part of town that was ruined by the original interstate, might be destroyed, or at least messed up significantly, by the expansion of the same road.  (Nothing like honoring Central Avenue by putting the park that honors it in shadow of a flyover.)  Funny how that works.


— Costs of Car Ownership

As we have noted many times, income in our area is quite low relative to major metros (as if most of Florida).  It also lacks real transit options (and even well-funded buses) and transportation alternatives.  That leads to costs, including car ownership.

Premiums are rising and have increased by 3.4%-7.4%. As a vehicle reimbursement solution company, CarData has seen these rates affect their clients and drivers across the nation.  Below, CarData reviews the states with the highest premiums and discusses the reasons behind the rates. 

Florida is a no-fault state, there is mandatory $10,000 PIP Personal Injury Protection coverage accounting for one-fourth of the insurance premiums. Hurricanes and tropical storms necessitate increased comprehensive coverage and with the most recent hurricane these rates are expected to continue to climb. Florida is second in the nation for uninsured drivers on the road at 24%, and there is more car insurance fraud than any other state with con men attempting to take advantage of no-fault laws. The city of Miami tops the charts for Florida with premiums for a salesperson with a speeding ticket, a not-at-fault collision and business use insurance at $4,050. West Palm Beach, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are right behind.

And, according to Zebra.com, Florida has the fifth most expensive auto insurance.  (Somehow, North Carolina is the least expensive) While it is certainly true that some people are perfectly happy to be wedded to their cars and their cost, others are not.  We need real alternatives.  Moreover, the high cost of insurance and lack of reasonable alternatives needs to be factored into the cost of living and the competitiveness of the area.  We doubt the express bus plan or Tampa Bay Next will do much to change that.


— Legislation Follow-up

A few months ago we discussed a proposed bill to basically defund the Florida Rail Enterprise and replace it with a fund for “alternative” transportation. (See “Transportation – Jumble” and “Transportation – Legislation, Cont.”) It did not pass this session. It is likely the bill will be back in some form.


USF – Hope It Works Out

The USF consolidation is now law.

Surrounded by top Republican lawmakers and students, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Legislature’s two sweeping education bills reforming K-12 and higher education on Sunday that included a provision to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its accreditation.

* * *

It also eliminates USF-St. Petersburg’s autonomy by merging all of USF’s campuses, including a campus in Sarasota-Manatee, into one system. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the move to strip USF-St. Pete’s separate accreditation was touted as a move toward getting all campuses under the “preeminent” status that USF is expected to achieve this year.

Preeminent status is a category of increased state funding and prestige, based on metrics like graduation rates, designed to attract better faculty and better programs.

The reaction was as expected:

“The mayor is not surprised by this disappointing bill,” said Kriseman’s spokesman, Ben Kirby. “This thing was cooked up a long time ago in secret by (USF President Judy Genshaft) and her Republican allies in the Legislature.”

The problem with the plan was that it came out of the blue and had little discussion.  The problem with the objections is that they did not really address whether the plan was good for the students.

As was the case all along, we do not have a position on the move other than we think it could have been handled better and that our biggest concern is for the students.  We hope it benefits them.  Time will tell.


Channelside – Hooray Beer

Work is set to begin soon on the temporary project that replaces one of the buildings in the Channelside complex.

A waterfront park with a beer garden and pop-up restaurants in shipping containers will open at Channelside Bay Plaza later this year, creating a new destination for downtown residents and visitors on the southern end of Tampa’s urban core.

Tampa-based EWI Construction has filed permits with the city to begin construction on the park, which replaces a 27,500-square-foot building that once housed restaurants Hablo Taco and Thai Tani. The park is 42,400 square feet — nearly 1 acre.

The pop-up restaurants are slated to include everything from coffee and doughnuts to tacos and smoothies, according to the construction documents, and should be open by late summer.

The “pop-up” restaurants will look like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It should be nice, and at least it open up the waterfront. We will be interested to see the permanent replacement plans.


Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1

The long planned Tampa Bay 1 project seems to have some action.  Among rumors of retail signings (including possibly Whole Foods moving there), a large number of documents have recently been uploaded to the Accela database (search for 3717 W Cypress St).  So here is what we know.  This is the site plan:

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

Doing some quick addition from the filings, it appears that the project, as now described, includes about 750,000 sq ft of office, 200,000 sq ft of retail, movie theaters, 390 units of housing and a 225 room hotel. Here are some elevations.

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

It appears from another document that the tallest height allowed is around 250 feet.  Here are some renderings of the open space in the middle of the project you can see on the site plan above.

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

Aside from a lot of surface parking, including some facing Dale Mabry that appears, from the site plan, to be permanent and a huge garage in on the north side that does not appear to be integrated with anything, the project looks pretty good.  It is certainly more internally walkable than most anything we can think of in Westshore (though a surface lot on Dale Mabry is not good and we are not sure what will face Cypress itself).  The internal walkability is good.  The open space in the middle is good.  The circulation could be a little more direct going east-west, but it is not fatal.

We do not know for sure if these will be the final plans (there is a rezoning application), we do not know about any leases, and we do not know if they are indeed ready to move forward.  This project has been around in various forms for a long time.  We shall have to see what happens.


