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Roundup 6-15-2018

June 15, 2018


Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.


— Streets, Walking, et al

— About That County Thing

— Free Streetcar

— Mayors, The Editorial

— Suncoast 2 Suit

Economic Development

— Housing, Factoring the True Cost

— Tourism

— Talent

— About That Cluster

Airports – Growing

Westshore – Publix

Rays – The Trop Land

Downtown – Reality Check

— One More Thing

Interesting Read/View

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Last week, we discussed this (See “Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?” ):

On June 11th the Hillsborough Planning Commission will consider an amendment to the zoning code that would allow standalone storage facilities to be built in Downtown Tampa as well as Seminole Heights! The applicant is also requesting that parking requirements be reduced for storage facilities citywide. The planning commission’s staff has recommended the board reject the proposal in its entirety.

We included the staff opinion and explained why we opposed the proposal, and did not really understand why the City Council would propose such a thing.

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the consideration of the amendment has been pushed to August.

Originally, at 2PM today (June 11th), the Hillsborough County Planning Commission was set to consider a proposal to allow single-use storage unit projects in Downtown, Seminole Heights and other urban neighborhoods. That hearing has now been pushed back to August.

Whether in June or August, it is still a bad idea and should be rejected.  We are still wondering why the City Council proposed the change.  It should be dropped.


— Streets, Walking, et al

Basically everyone knows about the tragic (in every aspect) incident on Bayshore a few weeks ago.  We have purposefully avoided discussing it until now because we do not think policy decisions should be made in the heat of the moment and discussions are better done after some consideration.  Even after consideration, views may not be changed, but at least there is the benefit of more time to deliberate.

In any event, after that incident, the City accelerated already planned changes to Bayshore:

Under the expedited plans, speed limit pavement markings that remind motorists of the limit will be installed by this August. The city will also install by August enhanced conspicuity plaques, signs that inform motorists of road rules like speed limits with added visibility, according to a release.

The city already reduced the speed limit along Bayshore from 45 mph to 35 mph and replaced signage.

Calming measures along Bayshore will also be installed by the end of October including road striping to reduce the lane width to 10 feet, add a buffered bike lane and additional lighted crosswalks at Rome Avenue.

The city is also fixing sidewalk gaps on the west side of Bayshore and adding bike lanes south to Gandy Boulevard, adding those to its phase 3 project construction. 

One may or may not support all of those changes, but we doubt that any of the planned changes would change the unfortunate decision of someone to drive over 100 mph while racing down the road.  If someone is going to go 55 mph over the limit, there is a good chance they would go 65 over too.

Nevertheless, changes are coming. We are not sure what the buffer on the bike lanes is but without a real, solid barrier it won’t really matter.  If that is not in place, the lanes will still feel/be unsafe.

And we are still not convinced by the flashing crosswalks (anywhere, really).  They are not intuitive for drivers – by which we mean, unlike traffic lights, drivers are not normally looking for them and their timing is nonexistent/arbitrary.  We would prefer the installation of a few of streetlights, creating predictability and where drivers get used to stopping and people get used to crossing. (We understand that might upset some South Tampa residents who love to speed on Bayshore, but we think it is better than crosswalks. You could have the streetcar on Bayshore, like there used to be.)

Others suggested making Bayshore one lane in each direction using the western/northern segment and expand the park area.  In theory that is fine, but there are many people who use that road who would be quite upset (even those who do not speed).  And all the Gasparilla events would likely have to be moved, among other things. (While it was elsewhere years ago, that might also not go down well).

However, Bayshore is a bit of an outlier.  It is iconic and has a well-connected group of advocates. And it is a focus for investment.  The walkability problem is much larger than Bayshore (like here and here).  Really, while unfortunate events do happen on Bayshore, other streets are more dangerous (though maybe less scenic and having fewer advocates).  Bayshore does not have a lot of curb cuts, the sidewalks tend to be away from traffic, drivers tend to be looking for/at pedestrians, it is not really sprawling, and only one side is built up.

