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Roundup 4-26-2019

April 25, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Hither and Yon

— Virgin Trains

— St. Pete BRT

— PSTA

— Streetcar

— Roads to Nowhere

Westshore – More to Develop

Rocky Point – Re-Try Cont.

South Tampa/Hyde Park – Bern’s

Airport – A Cut

Ports – More

Built Environment – And Again the Trees

Economy/Economic Development

— Hmmmm

— VC

— Housing

St. Pete – Dali

St. Pete – Storefronts

Jackson House – The Time is Now

Built Environment/Downtown/Hyde Park – Blank

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

__________________________________________


Transportation – Hither and Yon


— Virgin Trains

There was more news about Virgin Trains:

Virgin announced Friday it is finally set to build its West Palm Beach-to-Orlando link, thanks to the successful sale of $1.75 billion in bonds.

The bond sale ends months of uncertainty over the project’s financing, which was contingent on approval of a plan to use a special bond designation.

Formerly known as Brightline, Virgin’s higher-speed U.S. train service hopes to complete construction of the extension in 2022. The company plans to build 170 miles of new track that will lead into a new inter-modal facility at Orlando International Airport.

Construction will begin right away, the company said in a statement.

“Today is affirmation that our vision for passenger rail holds great promise and highlights a tremendous appetite in the private markets for large-scale transportation and infrastructure projects,” Wes Edens, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Fortress Investment Group and chairman of Virgin Trains USA, said in a statement.

“Connecting Miami and Orlando makes tremendous business sense, but even more, it provides a public benefit to the State of Florida including thousands of jobs that will keep the state economically competitive for decades,” he said.

Interestingly,

Joseph Krist, a municipal bond analyst for Court Street Group, a Brooklyn-based research and consulting firm, said the sale was four-times oversubscribed, and shows Virgin’s decision to forgo an initial public offering was the correct one.

“The deal reflects favorable investor demand, and certainly in the high-yield market,” he said. “Despite all the hurdles, it turned out to be a really good time to come to this market.”

As always, we just have to wait and see if the enthusiasm is warranted, but, barring something unforeseen, the project is moving forward.  Based on the timing of the Orlando leg, Tampa service is probably still at least five years off (though you never know).


— St. Pete BRT

There were some interesting developments regarding the St. Pete BRT plan. As you may remember, St Pete Beach has objected to various parts of the plan and objected to being listed as a funding source, which it is not.  From TBNWeekly.com:

After being in office just a few weeks, St. Pete Beach’s new City Manager Alex Rey’s first big assignment will be to come up with an interlocal agreement with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials over the Rapid Transit issue.

During their regular meeting April 9, city commissioners decided not to act on a resolution that took exception with PSTA’s plans to extend its Rapid Transit program into the beach community, especially the transit authority’s suggestion that the city would help fund a portion of its cost.

County Commissioner Janet Long, who also serves as the PSTA chairwoman, told commissioners PSTA will not name St. Pete Beach as a potential funding source.

Both those thing are good.  And, setting aside some of the comments about respect, this is also generally good:

Long also addressed another issue raised by city commissioners, who noted 60-foot wide buses planned as part of the Rapid Transit Program will not fit on Gulf Boulevard and especially in Pass-A-Grille.

“PSTA is working with its contractors to see if alternative smaller vehicles are available and looking forward to providing more vintage trolleys that fit in with the character of St. Pete Beach,” she told commissioners.

* * *

Mayor Al Johnson told Long “our concern wasn’t the concept; it was the size of the buses. The biggest problem is 60-feet long articulated buses don’t fit on this island.”

* * *

[PSTA Executive Director Brian] Miller told commissioners St. Pete Beach’s concern over use of 60-foot articulated buses caused PSTA to change its plans and use 4-foot wide vehicles on the entire route from St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach.

