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Roundup 2-8-2019

February 7, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Round and Round

— On the Road to Nowhere

— HART

— Let’s Talk Diets

South Tampa – Not Yet

Tampa Heights – Started

Downtown – Settling Place

Downtown – Time to Rearrange?

Airport – Growing

Ports – Regionalism?

Economy/Economic Development – Reports

— Cost of Living

— Boom

Out of the Sewer

A Historical Lesson

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

____________________________________________


Transportation – Round and Round


— On the Road to Nowhere

As many will know,

Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is constructing the Suncoast Parkway 2. The cost for this project is approximately $134 million. Work began in February 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Of course, this construction began even though:

Before the $507-million Suncoast Parkway was built two decades ago, experts hired by the state predicted the toll road running from northern Hillsborough to Hernando County would be such a big success that it would make $150 million by 2014. But when 2014 rolled around, the 42-mile highway was so empty that it collected a mere $22 million.

(Fiscal year 2017 was $27 million.   And in this more recent forecast by the Turnpike Enterprise, revenues in 2028 are still only going to be around $34 million. ) In other words, the existing road is nowhere near capacity (or projections), and there is little in the area of the extension that will increase traffic. (We can’t vouch for it, but we are told that, with the lack of traffic, the present Suncoast is a good road to get a new driver used to driving on the highway).  You may also remember:

Regional planning officials have said the only way for Suncoast 2 to make money is to find a way to connect it to a larger highway such as I-75.

A committee that transportation officials created three years ago called the I-75 Relief Task Force reviewed the idea of alleviating traffic on the interstate by building another high-speed roadway through rural parts of Alachua, Levy and Marion counties. Those counties all opposed the idea, and the committee ultimately rejected building a new highway. It called for the agency to work on expanding I-75.

The agency still pushed ahead with the Coastal Connector, a road that would tie the Suncoast 2 to I-75, but the route would cut through the heart of Ocala’s horse country. Horse farm owners convinced the agency to drop the idea last year. Scott vetoed $1.5 million for a study of a northern Suncoast extension.

There is a certain logic to connecting the Suncoast to I-75 somewhere on the way to Gainesville (though connecting closer to Tampa makes sense first), but the idea of stretching the Suncoast further north died, or so we thought.

Florida’s new Senate president announced Wednesday that one of his top priorities this year is pushing legislation to extend the lightly traveled Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia state line.

Rather than contending the extension would resolve a traffic problem or improve hurricane evacuation times, Sen. Bill Galvano’s argument for extending the toll road beyond its current Citrus County terminus is strictly economic.

“I believe it’s a good idea,” said Galvano, R-Bradenton, during a Wednesday news conference. “We need access to our rural communities. We need to improve access so prosperity can return there.”

The thing is, we have access to our rural communities now, but not direct limited-access roadway access, namely because the need does not justify it.  Plus:

. . . leaders in several of the counties that lie in the extended Suncoast’s path have made it clear they want no toll roads slicing through their rural areas and destroying farms that have been in the same families for generations.

We/They don’t need it, and we/they don’t want it.  But this is not just a speculative idea brought up in isolation.

In addition to the Suncoast extension, Galvano also said he wants to build a highway connecting Polk County in Central Florida to Collier County in southwest Florida — reviving the politically unpopular Heartland Parkway — and to extend the Florida Turnpike northwest from Interstate 75 in Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway, another potentially controversial move.

This is an old plan to use public money to build highways in areas with little traffic to open up some large property to development for the benefit of a small number of land-owners. (See a 2016 article on the Heartland Parkway) In that sense, it is corporate welfare.

Instead of building roads that are unneeded, the money should be spent investing in real infrastructure needs where people already live and need to get around.  We are not against all toll roads (and east-west road in Pasco connecting US19 to I-75 would make a lot of sense, but they have rejected that, too.  And we were all for needed roads like one mile the I-4/Selmon Connector which, not coincidentally, had almost $14 million in revenue in FY 2018 while the 41 mile Suncoast had $27.6 million. )  But we are against wasting public money trying to solve a problem that does not exist with a solution that almost no one wants.

