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Roundup 6-29-2018

June 29, 2018

Contents

Welcome (Velkommen)

Transportation

— Finally, with a Caveat or Two

— How Does It All Fit?

— And One More Thing

About All That Technology

— Public Input?

Downtown – Rushing to Settle

Downtown – Already Settled

Channel District – Better Than Others, But

Seminole Heights – They Want Theirs

Tampa Heights – Suit

St. Pete – Saving the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World/Future

_______________________________________


Welcome (Velkommen)

From logos-download.com – click on picture for website

There was news we have been waiting for this week.

Norwegian Air will launch two-times weekly nonstop flights to London’s Gatwick Airport from Tampa International Airport beginning in October. This brings a new carrier to Tampa and adds another option for reaching Europe from the Tampa Bay region.

TIA currently offers daily service to London Gatwick Airport on British Airways, and the addition of the Norwegian flights will for the first time offer Tampa passengers a choice of two airlines flying nonstop to the same European city. The Norwegian flights will depart from Tampa on Wednesdays at 10:50 p.m. to arrive in London at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, and on Saturdays the flights will depart at 10 p.m. to arrive in London at 9:55 a.m. Sunday. From London, the flights will depart Wednesdays at 2:55 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 8:35 p.m. and on Saturdays at 2:05 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 7:45 p.m.

“The arrival of Norwegian Air is yet another example of the strength of our region. As our community continues to grow, the airport is growing with it,” TIA CEO Joe Lopano said in a statement.

Norwegian’s service between Tampa and London will be on a 787-9 Dreamliner with 309 Economy seats and 35 Premium Economy seats. This is the first Dreamliner with regularly scheduled service at Tampa International.

Introductory fares will start at $214.90 one-way for economy seats and $604.90 one-way in premium economy.

You can see how inexpensive getting to Europe can be.  It is also interesting to us that we will finally have two airlines to the same European destination.  If they can both be sustained, that is good progress. It is a good catch by the airport, especially because of this:

Tampa has 13 percent of Florida’s London traffic but only 6 percent of its seats, said Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research and air service development. “That market has grown 33 percent since 2013” and it has outgrown the existing service, he said.

Meaning there is room for even more service growth to London. Even better, Norwegian also has a habit of expanding service.

We would be remiss if we did not feature the cool airport graphic:

From the Tampa International Twitter page – click on graphic for tweet

On the domestic front, Sun Country is adding two flights a week to Madison, Dallas, and St. Louis.


Transportation


– Finally, with a Caveat or Two

For a while now, we have been asking what this area has been doing to prepare for and to get Brightline, the train service being built from Miami to Orlando, to extend their service here.  As far as we can tell, nothing has been prepared for, but, from the Brightline Facebook page:

We’re excited to bring you big news, South Florida! Governor Rick Scott has announced that the Florida Department of Transportation has begun the process to allow for private investment in a connection from Orlando to Tampa.

“As one of the nation’s fastest growing regions, Tampa Bay is a natural extension for Brightline. Our state’s residents, visitors and economy will benefit tremendously from a fully connected passenger rail system that includes our current operations in South Florida and our future line to Orlando. We are currently engaged in the RFP process, which is the first step needed to extend the system to the Tampa Bay region.” – Patrick Goddard, President and COO of GoBrightline.

We look forward to bringing you more details soon. #gobrightline

From the Governor:

Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has begun the process to allow for private investment in a high-speed rail connection from Orlando to Tampa. FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) received an unsolicited proposal to lease property owned by the state and CFX to build a high-speed train along Interstate 4. Based on the unsolicited proposal, FDOT, on behalf of the State and CFX, is initiating an open, transparent procurement process so any interested private entities may apply. The request is for those interested in leasing FDOT and CFX owned rights-of-way to establish privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa.

Why the bid process?

[FDOT], along with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, received an unsolicited proposal to lease state-owned property along Interstate 4. The train would run in the I-4 corridor that had been designated for federally funded high-speed rail but that Scott rejected in 2010.

