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Roundup 1-18-2019

January 17, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Stuff

— HART

— Mayor and Transportation, the Editorial

— Ferry Update

— Consequences

West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Ugh

Hyde Park/Downtown – Garages for All

West Tampa (a/k/a West River) – Begin

Westshore – (Not) A Lot

Airport – Record(s)

Port – More Making

Economic Development – Known Knowns

Channel District – The Sign

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— About Malls

— Scooters

— Boring

___________________________________


Transportation – Stuff


— HART

There has been much news recently regarding the search for a new HART leader.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is moving forward with selecting its next CEO, despite concerns from one Tampa Bay area business organization.

Tampa Bay Partnership Director of Policy and Research Dave Sobush brought up concerns during the Jan. 14 ad hoc committee meeting about HART’s CEO search.

“We believe the results have not yielded a leader with a track record aligned with HART’s near- and long-term future. We ask that the committee members expand the list of candidates and take more time for public comment. … This role by all rights could be attractive to seasoned and proven CEOs of similar agencies,” Sobush said. “In the event the right candidate does not emerge from this round of recruitment, we encourage you to ask why that maybe the case and go back to the drawing board. Expediency should not drive this process. The expectations are high and we shouldn’t settle for less than the experienced, seasoned leader we deserve.”

Sobush is not on the HART board, but the partnership, a CEO-led advocacy organization, wanted to address the search as it focuses on public policy and how the new transportation sales tax affects the transit agency. HART would collect nearly half of the taxes raised, and as a result, it would increase HART’s budget by over $200 million, and bring an estimated $4 billion in new revenue over the next 30 years.

What specifically are they looking for?

“it is incumbent upon the HART Board of Directors to select a proven leader, deserving of this responsibility, who can usher in a new era for transportation in Hillsborough County and in Tampa Bay. The stakes are too high to not get this right,” The Partnership wrote in a letter to HART Board Chair Les Miller.

* * *

“Throughout the years, we’ve seen our HART executives make the most of limited resources and navigate a challenging political landscape. We’ve witnessed the development of talent, and watched as [that talent] moved on to other communities,” the letter reads. “But with a budget over $200 million, and an estimated $4 billion in new revenue over the next 30 years, this is no longer a job for someone to learn as they go, or to use HART as a stepping stone to build a career.”

“If we intend to use these resources to provide world-class transportation services, we need a seasoned executive with experience in building and managing a top-tier transit agency.”

In its letter, the Partnership applauds HART for hiring an outside talent agency to search for a new CEO, but laments that the current short list is not good enough.

“This is a game-changer for our entire region and, arguably, the single most important moment in the history of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority,” the letter continued.

The Partnership further suggests that if the HART Board and talent search agency cannot identify the right candidate, it should hit the brakes on the current search and start from scratch.

“Expediency should not drive this process. Our expectations are high, and we shouldn’t settle for less.”

And, not unexpectedly, the Times echoed those thoughts in an editorial.

The transportation tax approved by Hillsborough County voters promises to give HART, the county’s mass transit agency, the money it needs to finally transform the area’s transportation system. But there is a disconnect between the voters’ ambitions and the pool of candidates to become the agency’s new chief executive. HART should slow down the hiring process and consider reopening the search.

A HART panel will meet Monday to decide which of the four finalists for chief executive will move to the next phase. Of the four, one already works for HART, and two others come from agencies that would be smaller than Hillsborough’s newly invigorated transit operation. How that meets the aspirations of this new era is anybody’s guess. With billions in new funding in the coming years, HART needs an experienced leader and visionary who can reset the region’s bar. HART’s board owes it to voters and taxpayers to get this right.

We cannot say we disagree with the stated qualities desired. But that is not to say that one of the candidates may not be a very good choice.  Nor does it mean that simply getting someone from a large transit organization may not be the best choice.  On the other hand, the present candidates may not be the best choice.  We have not met or spoken to any of the candidates, so we can’t really say.

For us, the bottom line is that there is no real hurry, especially with the referendum lawsuit out there.  We see no harm in trying to expand the field, though that does not mean one of the present candidates should not ultimately get the job.

The real point is that our expectations are high, and we should not get someone who will settle for something like the “BRT” plan.  We need someone who has a real vision for a proper transit system and the ability to carry it out, and someone who can navigate, but is not beholden to, local factions.  If that takes some more time, that is fine with us.


