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Roundup 5-17-2019

May 16, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Jumbled

— Ferry

— Roads to Nowhere

— They’re Back

— TBARTA Survey

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – OK

Westshore-ish – Midtown Rising

Westshore – International Plaza Gets Into the Game

Westshore – The Other Mall

Ybor City – Fill In

Airport – On Growth

Governance – Taxes

Built Environment – Busch Boulevard

Economy – Tourism

South Tampa – Because We Can

___________________________________


Transportation – Jumbled


— Ferry

This week we learned the following:

A survey of people who rode the Cross-Bay Ferry between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg this year found strong interest in a year-round ferry service connecting multiple points in Tampa Bay.

That is relevant if you are looking to run a private fun cruise on nights and weekends between downtown Tampa and downtown St. Pete.  However, if you are considering running ferries as actual transit between South County and South Tampa/MacDill using taxpayer money for capital costs, it is completely irrelevant. That is made clearer by this from the survey:

The existing route linking Tampa and St. Petersburg remained the most popular option, with more than 73 percent of respondents, about 2,100, saying they would use it periodically on nights and weekends for games, events and other travel. The theoretical route between St. Petersburg and Westshore was the second most popular choice, followed by a boat linking St. Petersburg and South Hillsborough County.

Setting aside the obvious question of why would Hillsborough pay the full capital cost for such a plan while St. Pete, Tampa, and Pinellas pay none, none of the routes listed is South County-MacDill, the core of the service. The survey is just a distraction.

More relevant to the South County-MacDill ferry proposal, the only thing the Hillsborough County Commissioners should be considering in terms of funding, a County Commissioner responded to a Times editorial that questioned the ferry proposal. (Editorial here, Commissioner’s response here)  We will not quote the Commissioner’s whole response, but here is part of it:

Every day 18,000 people stream into MacDill Air Force Base. Most of them have no other choice but to drive a car alone to the base. The Ferry will not only provide a quicker, more direct route for commuters to MacDill, it will also remove thousands of cars from the roads during rush hour, from South County to Bayshore, making commutes easier for other drivers and reducing pollution and wear and tear on our roads.

* * *

Meanwhile, the evening and weekend service connecting South County to Tampa and St. Pete will provide transit service to South County — an underserved area that has so far not seen much benefit from the tax dollars they contribute to our transportation system. This is why I constantly hear a lot of enthusiasm expressed for this ferry service in South County. And the high ridership numbers from the Cross-Bay Ferry Pilot Project definitely justify increasing ferry service on the Tampa – St. Pete route.

First, it is just not true that South County does not get transportation money.  Maybe it does not get a lot of transit money (though it is not laid out in way to may transit money can be spent very efficient there and the old County Commission starved HART for funds anyway) and maybe the overall transportation money spent there is not well-spent (especially given how poorly planned South County is), but South County (and eastern half of the county in general) definitely gets transportation (and other) money.

But setting that aside, we have consistently said and will stipulate to the fact that the there is definitely a case for transit that serves the MacDill community, including a South County-MacDill ferry. That is not really the issue.

The issue is whether this deal is the best deal for the County.  That is why we asked the questions we asked previously – and which haven’t really been answered.  And there are some more concerns. For instance, the South County-MacDill service appears to run just from 6-9 am and 4-6 pm on weekdays as indicated on page 2 of this pdf. See also page 32-33 of this pdf. (What if someone needs to get back to South County at some point during the day?) Second, on the same page of the pdf, the illustration of Williams Park shows the parking lot with allegedly 500+ parking spaces.  That seems unlikely in that drawing, but maybe they are there. (More likely they are not. It also seems that some land for parking will have to be bought from Mosaic, if it wants to sell – another question.) Another issue is the access to the parking and dock – there is one access point to the parking lot.  If the ferries are really going to be busy, that is unwise.  There needs to be a better plan.

Back to the Commissioner’s response:

No one has come up with a better plan, and no ferry company has offered us a better deal than the current offer by HMS Ferries’ commitment to pay all the operating costs for 20 years.