On Friday, as he announced his state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis was circumspect about the proposed road. He said he wanted to know more, before adding that congestion in urban areas including Miami and Central Florida needed addressing.

(We will assume by Central Florida, he is including the Tampa Bay area.) We hope the Governor does focus on urban areas, and that he is open to real transit, not just more roads. (Note: He chose one of the people who led the high-speed rail program to run FDOT, but we shall see.)

Hopefully, he will also remember that the biggest county in the main swing area in the state (and most important swing area in the country) just clearly voted for a transportation referendum with transit.


— HART

Despite being asked to slow down and reconsider, HART is moving forward with its leadership search:

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has ended the headhunt for a new leader, after voting for Benjamin Limmer as its next CEO.

The HART board voted unanimously to enter contract negotiations with Limmer during the Friday board meeting.

Limmer is an assistant general manager at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and has over 15 years of experience in transportation. He previously highlighted his work in dealing with transit sales tax in a cover letter stating, “With the passage of the referendum in the fall 2018 comes enormous opportunity. I bring a strong and robust background of implementing and directing sales tax programs in Phoenix and Atlanta and am uniquely suited to take HART into the future.”

Apparently, this is his plan:

Limmer’s presentation to the board outlined his goals for his first 100 days, which he broke down into three phases that included holding meetings to assess the staff at HART and establishing two tasks forces, one for the HART workforce and the other to focus on transit technology, and to develop a plan around the passed sales tax.

“Setting appropriate expectations about what you can do and what do these services mean and when can the public expect to see them is absolutely critical,” Limmer said during the selection process, aware that the funds will not become available until 2020.

In his five-year plan, Limmer said he will look at new bus routes, the extension of the streetcar and said he would hope that HART would become a leader in technology.

Most of that is vague but innocuous enough (details would be nice). We do have concerns about the “extend the streetcar” idea.  It’s not that we do not support extending the streetcar around downtown.  It is that we think the streetcar through downtown is not necessarily the best idea as the core of a larger system. We would like to hear more about the larger plan for the AFT dedicated right of way money.


— Let’s Talk Diets

ABC Action News has been running a series of reports called “Driving Tampa Bay Forward” about transportation.  One of their recent reports was about road diets, namely Skinner Rd in Dunedin. (here)  First, we are not against road diets.  In fact, we are for them when the conditions to make them successful, namely good alternatives, exist.  However, we also realize that if too many roads are put a diet without providing proper alternatives, it could be problematic.  But, that is not why the report interested us.

A bit of background:

Cyclists and walkers say they’re putting their lives on the line crossing one of the busiest portions of the Pinellas Trail, but now the city is looking at changes.

The area where the trail crosses over Skinner Boulevard is being targeted by the city of Dunedin to make the crossing less dangerous.

Some of the changes on tap: Reducing Skinner Boulevard from 4 lanes to 2 (one in each direction), adding round-a-bouts and reducing the speed limit from 35 to 25.

Cyclists and walkers say the changes are much needed. Although the intersection has a blinking pedestrian light, they say with 4 lanes of traffic all it takes is one car not paying attention to put them in danger.

* * *

The trail crossing can attract up to a thousand walkers and bikers a day, especially on weekends. Conversely, nearly 12-thousand cars use Skinner Road daily. 

First, why is there an ambiguous blinking yellow crosswalk instead of an old-style crosswalk with a stop light that everyone can understand?  This is the trail with “thousands” of people crossing the road every day. Surely, a normal crosswalk that everyone intuitively understands is appropriate.  If not there, where?

We think a normal crosswalk would be significant.  As for going to two lanes, note this:

But won’t making the road skinnier add to driver’s commutes? It’s something that worries Pete Britt who lives and works in Dunedin.

“I think it’s going to add a lot of congestion,” he explained.

Transportation leaders say on average making roads skinnier adds less than 10 minutes to driver’s commutes because the roads that are chosen for “road diets” are often smaller and less traveled.

