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Roundup 6-7-2019

June 6, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— AFT

— I-275

— Scooters

— Auto Bus

Growth – Crystal Ball

Downtown – Arris

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown – A Little Something

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – And?

Airport – United Breaks Ground

West Tampa/Seminole Heights – They Need Theirs

USF Area

— The Institute

— The Center

Tourism/Governance – Finally

Latin America – Cuba Connections

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Because We Can

____________________________________


Transportation


— AFT

There was news about the referendum lawsuit(s).

A second full day of arguments on the legality of Hillsborough County’s one-cent sales tax for transportation concluded Friday without any resolution, leaving the fate of the tax unknown for now.

Both sides wrapped up their arguments on whether the tax, approved by 57 percent of voters in November, is consistent with state law or usurps power from Hillsborough County Commissioners. But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas indicated he would need more time before issuing a ruling. The judge said he intends to do so within two weeks.

Of course,

His ruling, however, is unlikely to end the six-month saga. The losing side, whichever that may be, is likely to appeal. From there, the case could jump to the Florida Supreme Court.

As usual, we are not going to comment on the lawsuit(s). They will run their course.  (You can read more here, here, and here)

We do appreciate this, though:

. . . The transit agency is in the midst of identifying both immediate and long-term transit fixes and enhancements that will restore previous cuts to service and create new routes to serve currently underserved areas of the counties as well as increase frequency on existing routes.

During a talk at Cafe Con Tampa Friday, [HART CEO Ben] Limmer told attendees he and agency leaders plan to have a project list ready to submit to the All For Transportation-required Independent Oversight Committee by September.

Possible projects include new bus shelters, expanded routes, new bus facilities to accommodate a larger fleet and, in the longer term, potential bus rapid transit or light rail transit corridors.

A little planning never hurt.


— I-275

Next week the Hillsborough MPO will vote on its five year plan (for meeting information see here).  As part of that vote there is the issue of I-275 north of the interchange.  As we discussed last week, back in March, FDOT had a public hearing where they proposed basically adding a lane in each direction all the way to Bearss. (Last week, FDOT put out animations of the same stretch, including some that had a completely different alignment.)  At the hearing in March, the community opposed the plan and supported the “no build” option.  This week, the Tampa Bay Partnership, which strongly supported TBX and strongly supports the “BRT” plan (which would be greatly facilitated by the expansion plan FDOT showed in March) released the results of a survey:

A survey of about 400 Hillsborough residents shows strong support for widening Interstate 275 from downtown to Bearss Avenue and adding a lane on the flyover ramp to Interstate 4.

Approval from 84 percent of those surveyed is “exceptionally high and consistent, signaling that there is a clear mandate for steps to be taken,” according to a presentation from Paul Fallon of Florida Opinion Research, which conducted the survey. It has an estimated margin of error of about 5 percent.

* * *

More than 50 percent of those polled said they thought traffic congestion on that section of I-275 was a “very big” problem, with another nearly 30 percent saying it was somewhat of a problem. Women were more likely to think the traffic problem was worse, in addition to people who live close to I-275 and those who drive that stretch frequently.

We have not seen the survey details, who they surveyed or the questions asked.  We have no idea how leading the questions were or what options were laid out to those questioned.

However, for the sake of argument, we are willing to accept the general trend.  Congestion on that road is an issue.  And it would not surprise us if most people who do not live near the road would not care if you widened it.  That is especially so if you do not give people other reasonable options, like proper transit.  (And, to be honest, one lane in each direction within the footprint of the present interstate is not the worst option FDOT has proposed.)

But there is a bigger issue:

Tampa Bay Partnership, a business group that often weighs in on transportation issues, commissioned the survey that took place by phone May 13-16. Partnership president Rick Homans is hoping the survey responses might encourage members of Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization to vote in favor of adding the project to the county’s five-year plan, which prioritizes projects for the state to fund.