That is true (as far as we know), but it does not mean this is a good deal.  It may mean many things, including, but not limited to, there has been no RFP.  We also wonder why the private side is not putting up real money up front.

We have no idea why the original MacDill-South County ferry issue dragged on for years.  We have no idea if and why allegedly the port nixed that plan but hasn’t nixed this plan.  We find it interesting that the ferry companies are not really putting money in the game up front.  Saying they will be around 20 years is nice, but it is not the same a paying tens of millions up front.  (What is the penalty if they walk?  What happens to the boats to County owns?)

There are legitimate reasons to like some of the plan, but there are legitimate concerns.  And we should not allow enthusiasm for transportation alternative to lead to a bad deal.  Unfortunately, that means it needs more study with the associated costs, which is the one thing the ferry proposal has been good generating.  And deciding to do more study is pretty much what happened at the Commission this week. (See here  and here). We look forward to finally getting some answers, maybe.

As we said last week, there is likely a deal to be made (but it may not be the deal that has been presented).  It is time to get the critical information and make a determination once and for all.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Governor received the toll road bill.

A measure aimed at expanding or building three toll roads was sent Monday to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will have until May 28 to decide whether to sign it, according to the Senate website.

This week there were some protests by the environmentalists.  There were also expressions of support for the bill like this:

“I understand there are some that will always oppose smart growth and opportunities, believing that a thriving economy cannot coexist with responsible environmentalism or that our roadways are already adequate for the future,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson.

“There are also some that believe nothing can be bipartisan anymore. The Florida Chamber disagrees. Moving goods, residents, and visitors is a paramount concern for Florida’s economy and that concern is felt by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.”

The portion of the comment about smart growth, growing economy, etc. is empty rhetoric.

And as noted in a Strong Towns piece (here):

The “prepare for growth” argument is a circular one, when the road itself is what induces the growth. This logic gets used to defend speculative infrastructure investment that serves primarily to open up huge tracts of land for development.

Exactly.

And, while we might agree that our roadways are not adequate for the future, we still fail to see how this plan will actually make them adequate, especially when there is so much emphasis in the sales pitch to bringing growth to the underdeveloped areas – which will inevitably clog the highways being built – and there is nothing done for areas already built up and congested (see east-west road in Pasco).

One would think that addressing existing congestion and providing transportation alternatives in built-up areas where people actually live would be a bipartisan priority.  Apparently, it is not.


— They’re Back

There was news about the Selmon Expressway this week:

Automated truck testing will be happening on the elevated reversible lanes of the Selmon Expressway through Wednesday, closing traffic on the road from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

The self-driving trucks will be tested by Starsky Robotics, which says it will still have a human behind the wheel as a safety precaution, according to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority. The self-driving software in the trucks will control its acceleration, braking and steering.

That is fine, though we fail to see how running self-driving vehicles on a closed highway without traffic, lights, pedestrians, etc., is any different than testing on a track.  In any event,

A year later, Tampa became one of four cities nationwide to receive a $2.4 million federal contract to test next-generation driverless car technology that could also be used to bring immediate relief to Tampa Bay’s traffic woes.

In fact, as we have documented, there will be no immediate traffic relief using self-driving cars. (And it is not clear self-driving will ever really help traffic.)  But test away, as long as someone pays for the lost revenue and the inconvenience caused to all the commuters who cannot use the road while it is closed.


— TBARTA Survey

TBARTA has a new survey:

But with the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, or TBARTA for short, embarking on a new plan to ease travel woes, new transit options could be on the horizon. 

“TBARTA has been given a mission by the state to develop region-wide transit that connects our five county area. Those five counties are Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, and Manatee,” said Chris Jadick, the Director of Communications with the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority. 

TBARTA is calling their new plan Envision 2030. They hope their vision will map out the future of cross-county travel for the Bay Area.

You can find their survey here. It is simplistic, but you may as well take it. It takes almost no time.