Putting smaller, less travelled roads on diets is reasonable.  But, as with so many transportation related issues, people should understand exactly what is being discussed.  What does a ten minute addition really means in terms of commutes?

According to this CNBC article the state with the longest commute in the US is New York, averaging 32.6 minutes one way. The shortest is South Dakota averaging 16.9 minutes one way. That is a difference of 15.7 minutes.   Here is a graphic with slightly different numbers:

From Visualcapitalist.com – click on picture for article

Another illustration: an Auto Insurance Center study listed the worst commute as Waldorf, MD, at 43.4 minutes.  The 25th worst was Silver Springs, MD at 34.3.  If you add ten minutes, it would be the worst.

In other words, ten minutes may seem small generally, but it is a lot in terms of average commutes.  It is not a catastrophic increase, but it is not insignificant either.

Once again, we are not opposed to road diets (we learn towards favoring, but have mixed feelings about, the one on Skinner), especially those that can increase the flow of traffic. We actually are for them, but they should not be done just for the sake of doing them or in a gimmicky way. They should be well-considered (with eye’s wide open), planned comprehensively, using best practices, done in concert with other reasonable measures, and provide alternatives.


South Tampa – Not Yet

The Hyde Park House condo project went before the Architectural Review Committee.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Hyde Park House, the 21 story condo tower proposed for 2103 Bayshore Blvd, was REJECTED by the Architectural Review Committee tonight.

Specifically, the project was seeking 3 variances from ARC tonight. Two were approved, but another one, regarding on-site maneuverability, was rejected by the ARC 4-1. Due to the rejection of the variance for maneuverability, the developer has received a continuance until March 4th for their Certificate of Appropriateness, which would allow the project to advance towards construction.

As we have noted before, we have no problem with the size of this project (and we did not care about the size of the previous project that was rejected because it was too tall/big costing the City a pretty penny) and, for the most part, we like the pedestal façade (though we are not sure why the parking portion of the building faces DeSoto, where the representative of the project at the hearing noted that the neighborhood will mostly interact with the building).  We are also not so fond of the top of the building, which appears very bland.

The variance the ARC rejected does not really address all that, but the developer still could.


Tampa Heights – Started

Heights Union, the office portion of the Heights project, broke ground this week.  Nothing to say but good.  We can’t wait for the next groundbreaking in the Heights project.


Downtown – Settling Place

The ill-advised, not very good project on the former City parking lot across on Florida is moving forward:

The developer of a 17-story hotel in downtown Tampa will officially mark its groundbreaking next week.

New Orleans-based HRI and the city of Tampa plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hyatt Place + Hyatt House Hotels at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. Site work has been underway on that property, which HRI bought from the city, for some time.

With Water Street, Riverwalk Place, the Heights, and proposals from the north of downtown, this is what the City government thinks of as an iconic and/or signature development on a prime lot in the middle of downtown.

We’ll repeat it: “As we have noted before, supporting this project shows a lack of faith in Tampa’s future. We can do much better.”  And this should definitely involve the sale of public land. Unfortunately, we can’t say it is surprising.


Downtown – Time to Rearrange?

The Times had an interesting article about parking in downtown.  This was the intro:

Downtown Tampa used to be a 9-to-5 business zone where the office towers and sidewalks emptied out at dusk, but a lot has changed over the past 15 years. There are more residents, now, as well as more parks, more big events, more nightlife and more fun.

Downtown parking, however, has not kept up with the changes and is not fun.

Setting aside the City removing on street parking spaces for no apparent reason, for a downtown that people actually want to go to, parking is not that bad unless there is a big event, but back to the article.

“The P-word,” Tampa Downtown Partnership director of transportation and planning Karen Kress told about 100 downtown stakeholders Friday. Whenever the partnership talks to a group about any aspect of life downtown, parking comes up “in every single meeting no matter what the subject.”

Downtown’s parking inventory is still skewed heavily toward the central business district’s population of monthly parkers, and that skews the market, creates inefficiencies and leads to a patchwork of mismatches between supply and demand, according to a first-of-its-kind parking analysis from the partnership.