This opens a transparent procurement process for any interested private entities to seek opportunities to establish private passenger rail service between the two cities.

When did this all happen?

Brightline, the company behind the rail proposal, formally pitched it to the Florida Department of Transportation three months ago.

Why wait so long for an announcement? According to an FDOT spokesman, evaluating the bid and drafting a request for competing proposals was “very complicated” and required months of work.

URBN Tampa Bay has some information on the RFP here. (You can get your own copy here) Needless to say, it is complicated.  This is the timeline:

– June 22, 2018 – Advertise
– August 23, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Cut-off date for technical questions
– November 7, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Proposals are due
– November 7, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Proposals to be opened
– Week of November 12 – November 16, 2018 (tentative) – Question & Answer (Q&A) sessions, if scheduled. If held, the Q&A sessions will be noticed 72 hours in advance.
– November 20, 2018, 3:00 p.m. (tentative) – Q&A clarification answers from proposers are due (contingent on Q&A sessions being held).
– November 28, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Final selection meeting, to be held via teleconference. Dial in number: 1-888-670-3525. Conference code: 1383090556# A maximum of 120 ports will be available.
– November 28, 2018, 4:00 p.m. – Posting of award.

Given how complicated it is and the constricted timeline, we would not be surprised if Brightline submits the only proposal. (Though you could get a Hyperloop proposal or a surprise).

In all honesty, we have a mixed reaction to all this.

First, we are happy we are likely getting connected to the transportation network.  We simply cannot afford to be excluded from major transportation infrastructure in Florida.  That’s at the macro level.

But there are some issues at a more micro level.  As most people know, there was a previous high-speed rail plan that was killed by the Governor.  Setting aside the politics and the funding issues, there were two problems with that plan. First, it went from downtown Tampa to Orlando’s airport.  Therefore it neither connected cities nor formed a comprehensive transportation network.  (See here) Basically, it was a feeder line for Orlando’s airport.  Moreover, plan did not connect to any effective mass transit to get you from the high-speed rail station to your eventual destination, reducing the utility at both ends. Both those issues really stemmed from the failure of our local officials to plan better. (They seemed just happy to be allowed into the game.)

The Brightline station in Orlando is also at Orlando’s airport.  There are still no solid, rapid transit connections to downtown Orlando from the airport. That is still a concern for Orlando service. (Obviously there are issues on the Tampa end.) On the other hand, Brightline will go beyond Orlando, which makes it more useful.

We do not have many details so it is hard to really assess the specific project. We also do not know about any intermediate stops.  Disney is unlikely in our eyes. They have historically not liked the idea.  Lakeland is possible.  And we do not know where any station in Tampa would go.  All of that will affect our level on enthusiasm.

And, of course, there is opposition.

A group is asking candidates for several local, state and federal seats to take a survey about the proposed Brightline high-speed rail project that, if completed, would connect Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida is sending the survey to 76 candidates.

The Brightline route is celebrated by most in the Tampa Bay region as a revival of high-speed rail aspirations along the Interstate 4 corridor. The route provides a huge economic opportunity for the region by making Orlando readily accessible to the business community and by possibly combining tourism economies.

The plan has drawn opposition along the Treasure Coast from people who worry the train will create safety issues resulting from rail crossings and bridges and impact other local travel by disrupting traffic on roads.

Setting aside the Orlando accessibility comment, the opposition is mostly in some areas near the route in the Treasure Coast.  It has nothing to do with the potential expansion to this area. We’ll see what happens locally.

In sum, we are happy for the possible connection because we can’t afford to be left behind, but we have our eyes open to its potential weaknesses. And we are not going to oversell what the announcement means before we know what the details of the plan actually are.


— How Does It All Fit?

In the Brightline reactions was this quote:

But the impact of the potential high-speed rail corridor goes beyond just linking two cities, Buckhorn said.

