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Roundup 3-22-2019

March 21, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Round and Round

— The Suit(s)

— On Highways, Tolls, and More

— PSTA

— HART

USF – Of Leaders and Logos

Westshore-ish – One Midtown

Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

Built Environment – Exactly

Built Environment/Transportation – Just Do It Right

Bayshore – Sanctuary

Downtown – AER

Port – Investing

Economy – Housing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

________________________________________________


Transportation – Round and Round


— The Suit(s)

There was news about the lawsuit filed by a County Commissioner regarding the AFT referendum.

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas on Thursday dismissed Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the 1 percent sales tax voters approved last November to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements in the county.

Barbas granted the All For Transportation group’s motion to dismiss. The motion claimed White had no legal standing to file the lawsuit in his capacity as a Hillsborough County Commissioner.

Attorney Ben Hill cited the Hillsborough County Charter arguing it does not allow county commissioners to file suit against the county. It also requires any such legal challenges to be voted upon by the board. White did not propose such a vote and one was never taken.

* * *

Barbas’ dismissal of White’s suit does not indicate any news on whether the reasons White filed the suit are valid or not.

It is unclear whether the Commissioner will appeal.  Moreover, while his suit is dismissed, the dismissal does not decide anything substantive in the case, which is important because:

A Temple Terrace resident has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the one cent transportation sales tax that Hillsborough voters approved in November.

The complaint, filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, is similar to a lawsuit filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White in December. Both argue that the charter amendment violates state law by restricting the county commission’s ability to make final decisions on how the tax revenue is spent. The 30-year tax is expected to raise $15.8 billion.

John Cimino filed the complaint as a class-action lawsuit. Cimino is representing any other Hillsborough County resident who has paid the surtax as part of a purchase made in 2019. It’s unclear how many people qualify as class members, but the complaint estimates that “the vast majority of county residents have engaged in at least one taxed transaction since the surtax went into effect.” About 1.4 million people are estimated to live in Hillsborough County.

Cimino is asking a judge to issue an injunction stopping the collection of the tax and to refund taxpayers. Similar to White’s efforts, the lawsuit seeks to overturn the tax and void it in its entirety.

* * *

Unlike White’s lawsuit, which names 10 defendants, this complaint only names one: Hillsborough County. The class-action suit is also filed by a citizen, as opposed to an elected official.

(While mostly not relevant to the legal issues in the suits, there is some interesting information about the politics and provenance of the lawsuits here and here.)

Just as in the past, we are not going to get into the substance of the lawsuits. That will be worked out in the courts.  And we suspect that, until there is a substantive decision by the courts, we will keep seeing suits.  While it may be annoying to supporters of the referendum and puts a crimp in the planning process, there is no real reason to get worked up about it.  Lawsuits are par for the course for such issues (and completely expected), especially in the current political environment.


— On Highways, Tolls, and More

There was more news about the proposal to extend the Suncoast Parkway and build the Heartland Parkway that is speeding through the Senate committees.

A Senate committee led by a veteran lawmaker has been directed by Galvano to study extending two toll roads and reviving the plans for a third, all through mostly rural areas of the state.

The proposals, which involve extending the Suncoast Parkway and the Florida Turnpike and building the long-discussed Heartland Parkway between Polk and Collier counties, would help rural communities, handle the state’s continued rapid growth and provide new hurricane-evacuation options, supporters say.

“Our vision is a multi-purpose corridor, that it’s not just a roadway,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. “It would lay the groundwork for water opportunities, sewer opportunities, as well as broadband.”

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

Having all those features is nice, but if they do not serve where people live (or really even close), we still do not see the purpose of spending taxpayer money on it.  As explained in a good column in the Times (here ):

Finally, the M-CORES program [ed: the name given the proposal] also wouldn’t serve an identified transportation purpose. If you commute to work, you know Florida does have real transportation needs. Average commute times in our state are 27.4 minutes. That’s higher than the national average. It’s bad for Florida’s workers and employers. And it discourages top employers in other states seeking places to relocate or expand from investing and creating jobs in Florida.

Our existing roads also have serious safety problems. In 2017, 3,184 people died in traffic crashes on Florida roads. We are also consistently the most dangerous state in which to walk.