— Mayor and Transportation, the Editorial

There was an interesting editorial in the Times regarding the mayor race and transportation.

The transportation tax approved by Hillsborough County voters in November appears enticing to several candidates for Tampa mayor who are offering their own spending plans for improving roads and transit. But while the next mayor will play a major role in shaping Tampa’s transportation future, some of the biggest decisions on the splashiest projects will be outside the city’s control. That’s a reminder that the next mayor must work effectively with other partners on this regional issue, a reality that went unacknowledged in this week’s first major mayoral debate.

True enough.  The editorial then notes that a few mayor candidates have released plans and says:

But the big-ticket projects being considered – from express bus service to a connector between downtown, the University of South Florida and the airport, for starters – would fall to other agencies, from HART, the county’s mass transit provider, to the state and federal governments. The one-cent transportation sales tax would provide Tampa an additional $30 million per year, enough to accelerate road paving and other routine maintenance and to subsidize some mass transit in the urban core. HART, by comparison, stands to receive an additional $136 million per year, more than four times the city’s share. And HART – not the city – would be the agency attracting any state and federal matching funds for start-up costs and operations of any expanded mass transit system.

Again, true. The editorial then notes that all the candidates must come up with more than a wish list and tell us

How would they use transportation to make the neighborhoods safer and more vibrant? How would they better connect residents to jobs and major destinations? How would they work with area mayors and other leaders to improve mobility throughout Tampa Bay? With the debates under way the mayoral election less than two months away, it’s time for voters to look beyond the platitudes for candidates with a coherent message and an achievable vision. That will be key in electing a mayor who can build on Hillsborough’s transportation vote for the good of the entire region.

Once again, we agree, but we would emphasize that the plans should fully include the nearby unincorporated areas around the city (as we have noted many times, many of those areas are closer to downtown and Westshore than many parts of the incorporated city and include things like Bristol-Myers Squibb’s offices next to the airport and a decent chunk of the airport itself) that feed workers and consumers (and traffic) into the city for practical transportation reasons and because, as was learned in the past, without those areas, there would be no referendum money to even discuss.  While, as was said in one candidate forum, it is often true that:

. . . Tampa’s next mayor has a big microphone.

“The mayor of Tampa is the single-most important political position in the region,” he said.

The Mayor will only be a voice regarding any larger system and will not be the final decision-maker. They can propose and advocate but cannot bring a project to completion. Whoever is Mayor needs to be able to play nicely with and remember the needs of others.

(And, of course, we want to know their view on TBX/TB(n)X?  And if it changed, why did they change it?)


— Ferry Update

In what comes as no surprise to us, the Cross Bay Ferry is doing well.

The ferry service connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg is outperforming what it accomplished when it launched the previous year, making the demand for it more evident.

HMS Ferries Inc., the operator of the Cross Bay Ferry, reported seeing an uptick in passengers in November 2018, when it relaunched, and in December 2018. In November, it saw 9,268 passengers and in December it saw 8,811 passengers, bringing the total to 17,079 passengers.

The numbers, shared by Schifino Lee Advertising & Branding, one of two agencies handling marketing for the project, represents a 35 percent increase in passengers compared to 2016-17 season when the ferry had 7,606 in November 2016 and 5,063 in December 2016.

That is fine, but our issue with the ferry remains.  It is still more an attraction/fun cruise than a real part of a regional transportation system.  Until that changes (like running every weekday), the ferry is largely irrelevant to the transportation discussion.


— Consequences

ABC Action News has an interesting piece on Glen Avenue in West Tampa.  (With video here)

Neighbors in West Tampa are pushing for a number of road safety upgrades, citing a number of traffic and infrastructure concerns.

Some are specifically concerned about Glen Avenue, where they say the road is narrow with deep ditches on each side. There’s also a lack of sidewalks.

Another major concern is that the upgrades on Himes Avenue have made it more challenging to turn left, West Tampa residents say drivers are using neighborhood residential streets as cut-throughs and are often speeding.

You can read more about the challenges, like no sidewalks and a narrow road, in the article.

