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Roundup 3-29-2019

March 28, 2019


Transportation – Ramblin’

— Streetcar

— TB(n)X

— The Language Changes

— Virgin Trains

— Scooters

— Ferry

USF – Chosen

South Tampa – Enter the Marina

Westshore-ish – A Little Midtown

Downtown – AER/Straz

West Tampa – The Hotel +

Downtown – WeWork

Economy – Sold



Transportation – Ramblin’

— Streetcar

Last year, the streetcar became free to use and increased frequency. This week, there was more news about its performance since.

In Tampa, state officials led the charge to make the streetcar free, hoping it would attract more commuters and convince people that transit was a viable option for getting to work downtown. The Florida Department of Transportation gave Hillsborough’s transit authority a three-year grant of about $2.7 million to cover fares and help boost ridership. The agency also decided to extend the hours and run the streetcar more frequently.

Five months in, ridership has about tripled. More than 356,000 people boarded the streetcar between October and February. That number is more than the entire ridership for any year since 2013, Hillsborough transit authority interim chief executive Jeff Seward said.

* * *

The streetcar saw its biggest numbers in December when more than 91,000 people rode the route that connects Ybor City, Channelside and part of downtown Tampa. Just under 32,000 people rode the line in December 2017 when the fare was $2.50 per trip or $5 a day.

“What it does prove to me is that $5 to ride the streetcar was just too much,” Seward said. “People coming off the cruise ships and going to Gasparilla are happy to pay that, but our citizens who want to ride it to work or restaurants, they’re just not going to spend $5 and wait 20 or 30 minutes to do it.”

First, yes, $5/day is way too much when compared to other transit systems around the country – systems where the passes include more extensive trains and bus systems.  Second, that high fare, and the old schedule, reflected that the streetcar was always intended more as a tourist ride than real transportation (see Ferry below).  With more frequency and running for free, it is much more useful.

What also stands out to Seward is that 25,500 riders between October and February boarded the streetcar before 11 a.m. on a week day. Though the agency hasn’t conducted a formal rider survey yet, that time of day indicates people are more likely to be using it for work as opposed to tourism or entertainment. Previously, the streetcar didn’t run at all in that time frame.

It’s amazing what happens when you actually make something useful.  And if/when the streetcar goes to Tampa Heights is will be more useful still.

The increase in ridership for both the streetcar and looper could make it possible for both to get additional federal funding, said Gao, the state official. It also helps support the case for extending the transit routes. Tampa officials are hoping to lengthen the streetcar, taking it deeper into downtown up toward Tampa Heights.

We are fine if the feds want to pay for it, but FDOT should be ready to step up.  Clearly, there is demand.  The cost of running the streetcar for free is relatively small and the usefulness is relatively high, and will get higher as downtown is built up and driving around it gets ever harder.

— TB(n)X

Speaking of driving, there was a public hearing regarding FDOT’s proposal for I-275 north of the interchange.

One by one, concerned Ybor, Tampa and Seminole Heights residents, some whom owned local businesses, spoke in opposition to the state’s proposed $300 million-plus road widening project.

The mass of people who spoke and argued against the project showed up for a public hearing held on March 26 at Seminole Heights United Methodist Church.

The residents were concerned about the widening project of Interstate 275 from Interstate 4 to north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which involves adding one dedicated lane northbound from Floribraska Avenue to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and having one dedicated lane southbound from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the flyover ramp at I-4, and from north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to north of Bearss Avenue.

To what exactly did they object?

The Florida Department of Transportation’s preferred option would be to add a one 12-foot general purpose lane in each direction on 275 from MLK to south of Bearss Avenue.

Concrete barriers would separate the two directions of traffic. The project does not involve acquisition of residential nor any commercial property, an FDOT spokesman said.

FDOT says widening the 7.7-mile stretch of I-275 is needed as it is part of an evacuation route for the Tampa Bay area. The department previously considered alternatives such as adding express lanes and having a mode of transit ride in the median.