To address documented transportation problems like these, local transportation planning organizations have identified unfunded transportation needs with a price tag of $126 billion. Funding these needs should be a higher priority than M-CORES. Certainly, getting workers to jobs more efficiently is a better economic development plan than building new toll expressways in rural areas.

The M-CORES program would shift infrastructure investment away from metropolitan areas — where we need that investment most to serve people and to sustain jobs — to build expressways through rural and agricultural areas, where the costs will outweigh any benefits. Florida can develop a wiser plan for taxpayer dollars.

And then there is this regarding the plan:

But while much of the early attention has focused on the pros and cons of planting more pavement, questions also have emerged about the use of toll roads.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has put an emphasis on relieving congestion in Central Florida and South Florida, has repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of toll roads on the pocketbooks of working Floridians.

“I’m sensitive to tolling,” DeSantis said while discussing transportation earlier this year in Miami. “That hits our blue-collar folks. It’s a big expense for them.”

On Feb. 13, two weeks after Galvano came out with his proposal, which likely would use tolls to cover bonded construction expenses, DeSantis’ view of toll roads hadn’t changed.

“Some of these folks, who are just working-class people, they’re paying for their car, they’re paying for gas, insurance, then they’re paying all these tolls, and it adds up for people,” DeSantis said while in Titusville. “I’m very sensitive to how that works.”

Not only does that apply to roads to nowhere, it applies to express lanes, which do not relieve congestion. They just allow some people who can afford to pay very high tolls a way to avoid congestion while leaving most people in increasingly bad traffic.  (And, as we have noted before, variable rate express lanes are designed with the express purpose of not being used to capacity.)

DeSantis believes road work could be covered in part by gas-tax money that Floridians send to the federal government.

“I don’t think you can only just do tolls,” DeSantis said in Miami. “Look, we pay gas taxes to the federal government and Florida gets less money in the highway trust-fund spending than what we send in gas tax money. I think that’s an inequity that I’d like to address.”

We completely agree about the tax money. Florida should not be a net loser, especially since it is a growing state with increasing needs (and key to national elections).

DeSantis, who hasn’t formally released a transportation plan, has said alleviating congestion is about increasing productivity, making roads safer and improving quality of life by allowing people to spend less time in their vehicles and more time with their families.

Another good way to move those goals forward is to provide good transit and other real transportation options in highly developed areas.  Those areas are where the need is and where the state should be focusing transportation dollars.


— PSTA

While the legislature is focusing on highways where people do not live, in Pinellas, PSTA is looking at service cuts:

The county bus agency — one of the most underfunded in the nation compared to others its size — has long warned that it would have to cut service if it didn’t get more money.

* * *

The agency staved off significant cuts over the past five years, leading some to wonder whether officials were crying wolf during the referendum campaign, known as Greenlight Pinellas.

But officials say it’s only through a combination of cost-saving changes in maintenance, purchasing and other administrative tasks that the transit authority has been able to skirt by, despite yearly operating budgets that showed deficits.

CEO Brad Miller and others were hoping the same would be true in 2019. But a quarter of the way into the fiscal year, agency leaders said they were not able to find any additional savings. Years of small cuts added up, leaving little left to be pared away, they said.

The bus agency’s board approved a tentative list of service cuts in February that would target three entire routes, portions of three others and the transit authority’s paratransit services in northern Pinellas County and eastern St. Petersburg.

* * *

Some of those routes have been targeted before but managed to escape the axe when riders beseeched the board to keep their lifeline. Route 58, which runs from Seminole Mall to Gateway mall along 118th Avenue and Brian Dairy Road, with service to the Carillon area, narrowly dodged elimination in August 2015. Instead, board members cut Route 30 in St. Petersburg and the East Lake Connector.

Four years later, Route 58 is back on the chopping block, along with Route 22, which connects downtown St. Petersburg with Tyrone Mall via 22nd Avenue N. So is the Safety Harbor Connector, linking Westfield Countryside and Philippe Park. Riders who live within 0.75 miles of the connector can make a reservation in advance and the shuttle will come to them.

Given the funding issues, cuts were inevitable.

