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Roundup 2-1-2019

January 31, 2019

Contents

Transportation – In the Bramble

— How About That Streetcar

— Not Really

— Unsafe

— US19

— TOD

— A Choice

— Brightline

Channel District – Storage Suit

West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – The Logical Result

Downtown – Modera Lives

Downtown – Surprise

Channel District – Elevé 61

Tampa Heights – Get Going

Westshore-ish – Midtown Is Go

Seminole Heights – Of Course They Did

Downtown/Channel District – Phase I

Port – One Done, One Start

Economy – Checking In

— How’s It Going?

— Housing

— Progressive

St. Pete – Going Big

Landmarks

___________________________________________


Transportation – In the Bramble


— How About That Streetcar

As many will know, the streetcar received a grant to increase service and be free to use.  How has it been doing? From Floridapolitics.com:

Ridership on the Streetcar is up about 300 percent since a Florida Department of Transportation awarded a grant to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to provide free fares and extended service hours.

That is quite good, especially considering how small the grant was.

Tampa’s downtown streetcar will be free for three years, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The agency awarded a $2.67 million Transit Service Development Grant to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, eliminating fares for the historic TECO Line Streetcar.

As we have noted many times before, the streetcar fare was quite expensive for the service it provided.  There clearly is demand for the service if priced reasonably (or free, like most streets).

So what conclusions are being drawn for the results?

Clarence Eng, the smart mobility and transit practice leader for the consulting group Kimley-Horn, cautioned Hillsborough residents to take transit progress slow, but steady, because it’s the best way to get big projects funded and done.

Eng has been working with the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 office in the Tampa Bay region on the Tampa Streetcar extension and modernization project.

The current iteration of that $100 million plan includes extending the current route north of Interstate 275 along Florida Avenue and then back south along Tampa Street. The project development phase so far does not include expansions to that proposal east or west to include access to more residential units and affordable housing.

* * *

Starting small, Eng explained, gives the city the opportunity to create a proof of concept. By moving forward with a first phase of the streetcar expansion, it provides the city (or other funding agencies) the chance to show success, which could pave the way to future state and federal funding.

Starting small makes some sense, but the streetcar right now is small.  The expansion is also small.   The proof of concept is right now.  People are using it.  And while we agree with this:

“There really isn’t a silver bullet,” Eng said referring to plans for using that additional revenue. “Really, it is a suite of mobility services — options — that we need to think about.”

Going too slowly or relying on poor ideas, like the “BRT” plan, simply does not accomplish anything.  Sure, a plan should be done in phases, but it should be a plan that actually accomplishes things that need to be accomplished.  The lesson of the streetcar changes is that there is no inherent reason real transit will not work.  Quite the contrary. The fact is that we have been going slowly for decades.  It is time to get real transit, not half measures and poor plans, moving.


— Not Really

And for the foregoing reasons, we disagree with this from St Pete Catalyst:

Kriseman has seen his own share of transit failures. Greenlight Pinellas, an effort to bring mass transit light rail to Pinellas County, failed in 2014 – the same year he took office – with 62 percent of residents opposed. Now, five years after the sting of Greenlight Pinellas’ failure, Kriseman said Thursday that mass transit would be a “primary focus” of his last three years.

“We’ve got to look at all of the options available to us. The DOT has been talking about premium transit service from Wesley Chapel that ultimately would go to downtown St. Petersburg. That is incredibly important.

“While I’d love to have light rail, and I know a lot of other folks would, right now the federal government and the state government aren’t funding it,” Kriseman explained. “So we’ve got to take that step and give ourselves the flexibility – that gets you from Wesley Chapel to USF Tampa to Downtown Tampa to Westshore to Carillon to Downtown St. Petersburg. Then we’ve got to connect to the beaches and all over the county.”

Connecting St. Pete to Tampa is important, but focusing on the “BRT” plan which does little to nothing for Hillsborough (and not much for Pinellas either), is a waste.  We are all for an express bus to St. Pete, but we are not for spending a large chunk of money on for a “BRT” plan that does little more than an express would. It would be far better for St. Pete, and the area as a whole, to focus on the proposed St. Pete Beach BRT plan (see below) and get PSTA to set up express bus service to Tampa. Then, focus on getting a referendum passed in Pinellas so that it can match useful transit that (courts willing) will be coming to Hillsborough and the two can connect in a real way.