That vote, scheduled for Tuesday, would allow the county to access $80 million from the state in 2023 for the interstate changes, according to Beth Alden, executive director of the planning organization. The rest of the $300 million would still need to be secured in future years.

“This improves traffic flow and it fixes the bottlenecks,” Homans said. “We need to continue to invest in our primary highway infrastructure.”

First, that is a lot of money for one lane in each direction. (The entire Downtown St. Pete to St. Pete Beach BRT plan is $40 million or so.)

Second, the second lane on the ramp to I-4 may do something, for a little bit (and should have been added when FDOT took years messing with the interchange before), but the truth is that this proposal will not really “improve [] traffic flow or fix bottlenecks” because more cars will just use the road and it will quickly become very congested again. (See previous Interchange and SR-60/I-275/Veterans junction fixes).  And, yes, we need to invest in our highway infrastructure, but there is a greater need for an east-west road through Pasco County, which we have not heard the Partnership CEO supporting.  (Why are Pasco’s neighborhoods protected?)  That does not even get into other needs like finishing connecting the Gandy Bridge to I-275 in St. Pete.

In other words, say we build the extra lane. Fine. Then what? After a few years (probably sooner), I-275 will be back to being very congested.  And, unless there are real transportation alternatives (not just an outdated plan for 18-24 lane interstates through the urban heart of Tampa and the very flawed “BRT” plan), we will just be back here having the same conversation, just like we have before.

Surveys are fine, but what we really need are good ideas that stand the test of time and that do not just repeat the mistakes of the past.


— Scooters

Last week we noted that scooters are now here and there are some growing pains.  (See “Transportation – Cornucopia — Scooters)  We also said that, while there are always some inconsiderate people who disregard rules, we thought much of that will be worked out but we also said this:

First, the corral idea has inherent issues because 1) they are in too small an area and 2) the whole point of the scooters is point to point travel.  A decent number of people are not going to bother finding a corral and then walking the rest of the way.   We would suggest looking for a different method of keeping the scooters out of the way.

At least one company is addressing the small area:

Spin, the Ford-owned e-scooter company that broke into the industry with bicycles, has already entered several agreements with local companies around the Tampa Bay area.

The list includes the Epicurean Hotel, Rock Brother Brewing, Soho Saloon, downtown student housing 220 Madison, Tampa Shuffle, Rick’s on the River, Matcon Construction and Gram’s Place Hostel.

According to Dan Fleischbein, Spin’s Tampa Bay operating manager, the partnerships are not to have more scooters on the ground, necessarily, but to provide more locations where fully charged scooters can become available.

“Right now with the Epicurean for example, we don’t have any docks close to them,” he said. “If a user takes it from somewhere else to the Epicurean, they will be stuck with dead scooters. So to get them fresh ones, you need a closer location or to have a few on site.”

However, the partnerships are not a done deal just yet: the city needs to work with Spin on zoning approval.

Having more corrals in a broader area would be useful.  It would not take care of the point-to-point use issue, but would help mitigate it a bit. On the other hand, there is a question of how many corrals from how many companies there can be before they start taking up an inordinate amount of space (and creating visual pollution) in activity centers (maybe the companies will need to share).  All that will have to be seen as the scooters transition from being a novelty to becoming a normal means of micro-transportation.

Of course, figuring out issues like that is what a pilot program is for.


— Auto Bus

Dunedin is set to be the latest Pinellas city to test autonomous buses.

St. Petersburg and Clearwater are planning to test them for three months this summer and fall. Dunedin City leaders are close to approving a proposal to test them next spring.

“It’s perfect for our main street, ” said Robert Ironsmith.

Ironsmith is the director of economic and housing for Dunedin. According to him, the bus will primarily be on Main St. It’ll go back and forth from the hospital to the marina.

Of course:

According to Navya, the buses can go 12 to 25 miles per hour. Dunedin city leaders plan to set the speed at 15 to match the flow of traffic on Main St.