Miller, the CEO, recently told the agency’s finance committee that Pinellas’ transportation planning organization and county commission and the state department of transportation could all possibly come through with solutions in the next couple months. He said he expects all the major players to address the topic with different votes and meetings in April and May.

An influx of $5 million in the transit authority’s operating budget would allow the agency to maintain service, avoid the projected cuts and potentially reinvest in some of the core routes, Miller said.

Once again, if buses (including BRT) are a priority for the legislature, it is incumbent to address basic service, and $5 million is a drop in the bucket given the sums being proposed for other projects.


— HART

Meanwhile, the HART Board voted unanimously to direct its new director to explore the possibility of acquiring all possible CSX tracks in Hillsborough County, including an appraisal. (See beginning @ 37:30 of the meeting video here)  Needless to say, we are all for looking into that.  As we have said a number of times before, the CSX tracks in Hillsborough (with a few additions) can form the core of a proper transit system.  Whether the legislative delegation will help do that (like they did in Orlando) is an open question.


USF – Of Leaders and Logos

Last Roundup we discussed USF’s presidential search.  Since then, there has been news.  First, on March 15th, there was news of new applicants. Then on March 17th, there was news of the finalists:

The final four candidates for the University of South Florida come from Rutgers, UC Davis and Ole Miss — and half those stepped down from leadership positions after controversy.

* * *

After roughly an hour of mulling over the candidates, the final four emerged:

* * *

Committee chair Les Muma and Jane Greenwood both said they will be conducting background checks on the candidates, which they believe will alleviate concerns.

And the selection process is going to be fast (it is planned to be done soon after this is posted):

The candidates will all come back to the USF Tampa campus on Wednesday for individual interviews with the search committee. They will be streamed live on campus but not accessible by those off campus. The interviews will be an hour and 15 minutes each, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m.

On Thursday, the candidates will travel to each of the campuses — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee — to have “conversations” with one search committee member who will ask each of the candidates the same questions.

Friday, the Board of Trustees will meet at 8 a.m. to conduct interviews with the candidates then are expected to make their final decision later that day. Their meeting will begin at 3 p.m. Then, the candidate will need to be approved by the Board of Governors, who meet March 27-28.

So fast that:

Officials acknowledged that the four had been selected from a field of 33 applicants mostly by using glowing resumes and other materials provided by the candidates themselves. If members of the school’s search committee wanted more information, they could Google it, a search consultant said in an interview.

A more in-depth look — including comments from references, supervisors and other colleagues from current and previous jobs — is not expected to be ready until Friday, when the USF board of trustees is scheduled to choose a new president. And only after that will the person picked be subject to a state-mandated background check that would search for any legal skeletons.

We are not sure how the in-depth look can be considered properly when it is to be received the same day as the decision. We do not know much about the candidates (you can get some information to from the Business Journal article here ) We agree with a Times editorial on the subject:

The question this week is whether anyone in this shallow pool of candidates vying to succeed Genshaft is worth a similar leap of faith. The stakes are high for the university and for the region, and USF cannot afford to make a mistake that would erode the momentum Genshaft has built over the years. If an obvious ace does not emerge this week, the board of trustees should not feel compelled on Friday to pick from the weak hand they were dealt.

As we said, we do not know the candidates.  Maybe someone will be a clear winner.  However, if one does not emerge, there is to stop looking and settle.  This is a huge decision for a public institution with much local influence and importance. Taking some time is ok (especially with the complexities of consolidation looming). We will see what happens.

Speaking of USF processes,

Horrendous, hideous, horrible, hate — all are words used by students and alumni to describe the final design of the University of South Florida’s new academic logo.

Released this week, it is nearly identical to what USF debuted in September, as is the rejection it has been met with. Though the university never promised changes, some had hope. But after five months and nearly $8,000 more into the $47,000 design process, recent tweaks to the logo are hardly noticeable.

The bull still has a stark resemblance to the logo used by national finance company Merrill Lynch, students and alumni say. The colors used still don’t jibe with USF’s traditional dark-green-and-gold color scheme.

From the Times – click on picture for article

(See for yourself about the Merrill Lynch thing here.) We are not particularly fond of the new logo either.

