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Roundup 12-7-2018

December 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – All Over the Place

— Referendum Lawsuit

— Howard Frankland

— Playing Nice With Others

— Have Your Say

— Ferry

— Brightline

Port – Finally

Airport – Diversifying

Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

Channel District – Elevé 61

Rays – Money Talk

Downtown – Bank It

Ybor City – Diversifying

Housing – A Follow Up

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

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Transportation – All Over the Place


— Referendum Lawsuit

In what should not surprise anyone, someone has sued over the transportation referendum.

A Hillsborough County commissioner will try to prevent the county from implementing a one-penny transportation sales tax, approved by voters in November, based on a claim the independent citizen committee overseeing the $9 billion investment usurps elected county commissioners and therefore violates state law.

Commissioner Stacy White confirmed to 10Investigates he intends to file the suit Tuesday, seeking a declaration from the courts as to whether the county should proceed with implementing the tax on Jan. 1. Hillsborough voters approved the 30-year, one-cent increase in the county’s sales tax by a 57-43 margin on Nov. 6.

* * *

. . .White said the citizen oversight committee, created by the referendum and appointed by local elected officials, would not be directly accountable to taxpayers and could actually veto funding for certain transportation projects approved by county commissioners. The county commission appoints four of the 15 members.

He says the citizen oversight committee conflicts with state statute Florida state statute 212.055(1), which gives county commissioners the power to allocate sales surcharge tax revenues. He is seeking clarity from the courts as to whether the county would be violating state law by complying with the charter amendment.

The statute can be found here.  You can find the lawsuit by searching here using “Hillsborough County” as the business name and for after December 3, 2018.

We prefer to avoid commenting about the specific substance of lawsuits and, as we have said before, regarding the referendum, we are even more reluctant to comment on legal issues. So we will briefly comment on the politics.

What did the Commissioner say about the suit?

“This is a fundamental governance issue,” said White, the commission’s most conservative member, representing the eastern and southern sides of the county. “This is about the little guy in Hillsborough County, because what we’ve seen with this referendum is perhaps a select few attempting an end-around (past) the people’s duly-elected officials.”

That may be what he thinks (or it may not)  Regardless, it is weak.  First, given that there was a county-wide vote, even if a “select few” came up with the idea (an arguable point, but whatever), the approval of the referendum was not done by a select few.  While it is true that the referendum was not initiated by elected officials, it is only because the elected officials did not do what the majority of voters wanted, and the referendum process is a democratic process created for just such a purpose.  Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is not about the “little guy” (kind of like the outgoing Commission did not act for the “little guy” when it ignored what the Commissioner in question said his constituents wanted regarding Mosaic).  It is about the allocation of power among politicians. (If the “little guy” is the concern, supporters of the lawsuit would oppose variable rate express lanes that intentionally price the “little guy” out.)

But setting that aside, in many contexts, the Commissioner in question often makes points we agree with (including the Mosaic issue), for instance this from an article on the need for more fire departments:

It’s one of many ways that the county’s growth isn’t paying for the cost of providing services to new residents and businesses moving and starting here, White said.

The remedy, White said, is finding ways to curb sprawl and encourage more sustainable land use — a frequent plea of his.

White noted that the county meets its goal for response time in rural areas more often than in the suburbs and urban corridors.

“When we grow, it’s supposed to increase our tax base and we’re supposed to be able to do more things, and people argue with growth comes enhanced quality of life,” White said. “But it would almost appear … there’s an adverse quality of life in urban areas.”

While we do not have the figures in front of us, we don’t doubt the possibility that response times are lower in rural areas, especially given the poor planning and lack of proper investment by the County in built up areas.  And we have no argument with his favoring a rural lifestyle.  In fact, we want to preserve that lifestyle, too.  People should have choices in how they want to live.  Of course, up until now, the County has not really provided choices – it has worked to create a specific model of car-centric sprawl and subsidized it.

Proper urban (and suburban) development (including infill) in an enforced urban service area is the best way to avoid sprawl and preserve rural areas.  And a good way to promote proper development in urban (and suburban) areas is to provide proper transportation options and amenities giving people options aside from sprawl.