We have nothing against testing slow moving shuttles going in a straight line, but, of course, with the understanding that they are slow moving shuttles going in a straight line. The real key is how people get to the Main Street area in the first place to use the shuttles.


Growth – Crystal Ball

The Business Observer had an interesting article regarding population growth (including a nice graphic).

In a separate report, the Bureau of Economics and Business Research at the University of Florida projected the population growth in each Florida county 25 years into the future. The report uses Census and other population data and includes low, medium and high projections. (The data cited here is the medium category, which, according to the BEBR study, “is the most likely to provide accurate forecasts in most circumstances.”)

Some highlights of the BEBR report in regard to the nine counties on Florida’s west coast, from Polk to Collier, include:

 

From the Business Observer – click on chart for article

Not only is Hillsborough projected to remain the biggest county, it will grow quite quickly and by the largest number of people (and faster in number and rate than Pasco or Pinellas). Of course, these are just projections, but even if they are not completely accurate, they tell us flat out that we need much better planning and infrastructure and that we likely do not have the land to build the roads that would be adequate for those people.  We need alternatives, and we need to invest now.


Downtown – Arris

There was the announcement of a new condo proposal in Tampa, Arris (website here):

The developers of the new Virage condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard are planning an even bigger project in the heart of downtown Tampa.

The 80-unit Arris is expected to rise at the corner of Ashley Drive and Twiggs Street on what is now a surface parking lot. At 34 stories, it would be among the tallest condo towers in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Units would range from 1,100 to 3,700 square feet and be priced from $600,000 to more than $2 million. The tower also would include several levels of parking.

And at the street level:

The tower will have a 5,000-square-foot street-level restaurant and a parking deck . . .

This is a zoomed, not so detailed in site plan.  The pink is the restaurant and yellow is lobby.

For larger picture at Florida Future at SkyscraperCity’s post click on picture

The relatively tall proposal is being squeezed onto what is now surface parking taking up a little more than a quarter of one of Tampa’s already small blocks.  Just that is quite an indication of how far downtown Tampa has come.  Unfortunately the site plan does not really tell us much more, but given how small their lot is, they cannot do much more on the street than put a restaurant and lobby.  However, the rendering does appear to have awnings.

And here are the renderings (they conveniently leave out Park Tower one block to the south):

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You can see bigger versions of the renderings here.

The information is very new and incomplete so it is hard to make any full determination regarding about the building.  While aesthetics are subjective and there are no renderings of the east or south sides, initially it appears to be a nice building, which is good because it is in a very visible location.  And the covering of the garage at the front of the building is nice.  The project definitely has potential – and it is far better than the “signature” building going in across Florida from City Hall (or a number of other proposals) – and this is on a quarter lot.

The developers plan to break ground early next year for Arris, located at 507 N. Ashley Drive next to the law offices of Stichter, Riedel, Blain & Postler. Attorney Harley Riedel is among the owners of land.  

That might be a bit ambitious, but who knows? At least, we will learn about the state of the Tampa condo market.

It is nice to see such interest and ambition in downtown Tampa.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Speaking of Riverwalk Place, while it does not indicate construction is starting, the demolition of the CapTrust Building that is necessary for the Riverwalk Place project is now clearly underway, per this photo from URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We just hope that construction starts soon after the demo is complete.


Downtown – A Little Something

URBN Tampa Bay reported:

An 8-story hotel with 169 hotel rooms is being proposed for 1105 North Tampa Street in Downtown Tampa. The project boundaries approximate the red lines.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

There is not much information in the Accela database yet, but the developer appears to be Dynamic Group and their website appears to be here.


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – And?

There was news about a project on Rome:

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group paid $6.4 million for 2.8 acres at 510 N. Rome Ave., said Anthony Everett, Central Florida director for Pollack Shores.

NoHo Square, as the building is tentatively named, will bring 226 apartments and a 1,500-square-foot convenience store to North Hyde Park. Pollack Shores is looking for an operator for the retail space, Everett said.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That looks quite generic and the retail seems a bit small (though at least there is a little retail).  But more interestingly:

Pollack Shores’ previous developments in the neighborhood are NoHo Flats and Havana Square. Together, the three buildings total more than 800 units and $130 million in investment.