The project has the ability to motivate local transit projects that politicians and advocates have been trying for years to get up and running in Tampa Bay, such as an expanded street car in downtown Tampa, bus rapid transit between downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches and a three-county bus rapid transit line that would connect St. Petersburg, Tampa, University of South Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

The I-4 rail line “will drive a greater sense of urgency in this discussion about local mobility options,” Buckhorn said. “It will be a great shot in the arm for the effort to try to get something on the ballot this fall,” he added, referring to a citizen lead initiative to add a one-cent sales tax for transportation referendum in Hillsborough.

Setting aside the inter-city rail bids aren’t even due until the day after the general election, yes, having a rail (or Hyperloop?) link to Orlando and beyond emphasizes the need for effective transit at either end so people can get where they are going from the respective stations.  Any transit we build needs to fit into a coordinated transportation system with some sort of vision for moving people around and connecting them to transportation into and out of the region.  It needs to maximize our assets, public and private.

That emphasizes the need for any potential transportation referendum to have much more information as possible about what transit would be included, especially early on.

As we said last week, we would like to get behind the referendum, but we have reservations.  We have seen too many instances locally, and not just transportation (not even mostly in transportation) where some concept is proposed with a positive title and a nice media campaign, many promises are made, and people are told to trust it.  Then the concept manifestly fails to live up to the promises.  We are not saying that the referendum is such a situation, but we want to avoid it becoming one.

We are in the process of getting more information on it, and, hopefully, we will be able to say more soon.


— And One More Thing

There was one other thing about the referendum plan we thought about while reading about Manchester’s plan to build a real bike infrastructure.  As long as our roads are dominated by curb cuts, real bike infrastructure will not happen.  You cannot have efficient protected lanes with large numbers of curb cuts.  We need to build differently. It is an open question whether a City, let alone a County, that settles so much will really make the changes necessary and stick to them.


— About All That Technology

Anyone who uses Sunpass knows that FDOT has been trying to perform an update on the system.  It has not gone well.

With Florida’s tolling systems still not online and more than 50 million toll transactions believed to be sitting in a computer backlog, one influential lawmaker is getting the state to take action following a series of 10Investigates reports.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says he has been talking to Florida Department of Transportation officials this week about their delays in getting toll system upgrades completed, as well as the lack of communication with account-holders.

Late Thursday, FDOT announced it would waive all late fees and penalties incurred by drivers as the Florida Turnpike Enterprise tries to get its system back up and running. It could take weeks for the tens of millions of unprocessed toll transactions to hit drivers’ accounts.

Someone is getting paid for this mess.  We think the old website worked fine, even if it looked a bit dated.  It sure worked better than the new system has so far.

But beyond that, it is just a reminder of concerns about what happens when there is an update for autonomous vehicle operating systems or inter-vehicle communications and traffic control systems?  What are the procedures and safeguards?


— Public Input?

We haven’t heard much of substance about the Regional Transit Study “BRT” plan recently. Well, it came up last week in this slightly odd context:.

TBARTA Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte announced the transition in a letter to staff Wednesday after news that he would be resigning in 30 days.

Ok, that’s not exactly odd, but then:

TBARTA is the regional entity tasked with overseeing multicounty transit plans including the proposed 41-mile bus rapid transit route tentatively planned to connect St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275. Improving regional transportation and enhancing transit options are top priorities for local business leaders when trying to attract and retain talent.

Under Chiaramonte’s transition plan, which he worked out with TBARTA Board Chairman Jim Holton and PSTA CEO Brad Miller, PSTA and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will help manage the request for proposal process for the BRT plan expected to begin later this summer.

PSTA has identified a total of $3.6 million in federal grant dollars for which TBARTA qualifies and is targeting those funds this summer. Another $600,000-$800,000 is available annually from federal grants. PSTA will be applying for state and federal grants on behalf of TBARTA.

We think it is a bit odd to leave just as this “BRT” plan is putting out an RFP and hunting money to get off the ground, especially without a full-time successor.  Maybe the TBARTA board already has someone in mind.  If so, they should say. . .