As we have said before, the real problem right now is that Pinellas and Hillsborough are moving at different speeds with different goals. We do not see a reason for Hillsborough to slow down or settle. Pinellas needs to speed up.  From a Times editorial:

Transportation. Hillsborough County’s approval of a 30-year transportation tax in November will focus attention there to improvements in local service. But Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have worked for years on improving regional transportation. Hillsborough must continue to support connecting the region’s major cities with modern mass transit options, including express bus or train service over the area bridges. While the citizen-led transportation referendum in Hillsborough may offer some lessons, that momentum — and a major private effort to promote it — has yet to surface in Pinellas and Pasco. Hillsborough should operate its transportation fund so that it becomes a model for other areas and be willing to take the lead on regional connectivity.

While we do not think they necessarily meant it this way, we agree with what they actually said: until Pinellas catches up with Hillsborough, we are all for express buses to Pinellas, not an expensive, not particularly useful “BRT” plan that will waste time and money (and very likely delay more useful projects) with little added return.


— Unsafe

It is no surprise, especially to anyone who has done it, that walking and biking in the Tampa Bay area (and Florida in general) is not the safest thing.  That was recently confirmed, again.

With traffic and transportation safety a constant discussion among state and local officials, a new study has found that some Tampa Bay metro areas are the least safe places for pedestrians.

The new report — titled “Dangerous by Design” — was issued by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. 

According to the report, between 2008 and 2017, the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking increased 35 percent nationwide, even as overall traffic fatalities have decreased. During the 10-year period, 49,340 people were hit and killed by drivers, an equivalent of 13 people a day.

Between 2008 and 2017, Florida had 5,433 pedestrian fatalities.

Based on the data collected, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area landed high on the list, ranking at No. 4 nationally, followed by the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area at No. 5.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area followed, ranking at No. 9.

Though:

Tampa Bay’s rank among the most deadly regions dropped from 7 to 9 since the group’s last study in 2016, but the number of pedestrian deaths increased in that same time period.

We are not sure if that means we got better or others just got worse.  In any event, it is not good. (The report can be seen here)

Several local governments in Florida, including Hillsborough County, Tampa and Orlando (the most dangerous area, according to the report), have recently adopted a “Vision Zero” goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. Safety planning often addresses both bicyclists and pedestrian issues in tandem, seeking to make streets safe for all users, not just drivers.  

That is a good thing, though the implementation is often more form over substance (see “sharrows”).  And much of it focuses only on major roads without addressing the large number of local roads lacking adequate (or completely) simple things like sidewalks. (Not to mention the ridiculous number of curb cuts which each pose a potential danger to pedestrians and cyclists)

Moreover, as we have noted many times, to really make a difference, the fix has not to be just to roads, it must be to the built environment, which to a large degree determines the way people move around, and to provide proper transit. Aside from a few overlays (and not all overlays, as more recent developments on Westshore show), almost nothing has been done in that regard.

As long as we are built for the car, people will naturally and intuitively focus on cars at the expense of pedestrians and bicycles because that is what they are being told to do, yellow flashing crosswalks notwithstanding.

We have a long way to go, but at least it is an issue that has come to the fore.


— US19

Speaking of form over substance, there was some news regarding some changes to US19.

As part of a new redesign along U-S 19, transportation leaders are looking at adding bike lanes along US-19 from 66th Ave N to 118th Ave N. The nearly 4-lane stretch could see 7 feet wide bike lanes with 2 additional feet of buffer space between cars and cyclists.

(You can see the FDOT presentation to Forward Pinellas here and the map of the area here) Well, that is interesting.  US19 hardly seems like a logical place to have bike lanes (similar to the mostly unused bike lanes on Dale Mabry).

It’s an idea that has some cyclists worried sick who feel the road is already dangerous and that adding bikes to the mix could make it more deadly.

Cyclist Irv Bernheim already tries to avoid riding his bike along the roadways.

“I feel like drivers try to play chicken with me. I’ve been almost run over so many times I can’t count,” he said while biking Monday. Bernheim says 99% of the time he uses the Pinellas Trail instead. “I feel much safer here,” he said with a chuckle.

Been there.  Done That.  This is the counter argument:

Transportation advocacy group Forward Pinellas says the new bike lanes could actually increase safety.

“In fact statewide there are far more crashes involving bicyclists on sidewalks versus in a bike lane or on a travel lane with no bike lane,” Whit Blanton, the organization’s director, explained.

According to Forward Pinellas, bikers are 20 times more likely to get hit on a sidewalk than in a bike lane. “Drivers are pulling out of businesses and they are less apt to see bikers who are riding on sidewalks,” Blanton added.