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – OK

There was movement on proposal for 608 N. Willow in West Tampa. Per URBN Tampa Bay:

. . . the mixed-use project at 608 Willow in North Hyde Park received approval. The project is 5 stories and features 192 units and over 4,000 square feet of retail space.

This is a project that had been rejected by council last year for having a sub-standard design. The developer worked with us extensively to improve the design, including adding retail space and walk-up residential units on the ground floor. After not supporting the project the first time around, we supported this iteration.

The vote was 7-0, with the newly sworn in city council.

The developer will also be adding a public art installation at the corner of Willow and Cass, and will build several new sidewalks throughout the North Hyde Park neighborhood (see the map included in our post.). The sidewalk arrangement represents the developers’ density bonus payment to the city, for allowing their project’s FAR to go from 1.0 to 2.0. (Floor to Area Ratio)

This project has become an good example of the premise that if city council isn’t scared to reject bad projects, developers will come back with better proposals. This project has ultimately become a good example of the positive results that can come about when neighborhoods and developers work towards the common goal of a quality development together.

Hats off to the development team and the neighborhood association for their roles.

And, in the spirit of credit where credit is due, hats off to the last City Council for rejecting the prior proposal.  We do not need to settle, and we should have enough pride in our city to not do so.  Now the City has to create real design standards for this area.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Rising

Midtown started vertical construction this week.

Within three weeks, Bromley will launch construction on several buildings — including a hotel with a rooftop gathering place, a 7-story office building with ground-floor retail, nearly 400 apartments, the bay area’s largest Whole Foods Market — more or less simultaneously. Instead of building one structure at a time, several contractors will work to deliver nine buildings and two parking garages before the Super Bowl returns to Tampa in February 2021.

The building plan is ambitious. As we have said from the beginning, we like the general internal idea of Midtown, but we have concerns about how it relates to the outside (including the surface parking), and, much like Uptown, a concern that good rhetoric is not going to translate on the ground.  That was not lessened by this in an article this week (which reminded us a lot of Uptown, too):

One of Midtown Tampa’s biggest selling points — a 3-acre lake around which the developer will build small gathering areas, with CrossFit-style exercise equipment and a dog park — began as a solution for the Florida Department of Transportation.

When FDOT was looking to widen Interstate 275 in Tampa in 2012, the project required a retention pond. New York-based Bromley Cos., the developer of Midtown Tampa, was all too happy to absorb that into their district.

“We thought, ‘This is now an incredible opportunity to integrate 3 acres of water into our development,'” Nicholas Haines, CEO of Bromley Cos., told the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Monday.

* * *

In Midtown, Bromley is looking to combine the engaging, pedestrian-friendly streetscape of an urban village with the comfort and convenience of modern development (its office tower boasts a parking ratio of five spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space; downtown office towers typically offer three spaces or less per 1,000 square feet). Bromley sees Lake Midtown and a central plaza, Midtown Commons, as key to the development’s success; they’re an amenity for office tenants and residents and a draw for the nearby neighborhood, even when they don’t necessarily want to visit a retailer or restaurant.  

There is nothing wrong with making lemonade out of the highway retention pond lemon life gives you.  Except, this is the master plan rendering:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The retention pond is in the upper left, bounded by Dale Mabry and the interstate on two sides.  Midtown cannot do anything about that now.  However, the parts of the Midtown project facing the lake is an office building (fine) and a huge parking garage (how do you think they get those parking ratios?), which is not really making it central or integrated.

We understand using the water as a buffer development from the interstate, but it would have been better if the pond did not front Dale Mabry so the development could properly front Dale Mabry. But the pond is where it is, and, where it touches Dale Mabry, the project mostly does not front Dale Mabry properly anyway. But that is on the City.

In any event, as construction is now underway, we just hope for the best.


Westshore – International Plaza Gets Into the Game

There is news from International Plaza:

International Plaza is planning to add a movie theater and bowling alley to its Tampa property.

The mall has filed plans with the city to reduce its total parking spaces to make way for a one-story, 39,000-square-foot cinema and a two-story, 31,000-square-foot bowling alley.