But wait.  What RFP for the “BRT” plan is supposed to begin by the end of the summer?  We were being told that the plan was not done and subject to change.  What is RFP going to be? Have we already done all the public outreach and plan revision?  If that is the case, it looks a lot like a standard Tampa Bay fait accompli.

Hopefully, that is not how it goes.  But if that is how the Transit Study plan goes, you have to wonder how things will work if a referendum with little guidance, a lot of latitude, and a good amount of money is handed to a political committee? (And, no, by harping on the referendum, we are not trying to kill it.  We are trying to help it.  There is no time for messing around.)


Downtown – Rushing to Settle

Speaking of fait accompli, there was more news about the quite bad HRI hotel proposal for the lot across Florida from City Hall.

Plans to transform a surface parking lot in downtown Tampa into a hotel with street level retail are moving forward, a city official said.

* * *

HRI’s closing date on the sale has been extended several times after the developer’s due diligence revealed petroleum contamination – the property was previously home to gas stations, and at least six underground tanks were discovered during inspection.

Setting aside that the developer also did a bait and switch on its plans making them even worse, it’s a good thing the City had no idea about the issues with their own lot.

Environmental cleanup should begin “shortly,” Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official.  The city received a grant to assist with cleanup, McDonaugh said, and “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s with the grant and environmental contract took a little longer than anticipated.”

* * *

McDonaugh said HRI is now expected to close on the land by “end of summer, early fall.”

Needless to say, we don’t think the City should sell the land.  The fact that this project seems to roll along even after the bait and switch, after the clear failure to get an “signature project,” and after the poor design put forward by the developer, shows that, at least in its government, Tampa is still home of settling. (Though maybe overspending on a park when there is a large debt payment looming has something to do with it.)


Downtown – Already Settled

Novel Riverwalk opened recently downtown.  You may remember this is the short wood frame project next to (due to design, in some cases below, though not directly under) the Ashley/Tampa exit ramp.

Novel Riverwalk, developed by Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, has 394 apartments that range from 528 to 1,510 square feet. It is at 109. W Fortune St., on the northern end of downtown Tampa, near the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk and just north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts.

For the 528-square-foot studio, rents start at $1,446, according to Novel’s website. The apartment building is offering one month of free rent to entice potential tenants. One-bedroom rents start at $1,559; $2,102 for a two-bedroom; and $3,329 for a three-bedroom.

The community includes two infinity pools as well as common areas that include private events space and a Zen garden.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Note the parking sticks out the top.  (Bonus points to people who can find two infinity pools.)

Crescent was the second developer to pursue this site, which is directly on the Tampa Riverwalk and within walking distance to Armature Works and Ulele. Lincoln Property Group first proposed a similar development on the site in 2015; Lincoln pulled out of the deal and Crescent proposed its project in 2016.

And that is why this is so disappointing.  It is not on the fringe of downtown anymore, but adds nothing to the street and is not very dense.  And, as URBN Tampa Bay explains:

Don’t worry, those prices sound high to us too. Do you know why they are that high? Two main reasons:

  1. Included in your rent is all the parking the project had to and/or chose to build.
  2. For such a large piece of Downtown land, they built a squat project with little-to-no density, so each unit has to absorb higher land costs.

This is why that:

  1. Parking should not be mandated in Downtown Tampa, and we should look at parking caps. (Many cities have them, including Orlando.)
  2. Low density should not be approved in Downtown.

While this is a private project and if the developer wants to build overpriced apartments that is their right, it is still not good for the City. (Though, we have to say, it is not as bad as the Aurora, which will be the little stick palace in Water Street.) Changes need to be made.

Tampa needs to revise it plans and attitudes to reflect the reality of downtown and the areas around it rather than act like it’s the 1908’s when some present local officials first entered government here.


Channel District – Better Than Others, But

It seems that the push for self-storage is in full gear.

One of the last remaining industrial blocks in downtown Tampa’s Channel district is being targeted for a new mid-rise building that will include apartments, street-level retail and self-storage space.