(See the presentation here) In other words, it is not the amount of parking, but how it is used (or not used), that is the problem.

The study, two years in the making, finds that:

Downtown has an oversupply of spaces. (Note, the City has 1600 on-street parking spaces downtown) We suspect that the City has not raised parking prices 1) because it would be unpopular and 2) to keep people coming downtown. And, obviously, spaces farther from points of interest charge less.  In one way that is perfectly reasonable, though it may be time to tweak it a little.

Monthly parking permits, mostly issued to downtown workers, are the dominant way access to parking has been controlled. This results in building tenants leasing more parking than they need, and that makes those spaces unavailable for other uses.

“This is not the way most cities handle it,” said Joel Mann, a consultant with Stantec who worked with the partnership on the study.

In most cities, it says, parking is more “closely aligned” between public and private spaces. Here, because the market remains “highly focused” on monthly employee permits, there isn’t as much parking available for people who come and go, residents, early birds and part-time downtown workers.

What’s more, a 15-year freeze on city parking rates has created a “huge subsidy that private operators cannot afford to compete with,” the partnership says. That limits the money they have available that could be invested in better customer service.

Oversupply normally would bring prices down, not be a reason to raise prices.  On the other hand, if street parking in certain areas is truly preferred, it makes sense to reflect that in price. (Though we suspect it is really only some street parking that is favored, depending on distance from a destination.  The parking situation seems far more an issue of prices by sub-markets than considering the downtown market as a whole.)  And, as the report points out, the focus on monthly parking by private owners is a major factor in skewing the market.  Even if the City raises prices a bit, those practices also have to be rationalized.

The bottom line is that downtown does not really need more parking. It needs better use of what it has and better circulation from parking to destinations (or just transit so people don’t have to park).  And people need to get used to the fact that they may have to walk a few blocks in a busy downtown.


Airport – Growing

There was news from the airport.  First, Lufthansa is increasing service to 6 times a week.

There was also an article in the Business Journal on the cargo expansion:

Among the top 40 U.S. airports experiencing cargo growth since 2010, TPA is only second to Cincinnati, the airport said. In fiscal 2018, TPA’s total cargo volume was up nearly 45 percent with a record 427,902,914 pounds of freight. This fiscal year, it has a budget that calls for $5.2 million in cargo revenues, doubling from $2.6 million in 2015.

What will help ramp up those operations is the airport’s $2.6 billion master plan expansion, currently in its second phase.

The airport is undergoing a $72.3 million expansion of cargo facilities on 70 acres east of the main terminal. The tenants, e-commerce giant Amazon alongside UPS and FedEx, are currently operating in a temporary area that will become Airside D, a 16-gate international airside in Phase 3. An airport spokeswoman noted it is still negotiating with Amazon and UPS to develop the property.

* * *

The space that UPS and Amazon currently use at Tampa International has some tough logistical spots. “The main difference is we have to move a lot of volume three-quarters of a mile, that includes crossing an active taxiway. The new facility would have us right behind our offices, and it cuts time not having to cross a taxiway. In UPS terms, every minute counts, especially for same-day delivery,” Ewin said.

The target date for the new facility to open is late 2020 or mid-2021.

We think it is great that the airport is developing its cargo operations.  We have never understood why under previous administrations it seemed to lag in (and neglect) that business.


Ports – Regionalism?

The same Business Journal article discusses Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee.  It says a number of things, but this is what interests us:

The ports are chasing the same goal, have similar missions and markets in mind, and create competition with one another — resulting in a history of rivalry.

“Ports don’t like competition and we were a real threat being at the entrance of Tampa Bay,” Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras said at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce event in January.

Port Manatee is the only port on Florida’s west coast to import millions of pineapples annually through its client Del Monte Fresh. But now, several years later, Port Tampa Bay for the first time ever is housing Costa Rican pineapples in its new on-dock cold storage facility operated by Port Logistics Refrigerated Services.