Jean Duncan, director of City of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services Department, said while there are no specific updates regarding Glen Ave., there are plans for a new sidewalk on Tampania Ave. from Columbus Dr. to Tampa Bay Blvd. There are also plans for some resurfacing work planned for this area, Duncan said..

That’s fine, but it does not do much for Glen and the people who live on it.  Many of the problems encountered on streets like Glen are longstanding.  Why the road was built without sidewalks, curbs, and with drainage ditches in a classic cheap Florida style is probably lost to history.  However, one thing that is clear – the changes (we don’t really think they are “upgrades”) to streets like Himes have broader consequences.  (We are not sure what the actual motivation of the changes was but they have some obvious problems, like making it hard for people coming off residential streets to turn left.  Where are they going to go?  Is it more likely that they going to turn right on Himes then make a U-turn or just drive on residential streets to go south?  And if the changes were to promote walking and biking, how will that work without sidewalks and with very narrow roads with drainage ditches in the neighborhood?)

It is not that we do not want Himes and street like it to be more functional. It is just that, as with many streets, it appears the changes were made without looking at the larger area and considering the practical ramifications.  Streets do not exist in a vacuum, and they should not be designed or altered as though they do.


West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Ugh

Speaking of things not existing in a vacuum, we have commented a number of times on a project proposed for 514 North Rome.  (See, for instance, “West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project”)  The project has always been problematic because it lacks sufficient retail in a developing urban area.  Moreover, it is instructive because what the City Council does with the project tells us a lot about the vision of the council members for Tampa.  So, as you can guess, they approved it.  Because it is on point, we quote extensively from URBN Tampa Bay:

Yesterday, the Tampa City Council gave final approval to a project in North Hyde Park that we had opposed. By a margin of 4-3, the council approved the residential project with token retail at 514 North Rome. The project has 226 residential units, 1,100 square feet of retail space, and 348 parking spaces.

Reddick, Maniscalco, and Capin voted against the project. Suarez, Cohen, Viera, and Miranda voted in favor of the project.

Our main beef with the project is the lack of commercial space, specifically along Rome. In order to make North Hyde Park a mixed-use live, work, play community the various residential projects proposed for the neighborhood need retail space to walk to, to support all of the new residents. Otherwise, the residents have to drive to go anywhere anyway, despite the urban location. North Hyde Park should not be a bedroom community. 1,100 square feet of retail (roughly the size of one apartment) is woefully insufficient to support all of the residents in the project.

Residents understand that the projects city council approves, define what kind of community we become in the future. We think it will be an uphill climb for any candidate who is supportive of this kind of project to win favor with urban core voters. Particularly since Tampa’s urban community has called for code reform in NHP to ensure walkable development for several years. The city council has had all of the time they need to establish an overlay in NHP, as they have in other urban core neighborhoods. Taxpayers have invested tens of millions into Julian B Lane Park nearby. A major cycling facility is about to be developed through this neighborhood along Cass St. All of which came out of the Invision Tampa public outreach process. Where are the corresponding reforms to land use to ensure the walkable vision the community has for this part of the city is realized? 

That is all correct.  Moreover, we noted a number of times regarding the issues on Howard that the City Council had a chance to avoid those problems by creating a proper district in North Hyde Park.  They never did.  As is far too common, instead of being proactive, they are reacting.  That is no way to plan and build a proper city.


Hyde Park/Downtown – Garages for All

As you may remember, when Altis Grand Central was first proposed, the City Council rejected.  It was tweaked positively, and they approved it.  One thing they never addressed was that the parking garage would be the tallest, most prominent feature of the building.  Now the building is almost done.   Well,

From Altis Grand Central – click on picture for Facebook page

From Altis Grand Central – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see, the parking garage is the tallest, most prominent part of the building.  We get that they need parking, but it does not have to be (and should not be) the main feature of the building.  The two new complexes in this area, this and Manor Riverwalk, have garages as the most prominent feature. (And that does not even address the garages in the Lafayette Square proposal.)  That is no way to redevelop or build an attractive urban neighborhood.


West Tampa (a/k/a West River) – Begin

The long discussed West River redevelopment project is about to begin (though we were told it would begin a while back):

Construction crews hired by the Tampa Housing Authority will on Monday begin work on the first of several buildings that will eventually comprise the West River redevelopment project, a mixed-income community slated to change the face of West Tampa.