This is what it would look like north of King:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

First, yes, this is better than FDOT’s previous plans. The interstate right of way would stay the same, and there are no express lanes.  However, the actual interstate would be widened to have the interior shoulder for the “BRT” plan should it go forward. (Remember, running buses on the interstate has always been the FDOT plan.)

However, another alternative remains — the no-build alternative, one that the public speakers favored.

The no-build alternative assumes that no improvements would be made to I-275 within the project limits except routine maintenance. The option, if selected, would result in an increase of congestion, FDOT said in documents.

Whether no-build creates more congestion or not is an open question.  Induced demand would tend to dictate that any additional capacity (especially one lane in each direction) would get just as congested quite fast.  That is even more so given that the I-275/I-4 interchange will not be fixed before any changes to I-275 north, so that any the new cars on this stretch of road will just be shoved into the bottleneck that, despite interim fixes, has remained a mess.  (Whether that bottleneck can be truly fixed is another question.)  And that does not even discuss the congestion created by the cars when they get off the highway.

Moreover, the question of just how congested the interstate gets is also contingent on what else is built.  That is where TB(n)X truly falls short as a transportation plan. At this point, it provides no alternatives to the interstate.  Even the “BRT” plan is putting vehicles on the interstate (even if they sometimes run little faster in the shoulder, assuming no accidents or emergency vehicles or run in normal lanes. And buses in express lanes will just take up some of the intentionally limited capacity of those lanes have). Everything is interstate based.  (And there is not even consideration of pulling cars away from having to drive on the interstate through central Tampa on their way to Pinellas.)

The reason for the hearing was to receive public input; the next phase will be the design phase.

FDOT is expected to finalize the project development and environment study documents this summer and then that will go for approval.

The $317.4 million project isn’t expected to start until fiscal year 2023.

Or maybe it won’t start at all.  But even if it does, it is a long way off and a lot of money for just one lane in each direction and no bottleneck relief.

We doubt that congestion is going to go away.  Even with transit, the population is growing rapidly.  The roads will be crowded.  The question is how to mitigate congestion as much as possible over the long-term.  If there are no alternatives to vehicles on the roads, the roads will get much more crowded, much faster and everyone will be forced into them.  Instead of spending billions simply adding a few lanes that will inevitably become as congested as what we have now (and more) and leaving no ability to increase capacity further (there is not enough land for enough lanes if everyone is using the roads. see the Veteran Expressway), we should be focusing on getting as many people out of their cars as possible with systems that can be easily scaled up to increase capacity to deal with the coming growth.  That is transit – real transit in truly dedicated rights-of-way that get people where they actually want to go, not just express buses on the interstate.  That’s what Hillsborough residents voted for.  That is where the focus should be.

— The Language Changes

There was an interesting discussion on WMNF with the head of PSTA, who was in DC lobbying for money.

“PSTA — we agree completely that public transit works best when it doesn’t have to sit with other cars in the traffic congestion, which we all know is getting worse and worse in the Tampa Bay area. So we want to make sure we do provide a congestion-free lane or option.

What’s being proposed is to create that in many parts of the highway. To create a lane so that the buses, when the traffic builds up, can pass that traffic and stay in the dedicated lane.

“In other areas we’re going to be using the new express (toll) lanes that the Florida DOT is building (under Tampa Bay Next).  Those are designed not to have congestion. So the transit will be competitive and actually be better for folks than sitting in their own car, twiddling away as the time goes by.”

What he is really discussing (starting at 4:45 of the audio here) is the “BRT” plan, which will not use dedicated lanes. (Note that he says the St. Pete BRT, which FDOT should be funding fully, will be a catalyst for the “BRT” plan.)  It will use shoulders where buses must run relatively slowly and only when there is excessive traffic and nothing else on the shoulder.  It is also interesting that, once again, while the TB(n)X process is supposedly still ongoing and getting public input, there are already apparently decisions made on toll express lanes.

And we ask it again: where is the big support for the “BRT” plan other than in among local officials (where it has a life of its own)? Which brings us to some comments by the new head of HART.

The community voiced a tremendous vote of confidence in the transit authority when it approved a billion dollar-plus investment in the agency’s service, Limmer said. While residents approved spending more money on transit, they didn’t vote on specific projects.