Of course, if you want something you have to pay for it, including protection from sprawl in a growing metropolitan area.  The referendum is a way to pay for it.  And, as the Commissioner has at least tacitly acknowledged, the urban (and suburban) areas need the investment, so that is where the Commission should focus.

The bottom line is that the Commissioner has a right to file a lawsuit if he wants.  However, that is not the end of the story.  And, while the lawsuit may be filed, the Referendum has passed.  Until we are told otherwise by a competent authority, it is part of the County Charter.  And until told otherwise by a competent authority, the Commission should follow it (as it seems most members want to do.) and take the necessary steps to implement it.

There is a lot more that could be said, but we will leave it at that for now.


— Howard Frankland

The Times had an article about the half-fixes (literally) of the Howard Frankland bottleneck.

The bottleneck driving north on the Howard Frankland Bridge is one of the most frustrating and rage-inducing in Tampa Bay.

The interstate drops from four lanes to two at the West Shore interchange, causing backups that can span the length of the bridge. The traffic leads to missed flights, late work arrivals and profanity-laced rants.

But state officials say it’s about to get better — just give them two years.

The Florida Department of Transportation will start construction in about six months on additional lanes that officials say will bring relief.

More specifically

A third through lane will help those continuing on the interstate toward downtown Tampa, while additional lanes on parts of the exit ramp should improve the ride for drivers getting off at Kennedy Boulevard and those heading left toward the airport or the Veterans Expressway. The lanes should be open to drivers in late 2020, officials said.

“It will help those people immediately once it’s done,” said Richard Moss, the department’s director of transportation development.

The extra lane on the interstate, which will be added in each direction, will increase capacity 50 percent. The change should bring “pretty substantial improvement,” district transportation secretary David Gwynn said.

Setting aside that, as we have noted a number of times, there will still be a bottleneck (4 lanes to 3 is still a bottleneck), it raises an interesting point.  If adding one free lane will bring “pretty substantial improvement,” wouldn’t adding another (4th) free lane bring so much more relief? (They could even add two free lanes, rather than the planned two variable rate toll (“express”) lanes? FDOT says the express lanes may be express lanes, but we have no reason to think that will happen.)

There are a couple of possible answers.  One is “yes,” free lanes would be just fine.  There is no reason to punish residents by forcing most of them to inadequate free lanes while really only focusing on building variable rate toll lanes most drivers really cannot afford.

Another possible answer is that free lanes (or all lanes) induce demand, so that the more lanes you build, the more traffic you create and, after a possible short period of relief, the road will become congested again.  We are not going to get into the large number of studies that have found this.  The entire theory of variable rate toll lanes – to charge people so much that many people will not use them – is tacit acknowledgement of induced demand: if new lanes will not become congested, there is no need to charge excessive tolls to keep people out of them. (Of course, variable rate toll lanes are not a solution to congestion, just a way for those who can afford it to try to buy their way out of it, sometimes.)

It is not that we don’t think the bottleneck should be fixed.  It should be – really fixed.  There is no excuse for it, especially when FDOT fixed the bottleneck on the other side of the bridge years ago.  But we do not buy that variable rate toll lanes are a solution to congestion. (Frankly, we do not think fixing the bottleneck will eliminate congestion.  It will make it better, at least for a while, but it will not eliminate it.)  What we really need is more options not involving vehicles on the interstate.


— Playing Nice With Others

Speaking of FDOT, it has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years for trying to essentially impose plans without regard for the opinion of local residents.  Much of that is well deserved.  This week, the Times had an article about FDOT’s efforts to address that.

The Florida Department of Transportation has an image problem, and new hires within the agency are trying to fix it.

For years, the department was known for its antagonistic relationship with the public, which peaked with the Tampa Bay Express highway expansion. That project was quashed after a public outcry, and multiple leaders were replaced. Now, the agency is trying to move forward and rebuild trust in the community.

A new district secretary who is viewed as more open helps. So do events like a listening tour the state organized in West Tampa on Friday. Department heads and engineers boarded a bus with community members in hopes of developing relationships and learning more about the neighborhood.

Those steps are positive.