Other streets in this area are much worse (and we are not just talking Bay to Bay).  They often have poor sidewalks (often right next to traffic), if they have them at all.  The buildings are designed to make walking harder not easier.  Drivers (including the County truck that ignored a walk signal and made a right turn almost running over one reader crossing a street this week) ignore bikes and pedestrians alike.  (And, it must be said, given the development pattern, pedestrians and bikes often ignore rules on using and crossing streets.  Often they have no alternative because there is no logical connection to where they are going.) While Bayshore provides a rallying point and a lot of political muscle, the problem is much larger and worse elsewhere.

It needs to be addressed in a much more comprehensive way.  And nothing will really change until we change not just how we build the streets but also how we build on those streets, which is what really determined the car-centric nature of our area.

— About That County Thing

Anyway, getting back to Bayshore:

Duncan said her department is gathering data and analyzing proposed locations for additional crossings between Rome Avenue and Gandy Boulevard. The effort will take six more weeks, she said, then a design must be produced.

“We will also be scrubbing our budget to see how these upgrades will be funded, as this work is not specifically budgeted now,” she said. “We will be reaching out to the county to see if they can offer some assistance.”

Why just Rome to Gandy?  Why not north of Rome?  The problems do not disappear there.

As for the County funding, maybe she should take note of this:

Rejected by the city of Tampa, road safety advocates this week turned to Hillsborough County commissioners in their campaign for more traffic calming measures and bike lanes on Bay to Bay Boulevard.

But while the county owns the road, it has virtually no say over it — nor over another 60 miles of county-owned roads that lie within the city.

That has commissioners suggesting it may be time to transfer them to the city.

“The bigger problem is we’re going to get caught in the middle on every county road project in the city that needs major changes to it like pedestrian crosswalks and safe streets,” said Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman. “Unfortunately, our hands are tied on this and legally tied on what we can do.”

But the idea may be dead on arrival: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city has no interest in taking ownership of county roads.

“They’ve been trying to sell us that broken-down car for a year,” Buckhorn said. “They can look at it all they want. Why would the city take over roads that are in disrepair?”

Classic Tampa/Hillsborough County.

The county came to own roads within the city when they were transferred from state ownership decades ago. They include major thoroughfares like West Shore Boulevard, Columbus Drive and a section of Waters Avenue.

Under the current deal, the county pays for major maintenance like resurfacing, which for future projects is projected to cost $125,000 per lane mile.

The city’s responsibility is to mow grass, fix sidewalks and potholes, and operate and enforce traffic signals. But the city also chips in when it wants additional safety features like pedestrian crosswalks added to maintenance projects.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill acknowledged that the county would have to bring its roads up to a certain standard before they could be transferred to the city.

But Buckhorn said even then it would be unlikely the city would want to take on a long-term commitment to pay for their upkeep. The county has budgeted about $25 million this year for major road maintenance projects.

While all this may be interesting to local officials, the bottom line is that the roads are not the way they should be and it is a comprehensive failure. There is enough blame to go around.

— Free Streetcar

In a move that should have happened long ago,

Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to take steps in boosting ridership and efficiency for the system, according to a news release.

* * *

This grant will help the streetcar increase frequency of service to every 15 minutes and extend service hours. Boarding time also will be expedited since fare will be eliminated, according to the release.

The streetcar day pass (or two rides) cost $5, which is as much as a Portland transit day pass (see their rail system map here) and more than a Phoenix day pass. That is not really competitive for the service it provides right now. Having it free, with extended hours and more frequency, will help make it more useful.  However, we should be realistic.  Given that the streetcar is still slow, does not yet run through all of downtown, and that Water Street is not yet developed, we do not expect a massive increase in ridership just from dropping the fares. (There may be one, but we do not expect it.)  Nevertheless, this is a very good, if short-term, first step to making the streetcar a far more useful part of our transportation infrastructure.  To be truly useful, it needs to be made a permanent feature.