Limmer said the charter amendment does outline some goals: expanding bus service throughout the county, running buses more frequently, extending the hours they operate, and adding what he called “high capacity transit options” — things like rail, bus rapid transit, trolleys and other options beyond a bus.

What neither the vote nor the community at large said was that running buses on shoulders or express lanes (which is not a dedicated lane or right of way) should form the spine of the transportation system in Hillsborough or serve Hillsborough’s needs.

Moreover, once again, Hillsborough should not spend its money on a “BRT” plan that fails to take into account or serve its needs and desires.  If Pinellas wants an express bus to Westshore that runs in the shoulder in St. Pete, that’s fine with us, but Hillsborough has more important things to do than focus on a very flawed (and expensive for what it provides) “BRT” plan. We would prefer Pinellas join Hillsborough in being ambitious, but, if it doesn’t, that is still no reason for Hillsborough to focus or spend money on the poor “BRT” plan.  (Not to mention the constant that if FDOT can spend billions adding a variable rate toll lanes that have intentionally restricted capacity, they can surely spend to add real alternatives that serve real needs and that can be scaled up easily.)

We can and should do much better.

— Virgin Trains

As we have discussed before, Virgin Trains (formerly Brightline) is asking for more bonds.

Virgin Trains USA has issued a new bond sale prospectus preparing for the issuance of $1.5 billion in private activity bonds to finance its planned South Florida to Miami higher-speed passenger train.

The new prospectus, issued Wednesday, provides newly-released or revised details for the company’s plans to run passenger trains in Florida, including suggesting it may seek second stations in Miami, at PortMiami, and Fort Lauderdale, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, to expand the passenger train service already connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.

The company, formerly known as Brightline, and before that as All Aboard Florida, had filed in February to ask the Florida Development Finance Corp. to approve a total issuance of up to $2.7 billion worth of private activity bonds. That corporation, Florida’s private financing agency, was on the verge of voting on whether to do so earlier this month. But the agency ran out of time at its public meeting and tabled the request. Now Virgin Trains is coming back with a new request for $900 million more, on top of the $1.5 billion worth of private activity bonds the FDFC approved last year, which the company now is proposing issuing

And, as we have explained before, there is opposition from Indian River County.  We will let that play out.  What interests us is this from Florida Politics:

— The prospectus acknowledges the possibility of having to borrow to create an extension to Walt Disney World and a station there, as well as for the Tampa station, for the company’s envisioned Orlando to Tampa expansion.

Yet the document also suggests a “theme park extension,” perhaps costing $200 million, might also be a factor, perhaps envisioning tracks from the Orlando airport to Disney World and a Disney station regardless of if or when the Orlando to Tampa railroad is pursued.

Though it was put differently by the South Florida Business Journal:

The prospectus told investors that Virgin Trains might issue additional bonds for other purposes, such as constructing stations at a major Orlando theme park like Disney World, at PortMiami, or at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).

The company is seeking approval for an Orlando-to-Tampa route, so the potential theme park station would be part of that.

That is a bit different.  The bottom line is that we are a long way away from connecting Tampa to the system (even Orlando won’t be connected for a while), so don’t get too excited, yet.

— Scooters

There was news about Scooters, from Florida Politics:

In Tampa, electric scooters might come a little later than first expected.

On Thursday, the Tampa City Council granted a staff request to delay its vote on vendors for its Shared Motorized Scooter Pilot Program.

The city identified three vendors to provide a combined total 1,800 electric scooters in and around downtown, setting the pilot project to begin in early April.

After receiving protests from two additional vendors, the city decided to add a fourth vendor, Lime.

As a result, the decision means city staffers have to amend contracts, operating agreements and other documents before receiving approval from Councilmembers.

The only substantive change — instead of having 1,800 scooters provided by three vendors, four vendors will provide a combined total of 2,400 scooters.

The city expects the new program to now launch as early as mid-April, possibly not until early May.

By that time, things may change again because the legislature is looking at creating state rules for scooters.