A joint venture of developers — Tampa’s Framework Group and MTC Corp. of Atlanta — have proposed an eight-story, 314,370-square-foot building at 111 N Meridian Ave., according to plans filed with the city on Friday.

The partnership is under contract to buy that block of North Meridian Avenue, from East Whiting Street to East Washington Street, as well as the property along East Whiting Street between Meridian Avenue and North 11th Street, said Rob Gidel, an attorney with Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort.

Gidel represents the partnership. The group wants to rezone the property to accommodate the proposed building, which requires city council approval and a public hearing, which is currently slated for November.

The exact breakdown of the building has yet to be determined, Gidel said. A maximum of 40 percent of the building can be devoted to self-storage according to city development guidelines for the Channel district, Gidel said. 

We are not sure what the obsessions with self-storage is but it is funny that the property being described as industrial. While that may be the use now (sort of – most of it looks empty), no one is putting an industrial use on that land.  But we’ll set that rhetorical flourish aside and just get on to the proposal.  This is the location:

First, we cannot tell how much street retail there is so we cannot speak to that.  Beyond that, this appears to be essentially two buildings stuck together.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

There is the storage portion on the north end that looks like a storage building.  On the south end, it looks like apartments.  As we said, we have no idea what the street interaction will be along Meridian or 11th.  It is pretty bad along Washington (north side) and Whiting (south side).  And the south elevation seems to indicate that the parking structure will stick out on Meridian, which would be following Related’s precedent one block to the south.

While we definitely think this mix of uses is better than a stand-alone self-storage building (which belong in industrial areas – not formerly industrial areas that are now urban mixed use areas), we are not really impressed with what we see.  We admit we do not have full information and the developer admits they haven’t even worked out their plans fully.  However, even as an apartment building without the additional self-storage, which is never going to be an enhancement to us, the building is pretty bland filler.  Throw in the storage and the blatant self-storage façade on the north end (and possibly exposed garage) and the proposal is not very good filler.

We just don’t understand why self-storage should go there at all.  And if does go there, hide it.


Seminole Heights – They Want Theirs

This speaks for itself.

Several city of Tampa pools have reopened in recent years, and now Seminole Heights residents want to make a splash in the trend.

The city has restored the historic Cuscaden Pool (2016), the Roy Jenkins pool on Davis Islands (2014), the Williams Park Pool in East Tampa and the Interbay Pool in Culbreath Heights, (both in July 2013). Now, the Angus R. Goss Memorial pool committee wants its turn to reopen.

The historic pool bears the name of a U.S. Marines Sgt. Angus Robert Goss, a former Seminole Heights resident and Hillsborough High graduate, who died in 1943 during World War II.

The pool was a way to locally commemorate and continue his legacy, but now it sits vacant and filled with dirt.

The pool committee launched a petition with help from Hillsborough High to gain supporters. They plan to soon submit a formal proposal to the city of Tampa.

“This pool is historic, yet it’s something that they’re willing to erase out of history when there’s such an overwhelming support the community has for this pool,” said Chrissy Taylor, the committee’s public relations manager.

* * *

The pool committee sent a survey to all the neighborhood associations, and it showed that 91 percent of the respondents had no private pool in their backyard and a majority of the respondents prefer a pool over a community garden, dog park, or pocket park.

* * *

The pool will benefit the Hillsborough High swim team, allowing them to walk to practice instead of carpooling and traveling far for their swim meets. Memorial Middle School, which previously used the pool to have physical education classes, also would gain from is use for summer and after school programs and community service opportunities.  

Perfectly reasonable request.  If those other places can get a refurbished pool, Seminole Heights can, too.  So, of course, it will happen.

The City of Tampa does not have a plan to demolish it, but plans to develop the northeast side of the property into a small dog park.

“I cannot speak for the future, but as of right now, we do not have any dollars in our budget for any capital projects such as this,” said Paul Dial, Tampa’s parks and recreation director.