While the plan does not really go into the Pass-A-Grille area, using normal length buses instead of articulated buses is fine with us, though anything smaller would probably detract from the line.  As for this:

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said she does not want PSTA to take up prime space at the Don CeSar and questioned how buses will turn around in that narrow area.

“I’m opposed to giving more real estate to a mini bus stop at the end of the route … I do not want that to happen,” she said.

Mayor Johnson said he understands that Pletcher doesn’t want a bus stop in the middle of gateway to Pass-A-Grille; “we have to have positive relations and we have to work together.”

There is already a Route 90 bus stop next to the Don CeSar Parking lot.  And, in fact, if you look at the project documents (p. 1 of this pdf), you see the buses doing a loop around the Don Cesar parking lot and stopping in what are now parking spaces on a side road, which should no really be a big deal.  We are sure there is a way to accommodate buses turning.  (And, if the end of the line has to be a little north of that spot, that’s fine, though not optimal and probably more disruptive.)

At least there is some progress.


— PSTA

PSTA has held off cuts for now.

Board members of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are hoping to find an additional $5 million in annual money that would allow them to continue service on a handful of bus routes throughout the county. The routes in St. Petersburg, Seminole, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Safety Harbor have been slated for elimination, along with door-to-door paratransit service in certain areas for people who unable to ride the bus.

The agency has until July to come up with the additional money. If not, those routes will be eliminated starting in October, leaving the riders who depend on them stranded with fewer options or longer trips. The cuts would affect hundreds of riders and save about $810,000 annually, according to agency estimates.

* * *

The board’s vote protects those routes for now. In order to keep them running long-term, officials will have to secure the $5 million in addition to their existing $80 million budget.

Transit leaders have long bemoaned the bus agency’s limited resources. Pinellas is one of the most underfunded transit agencies in the country for an area of its size. Hillsborough County struggled with the same issues until voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation in November, more than doubling the transit authority’s budget.

Setting aside that the Hillsborough money is still up to the courts (though at least there is now demonstrated public support), Pinellas is very underfunded.  Hopefully, they can work it out (but it is another illustration of the stark differences in approaches being taken in the two counties and why settling for the lowest common denominator as the “core” of a regional system would be a bad choice.)


— Streetcar

In our discussion on parking minimums a few weeks back, we said that we did not think that 20 minutes peak frequency was enough on a bus route to really support widespread parking-less (and thus carless) living supported by transit (especially when you consider off-peak will be less).   We also said downtown, with the walkability and transit alternatives already available, was best situated for removal of parking minimums.   Well, it recently got even better situated with the streetcar going to 15 minute frequency.


— Roads to Nowhere

We have written a decent amount on the roads to nowhere. This week the plan was passed by the Senate in a curiously bi-partisan fashion.  Two interesting articles regarding the proposal are here and here. (We do not necessarily endorse everything in the articles, but they are interesting.)

It still has to go through the House and be approved by the Governor.  Meanwhile, there is not much news regarding congestion and alternatives where people actually live.


Westshore – More to Develop

We have previously discussed the proposal to develop a large part of the parking lot at Westshore Plaza. (See “Westshore – Surprise”) The original proposal was generally very positive. It seems that the plan may be getting even bigger.

The ownership of WestShore Plaza has acquired a prime property adjacent to the mall’s surface parking lot just ahead of a city council hearing on its plans to redevelop Sears’ real estate.

Washington Prime Group (NYSE: WPG) paid $4.3 million for the almost two acres in the northwest quadrant of Westshore and Kennedy boulevards — property currently occupied by a Bank of America branch — in a deal that closed in early April, according to Hillsborough County property records.

Given the nature of the previous plans, we are happy if they add more land to the project (provided it is redeveloped along the same lines).

The most recent site plan for the property, dated March 11 in city filings, does not include plans for the bank property.

The rezoning hearing is now slated for May 9. A spokeswoman for Washington Prime was not immediately available Monday.