Similarly to what happened in the fall, complaints about the design are stirring again, both online and in emails with alumni, records show. Still, the university has no plans to change it, chief marketing director Joe Hice told the Tampa Bay Times. His office led the logo development and continuously monitors social media activity related to it.

“There have been lots of comments about the logo, positive as well as negative,” he said, adding that the recent minor changes to the design were “based on feedback” and done to make the logo look better on business cards and other marketing materials.

Designers at Tampa-based Spark Branding House spent 47 hours shrinking the bull’s tail, bringing its back legs a bit closer together and drawing a line to connect the animal’s chest to its right front leg, according to the company’s Jan. 24 invoice to USF. Yet none of it seems satisfy those who never liked the design in the first place.

They probably do not satisfy because the original was not very good and the changes to it are negligible. You can read this Times article (here) for some of the comments.  Regardless of the fact that most of the reaction is negative,

Hice said his office is listening to students and alumni, and will continue to. But they certainly aren’t changing anything.

“We are doing what we think is best,” he said. “We think being disruptive with a logo like this is going to benefit the university in the long term.”

That is not really listening. And changing for the sake of changing is not really the point of “disruption.” The original idea now called “disruption” was not just disruption, it was disruptive innovation or creative/constructive disruption. Not all disruption is good.  And not all change is “disruption.”

(We had originally included a couple of jokes about the logo here but we took them out because it is too easy, which is kind of the point.)

USF had a seal used for academics and a sports logo that worked just fine.  The school’s reputation has been improving for a while with that branding.  We just fail to see the point of this whole exercise.


Westshore-ish – One Midtown

There was news about Midtown’s construction.

Midtown Tampa, the 20-plus acre mixed-use district at Interstate 275 and North Dale Mabry Highway, will begin vertical construction in the second quarter, its developer said.

Nicholas Haines, CEO of Bromley Cos., said Wednesday that the entire project — 1.8 million square feet — will be built in a single phase. Bromley is aiming to have the development wrapped up by early 2021, before Tampa hosts its fifth Super Bowl.

* * *

He said Bromley, which started assembling the land that became Midtown in the late 1990s, sees Midtown as bigger than its own project. Midtown, he said, is about connecting downtown Tampa and the Westshore business district.

“We want Midtown to be not our 20 acres, but an entire community,” he said.

Building it all at once is ambitious.  We will just assume they have enough pre-leased to make it work.

As for being a connection between downtown and Westshore, Midtown can be that, but to be so, it has to connect to the area around it.  The proposal we have seen does not appear to do a good enough job of doing it.  Nevertheless, if the development is going to go up as fast as they say, we will soon see.


Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

We have said that 400 Channelside is our favorite (so far) proposal for the Water Street development.  Here are some more renderings from the website of Gensler, the architects:

From Gensler – click on picture for website

From Gensler – click on picture for website

From Gensler – click on picture for website

Many of the buildings in the backgrounds of most of these renderings are also quite interesting (though we do wonder about the one very large blank wall to the left of the building in the first rendering). The one downside in the renderings we see is the lack of clarity for pedestrian protection from the elements in renderings like this:

From Gensler – click on picture for website

There is an overhang of sorts, but we are not sure how that will play out in real life.

Aside from that one issue, our opinion has not changed.  And driving on the Selmon through downtown is going to get quite interesting, especially if/when Riverwalk Place also goes up.


Built Environment – Exactly

URBN Tampa Bay had an excellent post on why we should not skimp on retail in new developments.

As the Channel District continues to build out, it was inevitable that even its tougher to fill ground floor commercial locations would indeed get filled. Coming soon, a high end fitness studio.

They noted this from the Business Journal:

Union Three — named for the three brothers behind the concept, as well as core principles of yoga, cycling and community — is slated to open in early fall in one of the retail condos in the Towers at Channelside at 1221 E. Cumberland Ave.

And then they noted:

This is the freshest example of why it is crucial that when urban neighborhoods first start to get built out, we do not settle and accept standalone residential development along the neighborhood’s designated commercial/primary corridors. Those early developers will say the market isn’t there to justify the expense. So what? Inevitably, the neighborhood fills in and there will be more than enough demand, and we’ll regret it not being there. Don’t settle.

Exactly.  We have seen this issue over and over. In the end, we do not win by settling. It is time the lesson is learned.