University Area – Uptown?

There was news about the slow-moving redevelopment of University Square Mall:

The New York developers who own University Mall have purchased the Sears department store on the property, calling it a “significant milestone” in the redevelopment of the beleaguered enclosed mall.

RD Management paid $7 million for the 144,941-square-foot Sears box, which was owned by Sears, Roebuck & Co., according to a Hillsborough County deed filed last week.

“The acquisition of the Sears property marks a significant milestone in the transformation of the entire University Mall site,” Roger Hirschhorn, RD Management chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are excited to include Sears in the dynamic, mixed-use center we’ve always envisioned for this extraordinary community of educators, scientists, caregivers, students, businesspeople, and hardworking and inspiring neighbors.”

That all sounds very positive, though the key is what they will actually do with it. First, they are changing the name:

Sears will remain open during the redevelopment, the developer said Tuesday. It is rebranding University Mall as Uptown, which will “be a multistory, open-air, development showcasing retail, entertainment, hospitality, education, medical, office and residential uses.”

While it is true that University Mall is north of and higher in elevation (it is, this is Florida after all) than downtown, “Uptown” seems to imply that the area is somehow upscale (and maybe urban), which, right now, the area decidedly is not.  However, the name is not the most important thing.  What is most important is what they are going to do:

RD Management did not immediately reveal a date for beginning construction. The redevelopment of University Mall into a mixed-use, open-air center has been floated for years, since RD bought the mall in late 2014.

In January, RD Management hired Chris Bowen as chief development strategist to oversee the mall’s redevelopment. Bowen told the Tampa Bay Business Journal in mid-February that RD Management was gearing up to release a $1 billion redevelopment plan.

If they actually build a billion dollar development with real density, some sort of grid that makes the development more urban and, maybe, fix up some of the area around it, then maybe Uptown will be fitting. Regardless, the idea of spending a billion dollars on the redevelopment is intriguing, but, until we actually see something, we will withhold judgment.


Tourism – High Impact

Hillsborough County officially passed the threshold to add another percentage to its bed tax.

Hillsborough County generated more than $600 million in hotel revenue last year, making it one of just nine counties to pass the threshold for becoming a “high-impact” tourism destination in Florida.

With the designation, the county is now allowed to raise the tax on overnight stays from 5 percent to 6 percent.

* * *

The county generated about $644 million in taxable hotel revenue last year — or about $700 million before taxes.

That sent bed-tax revenue past Visit Tampa Bay’s $30 million goal at $32.3 million — an 8 percent increase compared to 2016. Pinellas County beat the same threshold in 2014.

While tourism generally has been booming, it is still a solid accomplishment.

Those numbers also qualify Hillsborough to be designated a high-impact tourism destination, which in turn would allow the Hillsborough County Commission to consider raising the tourist development tax or bed tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. The money generated by the bed tax is earmarked for promoting tourism, paying down debt on Raymond James Stadium and maintaining Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. 

Do not be surprised if the extra percentage gets added on and a good portion of it is earmarked for a potential Rays stadium. (It should be noted that, by statute, bed taxes have limited uses. , though, that may soon change.)


Airport – More Rankings and Records

Airports Council International came out with their annual rankings of airports by various categories. (See also here)  In the North American airports with 15-25 million passengers per year category, Tampa International was rated the best.  Good job.  Hopefully, we will move up to the larger category soon.

And in more news,

At Tampa International Airport, this past February was up 12.4 percent over February 2017 — the largest increase since 2005. 

Meanwhile, officials at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw its largest passenger numbers for the month of February. At 172,790 passengers, this represents a 14 percent increase over the same month a year ago. Year-to-date, the number of passengers at PIE is up 11 percent over 2017. 

That is good to hear.  Maybe we will move up sooner rather than later.


Economic Development – Chasing Apple

While we did not get to it last week, there was an odd article in the Times that came seemingly out of the blue about Apple.

For the Tampa Bay area’s economic development team, going after Amazon’s second headquarters was like running a hard race uphill against fast competition.

In contrast, going after Apple would be less like a race and more like, what, a puzzle? A treasure hunt?

Whatever it is, it involves a blindfold.

Of course local officials would love to pitch the region’s benefits to Apple. But at the moment there’s no organized pursuit of Apple’s planned campus the way there was for Amazon’s HQ2 project.

That’s because the maker of the iPhone, the world’s biggest company by market value, has yet to say what it’s looking for — how much property it needs, for example, or what kind of or how many employees it’s seeking.

“We are certainly prepared,” said Craig Richard, president and CEO of the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Right now no one knows what this project is, except for Apple. There hasn’t been a process outlined like Amazon, and honestly, I don’t expect it to be that way.”

In mid-January, Apple announced plans to build a second corporate campus somewhere in the U.S. and hire 20,000 workers over the next five years.

Sure, it would be nice to get an Apple campus.

If the company is looking to create a headquarters that houses everything except its top officers, Richard said Tampa already has proven to be a successful landing spot for corporations like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, USAA, MetLife and Bristol-Myers Squibb. The city was even a finalist for the relocation of Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. headquarters.