And we’ll say it: while it is a small amount of money, good for FDOT. (FDOT press release here) We have to note though, that it is a short-term commitment of not much money and is curiously timed around the time of the MPO votes on projects, including the big highway expansions.  This changes nothing regarding the interstate plan, except to maybe point to a surprisingly low operating cost on the streetcar.

— Mayors, The Editorial

There was an interesting editorial in the Times last week about Mayors and transit.   It is worth reading the whole thing but we will just highlight three paragraphs.

The mayors of Tampa Bay’s three biggest cities have once again declared that the lack of a robust transit system is the region’s most serious deficiency as it competes for new jobs and businesses. Terrific. That’s like the star players sitting in the stands and complaining their team is being outplayed. A regional transit system that fuels a more diverse economy and a more attractive quality of life is never going to become a reality unless the mayors are more actively involved in making it happen.

Speaking at a Tampa luncheon last week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the inability to advance the ball on transportation is “the biggest regret of my eight years, when I leave office in May.” So much for anything happening over the next year. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the region is at “a competitive disadvantage.’’ But he did not make transit a key issue last year in his re-election campaign. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who worked for years in Washington, raved about the businesses along the Metro route in the nation’s capital. Yet the Tampa Bay area “can’t get two counties together to decide what to do and how to do it to benefit all of us,” he said. “That’s an embarrassment.”

Yes it is.

But none of the mayors have made regional transit their top priority. Hills-borough’s transit plan in 2016 was too skewed toward road projects. It envisioned only a rail connection between downtown and Tampa International Airport, for which it had no route, no technology and virtually no funding. There was no plan for expanding rail across Tampa Bay. The Legislature has shown no interest in allowing cities to hold transit referendums. And Buckhorn and Kriseman were too quick to settle in January after local planners abruptly switched gears and endorsed a system of rapid buses instead of rail as the next step for regional transit service.

All that is true, if a little late.

— Suncoast 2 Suit

We don’t really want to get into detail about the extension of the Suncoast Parkway, but:

As construction workers begin clearing the forest at the end of the original Suncoast Parkway to build a second toll road, historic preservation and environmental activists filed suit this week to stop it in its tracks.

The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, pits a group called the Friends of Etna Camp against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The suit challenges the permit the federal government granted for the construction of the controversial eight-lane highway known as Suncoast 2, which runs through Hernando and Citrus counties. Crews will bulldoze through the Etna Turpentine Camp — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — as well as wipe out habitat for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, both imperiled species.

We recently noted that beyond the extension, there is a proposal to turn northeast with the “Coastal Connector.” That has opposition from Marion County and at least one major candidate for Governor.

But more to the point:

Highways that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build shouldn’t feel empty. How empty? Turnpike officials expected to collect nearly $15 million in tolls the first year. Instead the Suncoast Parkway brought in $6.7 million. By 2014, the projection was $150 million a year. The reality: $22 million. And too little of the forecasted economic development ever materialized either.

Apparently mass transit isn’t the only transportation that is very expensive and can fail to meet expectations.  In any event, there is now a temporary restraining order on more work.

And, as regular readers know, we are not against all highways. We are not even against the present Suncoast (note: it’s a great place to introduce new drivers to highway driving), though it should be connected to an east west highway somewhere around Pasco County.  (We are not even opposed to an extension in theory, though not necessarily the exact alignment, if, at some point, unlike now, there is demand and it makes financial and planning sense.)

In any event, we shall see what happens to all of this.  In truth, we are much more focused on getting our local transportation issues worked out. (In fact, for the $250 million cost of the unneeded extension , much, if not all, of the proposed Pinellas BRT and express lines  – remember BRT is a legislative priority  – plus the Tampa streetcar extension, could be built.  You would even have money left over to run the streetcar for a while.)