“We look at capital projects year by year and there are many needs across the community. We clearly at this time have higher priorities that we are looking to fund, but we will make improvements to the dog park.” 

Well, how much will it cost?

The pool committee understands it won’t be an easy or quick process. After receiving an estimate of $600,000 to redo the pool and $120,000 in operational costs to maintain it yearly, they are prepared to wait for the next budget cycle, start fundraisers, pursue grants and continue to rally enough support.

As we have said many times, it would have been good if the City government had considered citywide needs when approving spending on capital projects.  At least, the Seminole Heights residents have a healthy attitude.


Tampa Heights – Suit

We are not really surprised something like this came up.

The developers of Armature Works and the mixed-use Heights project have sued the city of Tampa and Ulele, alleging that the city leased an adjacent property to Ulele without properly advertising the opportunity and putting it out for competitive bidding.

Ulele is a native Floridian restaurant inside the historic Water Works Building in Tampa Heights, which Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart leased from the city in 2013. The lease agreement came after the city’s 2011 request for proposal for the long-term lease and redevelopment of the building as a cafe or restaurant.

As part of that lease agreement, if Ulele proposed a use for the adjacent property known as the “cable office building,” the city would modify the lease to include the office structure without any additional money.

In 2017, the lease was amended to include the cable office building — a deal that developers Chas Bruck and Adam Harden, under the entity Riverside Heights Development LLC, are alleging was invalid from its outset.

That is as far as we are going to go with this (other than to note a Times article here) We don’t speculate about lawsuits.  We’ll just have to wait and see.


St. Pete – Saving the State

There was good news for the State Theatre.

After months of renovations and capacity problems due to a series of fire code violations, the popular concert venue at 687 Central Ave. was sold Tuesday to a family trust run by St. Petersburg real estate broker Kevin Chadwick.

* * *

Chadwick said he will spend the rest of the summer getting the building fully up to code and restructuring its backstage dressing areas. By the end of the year, the building will get a renovated facade and new marquee. Next spring should see interior renovations, including three new bars.

“When you walk through the front door of the theater, you’re captivated to want to be part of it,” Chadwick said. “I think it’s a perfect legacy property for my family. It’s in dire need of somebody who cares and wants to restore it, and we have plans to truly do some great things for it.”

As for concerts,

“We’re still going to have fun concerts, but it’s going to be a venue that’s going to have multiple purposes,” he said. “It’s also going to be a theater, it’s going to be an event hall where you might have private parties. You’re going to feel really comfortable if you want to throw a real fun bash.”

That’s fine.  As long they still have concerts.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The Kansas City streetcar got voter approval to expand.  It appears to be a very low turnout of a very specific area and plan.  You can read the details here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World/Future

There was an interesting article from Wired on autonomous vehicles and the problems they would create for cities’ budgets.

The problem, as speaker Nico Larco, director of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, explained, is that many cities balance their budgets using money brought in by cars: gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, traffic tickets, and billions of dollars in parking revenue. But driverless cars don’t need these things: Many will be electric, will never get a ticket, and can circle the block endlessly rather than park. Because these sources account for somewhere between 15 and 50 percent of city transportation revenue in America, as autonomous vehicles become more common, huge deficits are ahead.

Cities know this: They’re beginning to look at fees that could be charged for accessing pickup and dropoff zones, taxes for empty seats, fees for parking fleets of cars, and other creative assessments that might make up the difference.

But many states, urged on by auto manufacturers, won’t let cities take these steps. Several have already acted to block local policies regulating self-driving cars. Michigan, for example, does not allow Detroit, a short drive away from that Ann Arbor ballroom, to make any rules about driverless cars.

We won’t get into the whole discussion that not charging autonomous vehicles for use of the roads which they are using and on which they are making money is subsidizing those automobiles, distorting the market.  The article is interesting both as a discussion and in a proposal it brings up (which you can read about in the article), which we neither endorse nor reject. (We haven’t considered it enough.)  And, once again it points out that there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

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