With construction costs on the rise, NoHo Square almost didn’t happen. In the planning stages, construction costs were so high that market rents couldn’t justify the project — even as they’ve risen to an average of $1,700 or $1,800 per month from $1,300 to $1,400 when Pollack Shores first started building in North Hyde Park.

“The seller made a price adjustment, or the deal would not be going forward,” Everett said.

The adjustment, Everett said, was “greater than 10 percent.” Still, some parts of this deal were easier than the Pollack Shores’ previous developments in North Hyde Park — and the dynamics of the neighborhood could make future projects more challenging, too. 

You may remember that Pollack Shores was the company that convinced the City Council (like that took any work) that “market conditions” did not justify a parking garage for its first project in the area (See “Tampa – the Same DNA”), built a big surface lot, then flipped the project for a nice profit.  Given the history, we are not completely sold when this developer complains about costs.

However, at some point, development costs will probably reach a point where the rents necessary will approach the upper level of what can be charged. What usually happens when an area experiences more demand is that there is an increase in density.   (URBN Tampa Bay featured a good discussion of density here.)  We shall see if Tampa is ready for that.


Airport – United Breaks Ground

Ground was broken on United’s maintenance facility at Tampa International.

The airline, which has 277 weekly operations from Tampa International Airport, was recently approved to enter a lease agreement with the airport for 9.5 acres east of the airfield to construct a two-bay maintenance hangar and apron to accommodate 737 and 757 aircraft used in United’s operations, Tampa Bay Business Journal previously reported. 

It will be able to hold three 737s, will have two narrow bays and 66,000 square feet of hangar space. There will be an additional 17,620 square feet of office and shop space when it’s completed in 2020.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are all for new facilities and jobs. But we are curious why they chose Tampa?

“Choosing Tampa was not a random act,” Wright said. Christopher Minner, the airport’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, went to Chicago to pitch them on landing its plans for a facility in Tampa, Wright added.

Factors such as the area being business friendly, quality of life and the ability to recruit talent from returning military played a big role, especially as the facility will create 40 new aircraft maintenance tech positions and 125 construction jobs.

Fair enough.  We would also like to hope that United is going to expand its service, but that remains to be seen.


West Tampa/Seminole Heights – They Need Theirs

The Times had an interesting article about municipal pools this week.  First, as you may remember:

According to Tampa Bay Times archives, by the 1970s there were as many as 10 city pools, including Cuscaden in Ybor and the Sulphur Springs Pool.

Throughout the summer, the pools hosted free swim lessons for kids.

Some, like the 25-yard Angus R. Goss Memorial Pool, were used for meets by schools and swim clubs.

Then, around a decade ago, some city pools were closed when attendance dropped and city funds were depleted.

But Interbay, Roy Jenkins, Williams Park and Cuscaden each re-opened a few years later at a cost of $25,000, $2.5 million, $1.3 million and $3.1 million, respectively.

Cuscaden pool was the source of some controversy, but it got done. (You can see a list of City pools here.)

Now groups in West Tampa and Seminole Heights want the  Baldomero Lopez Pool (location here) and the Angus R. Goss Memorial Pool  (location here)

You can read the entire article here.

The Angus R. Goss Memorial Pool Committee estimates theirs would take a little over $1 million to revive.

Councilman Maniscalco thinks the Baldomero Lopez Pool would be cheaper to re-open but has not yet sought an assessment.

To us the point is that this is Florida and other neighborhoods have their pools.  Not everyone can afford a pool or has the land for it at their place of residence – a situation that is likely to become even more so as more people move here, development gets denser, and land more valuable.  While it does cost money, it does not seem like that much money, especially relative to other pool and park projects. If the City can make it work, they should.