Economic Development

– Housing, Factoring the True Cost

Recently there have been a number of articles on the relative cost of living of the Tampa Bay area.  Since most of those measures are subjective in the sense that they are based off the choices of what to include in the cost, we are not going to get into them right now.  One thing of interest is housing cost.  In pure numbers, our housing costs are still lower than many areas.  However, the true cost of housing also includes much that has long been subsidized by local taxpayers through the failure of local governments to properly enforce impact fees for the actual cost of the impact of new housing.  Recently, there have been some changes to the fees (mostly caused by the failure of local governments to be able to maintain and improve the infrastructure needed to sustain the population, especially with the sprawling models promoted by said governments.)  That has led to a seemingly constant refrain from home builders, which continued this week, this time in a Times article about the construction industry:

Sean Strickler, west Florida division president for PulteGroup, one of the nation’s largest home builders, said local subcontractors are all competing for the same group of workers, which has “definitely strained the labor pool.”

That’s not the only challenge, Strickler said. Land costs are rising, as are impact fees to help pay for schools and roads. And lumber prices soared to historic highs in the past year.

“While business is still really good, one of our biggest issues is the ability to hit a price point that appeals to first-time home buyers,” he said. “The lack of labor, along with those other components, makes it harder.”

Vitner said the workforce issues should not be underestimated.

“I think if contractors could get the workers they needed, we might add twice as many construction jobs as we added over the last year,” he said. “We wouldn’t get the same bump year after year after year. But we have a huge backlog of projects around the state.”

The point about impact fees echoes something we discussed a few weeks ago.  The reality is that home owners should not have to subsidize first time home buyers or the developers wanting to sell to them.  The money for the infrastructure for the new housing is either going to come from taxpayers or the people building and buying the houses that cause more burden to the infrastructure (and not just the infrastructure at the entrance to a development but along the way to shopping and work destinations as well. That is especially true for a place like South County where the land is cheaper for the developer but the impacts felt all the way to Tampa).

We often hear talk of letting the market decide.  Well, the real cost of the housing includes the cost of upgrading the infrastructure (including that cost in the price of a house is letting the market decide) and if the taxpayer is forced to subsidize it the market is being distorted.

We get that developers, like all businesses, want to lower their costs and maximize their profits as much as possible, but doing so is not the obligation of local taxpayers. Developers could always do more infill, build more densely, build smaller houses, and design more walkability.  That would lower infrastructure costs and, in a properly designed impact fee system, lower fees and costs.  (Though, given our incomes, the first time home buyer might still have issues with pricing in any decent economy.)

The bottom line is that if you want stuff, you have to pay for it.  The choice is who will pay.

– Tourism

Another area of economic development is tourism.  Given that the general trend is up, to wit:

Gov. Rick Scott announced . . . that Florida, once again, made history last year with the highest number of visitors the state has ever recorded.

Scott said during a press conference in Naples that 116.5 million people visited Florida in 2017. That’s a 3.6 percent increase from the year before.

“This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry,” Scott said in his prepared remarks. “We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

It is not surprising that

Hillsborough County generated more than $3 million in bed tax collections for May – a new benchmark for that month while hotel revenues hit over $66.5 million, according to Visit Tampa Bay.

The May report, which was based on hotel room nights in April, came in 10.3 percent higher than the same period in 2017.

* * *

Since the current budget year began on Oct. 1, seven of the last eight months have posted new records for the tourist development tax, commonly known as the bed tax, which is a five percent levy on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals countywide. So far this year, visitors have generated nearly $24 million in bed tax revenue.

It is time for Hillsborough County to add the last percentage point to the bed tax.

– Talent

There was some interesting news about the Tampa Bay Partnership.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is investing $300,000 in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s nonprofit arm, the company announced Tuesday. The money will be used to look at whether Tampa Bay is producing enough skilled workers to fuel its growth and figure out how to bridge any gaps.

Those are good questions but, at least the question of whether/if has been answered.

The initiative was spurred by a 2018 benchmark report produced by the Tampa Bay Partnership, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast. Tampa Bay, the report found, trailed other comparable metro areas in education levels of employees, and had a high percentage of people age 16 to 24 who were not participating in the workforce.

