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Roundup 9-7-2018

September 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Jangle On

— Referendum News

— TB(n)X

— Coastal Connector, Not

— I-175, Maybe Not Much Longer

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

— Residential

— Offices

Westshore-ish – Cleared

West Tampa/Downtown – In a Park By the River

Built Environment – Parking

USF – Brandiness

Tampa Accent

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— KC Streetcar

— Durham Rail

— An Interesting Take on Ferries

— About Those Transit Systems

__________________________________________


Transportation – Jangle On


— Referendum News

As we noted last week, the referendum is shaping up as expected, at least in terms of organizations taking sides.  Last week, we noted some supporting the referendum.  This week:

Americans for Prosperity has helped derail several plans to raise taxes for public transit over the past few years, including ones in Nashville  and Little Rock.

The anti-tax, small government group, which for years was bankrolled by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, now has it sights set on Hillsborough County.

The group announced today that it will campaign against the one percent sales tax plan put on the Nov. 6 general election ballot by citizen’s group All for Transportation.

If approved by voters, the 30-year  tax would start in January and raise about $280 million per year.

“After repeated failures, tax and spend advocates are once again asking for a tax hike to pay for transportation projects,” Chris Hudson, AFP’s Florida director, said in a statement. “With very few details on how the money will be spent, taxpayers are essentially being asked to hand over a $280 million blank check.”

This is not surprising.

AFP’s involvement is the first sign of organized opposition to the sales tax plan.

A 2010 plan to raise the sales tax for transportation drew heated opposition from groups like the Tea Party and No Tax for Tracks. That plan was voted down by 58 percent of voters.

The same two groups campaigned against the unsuccessful Greenlight Pinellas plan in 2014.

But as of Tuesday, no local group had filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections office to raise money to campaign against the measure in the upcoming mid-term election.

That also does not surprise us. The opposition is all basically the same thing and a quick perusal of local blogs indicates the opposition is the same whether they file to raise money or not.

Speaking of referendums:

The Hillsborough County Commission on Thursday agreed to ask voters, on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, if they are willing to pay a half-cent sales surtax to meet capital needs in the schools.

* * *

The district, in the meantime, released a large-type document labeled Referendum Details that included photographs of children and listed benefits such as “raising property values,” “creating high quality jobs,” and “better preparing our area for hurricanes.”

But the district has not yet released a school-by-school, item-by-item list showing exactly how it will spend the $1.31 billion that it expects the tax will raise over 10 years.

Some hints about the expenditures can be found in the district’s five-year capital improvement plan, a document it submits to the state every year even though there is never enough money available to complete the projects listed.

Officials also have not said who will serve on the seven-member oversight committee, beyond the fact that six of the private citizens will not be affiliated with the district. Information on both issues is expected shortly.

The Detail document can be found here and 5-year plan here.  We have not seen the actual referendum language.

It is definitely going to be interesting.


— TB(n)X

Sunshine Citizens had an interesting post on their Facebook page:

After submitting public records request, we finally have images of what FDOT is planning for the Downtown Interchange (DTI). This is just one of many rendered views of what we can expect from the TBNext Express Lanes project. Note how the expansion rips through Tampa Heights and Ybor (top image is current DTI; bottom is the rendering).

This is “Option A” – the catastrophic worst case scenario. It increases the width and size of interchange TO 20 LANES, further destroying the heart of Tampa for no gain but increased costs to commuters. We will share more images in the coming days. Although this is the worst of the options, there is no doubt about it, all options impact one or more of the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

 

First, as noted, the image shows is the most elaborate (worst) option. It includes express lanes going north on I-275, which FDOT has said will not happen.  It also includes express lanes from I-4 to I-275 southbound, which FDOT is still planning.  (And remember, this option was part of a plan that was supported by the MPO, local officials, and a number of business organizations.)

Another interesting thing to note is the building just under the ramp from I-275 to I-4 is Centro Asturiano, one of the historic social clubs in Ybor. (See here) That building is already close enough to the interstate but this proposal would bring the ramp basically right by the front door. While the building remains intact, sitting right under the interstate would be quite detrimental.  Not exactly the best idea for preserving our historical fabric.

The plan pictured is obviously unacceptable. FDOT is now saying that the new plan will have a much smaller footprint.  We will be curious to see exactly what they are proposing and what part of our urban and historical fabric is still deemed expendable.