USF Area


— The Institute

The USF Institute of Applied Engineering is looking for some money:

The Hillsborough County Commissioners are set to consider giving more than $5 million to University of South Florida for a new engineering institute on Wednesday.

The commissioners will meet June 5 at 9 a.m. to discuss a grant agreement with USF for the Institute of Applied Engineering in an amount up to $5,286,382. The institute was first floated at an April 17 county meeting.

The organizational plan is less of a formal institute and more of a “meeting of the minds,” Robert Bishop, who is both the CEO of the Institute of Applied Engineering and dean of the USF’s College of Engineering, told the Business Journal in March. It would be located at the Uptown Mall, 2200 E. Fowler Ave., as part of a complete overhaul of the area.

The amount would be broken down over the three year grant, with $1.2 million, $1.9 million and $2.1 million from fiscal year 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

It is an interesting ask.  The idea of the institute seems interesting (though we are not so clear on the “meeting of minds” thing).  We have no problem with them going to the rebuilt mall. (A little background on that here)  While the articles are quite vague, the agenda documents for the June 5 BoCC meeting tells us something about the purpose of the funding:

Furthering the operation of the Institute by providing the referenced grant will enhance the County’s ability to compete effectively for high-value research and development and innovative business projects by increasing local research contract awards and equity investments which enhance revenues for the localeconomy, and further local engineering efforts by increasing commercialization, licensing and spin-off companies.  Further by locating this endeavor and becoming a part of the redevelopment activities associated with the former University Mall it adds another positive dimension to the County’s efforts to increase private capital investment, job creation and to benefit from the commercialization of research, technology and innovation coming out of the University and Medical centers located in that area.

It also indicated that the County can stop the funding if USF does not keep funding the institute to what amounts as matching funds.  The attached agreement says to the maximum extent possible the funds would go to equipment, which is a bit vague for millions of dollars.

There is also a condition that the institute has to be on formerly University Square Mall property, which is a little odd. We understand redevelopment and are fine with the institute going to the mall, but the interest of the County should be more to have the Institute thrive.  Being in the USF area, not on specific private property, should be fine.

In sum, we are very much in favor of developing engineering and its applications, but we would like more detail.

In any event, as could be predicted, the Commission approved it.


— The Center

There was news from Moffitt:

Moffitt Cancer Center has outgrown its space in Tampa and is looking to physically expand.

Moffitt’s existing hospital has roughly 200 beds and it is at capacity, Moffitt CEO and President Dr. Alan List said, stating the hospital saw 65,000 patients last year.

The cancer center has a new hospital bed tower in the works as part of its $800 million longterm expansion.

He said the new hospital would mainly be for patients undergoing surgery and/or have solid tumors.

* * *

The first phase would include 128 inpatient beds, 24 surgical suites, radiology, endoscopy, imaging, conference space, and education and research space.

The second phase would include 76 inpatient beds, radiotherapy and infusion therapy, according to Moffitt documents.

The entire project is expected to cost from $400 million to $475 million.

Setting aside that the use of “tower” for hospitals is often a bit loose, Moffitt is a great asset to this area, and, while we would prefer it were entirely unnecessary, we are all for expanding it.

The expansion will be mostly funded through philanthropic contributions, but Moffitt will be asking the state for funds from cigarette taxes, he told TBBJ.

Meanwhile, the hospital is currently working on completing its new $40 million clinical support building, which is the first project in its $800 million expansion plans.

That building can be seen here:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Just note that all this work is at the Moffitt campus on McKinley, not the original area on the USF campus.


Tourism/Governance – Finally

Well, it finally happened.

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday approved levying an additional 1 percent tourist development tax that will increase the county’s tourist development tax from 5 percent to 6 percent.

The item passed with a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Stacy White having the opposing vote.

The added 1 percent tourist development tax will be effective Aug. 1.

It is expected to net an additional $6.4 million a year. However, Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada said on a good year it could possibly collect $7 million to $10 million.