Washington Prime wrote in previous city filings that “the project may be built in phases, however, there is no definitive time for commencement or completion of any phase.”

As we said previously, if done right, this redevelopment could really change the Westshore area for the better. We shall see what happens.


Rocky Point – Re-Try Cont.

Last week we discussed another proposal for Rocky Point.  There was more news, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The 11 story, 180 unit apartment project proposed for 3050 N. Rocky Point Drive has received approval.

They also posted the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Unfortunately, it is basically parking.  As such, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay that the density is fine but that it is another missed opportunity to create an urban village on the island.


South Tampa/Hyde Park – Bern’s

URBN Tampa Bay had news about the Bern’s hotel project on Howard:

Bern’s is moving forward with their hotel proposal at 1234 South Howard Avenue. The 4 story building will include 43 hotel rooms. Also, the two apartment buildings in front of the hotel building will remain, but will be converted into 8 additional hotel suites.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We do not have a problem with the concept, but there is a lot of car/truck activity surrounding the main entrance. The execution could be better.


Airport – A Cut

There was disappointing news about the upcoming Tampa to Amsterdam service.

Tampa International Airport’s flight schedule for its new direct, nonstop service to Amsterdam will now just be seasonal.

The service provided through Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) was slated to be year-round service starting in May from Tampa into the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is one of Delta’s largest European hubs.

The new schedule will be May 23-Oct. 26. The service will start up again in April 2020.

We are not sure what factors led to the change even before it starts, but this is what was said:

“The feedback I’ve received is that this isn’t a reflection of Delta’s confidence in our service, but is rather in response to sizable transatlantic competition in general,” Tampa International director of research and air service development Kenneth Strickland said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

We are not sure what exactly that means, and we are not going to speculate.  in any event, it is too bad, especially for SkyTeam Alliance flyers.

Although the flights are changing to seasonal, the airport is hoping it will become year-round service as it was expected to be, an airport spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

We agree.

In other news, the airport Marriott was listed as one of the best airport hotels in the US and Canada by ThePointsGuy.com.


Ports – More

There was news from the area ports.  First, Port Manatee:

Port Manatee said it broke cargo records for the six-month period that ended March 31, according to a press release.

The accomplishments compared with the first six months of fiscal 2018 include:

The port’s main products for cargo are petroleum, phosphate, granite, and fruits and vegetables.

However, the port contributed its containerized cargo growth to a more-than-doubling of juice volumes coming into the port in specially fitted container units, imported via Mexico services of Port Manatee-based World Direct Shipping.

Meanwhile, at Port Tampa Bay:

Port Tampa Bay welcomed more than 1 million cruise ship passengers in 2018, its biggest passenger count to date, and is projecting to break the previous record. So far this year, the port has seen 1,074,226 passengers. 

Its month of March also outperformed the same period last year. In March 2018 there were 501,199 passengers, whereas in 2019 there were 750,891. 

Tampa is one of the largest cruise ports in the United States with roughly 25 percent of the port’s total operating revenue related to the cruise industry.

As we have noted before, the cruise business is a disproportionate share of port revenue.  Any increase there is good, but there is always the question of long-range development as the cruise business changes and whether the lack of the ability to host larger ships will affect revenues negatively, especially relative to competitors and the ability to invest.

Meanwhile, the port has also seen more movement on the cargo side. Year-to-date, the port has seen 46,425 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit), which is used to measure a ship’s cargo carrying capacity.

The container developments are definitely favorable, though we still have a long way to go to get to where we should be.

Overall, the port news is about growth and that is good.  Nevertheless, we still think it our local ports should coordinate better to maximize investment and competitiveness.  The local divisions may make sense for some, but it is questionable whether they are good for the area as a whole.


Built Environment – And Again the Trees

The tree canopy of the Tampa is one of its best assets and deserves protection.  For a while now, the City has been trying to rewrite the tree code.  This week, something finally passed.