We get the logic behind the point (though we are curious about the provenance of the number. Is it a rate per fixed number of cyclists or total number because we will just guess on a road like US19 there are a lot more people biking on the sidewalk). But what is missed is that you are telling people to do something that seems quite life-threatening based on vague statistics.  And, there is a better way.

What is really needed is an actually protected lane on US19, but that likely won’t happen because of how the buildings are built.  There are too many curb cuts for too many parking lots.  Nothing is built with the contemplation that people would walk or bike to it. Not to mention these proposed changes to US19 which will do nothing to make it safer for bikes:

Some of the potential methods of providing improvements include widening U.S. 19 from 66th Avenue N to 80th Avenue N, eight lanes from Gandy Boulevard to Interstate 275, as well as a fourth westbound lane from 40th Street N to 43rd Street N on Park Boulevard.

In other words FDOT is thinking of making the road more car-centric while adding bikes.  We find it hard to believe that widening the road will make drivers pay more attention to cyclists and pedestrians.  Simply painting a bike lane does not make a road bike friendly.

We are all for bike infrastructure – real bike infrastructure – but we have witnessed how little local drivers pay attention to pedestrian and cyclists.  Maybe some people will ride on US19 (especially long distance riders on a Sunday morning), but you won’t find us there as long as it is built the way it is.  Maybe if the Forward Pinellas and FDOT staff bike on it every day for a year and nothing happens, we will reconsider.

And one more note on US19:

Some of the long-term improvement plans include widening the the existing 6-lane roadway from 66th Avenue North to Gandy Blvd. It would include one new auxiliary lane in each direction, 7-foot buffered bicycle lanes, and 6-foot sidewalks. All lanes will be 11 feet wide, according to FDOT.

We wonder what exactly an “auxiliary” lane on US19 would be.  Is it a normal traffic lane (if so, why call it “auxiliary”) or is it a precursor to some sort of express lane (you may remember the issue with FDOT trying to remove a free lane on the Howard Frankland it designated as an “auxiliary” lane and make it tolled – and many local officials either not knowing or supporting that.  )?  To be honest we don’t know, but, especially given the history, someone should ask.


— TOD

There was news that is kind of transportation, kind of planning:

At a meeting on Monday, Hillsborough County’s transit authority said it wants to see transit-oriented development along future station locations for the streetcar and bus rapid transit system.

In December, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority was awarded an $800,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant to evaluate existing transit-oriented development policies in the TECO Line Streetcar extension and Tampa arterial bus rapid transit study corridors.

Phase 1 of the plan is the streetcar extension and to evaluate the city’s existing TOD policies and station planning.

The current streetcar route runs along a 2.7-mile path from Ybor City to the Channel district. The extension would add 1.3 miles north from the Channel district to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights.

Meanwhile, Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the 33-month-long plan focuses on bus rapid transit on Nebraska, Florida and Fowler avenues.

The project is in coordination with the city, HART and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Setting aside the whole Nebraska, Florida, Fowler thing which has not been discussed or publicized very much, we are all for proper planning for transit to maximize it effect.  In fact, this should already have been done.  (City officials have been discussing transit, including rail, for years. They had to chance to come up with policies, at least generally.)

“We are developing our policies on how we are going to develop the urban core that’s going to facilitate transit. What we’ve seen with real estate values spiking in the Seminole Heights area is that business owners are finding their employees are having to move to New Tampa and other places,” Overman said.

Tampa Planning and Urban Design Division Manager Catherine Coyle said there will be outreaches so the public can voice their needs.

That is true and public outreach (if it is real) is good, but do we really need this?

A scope of the projects would be drafted for selecting consultants through a bidding process, HART Director of Service Planning Chris Cochran said during the Transit Oriented Development Ad Hoc Committee meeting.

We just wonder about more consultants. We get it is Federal money, but this area has engaged so many consultants (including in the first item above) for so many years that one would think everything would be perfectly planned three or four times over. (We even pay consultants to review past consultant reports to come with plans, which is how we got the “BRT” plan.)  Do we really need more consultants to understand that developments near transit should have lower parking requirements (if any), should be built in a way that maximizes the pedestrian experience and with increased density? And why hasn’t this already been done? Maybe we need to hire consultants to find out.


— A Choice

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding St. Pete’s planned BRT to the beach.

St. Petersburg will start construction later this year on the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line, which will connect downtown and the beaches with a 30-minute trip that makes 17 stops. For a majority of the 11-mile route, buses will run in dedicated lanes along First avenues N and S. Vehicles turning into businesses, driveways and side streets will also be able to use those lanes.