“This was an agency that came to us with a prepackaged solution and no real room for discussion,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “We were little more than an afterthought in a grander scheme.”

That’s changed in the past two years, Fernandez said. The state announced a “reset” of Tampa Bay Express and in 2017 rebranded its efforts in the area as “Tampa Bay Next.” The new name came with more than half-dozen staff changes, including the arrival of district secretary David Gwynn, who took over in July 2017.

“They do seem genuinely interested in trying to listen,” said Tampa Bay Express opponent Kimberly Overman, who was recently elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. “Which is light-years away from the FDOT we used to know.”

The article then gets into some details of a bus tour of West Tampa, followed by some comments:

“A lot of the times we’re looking at aerials, but then you get down here and see and hear the history of it,” Gwynn said. “As we get closer with some of these concepts, it might be good for us to come out again and talk a little more.”

Yes, it is good to know the area where you are planning projects.

In 2016, members of the county’s transportation planning group requested the state do more to engage the public. But those meetings, too, had a tone of dismissal. When people made suggestions that didn’t fit the state’s already crafted plan, they were told those ideas would go in “the parking lot.”

We acknowledge that there has been some effort, but

The state agency has made strides since the Tampa Bay Express backlash, but some are worried it could turn at any point.

Fernandez said each morning he wakes up, he’s still afraid a Google Alert will notify him of some change in the department that hurts the community.

“As of late, it seems as though we’ve kind of gone back to, ‘Here are the white boards of what we’re going to do. Take your choice,'” Overman said. “It’s not as much of a conversation.”

Some in the community will always be skeptical of the state’s intentions and willingness to work with the public, Overman said. Still, she believes officials have made a greater effort at transparency. She said she sees less aggression in how the state interacts with the public.

“There was a level of arrogance in the past that I think has either gone away or at least subsided,” she said. “There’s now at least a desire for greater collaboration with the communities.

We are happy that FDOT seems more open to outside input.  Of course, the really important thing is not bus tours or pleasant discussions (though those are important) but what is what actually planned.  So far, most (but not all) of the outreach we have seen is still far more FDOT telling people what is planned (which has not changed that much) and why people should like it rather than making plans people actually want.  That may be changing, and you have to start somewhere. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. While style is important, it is trumped by substance. FDOT should be judged on their plans.


— Have Your Say

There is news about the streetcar expansion, from URBN Tampa Bay:

If you know people who may be interested in this, please share… There is a key meeting for the Tampa Streetcar extension coming up at Julian B Lane Park on Dec 12th.

This meeting will show a draft proposal of what the extension could look like when built, going into considerably greater detail than previous public events.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The extension ideas really deal with Tampa Heights.  Looking more broadly, while we are willing to consider the streetcar a (not optimal) possibility for extension to Westshore and the airport (mostly because our choices were more limited), we think it would be optimal is if the streetcar were modernized and expanded as a local, central Tampa service that was connected to a CSX track based system (that is extended to Westshore).  That would smoothly move people through the larger city and beyond while having a streetcar as a circulator for local, Central Tampa movement.  That is not to say the streetcar should not be modernized, expanded and sped up, but it would be inefficient to have everyone going through downtown to another destination to have to disembark and switch lines.

Go to the meeting.  Tell them what you think.

And, just so you know, with the streetcar going free, ridership was up 98% year on year in October (see pg 98 here)


— Ferry

The County Commission reversed the previous Commission’s last move on the MacDill-South County Ferry idea.

Less than one month after Hillsborough County commissioners scrapped a proposed MacDill passenger ferry project, the new Democratic majority commission has breathed new life into the project.

Commissioners voted 6-0 Wednesday to reverse a November decision that terminated the county’s public private partnership agreement with ferry company HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell development group.

The vote doesn’t guarantee the proposed service will be built between southern Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base, but it restarts the next step in the process: a $774,000 contract with a consultant to conduct a ridership survey and a study on where to build a ferry terminal. 

We are quite neutral on this.  The ferry idea is interesting, but the project has been languishing for years with seemingly no one gaining anything but the consultants and no one explaining why that is.  And it is unclear whether this ferry would ever serve more than just MacDill, which is a problem.  In any event, the past Commission should have left any decisions to the new one, so reversing that aspect makes sense.