All that should have been well-known before the benchmarking (Like see “List of the Week I” from February 28, 2014 here). Nevertheless, trying to figure out how to fix the issue is worthwhile.

The effort, led by the partnership’s Regional Talent Working Group, will have three phases. First, the group will work to understand the programs that produce workers — such as education institutions and internship programs — and identify five of the most-affected industries. Then, one industry will be chosen and the group will work with employers to determine their needs. Finally, it will devise a strategy and performance metrics to build a more effective pipeline to the chosen industry and businesses.

It is worth a try. Though, as noted in another Times article about Florida and talent, it would also help to create an environment that provides the amenities desired by people who can live anywhere.

Wilson estimated that Florida will need to fill about 3.7 million jobs by 2030, 2 million to replace retirees and 1.7 million to keep up with the state’s growing population. He added that older generations often thought about their careers in terms of which companies they aspired to join. Millennials emphasize location, in particular vibrant cities that offer work-life balance such as Austin, Boston and Denver.

Florida needs some cities on that list, both to attract outside talent and to keep our native high-achievers. Too often we cultivate talent in our universities, colleges and trade schools only to see it flee to other states.

* * *

Florida has found it hard to shake some old perceptions. The state’s K-12 schools are no longer at the bottom of the rankings and the economy is more than just agriculture, tourism and an endless stream of retirees.

But sometimes perception is reality. Florida’s cities don’t pay as well for many of the coveted jobs in Boston, Atlanta or Seattle. Sometimes not even as well as Nashville or Charlotte. St. Petersburg doesn’t have the public transit of Portland and Tampa isn’t as walkable as Minneapolis, two priorities for young talent. And the state isn’t the bargain that it once was. Housing costs, especially including insurance and property taxes, have crept up.

As we have said many times, all these things are connected.

— About That Cluster

And, in a not completely unrelated point, from the Times regarding economic performance:

Tampa Bay is doing well, Orlando even better.

The city of Disney and amusement parks ranks below Tampa Bay in economic output, but has grained ground and is projected to close the gap further in coming years. In 2016, Orlando’s output totaled $127 billion. In 2019, the report estimated it will grow to almost $150 billion.

Orlando’s output is projected to grow at 3.3 percent in 2019/2020, compared to 3.1 percent for the Tampa Bay area.

The trend is the same for job growth …

Orlando: 2.5 percent.

Tampa: 2.1 percent.

Significantly more people in Orlando remain in the labor pool, too …

Orlando: 64.8 percent participation.

Tampa: 59.5 percent participation.

Orlando has been outpacing the Tampa area’s growth in employment, population and economic output for at least a couple decades, Kuykendall said.

“Orlando stands out because of its booming leisure and hospitality sector and its booming medical sectors,” he said. “Tampa has been growing fast. Orlando has just been growing faster.”

Just for perspective, the Tampa Bay area’s economic output was $148.6 billion last year.  And, like the article said, the Tampa Bay area’s economy is doing pretty well.

One interesting distinguishing factor noted above is that booming medical sector in Orlando.  Biomed has long been a targeted industry for the Tampa Bay area going back to at least 2000, see this Business Journal article from then. (For reference, UCF did not even have a medical school until 2006, and the facilities around it for the most part did not exist before then either.  Of course, we have CAMLS.) From that article:

Tampa is one of a few cities in the Southeast that boasts a major research university and cancer institute combined with a nucleus of active companies already in the area. But without more research and development outfits, it will be difficult to draw more companies here, said Daniel Lim, a professor in USF’s microbiology department.

“We have to remember that we’re not the only people with a university, hospitals and good weather,” Lim said. 

It is wise to remember the professor’s insight (and include low taxes). Competition is perpetual.

Airports – Growing

Given the tourist numbers, it is not surprising that:

Passenger traffic was 4.3 percent in April, Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, said at the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday.