The House and Senate bills allowing scooters to share the road will both get committee hearings Tuesday.

It’ll be the first stop for SB 542 and the second for HB 453. Both bills would redefine motorized scooters in state law to treat them in a similar manner as bicycles, meaning they could cruise in bike lanes rather than be relegated to sidewalks.

That provision is the crux of the bill, which has a long list of scooter rental companies in its corner — Lime, Bird, Skip and even Uber, which offers e-bike and scooter rentals under the “JUMP” moniker.

The sidewalk to bike lane change is definitely a good one. (And there needs to be more attention to safety in usage.)   However, there are a few other issues:

But the bills contain other provisions that have drawn the ire of groups such as the Florida League of Cities.

* * *

The filed version of the bill wouldn’t allow local governments to cap the number of rental scooters or vendors operating within in their borders, supplanting programs such as the recently announced pilot in Tampa.

There are ongoing negotiations about how much power cities should have.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, SB 542’s sponsor, told Florida Politics last week that scooter companies and home rule advocates sat down to hammer out a compromise.

Changes coming in a planned amendment would give local governments broad control over how to handle scooter rentals within their borders.

They could collect fees, limit the number of vendors and rental scooters or even keep scooter rentals out. The only nonnegotiable is the redefinition to allow scooters onto the asphalt.

Setting aside that maybe scooter companies are a little too involved in their own regulation, while the Senate seems to get the balance, it is not clear what the House will do with its version. (For more on the changes to the bills, see here.)  The reality is that a one size fits all detailed rule for scooters throughout the state would be a bit odd.  The needs of different cities and unincorporated areas can be vastly different (Miami is not Pensacola).  The legislature should provide a general framework and let the localities work out some details.

That should be relatively easy to work out.

— Ferry

The ferry once again made clear that it is much more a fun cruise than a transportation option.

Attention all ferry riders! After this weekend (March 24-25), the Cross-Bay Ferry will no longer operate on Sundays. Additionally, the last run will be delayed one hour for the Tampa Bay Rays games in St. Pete.


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Once again, we are fine with the Cross Bay ferry being a fun cruise, as long as it is treated as a fun cruise and it is understood that all operations until now have not tested its viability as a real transportation/transit system.

USF – Chosen

The USF Board chose the candidate for USF’s next president.

The University of South Florida has chosen Steven C. Currall to become its next president.

The choice was announced on Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting, after Currall and three other candidates spent the last three days fielding questions from the 15-person presidential search committee and the Board of Trustees themselves. Currall will be president-elect until March 28, when the Board of Governors will have the final approval. 

He was confirmed by the Board of Governors. So who is he?

A Kansas City native, he has held his current post at SMU since 2016. The private research university enrolls less than 12,000 students — a fraction of the nearly 50,800 students enrolled at USF for the Fall 2018 semester.

But Currall has worked at larger institutions, including the University of California-Davis, as well as previous employment abroad in leadership positions at University College London — experience that could boost USF’s ambitions to become a global university and attract more international students.

Currall led the University of California Davis Graduate School of Management from 2009 to 2014, when he became a senior advisor to the university’s chancellor. In his elevated position, he spearheaded plans to develop a satellite campus devoted to food and nutrition research and could be located in the vacant rail yard on the northern edge of downtown Sacramento.

But in 2015, long before the project could get underway, Currall announced he was leaving California to take the job at SMU.

Fair enough. What will his deal look like?

At USF, his contract will be for five years. His salary will be based on a study commissioned by USF of competitive salaries for university presidents around the country. The study suggests setting Currall’s base salary at between $550,000 and $600,000.

His compensation package also will include a $100,000 relocation fee, a $12,000 annual car allowance and an $80,000 housing allowance.

We will assume those are market rates (quite an interesting market). Assuming a deal gets done, what does he want to do?

You can read all the positive things he said here and here.

The Business Journal had an article entitled “What USF’s president-elect wants the business community to know”.  While most of the article was actually other people discussing the candidate, there was this:

Currall will take the helm during a time of major change for the institution: impending consolidation and keeping preeminence, which was given to the Tampa campus in June 2018.