Despite the ripening of the competition seen in similar marketing strategies with Panama Canal proximity and distance to and from Cuba, and securing similar industry tenants, Buqueras says there’s enough to allow both ports to grow market share.

“I think there’s more than enough business for both ports. The reason is there are five ports: Jacksonville, Canaveral, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, plenty of business for all of them. There’s only two on the west coast. With the growth of population in Orlando and southwest Florida, there’s more than enough for both ports,” Buqueras said.

That’s probably true if they can get it, but so is this:

Competition extends outward to other surrounding ports such as Port of Savannah, which isn’t too far from Florida’s coast and is the largest single container terminal in North America.

We understand that the various port authorities (and their members, especially the elected ones) are focused on their own facilities and jurisdictions.  But the rivalry is inside-baseball.  We are concerned with the area, and it still seems to us to make more sense to not have the two local ports compete against each other while trying to compete against other areas. Competing against each other seems like a waste of energy that could be better directed elsewhere. They should work together, and/or be unified, to serve this area and compete better.  The politics may be complicated, but the idea is pretty simple and would serve the area.


Economy/Economic Development – Reports

It seems like study season is in full effect.


– Cost of Living

First, there was news, sort of, about the cost of living.

The Tampa Bay area’s housing costs have been on the rise, but in 2018 they were still lower than in other metropolitan areas around Florida and beyond, according to a new analysis.

The analysis shows that the bay area last year was one of the nation’s most affordable areas to live.

The Tampa metro area, which includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, had a relatively low cost of living thanks largely to its below-average costs for housing and utilities.

“Tampa scores lowest in housing and second lowest in utilities” when compared with a dozen large metro areas nationwide and another dozen around Florida, said Robin DiSalvo, marketing research analyst for the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and the author of the report. “With housing costs making up most of one’s living expenses, this favorable average puts Tampa at a great advantage compared to the other major metros across the country.”

(You can see the EDC presentation here and, remember, the EDC’s job is to recruit business to the area) There is no question that, by certain measures, our cost of living is relatively low.  Of course, our incomes are low too, so relative cost of living is a different issue (but more on that in a minute).  Setting that aside, what exactly was measured?

Every quarter analysts such as DiSalvo survey businesses from grocery stores to health care providers to hair salons on their prices and report the results to the nonprofit Council for Community and Economic Research, based outside Washington D.C. in Arlington, Va. The council compiles information on groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services, which are all weighted differently, and provides the data to its member communities for city-by-city comparisons through its cost of living index.

On the index, 100 is the average of the prices reported for all consumer goods and services in the participating areas. The Tampa Bay area’s costs of living overall were lower than the average at 89.1 on that 100-point scale. The only category where costs around Tampa Bay exceeded the national average last year was for groceries.

How you measure things makes a difference.  For instance, looking at a list of weighted items measured provided in this excel file (see page 2 “ItemsWeights”), it appears that the only transportation measure is gas prices and tire balancing (which are both relatively heavily weighted) – not car prices, tires, distance driven, wear and tear, and, of course, insurance (or the need for multiple cars and/or cost and lack of transit alternatives).  And we do have low gas prices, so that has an outsized effect.

No doubt, if you gave everyone in the country the same amount of money, it costs less to live here than many large metro areas.  That is part of Florida’s appeal.  But you also get paid less – and that is also a big issue, as made clear by another report.

Spending is up and unemployment down, which means Florida’s economic indicators have been headed the right way for several years.

Yet, the untold story of the state’s economic rebound is that almost half of Florida households still struggle to pay for basic needs, according to a new in-depth study of the working poor released Wednesday by the United Way.

That is also true of the Tampa Bay market where 43 percent of households are struggling to afford housing, child care, food, transportation and health care, an increase of nearly 8 percent since 2010.

Most of that hardship is the result of stagnant wages, the report states, and an economy dominated by low-wage and entry-level jobs.

About 67 percent of the state’s jobs pay less than $20 per hour, equivalent to a salary of about $42,000. Yet, the “household survival” budget for a family of four runs to almost $60,000 per year.