Built Environment/Transportation – Just Do It Right

We have often said (and are now saying it again) that most of the bike infrastructure in this area seems to be form over substance.  Simply painting a stripe and a bike icon or sharrows on a road does not really make a bike lane. They do not really create a good environment for biking. That is especially the case when the lanes abruptly end and/or cars are constantly swerving into the lanes (which is pretty much everywhere in the area).  What we need are protected bike lanes, which have been used elsewhere for decades, as noted in an Atlantic article on the history of bike lanes in the US (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay).

In 2007, a local planner could read the entire MUTCD, as well as the Green Book and every other design standard released by AASHTO—including the bicycle-specific Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities—and not find any guidance to help design the kind of protected bike lanes that had already existed in Denmark and the Netherlands for 30 years. Instead, they only offered guidance for two types of bike facility: Pleasant off-street paths (usually in waterfronts and parks), and painted on-street bike lanes.

In part, this reflects the influence of the American “vehicular cycling” movement, which taught that the safest way to bike is to act like you’re driving a car: Confidently “take the lane” so that drivers stay behind you, use hand signals, and ride fast. In the 1980s, when Northern European countries were building protected bike-lane networks, U.S. cyclists were being taught to bicycle in the roadway. And U.S. engineers were adopting the attitude that cyclists didn’t need infrastructure, just proper training.

We still here comments like that today, though now often referring to completely inadequate “bike planes” painted on major roads.  It is just not true.  While bikes and cars can mix in certain, limited situations, they are not the same and riding a bike, even in a painted bike lane, right next to Dale Mabry or US 19 traffic is not what could rationally be considered appealing.

The rationale for the protected bicycle lane seems obvious in retrospect: Most people don’t want to be “vehicular cyclists” sprinting at 20 miles per hour and mixing it up with cars and trucks.

In 2006, the Portland, Oregon, bicycle coordinator Roger Geller theorized that only a tiny number of people were “strong and fearless” bikers who enjoyed riding in traffic, but that the majority of Portlanders could be described as “interested but concerned.” Interested in biking, but concerned about the stress and danger of car traffic.

The concern is understandable. A study by the University of Westminster’s Rachel Aldred found that, although actual injuries during biking are rare, British cyclists (whose infrastructure is not much better than in the United States) experience a scary “near miss” incident nearly every week. Study participants reported close tailgating, deliberate “problematic passing” by drivers, and road-rage incidents that left them feeling humiliated and powerless. As one participant in Aldred’s study wrote, biking in traffic or unprotected lanes requires “ceaseless vigilance.”

By contrast, riding in a protected lane offers an opportunity to relax, to trundle along at your preferred pace, enjoy city sights, and Zen out. It’s actually fun. The research shows that most people want that experience from biking. In 2015, survey research from Portland State University’s Jennifer Dill and Nathan McNeil found that over half of adults in the 50 largest U.S metropolitan areas have attitudes matching Geller’s “interested but concerned” typology.

This means that to get many more people biking—and therefore improve the environment and public health in American cities—protected bike lanes are a necessity.

This is obvious to anyone who bikes around this area.  Over time, new US standards have emerged.

The result was NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide, the first national design standard for protected bike lanes. Like other standards, it answers the questions of space, time, and information that are at the heart of street design. How wide should a protected bike lane be? At least five feet, but ideally seven. How does one mix bike lanes and bus stops? Send the lane behind the bus stop, with enough space for bus riders to comfortably board and get off the bus. What about when bike lanes and turn lanes meet? Give bikes their own exclusive signals, or create “mixing zones,” shared spaces where people in cars and on bikes take turns entering the space.

* * *

As it turns out, the Urban Bikeway Design Guide was just the beginning. NACTO later released the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, a broader effort to push back against America’s car-first road designs and define streets that support urban life, with narrow lanes that encourage reasonable driving speeds and traffic signals that give people plenty of time to cross the street. More recently, the organization has published guides on designing streets to speed up public transit, and incorporate storm-water infrastructure.