Preeminent status creates and opportunity for USF to receive millions of additional funding from the state and is based on meeting at least 11 out of of 12 metrics. In a previous Board of Trustees meeting, evaluations were made on the likelihood of keeping preeminence once they are consolidated based on the current trajectories of all three campuses. Trustees realized only eight of the 12 metrics would be met. Once the campuses are consolidated, the state will review USF as one entity when it comes to granting preeminence — but Currall does not view as losing preeminence as an option.

“This is a very interesting organizational puzzle to solve,” he said, adding his degree in organizational management might be useful. “We have some clear guidelines: one is accretion, the second is preeminence. Those are the guard rails and we’ve got to maintain them.”

Consolidation guidelines are coming up even quicker. In March 2018, the Board of Governors directed USF to combine its three campuses under one umbrella under the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018.

With a July 2020 deadline, Currall will have roughly a year to comply with the new state standards. That task, with that deadline, is what keeps him up at night.

“It’s consolidation, I have to be honest,” he said when Rhea Law, vice chair of the search committee posed the question during an interview. “That’s where the interesting dynamic is going to be. In my experience, a dialogue is really crucial and I would think I would need to be on other campuses as part of a listening tour. I’m confident we can converge, but if I join you it’s going to be a big part of my year. There’s a deadline already set, so it’ll be a top priority for me.”

At least he understands that the consolidation issue is the biggest issue for USF right now.  We are not sure he really understands the local politics involved with it, but we are sure, one way or another, he will soon learn about them.  Hopefully, he can navigate the inter-county and factional politics deftly and while staying above the fray.

The bottom line is this: we do not know how he will do, but if he is to be the president of USF, we wish him well.  And urge him to remember that, while promoting business in the area is great, the focus of the university should be on the students.  (And, hopefully, the whole school has learned to have a plan before mandating major changes rather than scrambling after the decision is made.)

South Tampa – Enter the Marina

Some of the housing at Westshore Marina District is opening.

For the first time in decades, if ever, people are now living on the 52 acres near the Gandy Bridge that make up the new Westshore Marina District.

Residents have moved into apartments built by the Related Group, center on the water, and Bainbridge, northeast of the traffic circle. Several of WCI Communities’ townhomes have been sold and are ready for occupancy.

Here is an aerial of the area:

From the Times – click on picture for article

We will assume the interior of the apartments facing the water a nice.  However, right now, this looks to us like a lost opportunity.

Maybe when the condo towers get built and some retail gets filled in (though much of it will be of the sprawling sort), it will become more of an urban, waterfront neighborhood (though we will see what goes in the retail space). But we have a hard time getting excited over stick construction apartments sprawling along the water, especially from a company with the ability to do trule excellent work like Related, or all the surface parking in the rest of the plan.  With all that waterfront land they could have done something really special.

Westshore-ish – A Little Midtown

Information on some of the smaller buildings in Midtown was released.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans have been released for the next two blocks of Midtown Tampa going up for approval.

Block H is a two-story, 44,000 square foot retail and office building.

Block E is two 1-story cafe/restaurant buildings with a total of 6,170 indoor square feet and 3,010 square feet of patio space between the two buildings.

This is Block H:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Neither building is particularly remarkable (good or bad).  We are still concerned about the connection to the surrounding area (including the surface parking at Whole Foods) and the massive parking garage on the north end. In other renderings, the Himes side of the project is portrayed as connecting to the neighborhood much better than the other sides of the project.  Nevertheless, the City should make sure that any part of the proposed buildings that touches faces out from the project, in this case Block H, connects to the surrounding area and activates the street.

Downtown – AER/Straz

From URBN Tampa Bay:

Some tangible progress is finally being made on AER: requests have finally been filed to release the easements necessary to realign the street grid and construct this project.

AER was first proposed in July of 2012. The project, directly south of the Straz Center, has been delayed and redesigned numerous times. The project is now 26 stories with 275 residential units, and 11,629 square feet of retail space. Construction is supposed to begin later this year, but we are not holding our breath.