But there’s a hiccup in the design: There isn’t enough room on the one-way avenues between 20th and 31st streets to include two lanes of regular traffic, a dedicated bus lane, a bike lane and parking on both sides of the street. Something will have to go.

* * *

This choice between parking and bike lanes is the latest point of tension in an ongoing struggle between how people move around the city.

Setting aside that it is interesting that they plan on starting this year (did they get the $20 million they still needed?), while some people may have strong opinions, in this case the issue does not seem that contentious.  The article does not have a large debate, just some opinions.

Because of the limited room along the Bus Rapid Transit corridor, city transportation director Evan Mory told members of the council’s transportation committee that the city will have to either cut the bike lanes on the 11-block stretch in question or eliminate parking on the right side of the avenues. Because of the polarizing nature of the debate, committee members decided to bring the subject before the full City Council for discussion. The council is scheduled to discuss the subject in late March.

The debate pertains only to those 11 blocks. No impact is expected on parking or bike lanes for most of the rest of the route, said Abhishek Dayal, director of project management at the county’s bus agency.

The only exceptions are where bus-loading platforms are planned at 13th, Eighth and Fourth streets. A few on-street parking spaces will have to go to make room for the station platforms.

* * *

Grand Central District president Jonathan Tallon said the association hasn’t issued an official stance on the subject, but Tallon said many people he’s spoken with view the loss of some parking as a viable tradeoff to gain streets that are more accessible for transit, cyclists and pedestrians.

One guy in the article thought (it seemed reluctantly) they should have parking. In any event,

The city is taking inventory of how much parking is used on First avenues N and S to understand the overall parking supply and demand. Mory said average parking occupancy in 2018 and January “is fairly low” on those avenues.

The occupancy numbers vary depending on time of day, but counts done in September and January show the highest average of spots occupied between 20th and 31st Streets was 34 percent.

That hardly is an overwhelming case for parking. If St. Pete does not include bike lanes it will put “sharrows” in a normal lane, which is basically doing nothing.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting choice between bike lanes and parking will indicate St. Pete’s priorities.  We favor putting bike lanes. The BRT is about choosing to provide alternatives to cars, and bike lanes are a logical extension of that.   The data would seem to indicate that there is enough parking and, presumably, the idea of the BRT is to bring more people with fewer cars to the area served.  (What would be even better is if the bike lanes were actually protected, not just buffered.)

Overall, we like this BRT project and hope it gets built.  Aside from being completely reasonable, it is an interesting learning experience for the area.


— Brightline

Virgin Trains is having an IPO:

Virgin Trains USA LLC, a partnership through Brightline and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group Ltd., has announced an initial public offering of stock to raise up to $619.1 million.

Virgin Trains USA LLC’s initial public offering is for 28 million shares of common stock, but could increase to more than 32 million, according to a Jan. 30 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Virgin Trains intends to grant the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 4.25 million shares at the initial public offering price, according to the filing, bringing it close to 32.6 million shares.

Virgin Trains is offering to sell the shares of stock at $17 to $19 per share. 

The shares will be listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol VTUS.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the stock and how that affects any connection to Tampa.


Channel District – Storage Suit

There was news about the 111 Meridian proposal that has apartments and storage.

Bluetiger Properties and two attorneys who represent a development group are suing the city of Tampa over a project City Council rejected amid neighborhood concerns that it wasn’t a good fit for the community.

Developers had planned an eight story mid-rise tower in the Channel District consisting of 305 apartments and 11,518 square-feet of ground-level retail space. But what soured neighbors were plans to also include 140,000 square-feet of mini-warehouse storage.

Despite community opposition, developers claimed their development plan fell within city zoning rules. They argued the storage units were a necessary amenity in the district where Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik‘s Strategic Property Partners group and Cascade Investments, which is controlled by Bill Gates, has already broken ground on parts of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa mega-development in the same area. They also said the plan was appropriate for the space because the storage units would be situated next to commercial space currently occupied by a Tampa Electric Company transmission station.

With more people comes more stuff. The storage unit boom is a phenomenon happening nationwide in areas where development is creating population density. Developers can churn out storage space far cheaper than multi-family or office space and the profit margin is huge.

 

From Floridapolitics.com – click on picture for article

We are not going to comment on the lawsuit.  As for storage generally in the Channel District, we still think it is an inappropriate use. Sure, there is housing nearby, but not too far away are areas where storage makes much more sense from a planning perspective.  Regardless of the suit, the City Council needs to finally fully address the storage issue.