After more than an hour of discussion, the council approved the measure by a 5-1 vote.

But not before a final stand was made by some opponents to remove a provision requiring private property owners to get a $120 permit to trim tree limbs thicker than 4 inches.

Council members agreed to delay when the new regulations would take effect until June 1 to give city officials time to educate the public. And council members also voted to scrutinize the ordinance in October to see if any tweaks needed to be made.

First, we understand permits for cutting down certain trees, but that permit fee seems a bit much.   Second, the public will not be properly educated in a month, but at least the Council acknowledges the need for education.  Third, we are fine with a review in October.

So what does the ordinance say?

Broadly speaking, the ordinance gives builders and property owners more flexibility in locating a house on a lot that has a grand tree, mostly by reducing some setbacks. It also streamlines the appeal and inspection process. In addition, the ordinance recasts a tree fund to more transparently allocate the money deposited into the fund by developers who cut down trees and can’t replant new ones into restoring the city’s canopy.

The details are legion and often confusing, which city officials cited as a reason to delay its implementation. And why all sides agreed an October review would be prudent.

We understand that this is a complex issue, but the “details are legion and confusing” is not a good way to start with a new ordinance.   Maybe they should have waited until someone could have drafted something a little less confusing.  We are ok with tweaks in October but that sounds like they anticipate they will have to do more than tweaking.

In any event, we are sure we will hear more about it in the coming months.


Economy/Economic Development


— Hmmmm

The Council of 100, a business organization (see website here) released a new report recently.  From Florida Politics:

The Florida Council of 100 released a report Tuesday laying out an economic road map for the Sunshine State.

The key takeaway of the Project Sunrise report is that Florida needs to focus on improving in “tradable sectors” that can be easily exported to other states.

“Given Florida’s maturity as a worldwide economic powerhouse in recent years, we have a unique opportunity to lead and chart a path to help Florida become that ‘It’ State — the place where dynamic and exciting innovations lead the way,” said Chris Corr, FC 100’s chair.

“With this framework, Florida can apply the proper mix of talents, efforts, and resources to drive the state’s economy to thrive, en route to an improved quality of life for our citizens.”

That’s pretty generic economic development stuff, but the report, which you can find in the publications page here , is a bit longer than that.  It has some other nuggets, which you can read in the Florida Politics article here, including this:

In South Florida, business marketing on par with the area’s current tourism marketing plan can help parlay the region into a global commerce market; in Orlando, doubling down on the R&D and tech industries can help move it away from volatile non-tradables such as tourism; in Tampa Bay, FC100 recommends leveraging area universities to ramp up talent output and providing those graduates with incentives to stick around; and in Jacksonville, taking advantage of its growing tradable sectors, such as health, can insulate it from possible economic decline.

That’s it?  Everyone else has sectors they can develop and we have to get some talent and make sure it sticks around?  That seemed odd, so we went to the report, which has breakdowns of metro areas.  The Tampa Bay area is on pages 50-51 of the pdf. It says we have a diverse economy and that

Tampa’s economy is projected to grow at more than twice the pace of the US economy, with 1.6% employment growth. While the metro area’s productivity is expected to increase by 2.7%, productivity will still constrain overall economic growth.

(p. 51) The first part of that quote, if true, is great; the second, not so much.  It seems that we are not quite the magnet/retainer of talent that some tout us to be.  That may help explain this from the report:

Despite having higher population growth, Tampa’s and Orlando’s GDPs grew at half the pace of the national GDP due to low and declining productivity

(p. 50)

We really need to do better.


— VC

This area has seemed to do pretty well on funding deal recently.  How is it relative to other areas?

eMerge Americas, which hosts an annual technology conference in Miami, released a 2018 Year End report titled “South Florida Venture Activity and Investment Trends.” The report was created in partnership with the Knight Foundation and Florida International University.