* * *

The new building will go up at the corner of Rome Avenue and Main Street, featuring 160 affordable-rate units for senior citizens. It will sit near the former site of North Boulevard Homes, where more than 2,000 low-income residents were relocated to make room for the redevelopment.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You may remember the site plan:

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

While we don’t love this building (particularly the surface and first floor parking, inadequate retail, and general lack of street interaction), it is better than what was there before.  We will be interested to see whether 1) the Housing Authority has learned from Encore and 2) whether the other buildings in “West River” will be but more urban in design.


Westshore – (Not) A Lot

It appears that AAA will be changing their presence in the Westshore area now that they have a new HQ off Waters.  There is now a website touting sale of their office building (here). It also indicates that AAA will be building basically an outparcel office/car repair facility (something like this apparently) where the bridal store was just north of their office.

 

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

As you can see from the “aerial” above, the property has much potential, though it is questionable whether a car repair shop is the best use of that Westshore frontage or contributes to an urban environment along that key corridor.  We get that people need their cars fixed and AAA has that land already, but that aspect of the change is disappointing.  Not surprising given what has been built around it recently, but disappointing.

In other Westshore news, the Austin Center property (on the right of the “aerial” above), which was touted for a big, urban redevelopment has been sold.   The new owners say that, at some point, they would like to redevelop it.  We’ll see.


Airport – Record(s)

The airport hit a new record for passengers in 2018:

The numbers are in and we continue to shatter records! We are up 8.5 percent in passenger growth year over year from 2017 to 2018 reaching 21,289,390 passengers in 2018. . .

That is all good.  We hope for more good news this year.

Over at St. Pete-Clearwater,

With 2,237,440 passengers in 2018, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport set a record for the fourth year in a row, officials said Wednesday.

Passenger traffic grew 9 percent from 2017.Despite the annual gain, passenger counts in December were 9 percent lower than the same month the year before. If not for that monthly dip, the airport’s annual numbers might have registered their sixth double-digit increase in a row.

Breaking records is great, but we still worry about the St. Pete-Clearwater’s reliance on one airline.


Port – More Making

There was more news about manufacturing at the Port:

Cemex Construction Materials Florida LLC currently leases two sites at the port one is where it operates a cement handling terminal at Berth 3.

The West Palm Beach-based company wants to lease roughly 5 additional acres of land from the port so it can handle more cement products, fly ash, industrial slag, limestone and more. It also wants to build a ready-mix concrete plant.

* * *

The lease for the 5 acres, if approved on Jan. 15, would be for 20 years. The first year year would be $66,690. The rent for the second year would be $247,000. In the lease years three through 20, the rent would be based on the rent for the second lease year and adjusted.

The minimal annual tonnage would be 200,000 tons starting July 2020.

Cemex Florida would be responsible for all utilities, real estate taxes, site improvements and maintenance.

Cemex, the Mexico-based parent company, has more than 270 ready-mix concrete plants across the U.S. with nearly 160 ready-mix facilities throughout its Florida and mid-south regions.

It is not huge, but every bit of business counts.


Economic Development – Known Knowns

The Times had an about the cost of living that made a solid point, if not anything new.

The Tampa Bay area is often touted for its low cost of living, especially compared to places like New York City or Washington, D.C. The lack of a state income tax makes it particularly attractive for retirees who sell expensive houses up north and bring fat 401(k)s.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who work here. How affordable is it?

More often, we aren’t scoring that well.

In a recent look at housing affordability, our metro area placed in the bottom quarter. In the Tampa Bay Partnership’s competitiveness report released in December, we ranked 17th out of 20 peer cities when it came to the cost of transportation.

And just a few days ago, WalletHub released a report that looked at the best states to raise a family. Florida ranked 39th overall, tucked between North Carolina and Arizona.

(WalletHub report here) How to explain that?

Affordability is a two-step equation: How much does something cost, and what’s the capacity to pay for it? Those stubbornly low wages make it harder to afford things like child care, doctors visits and saving for retirement, even if they cost the same as they do in those other cities.

Sure, some things are more expensive in those places. But the reverse is true, too. We generally pay more for car and homeowner’s insurance. Our property taxes can be higher.

Besides, look at the wide gap between us and them in those income figures. Is it really that much more expensive to live in St. Louis? No, it costs less, according to most cost-of-living calculators.