West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – The Logical Result

There is another revised proposal for 608 North Willow Ave.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

The project is 5 stories with 192 units, 1,610 square feet of retail space, and 273 parking space. An excessive 340 parking spaces are required by the code, so the developer is seeking a waiver there.

We have similar concerns with this as we did before: although this is an improved development and design, we wish it had more commercial space, specifically along Cass, which is seeing a lot of money invested for bike infrastructure. When your retail space is less then the size of two apartments, and you have nearly 200 apartments, it hardly qualifies as a mixed-use project.

* * *

This project will go before the city council on May 9th

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You can see renderings here.

We still do not think this proposal is good enough, though given what the City has allowed over the years in this area, we are not surprised.  The City seems to have no actual plan for the area or to take advantage of the infrastructure improvements it is considering.  However, this from URBN Tampa Bay is also true:

But nonetheless this should be a lesson that when the city rejects projects, like how this one was rejected last year, developers will come back with improved design. The city should not be scared to reject proposals with sub-standard design, under the fear that no one will build here if we reject projects.

And the City Council should reject this proposal and seek more improvements.  After dithering for years, the Council should also finally come up with a real plan for this area so that when it is fully developed it is a real, urban neighborhood that takes full advantage of the public investments that are being made and proposed.  At the present rate of development, soon it will be a lost opportunity.


Downtown – Modera Lives

A while back there was a proposal for Modera, and apartment building with very little retail on the parking lot of the Times Building across the street from the Straz. After a long quiet period, it is back in a reworked form:

Mill Creek Residential Trust is reviving plans to build the Modera Tampa apartments on the 2.2-acre surface parking lot that surrounds the Tampa Bay Times building at 160 W. Tyler St.

This iteration of Mill Creek’s plans calls for 370 units in eight stories, with 15,000 square feet of street-level retail. It would have parking, two pool areas, a leasing center, fitness center and gathering spaces.

Mill Creek withdrew plans to build on that site in 2017 after seeking a variance to remove a grand live oak tree on the parking lot. The previous plans called for 275 residential units with ground-level retail.

Renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

Site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We did not like the first iteration.  While not excellent, this one is better.  It has more units and more retail (laid out in a rational way along Tyler). It still has a relatively dead wall on the north end (the picture where the garage doors are), but every project with a garage is going to have some dead street space.  The key is to minimize it.

In short, the revisions are ok.


Downtown – Surprise

Just a block east on Tyler is another is a new proposal on an oddly shaped lot.

On the next block, at 102 E. Tyler St., McKibbon Hospitality has proposed a 172-unit building that would include space for one restaurant, a leasing office and tenant lounge and a rooftop pool. It’s not clear if McKibbon, which specializes in hotel properties, plans to pursue the apartment development itself. McKibbon has owned the property — a triangle that’s just shy of 1 acre — since 1999.

Executives from McKibbon and Mill Creek were not immediately available for comment Sunday.

Renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

Site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Interestingly, per URBN Tampa Bay:

172 parking spaces are required and 439 (!!!) parking spaces are provided.

We find that a bit silly.  And the parking is not screened well at all.

We are a bit surprised at such a proposal for this lot, which is basically between ramps on and off 275, but we are not opposed to the idea.  We would like more retail and better street connection, but we understand that being a bit tricky between the ramps.  However, the street interaction, though limited, can be improved a bit (and don’t forget to include real awnings).

In sum, we have mixed feelings.  The size of the building is surprisingly good. (The tallest height listed on the drawings is 239’ though that is the for the roof truss, so there should be a bit of building above that). There is too much parking (and it is exposed too much) and not enough street interaction (as stated, we understand the latter to some degree, though not the former). And there is not much to the design overall, but, while generic, the look is ok.

Some targeted tweaking should get this project to where it needs to be for that lot.

An aside: Just consider what is proposed for this odd lot between the ramps at the north end of downtown and think what the City, if it weren’t in such a hurry to settle and sell, could have gotten on the lot across from City Hall.


Channel District – Elevé 61

There was an update on Elevé 61:

Ten percent of the 61 units in the 35-story tower planned at 858 Channelside Drive are reserved, though a formal sales campaign just began on Jan. 21. That includes the top two floors on the southern end of the tower, said Sam Chandler, a real estate agent with Smith & Associates Real Estate, who is listing the units for sale.

* * *

If reservations continue at the same pace, Chandler said, the team expects to convert them to contracts by March or April and break ground by mid-2019, with a targeted completion date of early 2021. The condos start in the high $800,000s and are priced as high as $1.7 million.