— Coastal Connector, Not

A few months ago we discussed FDOT’s inexplicable extension the Suncoast Parkway.  We also discussed the Coastal Connector, which was to connect the extended Suncoast Parkway to I-75, but was opposed by interests in Marion County.  Well,

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Friday that it has decided to kill off a controversial toll road called the Coastal Connector that had Marion County horse farmers and others in that region in an uproar.

“At this time, the department has determined that the best approach to addressing traffic issues in the area is to abandon the new corridor concepts that were preliminarily discussed in the planning studies,” DOT secretary Mike Dew wrote in a letter to Marion County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant.

The highway was proposed to link Interstate 75 to the Suncoast 2, or the planned extension of the Suncoast Parkway. Instead, Dew said his agency will “step back and focus on improvements to I-75.”

Fine, but:

The opponents of the Coastal Connector also included people who opposed the extension of the lightly used $507-million Suncoast Parkway known as the Suncoast 2. The toll road extension, expected to cost $134-million, is now being built through the Withlacoochee State Forest, although regional planners say it is unlikely to attract much traffic unless it is somehow linked to I-75 through something like the Coastal Connector. 

Which makes us wonder even more why FDOT is spending hundreds of millions on the Suncoast extension now.  As we have said before, extending the Suncoast may make sense at some point, but it makes no sense now.  What makes much more sense is 1) spending the money on transit like the St. Pete BRT and 2) connecting the Veterans/Suncoast to I-75 farther south where the people are (though, admittedly, over the decades Hillsborough and Pasco have made a complete mess of that).


— I-175, Maybe Not Much Longer

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted an interesting article from St. Pete Catalyst regarding I-175 in downtown St. Pete (here):

As the City of St. Petersburg looks forward to the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, one particular on-again, off-again issue remains – the possibility of razing I-175. This 1.3 mile stretch of interstate bisects the city of St. Petersburg, cutting the heart of the city in half. The interstate creates an impermeable barrier unconquerable by foot, further widening the North/South racial dividing line.

Thousands of drivers make their way onto I-175 every day. Forty thousand take the interstate to at least Martin Luther King Jr. Street, where 15,000 of them drop off. This interstate system affects thousands of people everyday – but its strain on the city is about more than just traffic.

* * *

In 2016, HKS architects, in charge of planning the Tropicana Field site – with or without the baseball stadium – brought the I-175 question back into the public consciousness. They proposed razing the interstate but were sharply rebuffed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which said it would not consider approving such a project due to the numerous levels of state and federal approval needed for it to move forward

Now, in a serious change of tone, FDOT has communicated with the county transportation agency Forward Pinellas that it is, in fact, willing to consider the I-175 change. Plans are taking shape for a circulation study to understand the main arteries of the city, including the interstates and one-way thoroughfares.

This is an interesting case.  While being the end of a peninsula and lacking real transit, St. Pete is very dependent on I-275 to connections.  However, we think I-175 is definitely expendable (I-375 is still there) and could be replaced with a boulevard. (We would say leave I-175 and just cover it, but only part of road is lower than the surrounding area and capable of being covered.) While connecting the Trop property with where people now live south of there is not just a matter of removing the road, it could be done and would be definitely provide benefits.  Whether St. Pete (and especially institutions like USF-St. Pete and the hospitals in the area) wants to do it is an open question, but it is a reasonable idea.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News


— Residential

From URBN Tampa Bay:

. . . on Thursday Water Street Tampa filed its Notice of Commencement with the city for the project. When the Notice of Commencement is filed, construction must begin within 90 days or the project has to file another one. Filing another one isn’t a big deal, it’s just a 1 page form, but the fact that one was filed on Thursday shows a clear intention that construction in imminent.

The project also received its final design approval on Thursday, and the project’s stats have been updated. The project is made up of two towers: a 26 story condo tower and a 21 story apartment tower. In the base of the tower will be a grocery store and retail space. In total there are 420 residential units, 40,000 square feet of retail (including the grocery store), and 509 parking spaces (460 were required).

Here are some new drawings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

For the most part we really like these buildings.  Looking at the documents in Accela, we even note there appears to be what seems to be a covered area for pedestrians on the north side of the building, though it is unclear how much cover they can get. (Factoid: the heights of the buildings listed in the documents are 309 ft and 250.5 ft)

Hopefully, it will get going in earnest soon.