“All the airlines were a little bit more full,” he said, citing an average load factor of 86.4 percent.

The key is to take advantage of the situation, which the airport is doing:

Minner also noted that Delta’s passenger traffic rose 10.8 percent in April based on its service to Los Angeles and Raleigh-Durham. The Los Angeles region is TIA’s 13th largest market with more than 870 passengers flying between Tampa and Los Angeles-area airports per day. Delta was the only airline offering nonstop service between Tampa and the Los Angeles market until recently when Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE) began nonstop flights to LAX in April. Another factor in Delta’s passenger surge was its flights to Salt Lake City, a new destination for TIA that began last December.

But, TIA’s largest carrier, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) saw its flights to Havana, Cuba jump by 15.1 percent in April, Minner noted. That growth comes on the heels of an 18 percent increase in March.

And, in addition to new Spirit flights to Greensboro/Winston-Salem, and Asheville, there is reason to think there will be more news soon (though that could be a misreading).


As it moves into the second phase of its master plan, Tampa International Airport approved a $25.2 million contract for the design of the expansion of its curbsides as well as other projects.

In its monthly meeting Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs TIA, approved the contract to design the four-lane curb expansion to Hensel Phelps Construction. 

The project design, which is expected to be completed by December 2022, includes planning, design and permitting for:

The bulk of the cost — $24.7 million — will be for curbside expansion, the new energy plant and related work. Another $504,000 will go toward replacing the curbside ceilings.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While not as interesting as phase 1, it is more progress.

Across the Bay, St. Pete-Clearwater is also growing:

With another new destination poised to begin next week, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw its May passenger traffic jump 11 percent year over year.

So far in 2018, the Pinellas County-based airport has seen an 11 percent increase in passenger traffic. In May, PIE saw more than 185,000 passengers pass through its gates. 

As we have noted before, the big problem at St. Pete-Clearwater is the reliance on one airline for the vast majority of their traffic. (see here)

Westshore – Publix

As we expected, the City Council has approved the Publix on the old Sports Authority site.

The Publix set for the old Sports Authority lot at 4900 Kennedy Blvd. in Westshore received final approval today from the Tampa City Council. We expect demolition of the old Sports Authority store to begin in the not-so-distant future. The vote in favor was 7-0.

While it is not a great design, it is better than the first proposal. At least the City held out for Publix to be accessible from Kennedy, though we doubt that many people will actually walk to it (except maybe some people from the neighborhood to the south).  Development around the site has just not really been developed with walkability in mind.

Rays – The Trop Land

St. Pete has already considered the Trop site with a new stadium.  Now, it is going to think about it without a stadium.

St. Petersburg is beginning to imagine the 85-acre Tropicana Field property without a ballpark.

The city on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement with HKS Architects Inc. to begin a conceptual master plan for the Trop site that doesn’t include a ballpark. The Tampa Bay Rays, whose lease on the existing stadium expires in 2027, are focused on a new ballpark in downtown Tampa, between Ybor City and the Channel district.

The master planning services are not to exceed $178,035. It is the second phase of the city’s contract with HKS; the firm was previously hired to create a master plan for the Trop site that included a ballpark. Removing the ballpark frees up 20 acres within the site, and the master planning process will determine the best uses for the property.

It is a complicated process, as the Times lays out in a pretty speculative article (speculative, namely because nothing has been decided).

It is a blank slate within a rising city in the densest county in Florida. It could transform a downtown of leisure into a center of business. It could cement the city’s reputation as an entertainment destination. It could finally spark the long-awaited urban retail boom that BayWalk (now Sundial St. Pete) failed to ignite 18 years ago.

It could add much-needed affordable housing, or fulfill decades-old promises to the African-American community, or even jump start downtown the way the Trop was supposed to three decades ago.

It could even keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Kriseman hopes to convince the team to stay in a new stadium built there. But whether the Rays stay or go to Tampa, St. Pete is eager to transform the area.