The move should have been made as soon as Hillsborough qualified. There was no reason to wait (or vote against it). Of course, people immediately started asking for money, but there will be time enough to distribute it to the statutorily limited uses.


Latin America – Cuba Connections

There was news regarding Cuba:

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced new restrictions on American travel to the island nation 90 miles off Florida’s shore, including an end to cruises and group tours.

Tampa hosts cruises as well as flights to Havana.

* * *

Group and educational trips, otherwise known as “people to people” travel, now become illegal. The short-lived opportunities introduced Americans to Cuban artists and business people and taught the nation’s history.

American trips to Cuba purely for tourism have been illegal since travel and trade sanctions were levied on the socialist nation in 1960.

But under executive orders issued during the Obama administration, regulations on travel to Cuba were so loose that “the activity was perceived as tourism,” said John Kavulich, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The new Department of Commerce guidelines say, “cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats and other similar aircraft and vessels generally will be prohibited from going to Cuba.”

But, as usual, it is not that simple:

What’s more, commercial flights to Cuba can continue. But the question is whether airlines will still have enough passengers to make them worthwhile. People-to-people group tours have been the most popular form of U.S. travel to Cuba.

Southwest Airlines has flown daily from Tampa to Havana since December 2016. The airline said it is reviewing the changes.

The Tampa Bay area has the nation’s third largest Cuban-American population.

Tampa International Airport said 141,826 passengers flew between Tampa and Havana in fiscal 2018, up from 109,317 in 2017.

Americans still can legally visit Cuba through other categories of travel, including professional and university research, athletic competitions, support for the Cuban people and family visits.

The category “support for the Cuban people” might still provide the typical traveler with wiggle room to make the journey, said Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel in Washington, D.C.

Carnival already announced it is stopping cruises from Tampa to Cuba.

Carnival’s cruise line that sailed from Tampa to its call in Havana has been popular for the Tampa Bay region and helped the port reach over the 1 million passenger mark.

“The itineraries are very important. We are primarily a western Caribbean destination here and one of the destinations that has been added that’s very popular is Havana, Cuba. Havana has really complemented the other ports,” John Thorington, who serves as the port’s vice president of government affairs and board coordination, previously said.

However, Port Tampa Bay Vice President Marketing & Business Development Wade Elliott said the port does not expect to take a big hit from the change.

“We’ve been assured that there will be no impact on Port Tampa Bay with the number of sailings or passengers,” Elliott told the TBBJ.

Maybe.

We are not going to get into the politics of it (except to say we would love for Cuba to be a real democracy).  Setting international relations aside, for this area, having a connection to Cuba is a benefit and we hope that we keep it.  You can also be that Miami will maintain a Cuba connection and it would be a shame if we got boxed out while they keep moving along.


Rays

Here is your Rays news from the week: what is really an opinion piece from Florida Politics here which has some interesting possibilities.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was some good news about the Everglades:

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a grant Monday to fund massive bridges elevating U.S. 41 in Southwest Florida.

Political leaders and environmental activists applauded the funding, which will help restore natural water flow around the Everglades.

“Elevating the Tamiami Trail will allow for an additional 75 to 80 billion gallons of water a day to flow south into the Everglades and Florida Bay,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

* * *

“Without this critical funding to raise the road, recently authorized projects to the north, including the Central Everglades Planning Project and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, would not be able to achieve their full restoration capabilities,” he said.

“Everglades restoration is absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality of one of the most dynamic regions of our nation, and I will continue to work collaboratively across federal, state, and local government to address any roadblocks slowing down our progress.”

That is true and that is good.  It is also ironic that it comes at the same time the State has committed to building 2 ½ new highways of quite questionable usefulness through still undeveloped land for the express purpose of developing those lands.  The Everglades is not the only habitat in Florida that is important.


Because We Can

The Business Journal has another in their series of aerial construction shot collections (here). While there are more detailed pictures, we decided to go with the big picture of Water Street.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Kudos to the Business Journal for this feature.  Keep the pictures coming.

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