Interestingly, this time the vote was unanimous because:

Republican Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose district includes the Schultz property, said she would reverse her November vote but still has substantial doubts the project is viable. The water agency’s demands and rising costs could mean the project will end up costing as much as $50 million, she said.

“I’m trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel on this project,” she said.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Stacy White also reversed his vote but said he remains opposed to the Schultz preserve being used as a terminal, which would include large parking lots.

“There is a perception that a lame duck board took action and the other party didn’t get a fair hearing,” he said. “That was certainly not my intent.”

That perception exists because a lame duck board did take action without giving the new Commission the chance to discuss it, but the mistake has been corrected.  That does not change any of the issues with the project.  Now, the punting needs to stop, and there should be a full accounting and assessment of this idea.


— Brightline

Brightline is rebranding to Virgin Trains, but for clarity, at least for now, we will call it Brightline. For those who are interested, you can read their proposal document here.


Port – Finally

There was big news from the Port.

Port Tampa Bay is pleased to welcome COSCO Shipping’s announcement that it will add Port Tampa Bay to its Gulf of Mexico Express (GME) Transpacific service, with the first vessel M/V COSCO PIRAEUS scheduled to arrive Tampa on January 28, 2019.  COSCO Shipping is one of the world’s largest container carriers with services calling at 267 ports in 85 countries and regions throughout the globe.  A member of the Ocean Alliance, COSCO Shipping is a leader in the transpacific trade.  The new GME service port rotation will be Shanghai-Ningbo-Xiamen-Yantian-Houston-Mobile-Tampa.  Import transit time to Port Tampa Bay from China will be 31 days, and export transit time from Port Tampa Bay to China will be 27 days. Connections on the new service will be provided to/from markets beyond China throughout Asia.

It is important because:

“This will allow us to cut time to get cargo direct from Asia closer by a third to half the time and will allow us to reach out to more customers who are now going to look at our port for further growth,” Anderson told TBBJ. 

That is good for both exporters and importers. The Port’s container business has been growing but it is still quite small.

For the 12 months ending in September, more than 87,500 shipping containers moved through Port Tampa Bay, a 55 percent increase over the year before.

It is not clear how big the weekly ships will be over time (they will be limited by the Skyway height and the channel), but, according to the Port, the first ship will be M/V COSCO PIRAEUS which can handle 4250 TEU, which is the standard 20 foot container. Of course, not all those containers will be coming here (note the multiple stops).  Nevertheless, weekly service to China without having to go through a cargo hub (service on to other points in Asia would go through a Chinese hub) is a major development.  Though there are differences, we view it in a similar way to the airport getting an international flight.  It opens up new possibilities to retain business and develop more.  So, congratulations to the port, and hopefully this is the first of many new services.


Airport – Diversifying

There was also interesting news from the airport:

A simulation training operator that works with Lockheed Martin wants to expand to the Tampa airport.

Tampa-based defense and security firm CAE USA Inc. is currently in a facility just two miles north of Tampa International Airport, but needs more room to expand and increase its sufficiency.

CAE, which is part of CAE Inc. (NYSE: CAE) headquartered in Montreal, operates a training center for Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft and constructs simulators to look like the cockpit of a C-130.

The Tampa training center was not immediately available for further comment on the expansion, however, CAE was previously seeking incentives from Hillsborough County to create an additional 100 higher-wage jobs and to retain jobs for an expansion of a new, purpose-built facility on Tampa International Airport property.

Where exactly is it going?

CAE is seeking approval of a ground lease for 19.33 acres of the airport’s property in the Drew Park area, according to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s Dec. 6 agenda.

The lease is for the construction, operation and maintenance of flight operation simulators, offices, storage and devices.

The ground lease agreement, if approved on Dec. 6, the first year rent would be roughly $200,000 with monthly payments of roughly $16,419 in addition to taxes.

We are all for diversifying the aerospace business around the airport and redeveloping Drew Park.  Both the Airport and the Port can/should serve as hubs for businesses related to and/or requiring their services, which will help develop and diversify the economy.  It’s a good week for the two entities.


Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

URBN Tampa Bay reported on a new proposal for Tampa Heights.

A 3-story, 10-unit town house project has been proposed for 2802 North Florida Ave. in Tampa Heights. The project includes 23 parking spaces.

Frankly, we find 10 units on 0.57 acres to be too low of density, and we think there should be commercial uses on Florida. Also, notice how none of the units actually face Florida. Instead, Florida will get the sides of two town homes and a curb cut for the development’s driveway.

In short, this may be a nice project somewhere else nearby, but not on this site fronting Florida Ave in a rapidly transitioning part of town.

You can see the lot here.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see from the lot itself, there is a large amount of Florida frontage.  To do what is described in the URBN Tampa Bay blurb above (and the site plan) is really not acceptable. Designing a decent building that addresses a major artery is not that hard.


Channel District – Elevé 61

Elevé 61 is up for an approval.

A 36-story condominium tower proposed in downtown Tampa’s Channel district will be up for a key approval in early December.

Eleve 61, which will include 61 luxury units at 858 Channelside Drive, requires a height variance from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority because of its proximity to Peter O. Knight Airport.

The variance is recommended for approval, as it isn’t expected to interfere with air traffic.

We have no problem with them getting the height variance.  The big problem with this project is not at the top (though the eastern façade is quite bad), it is at the bottom, where there is no street interaction and that blame for allowing that rests firmly on the City.

Mercury Advisors, the Tampa-based developer of Eleve, secured a development loan for the project in July.

Unfortunately, it appears the present plan is going to move forward, and the City does not really care.


Rays – Money Talk

The Rays stadium issue is now starting to get interesting again.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says the next move in the effort to build a Ybor City ballpark belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners late Friday outlining the framework of a possible deal.

On Monday, he said the county needs to know what the Rays think. Do they approve or disapprove? Do they have a counter-proposal? What do they want to change and what do they want to keep?

“We’re kind of at that point,” Merrill said. “Our mission was to build a framework for a deal and this is the best we could come up with. We really need to hear from the Rays.”

URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to a County Commission agenda memo that seems to be the outline of said framework (here).  The main points seem to be these:

The following describes the key elements, but not all of the complicated transaction details, of a feasible framework for the siting and funding of a stadium.

1. The stadium site preferred by the Rays is situated in a census tract within Ybor City that qualifies for private Opportunity Zone funding.
2. The Rays would bear 50% of the cost for the acquisition of land and construction of a stadium.
3. The remaining 50% funding  would come from some, or all, of the following sources:

a. Private investment via an Opportunity Zone Fund,
b. Private investment by Ybor land owners via a Community Development District(s) authorized by the City of Tampa; and,
c. Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) property tax increment revenue generated by new development in the two existing Ybor CRAs established in 1988 and 2004 by the City of Tampa. [NOTE: CRA tax increment revenue is required to be spent only within the boundaries of the CRAs and would not be available for use by the County to fund other government services].

4. Construction cost overruns would be borne by the Rays.
5. Depending on results of future negotiations with private investors, a future guarantee provided jointly by the Rays, City of Tampa and County (estimated to be less than $50 million in total) may be necessary. Such guarantee, if called upon, would be reimbursable to the Rays, City and County.6. The Rays would be required to make annual rent payments.
7. The Rays would be required to fully fund and maintain reserves for stadium repairs and maintenance, as well as for future capital improvements to the Stadium.
8. As is the case with Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, and Steinbrenner Field, it is expected that the Rays stadium would also be immune from property taxes (except for the private portions of the Stadium controlled by the Rays). This immunity can only be accomplished by a vote of the County Commission.

The foregoing summary of a stadium financing framework (some aspects of which had been discussed with Commissioners in previous one – on -one briefings) is not intended to be comprehensive or final. There are many aspects which have yet to be worked out, and many of the foregoing framework elements are subject to other conditions being met. However, this framework forms a basis for possible future negotiations of a Term Sheet that would be presented to The County Commission, City of Tampa and Tampa Sports Authority no later than April 30, 2019. Such Term Sheet, if approved by all parties, would be binding and would trigger the drafting of detailed transaction documents that would be approved by the parties.