“We have all of their operations: legal, accounting, real estate, HR, everything but the C-suite,” he said. “We have a strong track record in the event that Apple follows a similar model… Once they disclose what they’re looking for, we would love to be part of that process.”

We grant you that we are really good at back office operations.  So how realistic is the idea of Apple here?  Well, no one really knows because Apple is going about its business quietly, but Bloomberg did an analysis. (It has a bunch of nice graphics here )

In January, Apple Inc. announced plans for a fourth U.S. campus—a down-payment of sorts on its commitment to hire thousands of Americans and redeploy billions of dollars stashed overseas and now being repatriated under the Trump administration’s new tax law. The company hasn’t said how many people will work at the new facility, but it’s probably fair to say it will at least be in the hundreds.

That is a little different than the Times article, but anyway:

The iPhone maker has said the new facility won’t be in California or Texas and that initially it will house call-center staff. Apple has no plans to create an Amazon-style public bidding process, but cities from Sidney, Nebraska, to Orlando, Florida, have already expressed interest in hosting the facility.

In an effort to narrow down potential sites for the new campus, Bloomberg considered several criteria: regions where Apple already has a strong presence, proximity to suppliers, local business conditions and costs, concentration of educated talent and adjacency to transportation hubs.

So what did they come up with?

When you consider all these factors, Apple seems likely to choose among northeastern states such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and upstate New York; North Carolina and Florida in the southeast; and Midwestern states like Illinois and Wisconsin. The East Coast has one obvious advantage: the ability to provide customer support before existing call centers in Texas and California open for the day, as well as its proximity to hundreds of suppliers. The company could also consider the northwest, where it has a couple of offices, including an R&D center for cloud services in Seattle, and several suppliers.

That is not all that helpful.  Interestingly, if you check their graphics though, you see that in Florida, they list Miami, Orlando, and Jacksonville (and apparently West Palm Beach and Melbourne).

 

From Bloomberg.com – click on picture for article

We are ignored.  That does not really mean anything substantive, but it is interesting in terms of perception, especially as we are so full of call-centers.


Time – Some Thoughts

As most people probably know, there is a move to make Daylight Savings Time permanent in Florida.  It got a lot of support in the legislature:

The Florida Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act on Tuesday, three weeks after the state’s House of Representatives, and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto. (Asked on Wednesday whether Mr. Scott would sign it, and why or why not, his press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said only, “The governor will review the bill.”) The margins of victory in both chambers were overwhelming — 33 to 2 in the Senate and 103 to 11 in the House — and the measure has considerable public support.

Though, as the New York Times pointed out:

Often, these complaints take the form of calls to eliminate daylight saving time altogether. But Florida wants to move in the opposite direction: permanent daylight saving time.

Why exactly?  We are not actually sure but here’s what some of the reporting tells us:

Senate sponsor Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, has said he got the idea after walking into his local barbershop last fall, shortly after the clocks changed from Daylight Saving to Standard Time.

“One of the barbers had young children and it had such a negative impact every time they set their clocks back [that they had trouble] getting their kids up for school,” he told the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting last month.

But consider what a local meteorologist pointed out (and which is obvious):

Elementary school starts at 7:40 am next year in Hillsborough County. If year round #DST is approved by Congress, kids will travel to school and have most of their 1st period in the dark. In January, sun would rise between 8:17 am and 8:22 am.

We are not sure it would easier for kids to wake up (or stay awake) when it is dark through their first class. Not to mention this:

…more crazy year round DST impacts. #Bucs home games in November and December would likely start at 2 pm or 5 pm to line up with rest of east coast. #Lightning games on west coast would start at 11:00 or 11:30 and be over well after 1:30 am #Florida time.

And games in other states will start an hour later (MNF at 9:20).  Here are some other reasons given for why the change would be good:

People in the tourism industry also complained that as the days got darker in Standard Time, “they can’t keep their shops open,” he said.

Reps. Jeannette Nunez, R-Miami, sponsor of the House version of the bill predicted that the time change would boost the economy, save energy, improve road and public safety, and reduce crime due to the fact there is more sunlight in the evening hours.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, another House sponsor, predicted it will improve mental health and simplify life.

We could see more justification if the entire east coast did it, but, as it stands, for half the year we will be synched with Halifax and out of synch with NYC, DC, and all the eastern time zone.  Tourism does not seem to be struggling in Florida and mental health in the winter does not seem that much worse than the summer.  Would the change really be good for us?

It should probably be discussed a little more.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Blaine Wills permalink
    March 16, 2018 3:32 PM

    Sounds like the barber and the Senator are a bit confused. When falling back, we actually gain time and there is more light in the morning hours. Why would the barber’s grand kids struggle getting up for school? Seems like the Senator should be arguing for a permanent switch to standard time, not DST, based on that reasoning.

  2. EyesWideOpen permalink
    March 18, 2018 2:00 PM

    If you follow the lines on that chart for Apple, you see the Florida cities only garner attention as having an existing small Apple office, or having a biz friendly environment. They’re not picked for human capital or transportation.

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