— Offices

Also this week the Water Street folks finally released some real information about the office component of the project.

Water Street Tampa will begin speculative construction on a 20-story office tower in early 2019 — a literal and figurative groundbreaking for a city that has not seen a new multitenant office development in the downtown core in a quarter century.

The tower, 1001 Water Street, will be built at the northeast intersection of Channelside Drive and Water Street. The intersection itself doesn’t yet exist; the road grid reconfiguration underway will create that crossroads by extending Water Street to the north by about three blocks.

For clarity, 1001 Water Street is the office building that has long been planned to be built next to the medical school with a plaza in between. Here are more details about the office component:

The office portion of Water Street’s first phase, unveiled by developer Strategic Property Partners on Thursday, includes more than 1 million square feet of office space:

And what would such an announcement be without some renderings:

1001 Water Street:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

400 Channelside:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While 1001 Water Street is a bit boxy, we do like how the balconies break up the façade. As for 400 Channelside, based on renderings released so far, it is our favorite Water Street design, especially with the gardens. (We also note in some of the renderings that 400 Channelside appears to have awnings, which is great, though the awnings do not seem to extend along the entire sidewalk frontage and are transparent, which is not, especially in the summer.  Maybe they are “transitions” awnings.)

Of course, we are just seeing renderings of the front of the buildings.  We will be really curious to see is the parking garages. (It appears that the 400 Channelside garage may be on the right of the rendering in the back of the building, but it is not entirely clear.) While that may seem odd, Water Street is going to have large parking garages and how they are treated will really affect the nature of the district overall, especially at the street level.

As we have noted before, rents are going to be somewhat higher than what is going on now in Tampa.  This week, we learned just how much more:

The financial backing of Vinik and Cascade positions SPP to be more aggressive than most traditional developers: It is able to begin construction on a high-rise office building — without committed tenants in place — at projected rents that are significantly higher than the current market rates.

The Sparkman Wharf space is being marketed in the mid $40s per square foot; rents in the two new towers will be in the low to mid $50s per square foot, said David Bevirt, executive vice president of leasing and strategy for SPP. Both of those rents are all-inclusive but do not include parking.

Top-tier office space in downtown Tampa, in trophy buildings with the most premier views, commands rents in the mid to high $30s per square foot.

Bevirt, who moved to Tampa from Washington, D.C., in March to spearhead the office portion of Water Street, says he doesn’t think a deal will be announced before 1001 Water Street breaks ground, but that an announcement could come by mid-2019.

Between the Sparkman Wharf and 1001 Water Street, Bevirt said there are active negotiations on a total of 500,000 square feet of the forthcoming office space. Of that, about one-third is from local companies; one-third is from companies with a statewide presence; and a third is from national companies.

It is encouraging that apparently 2/3 of the possible leases so far come from non-local companies.  The more new companies that are brought to the area and the fewer local companies poached from other buildings the better.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Finally, one thing we really appreciate overall is that the Water Street buildings look quite different from each other.  It will make the area seem far more like organic growth than a master planned development.


Westshore-ish – Cleared

The Midtown developers have received height variances for their project.

The developers behind the $500 million mixed-use Midtown Tampa development have received variance approval for the proposed heights of several buildings in the mixed-use development.

Bromley Tampa Investors LLC, also known as Bromley Cos., was seeking variance approval from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board on Sept. 6.

* * *

The four buildings that exceed the standard and will have a maximum height of 257 feet are:

The Federal Aviation Administration’s aeronautical study found that the project would not be a hazard due to air navigation as long as conditions are followed; the Florida Department of Transportation did not find any concerns and had no objections.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

By way of comparison, the height on the Ritz in Sarasota is 261 feet, and, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay, “Skyhouse Channelside is 262 feet and Nine 15 is 258 feet.”   Given what is around Midtown and what is planned for Dale Mabry, these buildings will really stick out.


West Tampa/Downtown – In a Park By the River

There was news about Julian Lane Park:

When workers install The Form of Wander atop a concrete pier that juts into the Hillsborough River, the effect beneath its tangle of branching forms will be similar to standing under a canopy of live oak trees.