The fact is that affordability is relative.  Low wages area good for the people paying the wages but not so good for the people earning the wages.  And our low wages are a problem, especially when you consider that major costs such as transportation and maintaining housing (though not necessarily buying it in the first place) are high.  (Our house prices are relatively low, but they are also often high relative to wages.)  While that may attract employers looking for low-cost employees, low wages and high relative costs are not generally a draw for ambitious talent.

Those costs (not to mention helping attract higher paying jobs and talent) are one of the reasons we need real transportation alternatives.


Channel District – The Sign

There are few things that Water Street has done that we do not like (we are still waiting to see what kind of awnings or other real shelter they provide).  And while it is not exactly something we don’t like, we have a suggestion about one thing. We are talking about a sign at Sparkman Wharf.

Looking good, Tampa! We love the new installation at Sparkman Wharf. What a great new spot to show off our beautiful city!

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

We understand what they are doing.  They are covering up the view of a parking lot with an Instagram-ready feature.  We have no problem with that.  We actually think it is a good idea. We would just suggest a tweak: make it so that the street light is not right in the middle of every picture.  Either make the background wall a little higher or just slide the whole sign down the walkway a bit.  Just a thought.


Rays

There was some more Rays news.  You can read it here and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

While some still push for the “BRT” plan on I-275, Sunshine Citizens noted something interesting in Broward County (where a transportation referendum also passed in the election):

From Broward County. “The Broward County Commission will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at 10:00 a.m., at the Broward County Governmental Center, Room 422, 115 South Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, to receive public input on the proposed elimination of the Broward County Transit Division’s 95 Express Route 107 between Pembroke Pines and Hollywood to the Miami Civic Center and downtown Miami, due to ridership levels below performance standards agreed-upon between the Florida Department of Transportation (funding partner) and Broward County.”

You can find the route information here.

Interestingly, Broward County lists some alternatives:

Alternative transportation options:

Alternative transportation options are available for riders traveling between Pembroke Pines and downtown Miami.

These options include utilizing:

Note that Tri-Rail is listed.  There may be some specific details about why this particular express bus is not performing well, but it is not really encouraging, especially when our local proposal is so obviously flawed.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— About Malls

Last week we wrote about Westshore and University Malls and the proposed changes to them.  Interestingly, also last week there was this news out of LA:

The Westside Pavilion shopping mall will soon be home to nearly 600,000 square feet of Google offices, mall owners announced today.

Google has signed a 14-year lease for the entirety of the office space, which will be known as One Westside when it is complete in 2022. This adds to an already long roster of office space Google is already renting on the Westside.

One Westside will be “a first-of-its-kind conversion” from shopping mall to creative office space, according to Macerich and Hudson Pacific Properties, which own the mall.

This is the location of the mall.  As you can see, it is a much more urban layout than either Tampa mall.  You can see renderings of the proposal here. That is also much more urban.  And it is Google, so they have more money to spend on whatever they are doing. But that, not multiplying outparcels, is how you repurpose a mall.


— Scooters

Tampa is moving towards having electric scooters. URBN Tampa Bay referenced an article about the experience in a few other cities that is definitely worth reading (here).

The article has a number of interesting points, but the things that really caught our attention was the discussion of the relation to bike infrastructure and using bike lanes. The scooter plan in Tampa is to force users onto sidewalks (sidewalk use is allowed in some places in Nashville, but not “a business district” in contrast to Tampa’s idea which will force scooters on to sidewalks in business districts).  Look at the pictures in the article and you will notice that all of them feature scooters in bike lanes.  (And note the picture of the pop-up bike/scooter lane – here – has the lane next to the curb being buffered by parking, to like most of the bike lanes in Tampa.)  We are not opposed to scooters, but think they really belong in protected bike lanes.


— Boring

Getting back to LA, we ran across this interesting take on the Boring Company project to build transportation tunnels to move cars around. (here)   It gets to the heart of much of the hype around many new transportation ideas. This is the conclusion:

Before they start digging the next tunnel, I’d ask the people working at the Boring Company to figure out why exactly they don’t like crossing Crenshaw Boulevard—and instead of building ways to avoid it, design a solution that actually benefits all the people who use it.

While we do not necessarily agree with every word of the article, it is worth a read.

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