The new developments would be built between the Nordstrom parking deck and the parking outside of Bay Street, the mall’s restaurant corridor. Moving forward with the plans means the mall would lose 329 parking spaces and 500 square feet of retail space, according to the documents it filed with the city.

The movie theater will have 653 seats and multiple screens; the bowling alley will have 14 lanes. Neither concept is named in the city filings. Commercial real estate brokers say likely concepts include IPIC, which features dine-in theaters, and Pinstripes, which combines bowling, bocce and a restaurant under one roof.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We find that layout a bit odd, but, as it is firmly ensconced in sea of parking and the layout of the mall itself has always been a bit odd to us, we are not going to worry about it.

The mall’s total parking will decrease from 5,998 to 5,669 spaces, according to the plans. Taubman estimates that’s still a surplus; the mall owner says its peak parking demands, with the new development, will total 5,544 spaces.

As far as we are concerned they should build a few more garages and develop all the rest of the land in an urban way (see Westshore Plaza plan).  But that is not our call.


Westshore – The Other Mall

Speaking of Westshore Plaza, there was a slight update about the proposed redevelopment of the Westshore Plaza parking lot.

Washington Prime filed plans with the city to redevelop the Sears store and surrounding surface parking. City council was initially slated to hold a public hearing on the plans on May 9; after Washington Prime acquired an additional adjacent property — the Bank of America office on the corner of Westshore and Kennedy boulevards — the hearing was pushed back so that parcel could be incorporated into the plans.

In the meantime, Noble said, Washington Prime is moving forward with pursuing tenants for the space, as well as joint venture developers for the portions of the project outside of the retail realm.

“Our dealmakers are out there working with every asset class — we’re looking to make retail deals for sure,” Noble said. “We’re also in the process of negotiating joint venture partnerships for the different types of assets, like the residential.”

We really like the idea behind this proposal and look forward to seeing what they come up with.  It really could change Westshore for the better.


Ybor City – Fill In

There was news of another proposal for Ybor City.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

A developer has proposed to build a 4 story mixed-use building at 1531 East 7th Ave in Ybor City, right next to 7-Eleven. The project would feature a restaurant on the 1st floor, studio apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floor, and a cigar bar on the 4th floor with an open air terrace.

We like this mix of uses and the filling in of a vacant spot on 7th Ave. We approve of this project.

The project goes before the Barrio Latino Commission on May 28th.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

The building looks fine to us.  We just wish they had a full awning for both stylistic and practical reasons.


Airport – On Growth

There was a Café con Tampa last week about international flights last week. From Florida Politics:

[Airport Manager of Research and Evaluations Kenneth] Strickland’s talk was entitled “On the Offensive: How Tampa Bay stopped being nice, and started winning international flights.”

“I think the Tampa Bay region in general just got far more aggressive about building our portfolio,” Strickland said.

Strickland used that aggressive style and paired it with data-driven marketing efforts to begin attracting new international flights to the area and shifting the perception that Orlando was Florida’s main hub for international travel.

Since 2011, the airport has added several new flights including Zurich, Switzerland; Panama City, Panama; Frankfurt, Germany; Reykjavik, Iceland; Amsterdam, Holland; and a new airline with direct service to London.

He’s being polite.  In the past, the area wasn’t being nice.  The airport management at the time was complacent and defeatist about international service and the much of the local political community went along, if not supported, that approach.  The change did not come with the new (present) airport director.  The change came with the people who pushed against much of the political establishment (for instance here) so we could hire a new airport director who would bring a change in direction in the first place.  (The present director is the result of that work – and has done a very good job.)  And, as we have said many times before, many of the people who are loudly talking about new flights were initially opposed to the change of strategy, but we are happy they changed their minds.

That history aside, you can read articles on the presentation here and here.

For us, the big take away is this:

The airport is losing 70 percent of the Colombia air travel market in Florida to Orlando and South Florida, making the destination ripe for the picking.

“It’s a good market even in periods of economic decline,” Strickland said noting there are 36,000 Colombians living in the Tampa Bay region. “You can always count on people going home and visiting their parents.”