Our opinion of this project is the same as ever.  We really wish they would improve it (and that the City cared about its obvious issues).


Tampa Heights – Get Going

While Armature Works and the Pearl are definitely positive developments, the Heights project has been moving slowly (if deliberately).  More seems to be coming soon.

TPA Group, the Atlanta developers that plan to partner with Heights master developer SoHo Capital on the office project, has closed on the land and secured a construction loan, according to Hillsborough County property records filed Wednesday.

The office development will be known as Heights Union, and it will total 342,000 square feet — 300,000 square feet of office space and 42,000 square feet of retail.

So they have the loan and they have tenants

AxoGen, based in Alachua, is a medical technology company. It signed a conditional agreement with the developers to lease the office space in September.

And

Tampa is getting a new co-work space. WeWork, a New York City-based company, will move into two floors of 2002 N Tampa St. in Tampa Heights in 2020.

Sounds like they are ready to go.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Is Go

Speaking of getting going:

One of the first buildings in Midtown Tampa is moving toward vertical construction.

Novel Midtown, an apartment building with ground-floor retail that will be home to Whole Foods Market Inc., has filed building plans with the city of Tampa and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. It will be six stories and include 390 units.

Horizontal construction and infrastructure for Novel Midtown are well underway, a spokeswoman for developer Bromley Cos. said. Vertical construction is slated to begin in the second quarter.

While we are fine with this project getting going, our concerns about the connection to the surrounding area generally and the Whole Foods surface parking (the City should have cared more) in particular remain.  We will just have to see how it turns out.


Seminole Heights – Of Course They Did

A few weeks ago, the Milhaus proposal for Nebraska (which we like other than the lack of retail) went before the City Council for approval.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

At 6307 North Nebraska Avenue, a 4-story project with 112 apartments, 1,220 square feet of office space, and 113 parking spaces received first approval by a vote of 4-2. Suarez and Maniscalco voted no, and Capin was absent. We opposed the project due to a deficiency of ground floor commercial space.

We are not surprised at all.  As you can see from a number of items above, the City Council as a group (though obviously each individual does what they do) still tends to settle.  Admittedly many of the proposals they usually settle for are better than what used to be proposed (more because the market matured than anything the City has done), but with a little work and less settling, the final projects can actually be good and promote the long-term livability of the city.


Downtown/Channel District – Phase I

A member of SkyscraperCity posted a picture on that forum said to be from the ULI Trends Conference of all of phase I of Water Street:

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for Post and larger version.

The two reveals in this graphic at the second and third pictures on the bottom.  You cannot see that much detail, even on the bigger version on the forum, but you get a taste.


Port – One Done, One Start

One of the cruise lines that use the Port is leaving.

Holland America is dropping Tampa as a cruise ship launch point after April, though the company says it might return to Port Tampa Bay in the future.

“Holland America Line reviews deployment plans several times each year for future scheduling,” Holland America director of public relations Erik Elvejord said in an email in response to an inquiry from the Tampa Bay Times.

“Several ships are moving to new itineraries, including (the) Rotterdam,” which currently sails out of Tampa to the Caribbean and Europe, he said. “The Port of Tampa has been a great gateway for us to the Caribbean, and we will look forward to a continued partnership in the future.”

Port officials say Holland America has carried about 50,000 of the 1 million-plus passengers that Port Tampa Bay saw last year, or about 5 percent of the total, so they don’t expect the Rotterdam’s departure after the spring to have a big impact on the port’s overall cruise ship business.

It is not a huge loss, but we’d rather they did not leave.  Hopefully, 1) it does not become a trend and 2) they come back.

The Rotterdam carries about 1,400 passengers, making it one of the refurbished ships that have become a niche market for Port Tampa Bay. The latest generation of 5,000- and 6,000-passenger “megaships” that sail from Fort Lauderdale and Miami won’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, so the port is limited in the size of cruise ships it can accommodate.

Still, Port Tampa Bay has grown its cruise ship business nearly 20 percent since 2016 by bringing in refurbished ships in the 2,000- to 3,000-passenger range, as well as by marketing to Florida’s growing population and serving easy-to-reach destinations in Mexico, Cuba and the western and southern Caribbean. This works well for many cruise passengers who often drive in from around Florida and neighboring states.

Overall, that is good, though we still have a concern long-term regarding the trends in the cruise business, especially given that cruise revenues are a large part of port revenues.  We shall see.

In better news, the weekly COSCO container service to the Port has begun.  We are very happy for it, though it needs to be kept in perspective.