As noted, the Rays have not responded.  Whether they will pay $450 million or so is an open question.  Until we know, it is not even worth getting into the details, though it is interesting that the only tax money involved is CRA money, which would have to be spent in the area of the CRA. (The CRA’s in Ybor are a little confusing, but we’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it.)

“The first step is for the Rays to tell us that they’re willing to work within the framework outlined … as a basis for negotiating,” Merrill said.

In advance of those talks, Hillsborough leaders plan to create a negotiating team that will include: County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s designated point person on a new stadium deal; Tampa Sports Authority President and CEO Eric Hart; a representative from the city of Tampa; and New York attorney Irwin Raij, who specializes in stadium deals.

Raij had been working with the county as a go-between between the county and Rays. Now Merrill said Raij will report to the Sports Authority, which has been the conduit for past Tampa stadium deals including Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium and the Yankees’ spring training facility.

“They’ve all been done through TSA,” Merrill said.

The new arrangement with Raij means that the city will help pay his legal bills, Merrill said. Most of the authority’s funding comes from the county and city.

Hart could not be reached for comment. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presumably would be his city’s representative on the negotiating team.

Merrill’s memo listed April 30 as the tentative date to finish hammering out a stadium deal. Buckhorn leaves office the next day, May 1.

Though, later he said:

“If we can’t come up with term sheet by March of next year we’re basically done anyway,” said County Administrator Mike Merrill during a report to county commissioners.

Of course, arguably

For negotiations to begin, perhaps as soon as early next year, the Rays would likely have to negotiate with St. Petersburg to extend the expiring agreement that allowed the team to seek a Hillsborough stadium site. That extension would have to be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in 2019 and could cost the team a substantial amount of money.

We’ll see what happens.


Downtown – Bank It

There was a land deal downtown.

One of the largest landowners in downtown Tampa has added a full city block to its portfolio.

John and Jason Accardi, the twin brothers who own Seven One Seven Parking Services Inc., paid $5 million for the vacant lot at 602 E. Cass St., according to Hillsborough County property records.

The 1-acre site is directly across Cass Street from the Le Meridien parking garage, which the Accardis acquired in October. The brothers said in a statement that the property was once home to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and has operated as the Cass Street Parking Facility for several decades.

Interestingly,

It’s also a prime future development site. The approved site plan includes the following entitlements, according to the Accardis: up to 369 residential units; 7,566 square feet retail; 11,642 square feet of office within a gross building area of 503,631 square feet within a 36-story structure with eight stories of a 588-space parking structure.

“We are very excited about this acquisition as it accelerates the growth of our downtown Tampa real estate portfolio and is the ideal addition to our recently acquired Le Meridien Parking Garage directly across Cass Street,” John Accardi said in a statement. “Its strategic location is positioned to immediately serve downtown’s growing parking demand and its entitlements provide for unique long-term development possibilities.”

We do not really care who owns land downtown, but we do care if good use is made of that land.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of land banking downtown (made even easier by the local tax system). And this particular land seems destined to be a surface parking lot for the foreseeable future.   We hope the City does not inexplicably eliminate even more street parking spaces around surface lots, like it did on Tampa Street (see here).


Ybor City – Diversifying

There was Ybor news other than the Rays stadium.

Masonite International Corp. is sticking close to its Ybor City roots.

The designer and manufacturer of interior and exterior doors had an existing office in the city that housed many of its corporate employees and will soon have a headquarters campus for the employees to work more closely together.

The groundbreaking for the 56,000-square-foot building was held Thursday morning at 1309 E. 6th Ave. Its previous building is 47,000 square feet at 201 N. Franklin Street. The new headquarters will be ready for move-in roughly by late December 2019.

* * *

The new space will house about 400 employees. The company, which has been around since 1925, moved its headquarters from Toronto to Tampa in 2004. It serves more than 7,000 customers in 65 countries.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It is an ok, if not exciting, design, though it is really on the edge of Ybor.  It would be nicer if it did something on the street, especially since it may end up right next to the Rays stadium.  Nevertheless, it is nice to get more offices in Ybor.