Strickland and his team is working with Spirit Airlines for the potential flight. He said the airport is also working on a new flight to Lima, Peru.

People can differ on preferred carriers, but we definitely need a flight to Colombia and to capture more of that traffic.  And this:

As the conversation narrows, it helps a lot to have help from Visit Tampa Bay, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater and increasingly Visit Pasco, which Strickland says is doing more and more good work in sports marketing. Those organizations’ marketing funds and legwork in overseas markets help make international flights happen, he said.

And that includes Visit Florida, which was marked for elimination but got a one-year reprieve during this year’s legislative session. It helps with introductions, but also supports the local organizations.

“If you were to ask me what concerns me with respect to my business and continuing this growth, it’s this potential to see the destination marketing organizations cut,” he said. “Without Visit Florida … there is no Amsterdam flight to Tampa.”

That is self-explanatory.  The local legislative delegation should take note.

Talk of development at the airport naturally leads to an interesting column by the airport director in the Times regarding airport passenger fees:

As leaders in Washington debate how to pay for a much-needed national infrastructure package, one essential part should be an update of the Passenger Facility Charge, a fee attached to airline tickets used to pay for capital improvements at the airport where a flight originates. Without it, airports around the country will struggle to stay current and meet demand, and passengers and our economy will suffer.

Local airport governing boards set the fee, which cannot exceed the cap set by Congress, and they collect it only if they have a project eligible for passenger facility charge support. At Tampa International Airport, we have used the passenger facility charge to expand Airside F to support international flights, to build Airside C that now houses Southwest Airlines and to keep runways safe. The charge, however, has not been updated since 2001, and inflation has whittled away its buying power. Stuck at $4.50, it is not adequate to responsibly address the $128 billion in capital needs at the country’s airports. Among Florida airports, lost passenger facility charge capacity due to inflation tops $1 billion.

We think the best argument for the fee is this:

Our airline partners, whom we agree with on many issues, do not support raising the facility charge. They argue any increase in airfare means fewer people will fly. The reality is that airlines impose a host of fees that often exceed $50 each, charging for everything from printed boarding passes and assigned seats to checked and even carry-on bags. Yet, people are still flying in record numbers.

The airlines also argue they can pay for any necessary airport facilities. But the airlines will not pay for facilities for competitors to bring in new service, which can help lower fares.

This is an important point. With four airlines carrying 80 percent of the nation’s passengers, it’s vital that airports have the means to build gates affordably and bring healthy competition to the market. Using airport revenues for construction is too often subject to approval from airlines, who have an interest in limiting gates for competitors.

Increased fees will most likely be passed on to passengers, which is not so good.  But maintaining competition is good.

And more to the point: if you want something, you have to pay for it.  With the reluctance of major/legacy carriers to pay for competition, at Tampa International many of the things we want are either going to be paid for by taxpayers generally or fees.  Given that, the fee cap should probably be raised. One big question for passengers who will be paying, and one unfortunately not addressed in the piece, is what the new cap should be.


Governance – Taxes

Speaking of having to pay for the things you want,

During their 18-year control of Hillsborough County government, Republican commissioners steered clear of using taxes and fees to boost county revenue.

But now Democrats are in charge. And with a growing number of fixes and overhauls on their to-do list as the county prepares its budget for the next two years, the board appears ready and willing to put every option on the table.

With little pushback from Republican members thus far, commissioners have given preliminary approval to a number of fee and tax increases over the next fiscal year, including hikes in the storm water fee, solid waste collection fee and mobility fee. For the first time in 30 years, there could even be an increase in development fees — possibly by as much as 90 percent.

Piggybacking on those discussions are talks of potential hikes in the county’s fuel tax, bed tax, communications services tax and even property taxes.

There is a lot in that blurb and the article it came from, but not much detail, so we will speak more generally.  Once again, if you want something, you have to pay for it.  For too long, the County Commission has kept taxes and fees low, but that had a cost in neglected needs like fire stations and proper road maintenance.  And those items are just catch-up with existing needs, not the cost of what is being done now or what will be done in the future.