* * *

The report calculates the survival budget to meet household needs based on the cost of items like rent, child care, food and transportation. In Hillsborough County, that comes out to $21,504 for a single adult and $54,084 for two adults with two young children.

We have not read the report, just the article, which you can read here.  Whether that is the exact number of just close, the point is the same – and it is not good.

And there was one more report, this from WalletHub, ranking the credit scores by city (like the SAT, the bigger the percentile is better).   They do it by “city” not metro area which makes it a little less useful for our purposes.  In any event, Tampa came in number 1979 at 23 percentile and a 663 median credit score.  St. Petersburg was number 1597 with a 38th percentile and 675 median score. Sun City Center was number 2 with a 99 percentile and a 791 credit score. Brandon was 1815 at 29 percentile and a 668 credit score.  Dunedin was number 686 with a 73 percentile and a 722 credit score.  We’d say those results are mixed but show some issues in the larger areas.

So, the report on low-cost of living is not wrong.  It is just incomplete.  Do with it what you will.


— Boom

Last week we discussed some odd goings on in the housing market (cutting prices for new construction; increased prices with lower demand for existing houses).  See “Economy – Checking In— Housing ) This week there was also news, sort of, about the real estate market.

. . . For the first time, the area has been named one of the nation’s top 10 markets for real estate investors, joining not just Charlotte but also Austin, Raleigh and Nashville.

Strong job growth, tax law changes and an increasingly youthful population are among the factors making the Tampa Bay area far more attractive to investors than it was a decade ago, 500 conference attendees were told. And while the U.S. economy shows signs of slowing, the bay area is an enviable position.

“By historical standards, we’re late in this expansion, but Tampa (Bay) started so far back I think it’s early in its expansion,” said Mitchell Roschelle, a partner in PwC and co-author of the 2019 Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report. “The tailwinds are far stronger than any headwinds that would come. You have a lot more room to run.”

Roschelle was especially laudatory of Tampa’s redevelopment, including of its long-neglected waterfont. (The conference was held at Armature Works, a one-time streetcar depot turned hip food hall on the Hillsborough River.)

That definitely sounds good, and, as you drive around, things look generally solid.  (Though note that because, as usual, we started late with our expansion, compared to many other areas, there are more relative bargains here with promise of higher returns right now, which may explain some of the investor interest.) You can get the actual report here.  The Florida section is on page 40.

And, while the jump in rankings is good, note the report tells us:

We may need to get used to more volatility in our market list. The increased transparency around anything real estate provides the market with an unprecedented amount of information to ana-lyze markets every year. Seattle was the number-one market in last year’s survey but slips to number 16 this year. Seattle is still viewed as an attractive place in which to invest, but did media coverage of potential new supply being delivered and increased regulatory discussions sway the opinion of survey respondents?

Pg 36 of the pdf. But that’s ok.  The longer term trend is what really matters, and we will have to wait for that.

However, what really caught our eye was this comment: “The tailwinds are far stronger than any headwinds that would come.”  It makes us kind of wonder. By now everyone should know that headwinds have a nasty habit of showing up unannounced (or at least not publicized).

For example there is this from Florida Trend January 2005:

Looking at the state as a whole, there appears to be little danger of a housing bubble in 2005, barring a huge jump in interest rates or a catastrophic terrorist incident. Estimates predict Florida’s population will increase by about 350,000 in 2005 and add 130,000 jobs.Statewide, the number of housing starts is predicted to be in the 125,000 range. The number could be less if builders in some markets focus on repairing the state’s 50,000-plus hurricane-damaged homes. In addition, higher costs for construction labor, building materials and developable land may cause some developers to reduce their 2005 forecasts.

Continued strong demand and limited supply statistics point to a continued rise in housing prices, although the rate of increase is likely to be lower than in the past two years. According to the Florida Association of Realtors, for the first nine months of 2004 existing-home prices rose 23% statewide to $194,700, despite a third-quarter slowdown as a result of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Just one year earlier, in September 2003, the average resale price was $158,900.