Dappled light and shade will cascade down from the eye-catching work of abstract art commissioned by Hillsborough County. The structure is a central feature of the completely redesigned Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, which opened recently just north of the University of Tampa, overlooking downtown on the river’s west bank.

The County paid just over $400,000 for the green-and-white pavilion, which will be 20 feet wide and 25 feet high with intertwined aluminum supports. Installation begins in September and is expected to take a few weeks.

 

From Hillsborough County – click on picture for website

It is an interesting piece.  Our initial impression is cautiously positive, but we won’t really know how we feel about it until it is built.  It is a bit hard to tell from the rendering just how it will fit into the overall park.

On the other hand, it is nice that the County is paying for it.  If only they would care about aesthetics in the rest of the county.


Built Environment – Parking

We were perusing a report on possible changes to Busch Boulevard in an MPO agenda (we really know how to have fun) and noticed this slide:

pg 24 of the 9-5-2018 MPO Meeting Agenda – Click on picture for document

So we went to check the code.  You can find it here.

Anyone who walks or bikes, plus anyone who wants a decent looking street, would understand that an overabundance of curb cuts caused by such a rule is detrimental to the built environment and often quite dangerous.  We get that people do not want congestion on side roads.  On the other hand, arterial roads are made more congested when everyone has to drive to every destination, even if they are very near each other, and cars are cutting into traffic at many points. Moreover, if the parking lots access smaller roads near intersection with arterial roads where the cars are actually going, there should not be much of an issue. Certainly there is a way to balance the concerns (including requiring parking lots to be connected) and lead to a more efficient, attractive, predictable, and safer streetscape.

It should be noted that there are exceptions to the rule in the slide and there is a process for waivers.  There are also areas in town where building patterns do not seem to follow the rule (like various points in Seminole Heights).  However, if the City (and County, where the situation is worse) is serious about Vision Zero and making walking and biking a safer and more pleasant experience (not to mention driving), the code should be changed so the exceptions are much more often the rule.


USF – Brandiness

As we have discussed previously, USF has been working on rebranding and trying to create some unifying themes to their brand.

But even Genshaft agreed that the university’s branding needed a new look. And when she saw what her staff designed she couldn’t help but introduce it to the campus during her annual fall address Wednesday.

During a high-energy video, USF’s new academic logo was revealed: a lime green bull reminiscent of the golden brahman that first symbolized the university when it opened in 1960. But this new branding effort is also about defining USF’s story to the world, Genshaft said.

The new motto: We share one goal. We transform lives. United, we shape the future.

The new rallying cry: Be Bullish.

* * *

The new academic logo won’t roll out across campus until homecoming week, which starts Oct. 14. It replaces the green-and-gold box of serif text that currently adorns business cards and street signs throughout the university’s campuses. The new script is airy and modern, with open spaces in some of the letters meant to symbolize the university’s expanding and diverse community, Hice said.

The “athletic” logo will remain the same.  The “academic” logo will be this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

This is the explanation of the logo:

His team spent about a year gathering feedback on their ideas before birthing USF’s new bull, which pulls together elements of the bronze bull statues on all three campuses. Its “optimistic, upward-angled head” mirrors the bull statue at USF St. Petersburg. The curved tail comes from the bull at USF Sarasota-Manatee. And its “regal stance” hails from the Tampa campus, from one of the bulls prancing down the large fountain outside Marshall Student Center, Hice said.

The three-pronged star burst on the animal’s torso was taken from the university’s seal and represents the three campuses.

We are not much for that kind of marketing speak, but the logo is fine (though it does bear a passing resemblance to a well-known financial company logo).

A fresh, energetic look will help USF enter a new era as Florida’s first metropolitan “preeminent” university, Genshaft said. And, if all goes according to plan, it will help the school attract the students and faculty it needs to keep that hard-won title.

“Now, more than ever before,” she said, “it is time for us to share our story the right way — with one clear brand.”

While we are not clear how having an academic logo, an athletic logo, and school seal achieves that, we are all for USF’s success. If this helps that, great.


Tampa Accent

The Times had an article about whether there is a Tampa accent.

If there is a Tampa accent, it shares something with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous 1964 definition of obscenity. He couldn’t quite describe it, but said, “I know it when I see it.”

In the case of Tampa’s supposedly distinct dialect, deep-rooted natives say they know it when they hear it.