The shift in philosophy comes at the start of a budgeting process that will force the commission to confront a key problem: the growing gap between the services it can afford to provide and the county’s explosive population growth and resulting urban sprawl, County Administrator Mike Merrill said.

For years, the county has relied heavily on fixed property taxes to cover the cost of services it provides residents — basic services such as garbage collection and transportation options, as well as regular maintenance of county roads, storm water drains and existing infrastructure.

* * *

In a budget presentation last month, Merrill estimated the county would bring in $84.5 million in new revenue in the 2020 fiscal year. That money is meant to pay for the county’s basic operating costs, Merrill said, but years of stagnant tax and fee rates have left this year’s budget with an estimated $73.6 million worth of long-ignored unfunded operating needs.”

Those needs aren’t arbitrary expenses, Merrill said: “It’s all very, very basic stuff.”

“We’ve got huge challenges — affordable housing, transportation, go down the list,” he said.

All very true.  Those things were needed.  They just did not get done. So the questions are what gets increased, how much, and what does that bring in?

At the board’s last meeting, staff was told to bring back different plans to increase development fees by as much as 90 percent. One would increase those fees all at once and the other would stagger the increase over several years. Staff was also told to craft policies that would offer fee waivers to affordable housing developers and mitigate fee costs for small businesses and land owners.

Commissioner Pat Kemp has long urged her fellow board members to heed consultant reports that found that, under the existing fee schedule, the county actually loses thousands of dollars for every development application it processes. The board’s historic reluctance to increase developers’ costs within the county, even to account for inflation, has left county residents subsidizing the costs themselves, Kemp argued.

* * *

At its meeting this week, the board is expected to set a June 5 public hearing in which members will vote on whether to increase the Tourist Development Tax — currently, a 5 percent sales tax on hotel and rental stays — to 6 percent. The increase would net an additional $6.4 million annually to spend on tourism-related projects and promotions.

Mobility fees, fire impact fees and solid waste fees have long remained the lowest in the Tampa Bay area and are all likely to increase next fiscal year, Merrill said. And commissioners’ most recent talks have targeted storm water fees, which average about $42 a year for residents but should be double the current rates to pay for actual costs.

On the other hand:

Commissioner Sandy Murman cautioned the board not to increase the cost of living for county residents as a quick fix for decades old problems.

Despite the challenges and needs waiting to be addressed, the county is still in good economic health with a budget of about $5.5 billion, Murman said.

“We cannot just keep increasing fees to get ourselves out of these problems,” she told her board colleagues. “They have to be able to withstand the test of downturn, everything. Otherwise, the effect it has on developers, homebuilders, commercial developers, whoever — it will drive people out of this county. It will drive business away.’’

We have more faith in the attractiveness of Hillsborough County as market.  Why do not think we should just increase fees and taxes willy-nilly, the attitude in the quote above was the attitude of the previous Commissions that created the problem in the first place.  Having fees in line with other major counties should not really be a problem, especially given that Hillsborough is at the center of the area. (And they still seem to have business) Additionally, the failure of the Commission to address needs foists those costs on the local residents and increases their cost of living, anyway. (And burning gas sitting in traffic costs money, as do excessive car insurance rates)

Nevertheless, while we do not believe the sky will fall is some fees and taxes are raised, that does not mean we think it should be done just for the sake of doing it.  It is all about balance.  Because we know that you have to pay for thing you want, we are ok with a reasonable tax to pay for a reasonable need, provided that it actually does so (like proper mobility/impact fees and the extra tourist tax percentage). It should be done carefully and with full consideration. And, unless there are specific extenuating circumstances, generally should be in line with other counties in the area.

Once again, it is all about balance.


Built Environment – Busch Boulevard

There was an article about Busch in the Times:

When he founded Mel’s Hot Dogs in the shadow of Busch Gardens in 1973, Mel Lohn saw promise along Busch Boulevard in both directions.