* * *

“As long as Florida’s economic fundamentals sustain themselves, price escalation will be a function of demand,” says real estate attorney Ted R. Brown, shareholder at Akerman Senterfitt’s Orlando office. “Restrictions on new development and growth management regulations also act to constrain growth of new housing, making the existing inventory more valuable and pricing it higher.”

The rate of price escalation will be a key factor in how the market develops: A volatile situation could occur if the prices of units rise beyond the reach of buyers — particularly in the hottest markets, where speculation is a factor in driving prices upward.

In any Florida market, there is always the possibility that supply could outstrip demand for the short term, says Al Hoffman, CEO of WCI Communities in Bonita Springs, one of the state’s largest developers of high-end single-family and condominium communities. “But the aging of the Baby Boomers and the transfer of wealth between generations is having a real impact on Florida’s second-home and preretirement home markets.”

Hoffman says inventories in major metropolitan areas like Tampa Bay and Orlando are in the normal two- to three-year supply range. Since it can take up to five years to win approval for major residential developments, there’s no sign of oversupply.

“I don’t think you’ll see a national or a state housing bubble,” Hoffman adds. “National averages show housing has steadily increased in value, and unlike a stock market certificate you just put in the vault, people enjoy their real estate investments. It’s also important to remember that at any given time only 6% to 8% of homes are for sale. It’s very difficult to create a bubble with that low turnover.”

We all know what happened in the next few years.

We could have found more just like that, but you get the point. (And, if you need a physical reminder, just remember that the County Center was originally a private speculative office development built as an earlier boom turned to bust, could not get any tenants, and was sold at a large loss to the County.) The fact is that there are ample examples in this area about the boom/bust cycle and the perils of getting irrationally exuberant about the economy, especially real estate.

That is not to say that we are not doing relatively well right now.  We are.  And interesting things are happening (and, with the referendum, may get more interesting).  We are all for being enthusiastic about it, but all the while remembering that this area’s story has long been boom and bust.   We are not sure that the market fundamentals (and overall local economic structure) have changed enough to support the “headwinds” comment (per capita GMP or incomes which the report lists among economic data beginning at page 49, pg 53 of the pdf,  would suggest not).  Hopefully, we are reaching a critical mass where the busts are weaker and the booms stronger, but we will see.

So enjoy what is going on (we sure do), but take the hype with a grain of salt.

And just one more thing: if real estate scene is so favorable and will remain so, why are officials settling or approving land sales for subpar projects (see Hyatt Place, above)?


Out of the Sewer

We are not sure just what is going on, but there was another report about wastewater dumping in the Times, this time in Tampa.

An environmental group is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in to correct what it says is the state’s failure to fix repeated violations at Tampa’s wastewater system.

Tampa officials are vigorously contesting the group’s findings, saying it took data out of context and misrepresented the city’s wastewater spills. They also question the timing of the complaint, saying it might be aimed at sabotaging the city’s drive to persuade Tampa Bay Water to allow the city to convert highly-treated wastewater to drinking water.

The state chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which made the complaint, is requesting that Mary Walker, the EPA’s regional administrator, take over the city’s permit and begin civil enforcement proceedings. The group says the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has failed to adequately police the city “egregious records of environmental noncompliance.”

* * *

Jerrel Phillips, the president of the group’s state chapter, said he doesn’t know anything about the wastewater conversion project and denied the complaint was timed to stop it. The city’s plans to convert wastewater into tapwater by pumping highly-treated wastewater into the aquifer is set to go before Tampa Bay Water on Feb. 18.

Phillips, a former state pollution enforcement attorney, prepared the group’s complaint. It says the DEP “has dragged its heels and ultimately allowed violations of substantial gravity to go entirely unpenalized or, in some instances underpenalized.”

Phillips says there have been 288 sewage overflows in Tampa since 2012 and 95 since the latest permit was issued in 2015. The Howard F. Curren sewage plant releases wastewater with too many nutrients into Tampa Bay, he says, and has been in non-compliance with its permit for half of the last three years and in serious non-compliance for two quarters during that period.