The Trop site “presents incredible opportunities for the city, county and region,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp. “When you have a parcel that size that is controlled by the city and is primed for development, it almost seems like the opportunities are endless.”

Because it is still so speculative, we are not going to get deeper into the article.  You can read it here.  Frankly, the general outlines of the plan will likely be similar to the plan with the stadium, just without the stadium.  What happens after that will be the interesting part.

Downtown – Reality Check

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Bank of America building.  We are not going to get into the entire argument, but there is an interesting point.

At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.

But good luck getting out of it.

Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson Street, traffic jams are forcing people who work in the Bank of America building to idle for up to an hour just to exit the tower’s garage building on Ashley Drive.

Then there’s the traffic jam on Ashley — up to five light changes before motorists can move toward a path out of downtown, Tampa City Council members heard at their June 7 meeting.

“It’s gridlock,” said Marilyn Healy, an attorney representing the building’s owners. “It’s a mess.”

Attorneys from Hill Ward Henderson and Trenam law firms told the council that congestion at the end of the work day is so bad it’s costing their companies billable hours. What’s more, they said, workers miss child care pick ups and family obligations, hurting morale and making it more difficult to recruit.

So, some of that is caused by dumping the cars out on Ashley into the Jackson/Kennedy light mess that has always existed at the end of the workday (and, really, much of the rest of the day).  Per the article, part of it is due to some road construction.  But this is what caught our eye:

Blame the problem on a lack of any improvements to the downtown grid and its busy intersections since the 1950s, said Jean Duncan, city transportation and stormwater services director.

“We are extremely limited in the options we can come up with,” Duncan said.

Moving from vehicle-based culture to one that makes room for streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians isn’t easy, she said.

“Those growing pains are very difficult.” 

We are all for walking and biking infrastructure, but that response does not really address the issue. First, the people in the garage are driving.  Many, if not most, of the people in the building do not – and will not – live downtown or within reasonable walking distance.  And while we are all for biking and walking, many are not going to bike or walk to work.  The streetcar does not serve most of these people either.  Even if they wanted an option to driving, there is no viable option from a large number – and there has been no real option (as opposed to vague rhetoric) even proposed by the City in a very long time. (Not to mention a number of City officials have been in and around City government for around half the period since the end of the 50’s, so they had time to address it.)

And congestion is only going to get worse when Water Street gets built. The City needs a plan for getting people in and out of the area efficiently (beyond dumping people from Wesley Chapel off buses under the interstate).

— One More Thing

Speaking of transitioning from a can oriented to walking, biking, streetcar, the Business Journal has another of their aerial photo compilations.  You can see it here. Included in that was the Related Manor project on the river.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Having the bland, blank garage be the largest feature and most prominent part of the building from the street is hardly focusing on walking, biking, and transit.

Interesting Read/View

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting, mostly graphic piece on Copenhagen and transportation.  Because it is graphic heavy so we are not going to go into it, but you can find it here. We will say that not everything in the piece is applicable to our circumstances.  However, it is worth learning about other places to see what solutions can be applied to our circumstances.  It makes no sense to constantly try to reinvent the wheel when the whole world is working on the same issues.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

SunTrust Bank, which has a large presence in downtown Orlando is moving to a new building.

A 28-story building under construction by Lincoln Property Co. at Garland Avenue and South Street will be called SunTrust Plaza at Church Street Station and become the new home of 90,000 square feet for SunTrust operations, the bank said in a news release Monday. For decades, its headquarters here have been spread across two office buildings on Orange Avenue, including the easily recognized 35-story SunTrust Center.

* * *

Located south of the Church Street Ballroom and alongside Interstate 4, the new tower had been called Church Street Plaza among other proposed names. The LEED Gold certified building will have 200,000 square feet of office space, an AC Hotel by Marriott, a SunRail station, meeting space and retail.

A large corporate presence in a mixed use building with transportation options.  Interesting. (And here are some aerials of downtown Orlando is you are interested. )

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