Tampa rounded out the top five cities with the highest deal flow, bringing in $97.41 million with 34 deals. However, Tampa Bay trailed somewhat far behind No. 4 spot holder Raleigh, North Carolina, which brought in $612.20 million for 60 deals. The top three were Durham, North Carolina with $745.50 million for 66 deals, Atlanta with $1.13 billion and 115 deals and Miami snagging the top spot, bringing $1.38 billion with 128 deals last year.

It is decent to be fifth in the South, but that is quite the gap. (Though we should have been fourth – and the gap wider – because Raleigh and Durham should have been counted together.) We do not expect much detail about the Tampa Bay area from a report focused on South Florida, but it would be nice to know how that compares to previous years.


— Housing

It seems that there is more housing news every week.

Sales of single family homes in Pinellas County dropped in March for the fourth consecutive month while sales rose by varying amounts in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando.

Overall, the bay area market is clearly less buoyant than it was a few years ago, according to figures released Monday by Florida Realtors.

Houses are taking longer to sell even though the supply remains tight. Sellers are getting a slightly lower percentage of their asking price than they did at the same time a year ago.

* * *

In Pinellas, sales of single family homes — which make up by far the largest share of the residential market — dropped 7.4 percent in March compared to the same month a year earlier. Prices rose 6 percent to a median of $265,000, a respectable increase but less than half of the gains recorded last fall.

While most counties still reported increases, the slowing down of the market seems to be becoming a trend. It is even more interesting with very low unemployment and good population growth.  Perhaps it is just a disconnect between the expectations of buyers and sellers (and prices and incomes).  It bears watching.


St. Pete – Dali

We have long been fans of the Dali museum.  We were glad when a new, purpose-built facility opened (though there are a few things that could have been done differently in the layout).  And, now, there are plans for more.

The museum filed an application seeking $17.5 million of bed tax money from Pinellas County to support an expansion that includes a new parking garage, event spaces and room for its new digital exhibits, which leaders are calling Digital Dalí. Those exhibits will use artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

According to the documents, the two-year expansion is estimated to cost more than $38 million, $30 million of that in construction. It would add a new wing with 20,000 square feet for community spaces and digital exhibits. It also plans for a 150,000-square-foot parking garage, increasing the number of parking places from 130 to 400.

Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously on April 9 to forward the Dalí’s application to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

Here are some renderings:

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Because the present the lot is a bit constrained by the layout, we understand the integrating of the garage with the expanded facility.  We even understand, and appreciate, the screening of the garage.  What we really don’t get it the giant hole in the middle of the garage where what appears to be a circular ramp is.  We assume that, for aesthetic reasons, they were trying to keep the floors of the garage horizontal rather than diagonal (which we get on one level), but it seems to be a poor use of space.  There is already limited land for any future expansion.

We cannot speak to the specific exhibits and uses, but generally we support the expansion of the museum.  We even get the garage, but we think it could be done better and with an eye to saving a bit more land for the future.


St. Pete – Storefronts

We have previously discussed efforts in St. Pete to protect local businesses and keep chains out of downtown. At first, there were a few questionable proposals, but those quickly were dismissed in favor of the storefront plan.  From St. Pete Catalyst:

The Storefront Conservation Corridor Overlay makes land use and zoning changes on Beach Drive and Central Avenue from the waterfront to 31st Street. It puts limits on large storefronts most often associated with chain businesses.

Approval was a major victory for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has advocated for versions of the plan for about two years. Initially he proposed a ban against chain stores, then revised the proposal to regulate storefront size and design in an effort to discourage chains.

No other city has enacted a similar ordinance, Kriseman said.

“City staff looked at ordinances from all over the country with the hope being that we wouldn’t have to recreate the wheel, or create the wheel for that matter, but St. Pete is unique. Nothing we saw quite fit this city. So St. Pete did what St. Pete is really good at doing. It’s being innovative and leading and being bold. That’s in the DNA of who this city is,” Kriseman said.