Housing – A Follow Up

A few weeks ago, we discussed a report about the problems with getting affordable housing built in this area.  (“Economic Development/Politics/Built Environment – Someone Has to Pay” ) One of the issues raised in the report were “fees.” (But just for this area).  So we were interested when we read this discussion about trends in home building.

Since the housing collapse 10 years ago, home builders have been largely focused on serving the high end of the market, building larger homes for deep-pocketed buyers who are more likely to qualify for a mortgage, if they need to get a mortgage at all.

The lack of entry-level construction has often been cited as one of the causes of the current housing affordability crisis, but recent construction data from the U.S. Census suggests that things may be changing.

According to analysis by the National Association of Home Builders, the average and median home sizes have been steadily falling for the last few years, indicating that builders are turning their focus to more entry-level home production.

With that background, this is the main point:

But these numbers may say more about who is buying houses than individual home size preferences. In the aftermath of the housing collapse in 2008, many homeowners lost their homes, their jobs, and had their credit wrecked in the process. With the economy in tatters, the only reliable homebuyers were the wealthy.

Homebuilders responded in kind by producing housing for this demographic, and it shows in the home size data. By the summer of 2011, the one-year moving average and median home size had matched pre-crisis peaks, and the next four years saw home sizes reach new all-time highs.

Mortgage lenders have been historically cautious since the financial crisis. More than 95 percent of mortgage originations are sold to government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, and those entities have strict guidelines for what they’ll buy. This means people with even a slight credit problem may not qualify for a mortgage.

At the same time, the cost of home construction has risen rapidly, as have the prices of lumber, gypsum, construction labor, and land. Shortages of lumber have been a common complaint among homebuilders thanks to a years-long trade dispute with Canada over softwood lumber. Although it’s dropped in recent months, lumber prices have been steadily rising for years.

These issues have contributed to home builders focusing on the high end of the market, and the precious few entry-level homes that were often bid up because they were so scarce. This has fueled to the housing affordability crisis that’s kept many would-be homeowners out of the market.

When you add in that our area has low incomes and was badly hit in the housing crisis of the 2008 recession, it all fits together.  Complaining about fees will not change any of the real factors.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Among planners (and other interested people) there is a lot of talk about reducing or removing parking minimums, like this from Ottawa (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay):

Interestingly, cities in the US are starting to look at this seriously.

San Francisco is poised to become the first big U.S. city to no longer require developers to include at least some parking in their housing developments.

Legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim strips the planning code of a minimum parking requirement that is already largely circumvented in practice by providing other alternatives like bicycle parking. San Francisco’s minimum parking requirements date back to the 1950s.

“It would not prohibit parking in any redevelopment. It would merely remove the requirement that a developer would have to build a minimum number of parking spaces,” Kim said during Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing.

* * *

She noted that it would make San Francisco the second city in the United States after Hartford, Conn. to eliminate minimum parking requirements and the first big city to do so.

The proposal was seen as being beneficial to the environment, but it could also help reduce construction costs.

“There is no good reason for the city to force the private market to produce parking spaces for every housing unit built,” said Arielle Fleisher, a representative for public policy think tank SPUR. “Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the cost of producing new housing and enables us to use our land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.” 

You can read more about San Francisco here.

Another city looking at it is Minneapolis.

Minneapolis 2040 believes the solution is simply more: more construction, more high-rises, and more triplexes. The comprehensive plan update would create new zoning categories across the city. In addition to allowing triplexes, the new rules would allow developers in most residential areas to build four stories high. It would also eliminate off-street parking requirements, which add to the cost of a new project without increasing density.

As you can tell, the Minneapolis idea is part of a larger planning rethink. If you are interested, you can read more here.

We do not think that parking will somehow magically not be needed in this area.  However, the entire issue needs to be revisited, especially in urban areas and as we move forward developing transit.  What we really don’t need is vast parking lots surrounding developments (or surface lots like for the Midtown Whole Foods).

One Comment leave one →
  1. URBN Tampa Bay permalink
    December 7, 2018 12:52 AM

    One thing we goofed on… The townhouse project on N Florida has a side entrance, no curb cut on N Florida Ave.

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