To the east toward Temple Terrace was open land dotted with trees, he said. And to the west, toward the interstate, besides Busch Gardens, were empty lots.

“There was so much future potential,” Lohn said.

His business, at 4136 E. Busch Blvd., has become a Tampa institution.

But other than Busch Gardens and nearby Adventure Island, not much else in that section of Tampa has thrived.

Of particular embarrassment, Lohn said, is the two-mile stretch of Busch Boulevard from the interstate to McKinley Drive, where Busch Gardens’ main entrance is located.

First, we love Mel’s.  Second, as long as we can remember Busch (especially East Busch) has been quite ugly and certainly not fit to be the gateway to an attraction.  And, while not the ugliest, this across Busch from the Busch Gardens entrance is a good example of not being a good gateway. The need to fix up Busch is nothing new and not just for Busch Gardens and the tourists.  The residents deserve a decent road. However:

Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada called Busch Boulevard a “conundrum.” The city planted the current greenery in medians 10 years ago, but “beautifying private property is always a challenge” since they can’t force the owners to do so.

While it is true that fixing private property is a problem, in the public realm things can be done (bury power lines, have good sidewalks, landscaping where possible).  However, a lot of the work needs to deal with planning and holding projects to better standards so you do not have the problems with private property in the first place (at least newer construction).  For instance, the article tells us:

The Hampton Inn directly across the street from Busch Gardens is a “nice family hotel,” Lohn said. But speeding cars “make that walk dangerous.”

Crystal Lucas, front desk manager for the Hampton, said there’s a crosswalk four blocks away, but cars don’t typically slow down for it.

First, the crosswalk thing may be true, but the Hampton Inn is across the street from the wall around Busch Gardens, which is not really a place where people have to cross the street.  Decent crosswalks at 30th and 40th street would take care of the Hampton Inn’s needs – and, unlike the flashing yellow crosswalks, those are traffic lights where cars will stop.

Second, as we have pointed out before, the Hampton Inn is hardly a pedestrian friendly, attractive design. It does not even face Busch Boulevard.  That is on the City, which chose to allow a dead streetscape, and it got what it asked for.

We are all for fixing up Busch Boulevard.  But it has to be recognized what the real problems are.  The planning is horrible.  There seem to be no design standards.  For all the talk over the years about the road, the City has not really cared to address the issue.  (And, it has to be said, there have been some economic challenges some of the area around Busch Gardens.)

Hopefully, things are changing.


Economy – Tourism

Time to check in with tourist tax revenue.

Tampa Bay’s tourism business shot up again during its peak season, with both sides of the bay reporting record-breaking travel numbers thanks to the usual influx of events and spring breakers.

* * *

For the second time ever, Hillsborough collected more than $4 million in March. In total, from January through March, the county took in about $11.4 million in tourism tax funds.

* * *

Pinellas collected $9.4 million in March alone, and a total of $20.7 million in the same period.

Hillsborough’s numbers in direct comparison to Pinellas may seem small, but the county has shown steady growth — especially for a destination without lush beaches. Hillsborough’s tourist tax is also 5 percent of what’s charged for every overnight stay, while Pinellas taxes 6 percent.

As we have said many times:

Pinellas and Hillsborough County use the tourism tax charged for overnight stays as a metric for measuring industry success.

While tax receipts are not the same as actual tourists and tourist spending generally, we assume tourism is doing well.  As we have pointed out many times, there is a tourist boom going on.

Florida attracted an all-time record for visitors in any annual quarter during the first three months of 2019, drawing more than 35 million visitors for the first time ever, according to new VISIT FLORIDA numbers released Wednesday by the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The first quarter of 2019 saw a 5.8 percent increase in visitors to the Sunshine State, compared with the 33.7 million people who visited Florida in the first three months of 2018.

Given that, we should be doing well.


South Tampa – Because We Can

The Virage on Bayshore topped out and, from the coverage, apparently invited the media for a look.  There was a Times article and a Business Journal article.  Both have pictures.  However, the Times had a drone video so here it is:

 

 

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