COSCO aims to move about 500 containers a week through Tampa. Most will arrive on Mondays after a 31-day voyage from China. Exports from Tampa, generally expected to consist more of raw products than consumer goods, will take 27 days to reach China on the return voyage.

That’s 26,000 a year.  The more the merrier, but we still need to be much, much merrier.


Economy – Checking In


— How’s It Going?

The new Milken  Report of Best-Performing Cities is out (here)  It actually does not say much about us except in the actual rankings.

2018 Rank: 30

2017 Rank: 15

Rank Change: -15

Job Growth (2016-17): 49

Job Growth (2-12-17): 38

Wage Growth (2 015 -16): 33

Wage Growth (2 011-16): 39

12-month Job Growth (8/2017-8/2018): 65

High Tech GDP Growth (2 016 -17): 128

High Tech GDP Growth (2012-17): 69

High Tech GDP Concentration: 72

Number of Industries with LQ >1 (2017): 29

From pg A26, pg 31 of the pdf .

While being 30th out of 200 is ok, most of the cities above us are the usual suspects, plus some Florida cities: Orlando is unchanged at 7th; Sarasota-Bradenton is 22nd (down from 6th); and Jacksonville is 26th (up from 50th).  Not to mention that if we have such a boom, you would think we would rank higher in many of these categories, including job growth relative to our competition.  Of course, this is a snapshot and we were ranked much higher last year, so it will be interesting to see the longer trend.

Regardless, there is much work to do to become a consistent usual suspect.


— Housing

It is time to check in once again with housing.

Builders are offering bigger price cuts for new homes in the Tampa Bay area even though the demand for homes is said to outpace the supply.

In the first quarter of last year, prices were reduced on 27 percent of new homes with an average cut of 2.3 percent, Zillow found. In the fourth quarter of the year, prices were reduced on 32.3 percent of homes with an average cut of 3.3 percent. Those cuts dropped the median price of a new bay area home to $289,900 at the end of the year versus $329,900 early in the year. 

We are not sure how demand outstrips supply if the prices are being cut, but maybe something else is going on.  Additionally,

Sales of single family-homes in the Tampa Bay area plunged in December as prices again rose.

In one good sign for buyers, though, the supply of available homes continued to inch up, with Pinellas County having its largest supply in at least three years.

The bay area market reflected those statewide and nationally, both of which saw a slump in sales as the year ended. The December numbers are partly a result of higher interest rates during much of 2018.

* * *

Pasco had the biggest drop in year-over-year sales, plunging 13.7 percent as the median price rose a scant 2.3 percent to $220,000. Other figures released today by Florida Realtors:

Hillsborough: Sales down 12.8 percent, prices up 5.8 percent to $249,900.

Pinellas: Sales down 8.6 percent, prices up 4.2 percent to $249,900.

Hernando: Sales up 4.8 percent, prices up 6 percent to $174,900

There was a similar, if more pessimistic, article in the Orlando Sentinel.  Once again, it seems odd to have prices rising while sales drop.  We suspect that some balance will eventually take hold (as long as the economy overall stays ok).  However, the possibility that we are at an inflection point cannot be dismissed.


— Progressive

There was news of quite a few new jobs:

Progressive Corp. expects to hire more than 10,000 people in the coming year.

* * *

Tampa: 1,500 customer service, sales, multi-product sales, claims representatives, bilingual Spanish sales and customer service

While those do not sound like high wages jobs, we welcome all jobs.  However, it would be nice to get some of the “marketing, legal, IT, business analysis” jobs they are adding in Cleveland.


St. Pete – Going Big

There was big news in St. Pete:

New York’s Red Apple Group expects to break ground early this year on a soaring tower in downtown St. Petersburg that will include condos, a 200-room hotel, event space and possibly room for offices.

“I want to do something that we will all be proud of,” John Catsimatidis, Red Apple’s billionaire founder, said in a phone interview Thursday.

In a full page ad in the New York Times, the company unveiled a “draft” rendering of an approximately 50-story tower that will be taller than anything on Florida’s west coast except for the proposed Riverwalk Place in downtown Tampa. The newly completed ONE St. Petersburg condominium near the city’s downtown waterfront tops out at 41-stories.

* * *

The tower will rise on the 400 block of Central Avenue, which Red Apple bought for $16.5 million in 2017. The project will consist of a single building that will include around 325 condos and 800 parking spaces. Catsimatidis said he has met fairly recently with Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has said he thinks the city has enough high-end residences but could use another hotel and more Class A office space.