While there have been a few protected bike lanes built in this area (and that is good), the vast majority of bike lanes are really just paint jobs with no separation or protection. We can and should do much better. In fact, there should be actual bike infrastructure.  Additionally, especially in the County, where most trails are haphazard and often do not actually connect to destinations, make trails not just a pleasant means of exercise but part of a comprehensive transportation network.  In other words, put substance first and make the bike infrastructure safe, appealing, and useful.

You can get the whole article here.


Bayshore – Sanctuary

The Sanctuary Condo on Bayshore recently received a height waiver.  Now, it has broken ground.

We are sure the luxury condos will be very nice inside.  However, as we have noted previously, the blandness of the design not facing Bayshore does little for the neighborhood behind it.  We have no problem with the height or luxury, but we do think designs (and the City), like reality, should consider 360 degrees.


Downtown – AER

There was news regarding the AER/Straz apartment project, sort of.

A luxury high-rise apartment tower that’s been in the works in downtown Tampa for six years is finally moving toward a groundbreaking.

The 33-story AER — which stands for Arts and Entertainment Residences — is proposed on a parcel of land to be created by the reconfiguration of Tyler and Cass streets, near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official, told city council on Thursday that the project “is almost at the end of a very long road” and that there will be “a few small items” related to the tower to come before council in the coming weeks.

“The developer has appeased the Straz with the roadway plan, our right of way people are poised to approve the right of way plan, and we will be going to closing some time in the next month,” McDonaugh said. “The Broadway series is closed, so they will be able to do construction.”

* * *

McDonaugh also said the roadway reconfiguration can’t occur during the Straz’s Broadway series, which has also led to the delay.

They still have to redo the roads to create the lot for the project, so we are not sure how groundbreaking on the actual building is near unless they are going to do it all simultaneously.  We shall see.  Luckily, there are other things going on downtown to pass the time.


Port – Investing

With new, regular weekly Asian container service, the Port is looking towards more container business growth.

First, port board members voted to hire Pepper Construction Services of Tampa to transform about 23 grassy acres at Berth 211 into a secure shipping container handling and storage yard. The project includes nearly $8 million [ed: out of a total of $19.6 million] from the Florida Department of Transportation. . .

* * *

Next, the board approved a new agreement with Ports America calling for the company to invest nearly $2.3 million in terminal improvements as soon as the port hits 100,000 containers over a 12-month period, something port officials expect to see in the near future. Last year, the port handled 87,500 containers, a big increase over the year before but still a fraction of what passes through major East Coast ports like Savannah, Charleston, S.C., and, closer to home, Jacksonville, Miami and Port Everglades.

In exchange for the investment, the port agreed to start giving Ports America a credit of $7 per container for the new business coming in via the two new carriers, Cosco Shipping Lines and the CMA CGM Group. That kind of rebate is typical for the industry, Anderson said, and the port has similar marketing and rebate agreements with its cruise lines.

Regular readers will know that we are all for (aggressively) growing the container business at the Port, and that would include this kind of infrastructure for future needs.

In additional Port news, Mosaic, which recently announced that it was moving its headquarters to Tampa, has bought a facility it was using at the Port.

Mosaic, under the name Tampa Port Services LLC, has purchased Port Tampa Bay property for $6.25 million.

Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS), a global producer of fertilizers, is one of the port’s largest tenants. The company purchased the 8.26-acre property at 4873 Port Sutton Road in early March. Mosaic was already leasing the property which has a 50,000-ton ammonia storage tank, Mosaic spokesman Ben Pratt told Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The transaction is a closing of a longtime lease, Port Tampa Bay VP of Real Estate Lane Ramsfield told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. He said the transaction goes back 1981 when the port took over the property and signed an agreement with a buyback option for Mosaic once bonds were paid off. The transaction now transfers the deed, Ramsfield said.

We are not sure what the original 1980’s deal Port was, but we have no problem with recent transaction.


Economy – Housing

Time to look into housing once again.  Recently Zillow listed Tampa as the best metro for first time home buyers.  And that sounds good.  Oddly, as we have previously discussed, among other mixed messages, it has recently been said that new affordable housing was almost impossible to build in the area.  That does not seem to comport with the ranking for first time homebuyers.  So what gives?