Phillips told the Tampa Bay Times last week that he hadn’t calculated the number of gallons spilled in Tampa. Eric Weiss, Tampa’s wastewater director, said the overwhelming majority of the spills are less than 1,000 gallons and are primarily caused by grease being flushed into sewers by cooking in private homes.

The non-compliance issues, he said, are caused by minor reporting errors or contamination of samples that are later explained to state environmental regulators. That’s why the state hasn’t taken action, Weiss said.

We do not know the technical details and who is right.  What we do know is that the Bay used to be a mess.  Much time and effort was spent cleaning it up and getting it to where it is now.  Any back-sliding is unacceptable.  Whether the incidents above are a major failure or just some grease, we leave to others to determine.

As for Tampa’s proposal to make drinking water out of wastewater, we have held off commenting, and, for the most part, will still hold off.  But we will say, in theory, we see nothing wrong with the idea.  The devil will be in the details. However, the overheated reactions from some quarters seem to reflect more of a regional power issue than a practical water issue.  That being said, we have no firm position on the specific plan, and if there are reasonable objections to it, we are open to hearing them.


A Historical Lesson

As part of Black History Month, ABC Action News had an item on Urban Renewal (here)

In the 1950s, bringing in Interstate 4 and federal funds to beautify the city was an attractive idea. The changes did not quite have the long-lasting impact leaders hoped for.

Arthenia Joyner’s dad ran the Cotton Club on Central Avenue, one of the cornerstones of the black business district.

“It was a family for us on Central Avenue. Everybody knew everybody,” Joyner said.

Her family lived right around the corner. If you tried looking for the business or her childhood home today, you would never find it.

* * *

“Everyone thought it was going to be, ‘We’re going to rebuild the city,’ but really the federal government knocked down the buildings that were undesirable,” said Andrew Huse with USF Library Special Collections.

The move for urban renewal was not without controversy. The black community did not feel included. Families were kicked out of their homes because of eminent domain.

“Lo and behold, it came to Central Avenue,” Joyner said. “My father was never the same.”

“Really, urban renewal was a complete failure. It didn’t really renew anything,” Huse said. “It moved a lot of people around and complicated a lot of people’s lives.”

And it wasn’t just the Central Avenue area.  Urban renewal bulldozed much of Ybor City. It truly did not renew anything, and it took decades to even begin to deal with it.

It is an object lesson going forward for things like TB(n)X.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

The Times had an article (from AP) this week that should be of particular interest every time someone tells you that the solution to traffic needs, and congestion will be the soon to arrive autonomous vehicle. (As we have discussed many times, the congestion part is highly unlikely even when they are at full usage)  You can read the article here, but we will just highlight a couple of things:

In the world of autonomous vehicles, Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley are bustling hubs of development and testing. But ask those involved in self-driving vehicles when we might actually see them carrying passengers in every city, and you’ll get an almost universal answer: Not anytime soon.

An optimistic assessment is 10 years. Many others say decades as researchers try to conquer a number of obstacles. The vehicles themselves will debut in limited, well-mapped areas within cities and spread outward.

And we will just point out this problem:

Heavy snow, rain, fog and sandstorms can obstruct the view of cameras. Light beams sent out by laser sensors can bounce off snowflakes and think they are obstacles. Radar can see through the weather, but it doesn’t show the shape of an object needed for computers to figure out what it is.

* * *

But many companies are still trying to master the difficult task of driving on a clear day with steady traction.

“Once we are able to have a system reliably perform in those, then we’ll start working toward expanding to those more challenging conditions,” said Noah Zych, Uber’s head of system safety for self-driving cars.

No, it does not snow here, but it does rain very hard.

In any event, as we have always said, autonomous vehicles, when they come, will play a part in transportation, but just a part. And that is at some, unknown time in the future, and with crowding the roads even more.

And speaking of crowding roads, there was another report about how ridesharing, especially the subsidized ride sharing we have now, does not appear to cure congestion or eliminate car ownership, as can be seen in this article.  As with autonomous vehicles, there is a place for ridesharing in a transportation system, but it is not be a cure-all.

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