Before last night’s council meeting, city staffers tweaked the plan, to allow for slightly fewer small storefronts — those 20 feet or less in width — and more medium sized ones — from 20 feet to 40 feet in width. The revised plan also clarified design standards, amended parking reductions and added clearer criteria to accommodate unique and unanticipated situations, among other changes.

Of course, there are still issues:

But the plan still falls short, according to Larry Feldman, president and CEO of Feldman Equities, which is the largest owner of office buildings in the city, including First Central Tower at 360 Central Ave. City officials and businesses agree there’s a shortfall of office space in the city, and Feldman said the restrictions in the plan would discourage new office construction.

“All of the tenant space I can go after for a new office deal is going to be heavily restricted and it’s going to hamper new development,” Feldman said. “Let me give you an example of the kind of tenant that would be a to-die-for tenant in downtown St. Petersburg. Apple Computer. Under this new ordinance you could not lease to an Apple Computer. Apple Computer is considered the biggest driver of traffic, bar none, to a mall or a retail center by a multiple of five.”

The plan penalizes property owners, said Jonathan Daou, president of Eastman Equities. Eastman Equities has restored at least a dozen buildings in the Edge District. Daou said all his tenants are locally owned business, some of which would not be allowed to expand under the ordinance.

Those are both legitimate concerns. Though

The council also agreed to revisit the issue in June, when it will take up a potential amendment that would give the property owners more flexibility on the use of their buildings

Which means the issue really is not settled.

We think this plan is far better than previous ideas.  However, with an attempt to maintain the status quo there is always a risk of stagnation and/or successful businesses not being able to expand and grow in their favored locations.

We totally understand trying to maintain a dynamic and diverse downtown environment and not get overrun by chains.  But part of that dynamism is also turnover and adjustment to market.  We are not saying any of it is easy, and we are not opposed to the spirit of the ordinance, though we are not sure it can ever really be achieved.  In any event, we think St. Pete should be prepared to act quickly when unintended consequences emerge.  And it should keep looking for a better way to achieve its goal, with the understanding that, for practical and legal reasons, it may have to compromise some.


Jackson House – The Time is Now

As we have discussed a number of times previously, Jackson House is one of the last remnants of the actual, historical Central Avenue neighborhood still standing (barely). While Jackson House has been shored up, it seems the shoring up work has accelerated the need for permanent repairs.

It’s been nearly three years since wooden stabilizers were installed to shore up the historic Jackson House, downtown Tampa’s rooming house for visiting African-American celebrities during an era of segregation.

Without the temporary supports, the aging building might have toppled.

But now, the beams threaten to deform the walls of the two-story wooden building at 851 E Zack St., adding urgency to the need for the permanent solution that the nonprofit Jackson House Foundation has been pursuing for years. The group’s goal is raising enough money to convert the building into a museum of African-American history.

* * *

The foundation is meeting this weekend to discuss launching a campaign to raise the $1.5 million needed for the work. One idea is seeking sponsorships for each of the 24 rooms once available for rent in the rooming house.

You can read the details in the Times article here.  We hope the new City government and local philanthropists show interest in preserving this actual part of Tampa history.


Built Environment/Downtown/Hyde Park – Blank

The Business Journal had another album of aerial construction pictures (here).  You can look through them.  This one of Manor Riverwalk stuck out for us:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is quite a large garage and quite a dead street.  We can do better.

On the other hand, on SkyscraperCity there was a picture by user The Accountant showing the full Water Street site:

From The Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for larger version and post

Click on it for the larger version on SkyscraperCity.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

In this week’s autonomous vehicle news,

Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to start converting the company’s electric cars into fully self-driving vehicles next year as part of an audacious plan to create a network of robotic taxis to compete against Uber and other ride-hailing services.

Needless to say, many are dubious (read here) Plus here are articles on five reasons experts think autonomous are years away (here) and one of the more complex problems (here).

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