Nor are we.  And we are not particularly excited about the revised version:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Aside from the big, off-center hat that just seems dropped on top and the dark alley which a number of units will face, having a garage facing the river is something which was not in the previous design and which we have advocated against at the Straz itself and elsewhere. (We already have too much of it.) If what is in the rendering is actually what goes this lot, it will be another disappointing project built on formerly City land.  Tampa can and should do better.

West Tampa – The Hotel +

There was news about a hotel in West Tampa.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The historic cigar factory at 1202 North Howard is moving forward with its proposal to be converted into a hotel. We now know what the hotel chain will be: Best Western Premier. The hotel will include 70 hotel rooms.

Saving the cigar factories through adaptive reuse is a good thing, provided there is proper historic preservation.  (Given it was a cigar factory, we know there will need to be some changes, but they should preserve as much as they can.)

In other news,

First it was Armature Works, then The Hall on Franklin emerged, then Sparkman Wharf came to Channelside.

And now, NoHo Junction wants its turn.

The food court expects to open towards the end of April in its 4,000 square foot facility, located at 1500 W Cass St.

* * *

The food court will feature eight tenants, serving Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, Asian cuisine, pizza, barbecue, and a delicatessen, as well as shops featuring ice cream, coffee and a walk-up juice bar.

It sounds like a food hall to us, but what they call it is not important. Nestled among new residential, we hope it succeeds and helps anchor a Cass Street retail corridor.  We also hope the City takes note of the goings on and finally creates a real plan for the area.

Downtown – WeWork

We Work is one of those odd companies that has a very high valuation but does not actually make money (yet?). While it does not make anything or generate ideas (though arguably it facilitates others doing so), for some, its actions are a bellwether of status.

Fresh of announcing that it was leasing space in the Heights office project, WeWork has announced that it is leasing space downtown.

WeWork has committed to 60,000 square feet — three floors — in the 20-story tower at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd., which will be renamed WeWork Place. That’s enough space for 1,000 desks, WeWork said.

The location is slated to open later this year. The company said it worked wth Parkway Property Investments, which owns 501 E. Kennedy Blvd., as well as Commercial Florida Realty Partners and Cushman & Wakefield Inc. to execute the lease.

It will be WeWork’s second location in Tampa. The company has also signed a lease for 50,000 square feet in Heights Union, an office building under construction in The Heights where its neighbors will include med-tech firm AxoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: AXGN)

The new location in WeWork Place is roughly 20 percent bigger than Heights Union, which has space for 800 desks. By signing deals in that size range, WeWork is already more than a cool new name. It is a major office tenant: In Tampa Bay, the vast majority of office leases are between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet. Leases for 50,000 square feet or more are considered very large in this market.  

We are not surprised.  If you check their locations list, the company often has more than one location in a city. Nevertheless, good for the buildings’ owners for getting big leases.  As for everyone else, we will just have to see.

Economy – Sold

The Tampa Bay area has been working to become a headquarters location for more major corporations for quite some time.  Of course, it also helps to keep the headquarters of the locally grown companies.  Unfortunately, too often, that does not happen.  This week:

Centene Corp. has acquired Tampa’s WellCare Health Plans, creating a combined company with approximately 22 million members across 50 states.

The cash and stock transaction was at $305.39 per share based on Centene’s (NYSE: CNC) closing stock price on March 26 “for a total enterprise value of $17.3 billion pursuant to the terms of a definitive merger agreement,” a release said.

* * *

The combined company will be headquartered in St. Louis, Centene’s headquarters location, with operations throughout the country, and will continue to support operations in WellCare’s home state of Florida consistent with the size of the business.


The combined company’s board will have 11 members, with nine from Centene’s board and two from WellCare’s board. Centene Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff will serve in those roles after the combination.

We cannot say whether it is good for the company as a whole, and we do not know what the effect on local employees and employment will be, but, at least for local prestige and the quest to be seen as a headquarters kind of town, it would be better if it stayed based in Tampa.


Baseball season is starting.  You can get Rays news here and here. In sum, regarding a stadium, nothing is happening.


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