Describing it is tougher, but certain things come up repeatedly if you ask around enough.

First, they say it’s not so much a Tampa accent, but a West Tampa accent, often by way of Ybor City. And it’s not everyone, or even most people who have it, but a small, dwindling group of people.

“I call it the ‘Tampa Whine,’ ” said Nikki Guerriere, 44. “It is a sound between Southern and Cuban and Spanish and only people who are from West Tampa, old West Tampa, have it.”

People say it has something to do with Italian, too, and are quick to bring up Tampa’s uniquely melded Italian-Cuban-Spanish history stretching back to the city’s cigar-rolling heyday. A 2006 story in this newspaper, a tribute to the writer’s late father, a Tampa native of Italian-American descent, described his speech as “that Tampa lilt, a combination of Cuban, Sicilian and Florida Cracker, all rolled into one accent.”

The article also quotes some academics saying there is no Tampa accent/dialect. First, dialect and accent are not the same thing. Tampa does not have a dialect.  But, it seems pretty clear to us that there is a West Tampa/Old Tampa Latin accent, though it is fading away.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— KC Streetcar

As regular readers know, the Tampa streetcar is going to free service and extension and modernization is being considered. Speaking of street cars, there was news from Kansas City.

The KC Streetcar recorded its highest monthly ridership to date in July, when 262 593 passenger-journeys were taken.

Ridership is higher on Saturdays than on weekdays, with the respective figures averaging 14 085 and 7 909 in July. The average ridership on Sundays was 6 453. The highest daily ridership to date was on July 6, when 19 181 passenger-journeys were made. This exceeds by nearly 2 000 the previous record of May 6 2017.

Note that the original ridership projection was for 2700 riders a day and that the KC streetcar is free.


— Durham Rail

Meanwhile, in North Carolina,

Durham County now says it can fill a $57.6 million state funding gap for the Durham-Orange light rail project.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is an 18-stop, 17.7-mile line that will run from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University in Durham, with stops along the way including Duke University and downtown Durham. Most of the line is in Durham.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners approved a letter from Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs to the GoTriangle Board of Trustees on Monday night, agreeing to fund the $57.6 million gap created after the N.C. General Assembly changed the funding makeup this summer. 

Interestingly,

The Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties sent a letter supporting the funding to the Durham City Council on Sunday via Wib Gulley, a former Durham mayor and state senator.

It is interesting to see the choice of priorities expressed in spending.


Curbed.com had an interesting article on the New York ferries. (here)  We are not going to get into the whole thing but here is the main thrust:

On Wednesday, to much pomp and circumstance, De Blasio unveiled yet another NYC Ferry route, this one connecting the Lower East Side to Wall Street, Midtown and Long Island City. Amid a growing mobility crisis spreading its tentacles across the city, the mayor once again gathered the usual suspects for a riverside ribbon-cutting ceremony.

But for a city increasingly trapped by the politics of state control, a subway system sagging under the weight of a backlog of deferred maintenance, and roads choked by more and more cars, the mayor’s love of ferries and the steep taxpayer subsidy spent ensuring low fares for a select slice of New Yorkers is particularly ill-suited for the city’s pressing transportation needs. The city needs to reclaim its transit future, but ferries are a niche mode of low-capacity transportation and a distraction from far more pressing problems.

We are not saying every ferry proposal is the same as the situation in New York, but it is worth considering.


— About Those Transit Systems

Citylab had an interesting article on American transit systems. Once again, we are not going to discuss the full article (you can read it), but the thrust is thus:

One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the U.S. plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world. While a decline in transit use in the face of fierce competition from the private automobile throughout the 20th century was inevitable, near-total collapse was not. At the turn of the 20th century, when transit companies’ only competition were the legs of a person or a horse, they worked reasonably well, even if they faced challenges. Once cars arrived, nearly every U.S. transit agency slashed service to cut costs, instead of improving service to stay competitive. This drove even more riders away, producing a vicious cycle that led to the point where today, few Americans with a viable alternative ride buses or trains.

It seems very obvious that when you have bare bones system that does not really provide useful transportation, people, especially choice riders, will choose something else.  To be successful (and, yes, there are successful transit systems), the system must be dependable and provide a service people actually want and that actually serves their needs.

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