This is the methodology of the Zillow report:

Therefore, Zillow’s spring shopping season 2019 list of the best markets for first-time buyers is based on four metrics: Lower median home value that requires a smaller down payment; a strong home value appreciation forecast, helping buyers’ overall wealth grow; a high inventory-to-household ratio, to indicate available supply; and a high share of listings with a price cut.

The first two factors are quite straight-forward. This area has always had relatively low housing prices.  That is a function of many things, including, but not limited to, public policy and our low incomes.  With continued population growth and starting from a relatively low base, over time, home prices should rise.

The last two factors are a bit more complicated. Does this area have a high inventory of houses for sale?  We are often told that inventory is tight.  Moreover, it has recently been reported that many listings are cutting their prices.  While that is good for buyers, it does not indicate either tight supply or strong demand (though maybe initial asking prices are inflated).

To be honest, we are not sure how to reconcile the information, but we will just chalk it up to more mixed messages and wait and see.

Of course, many choose to rent rather than buy.  A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (here ) ranked the Tampa Bay metro as tied for the 8th most severe shortage in terms of affordable housing for extremely low income renters, which is not good.

In other categories, the rent picture is mixed:

Rents in downtown Tampa have dropped 4 percent in the last three months while they have climbed in downtown St. Petersburg and other part of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

* * *

In the submarket that includes Tampa’s downtown, Hyde Park and West River areas, rents average $1,627. But they have steadily declined because of so much new construction — of the 8,526 units in the area, half were built in the last five years.

* * *

Compare those figures to the West Shore/Rocky Point submarket, where the average rent rose nearly 5 percent in the last three months to $1,557. . .

* * *

South Tampa saw an even bigger jump in rents, up 8.3 percent to an average of $1,274. It too has far fewer apartments than downtown Tampa although 351 units have recently been completed and 1,284 are under construction, primarily in the West Shore Marina District at the east end of the Gandy Bridge.

On the Pinellas County side of the bay, the downtown St. Petersburg/Kenwood submarket has seen a steady increase in rents over the last 12 months. They now average $1,229.

It is also worth noting that, while not in the article, according to the report, rents rose West Tampa/Seminole Heights (6.2%) at a faster rate than Westshore or downtown St. Pete (3.4%), albeit from a lower average rent. (You can read the apartmentdata.com report here.)

Overall the rental market seems strong, though there is a concern about overbuilding in central Tampa.  While we think eventually the new central Tampa units will get absorbed and be fine, it may take a little while and a little adjustment of expectations, at least in the short term.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

We have been following Orlando’s SunRail since it was in the planning stages.  While we do not hold out SunRail in Orlando as an example of what we should build (It is commuter rail – using diesel engines pulling some passenger cars – with limited service rather than a full transit system. We think locally we should run a more light-rail like/DMU system on the CSX tracks that is better for getting around a city and having more regular service.), it is of interest.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, overall ridership from 2017 to 2018 is up by 30 percent. Part of that growth is being attributed to the opening of four SunRail stations as part of the Phase II South expansion.

Eleazar Rodriguez uses the train to get back and forth from work every day. He says he’s noticed an increase in foot traffic at that Kissimmee Station.

“I like the train better because it is faster; I get there in about 30 minutes to get downtown and 30 minutes back,” Rodriguez said.

In 2017, SunRail Reported a total of 851,881 riders. In 2018, that number jumped by more than 200,000 riders, with 1,114,859 riders total.

Phase II is an expansion into Osceola county. (Note that is less time spent in vehicles.)

Weekend service is still notably absent from its offering of expanded services, but SunRail has launched other initiatives to get people on the train, including a special southbound, late night train after weekday Orlando Magic home games.

SunRail also launched partnerships with a local trolley to serve downtown Sanford from SunRail’s Sanford station, as well as the Train to Plane LYNX connection between the Sand Lake Road station and Orlando International Airport (OIA).

Working to make a coordinated, transportation system is key.  Also of interest:

SunRail is also boosting nearby property values, according to an FDOT study conducted late last year.

Property values around the first 12 train stations increased $2.4 billion — 63 percent — from 2011-17, and FDOT estimates that $1.19 billion of that is due to SunRail. In 2016, for example, the station area property values grew at twice the rate as surrounding neighborhoods, the study found.

And that is car-centric FDOT saying that.

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