“Office space is an open item,” Catsimatidis said. “We haven’t done anything on that yet but I’m personally open to suggestions. I’m all for it. If we can do the right deal, we can make it happen.”

A rendering, which most have probably already seen:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The 200-room hotel will be part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, smaller boutique-like hotels with distinctive styles. Tampa’s Epicurean Hotel across from Bern’s Steak House is part of the brand.

We can’t really see all the details of the design.  The exact height is apparently not clear, but it seems it is likely to be around 600 feet. And that is fine with us, but apparently not with some others.  We are not going to get into the complaints (you can read the article).  What we will say is that for downtown’s health the real key is how the building interacts with the street.

“The goal is to have a very active street,” said Zorn, Red Apple’s executive vice president, during an Urban Land Institute conference on 2019 real estate trends. “We look to make it a destination block (and) turn this into a central point of the city.”

We hope it will be.  If it is properly designed, it should not matter how tall the building is.  As this area knows quite well, many short buildings leave a dead, and even dangerous, streetscape.  If you want a good downtown (or urban area), focus on the street, not on the sky.  (Of course, even though being tall is not really an issue, a building should be at least decent looking – and, from what we have seen so far, this proposal meets that requirement.)

We are not going to lie.  We like tall buildings, but what we really like are good designs with proper street interaction that make a pedestrian almost not notice that they are walking by a large building.  And the fact is that this is downtown.  That is where this kind of density and height should be.

From the limited information we have, we do not know whether this is actually a good design or not.  But there is no reason St. Pete could (should) not have a building like this.  And the developer is saying the right things.

And there was even more St. Pete news:

The Kolter Group has said nothing publicly yet about a 408-foot tower that would rise on what is now a parking lot between the St. Petersburg Hilton hotel and the Northern Trust office building on First Street S. However, it has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to study the tower’s impact on planes using Albert Whitted Airport just a mile away.

St. Pete Rising had a rendering:

From stpeterising.com – click on picture for website

Which leads to an interesting thing about planning and heights.  When you build taller, you can build thinner, which allows you to retain view corridors for buildings away from the water (which, for the most part, St. Pete has done pretty well and Water Street seems to be doing with the buildings closest to the water).  And it makes sense to have taller buildings a bit away from the water to, once again, preserve maximum views for the whole area (though this is less important if you maintain view corridors).  The worst thing to do is build tall just on the water and block views off from the rest of downtown.  Downtown St. Pete’s greatest asset is the waterfront and the views it gives.  Limiting height works to minimize that asset.  Just a thought.

Downtown St. Pete, which has been quite nice for a while, seems to be really hitting its stride, and that is good for the whole area.


Landmarks

The Times had an odd little article about local landmarks.

Tampa Bay is a weird area. Drive around town and you’ll find all sorts of funky structures. We have high rise condos. Bizarre sculptures and public art. Shiny silver minarets towering above the Hillsborough River.

I asked Times Instagram followers to submit their favorite eyesores around Tampa Bay. These are some of the responses. . .

However, I wanted to pay tribute to the eyesores around town. The out-of-place buildings. The towers you think are strange. The structures that just don’t make sense. So I asked my Twitter followers to weigh in on the landmarks they loved to hate. I also posed the question on the Tampa Bay Times Facebook and Instagram accounts. And you guys delivered.

The article then lists those landmarks.  Other than the ConAgra Flour Mill, which is going away, and Kiley Gardens (which was part of the Rivergate Tower project and was later mangled), the rest were all round buildings.

URBN Tampa Bay said this:

We don’t know who they asked, but they gave bad answers… Two of the six “eyesores” listed make sense, the flour mill in downtown Tampa and Tropicana Field. The other 4 mentioned are quite literally local landmarks that we hope are never torn down. And Kiley Garden in particular needs to be restored.

We completely agree wonder why they have such animus towards round buildings.  It is pretty easy to find far worse buildings in this area.

One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    February 1, 2019 2:09 PM

    Local fixations on slow, plodding streetcars mixed with traffic, leisure-trip ferries, imitation bus rapid transit, and future autonomous vehicle technology are inhibiting planning for a serious transit system (i.e. elevated, regional metro system that crosses the bay) for the Tampa Bay region. A robust new funding source for transportation projects was (shockingly) approved by voters WITHOUT A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN, reflecting the desperate state of mobility in the region. All signs are currently pointing to the revenue windfall being frittered away on a laundry list of disjointed pet projects that will have no meaningful effect on congestion/mobility.

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