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Roundup 7-26-2019

July 25, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Appealing

— HART

Channel District – Storage

Downtown – Moving Forward-ish

South Tampa – More Altura

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Another

Palmetto Beach – Something New

Hyde Park/South Tampa – Berns

Economy – A Looksee

— Employment

— Housing

West Tampa – This Could/Should Be Better

Rays

Because We Can

__________________________


Transportation


— Appealing

As anticipated, the referendum lawsuit(s) are going to the appeal stage.

A lawsuit challenging Hillsborough County’s one-cent transportation tax is going to the Florida Supreme Court.

Bob Emerson, 65, of Apollo Beach, filed an appeal Thursday regarding the tax’s bond validation, a process in which a judge decides whether the county can borrow against the new revenue source. Its purpose is to reassure potential lenders that the tax money used to repay bond holders won’t be challenged in the future.

Commissioner Stacy White followed with an appeal of his own Friday morning in a separate lawsuit. White’s case challenged the constitutionality of the tax, arguing it usurped power from county commissioners.

The two suits, which each asked a court to decide whether the tax was legal, were linked and heard by the same judge in May.

* * *

Appeals in bond validations skip the district court of appeals and go directly to the state Supreme Court. White’s case would go next to the second district court of appeals, but the commissioner said he is asking that his appeal bypass the district court so it can travel through the legal system alongside the bond validation.

Once again, we are not going to get into the substance of the legal actions.

However, interestingly, events last week revealed that if the appeal wins, the County lacks the money to pay for all the road improvements the previous County Commission promised. (Funny how that works) So all those people who really want road improvements may want to think hard about what they really want to happen.

We anticipated the appeals, so they change nothing in our view. The County Commission should continue its process of adopting the formula in the referendum.  If the referendum is upheld on the appeal, they will be set to move forward.  We have ideas of what to do if the referendum is stuck down, but we will get to that if we need to.


— HART

Let’s assume for a minute that the referendum is upheld and the County Commission endorses the referendum formula.  The Business Journal recently had an interview (here) with the new HART chief that covered a number of things, but we will focus on priorities if HART has the money from the referendum.

What’s a sneak peek at your wish list? It’s everything people have been clamoring for over the years. First and foremost, expanded bus service. That’s going to be a balance of investing in the current bus routes and where are the highest amount of ridership is, as well as balancing that with providing expanded bus service to the entire county. But a few years ago, bus service was reduced. So we’re going to first take a look at what bus routes were cut, and which ones of those are the most feasible to bring back. To support all the bus service, we are also going to launch a bus shelter expansion program. We are going to be looking at modernizing our transit centers as well as building new ones. We are also going to start the development process for some of the projects that take a little longer. We are most excited about both modernizing the downtown street car and expanding it to the Heights. It’s something we are partnering with the city of Tampa on. We’re also going to evaluate the feasibility of putting rail on the CSX line. And then we are looking at other high quality Bus Rapid Transit Systems.

This community has done plan after plan after plan. But now, we can plan with intent and purpose. We have money. We understand there are a lot of great ideas. A lot of people have told me, don’t do another study. We’ve studied everything. My response has been, well I need to study what has been studied because we can’t do it all in year one. We need to identify what’s most important and what transportation challenges we’re trying to solve, and then, let’s go do it. I’ll provide you what the community thinks, how feasible it is, and where we go from here. And I really want to do that on the CSX line so we are going to dig into it, evaluate it, find out what kind of operation we could have, what kind of train. What type of improvements do we need to make to the tracks to make it an efficient option. So that particular evaluation is going to be part of the program of products that we submit to the independent oversight committee. Gandy. Downtown. USF, is the primary trunk line that we are going to look at. 

Not surprisingly, this is similar to much of what the Mayor has said. And it is fine as far as it goes.  However, as we have said a number of times before, one thing that we really think needs to be included in any CSX plan is figuring out how to connect the Gandy to USF “trunk” line (more likely Hyde Park to USF, but we won’t quibble) to the airport/Westshore.  The connection between the airport/Westshore to downtown and on is key to any true transit system in Tampa/Hillsborough County.  He needs to add it to his list of things to work on.


Channel District – Storage

As you may remember, there was a proposal for 111 North Meridian that included a 15 story apartment building and a self-storage facility.  It was rejected.  The developer sought permission to reapply with a proposal that did not need any waivers.  That was recently approved. (see here)  Because in the reapplication the project will not need waivers, it will probably sail through.  We find that unfortunate.  As we have stated before, self-storage is not really a good use of this land, even if the developer tries to dress it up a bit, which this developer admittedly did.  Sure, the design could be worse, but the use should be better.

Interestingly, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The current code allows self-storage projects in the Channel District, with certain conditions. The main condition is self-storage can only be built in the Channel District if it is part of a mixed-use project and that the storage use makes up 40% or less of the project’s floor area.

A motion was made today by Councilman John Dingfelder to revise the code to possibly ban self-storage in the Channel District and revisit the Channel District code in general. We support such a code change.

In general, we oppose storage outside of industrial and rural areas. Self storage is a warehouse, and warehouses belong in industrial areas. Self storage does not contribute to the vibrancy of live/work/play urban environments. They are pedestrian dead zones, unsightly, and encourage hoarding and over-consumption among the population.

People also only typically drive to self storage uses, so it is not a major inconvenience to have someone drive 5 minutes to industrial areas to the east for their storage needs.

We completely agree (especially since there are industrial areas very close to the Channel District).  Self-storage does not really belong downtown or in the Channel District and other urban areas.  The code should have been changed long ago.  We are happy they are going to look at it now.


Downtown – Moving Forward-ish

There was news about the large apartment building proposed 102 E. Tyler.

Development Ventures Group, or Deven, paid $7.3 million for the nearly 1-acre surface parking lot at 102 E. Tyler St. in late June, according to Hillsborough County property records. The developer has also secured a $64.8 million mortgage from Fifth Third Bank.

The seller was McKibbon Hospitality, which filed the original plans for apartments on that property earlier this year. McKibbon had owned the land since 1999.

As you may remember, this was the proposal on the odd lot in between the 275 ramp and Tampa Street and had dorm style apartments.

The apartments will be on the larger side for downtown Tampa. Plans filed with the city show that Deven is planning to build only 188 apartments with a total of 537 bedrooms and 425 bathrooms. By comparison, the 23-story Nine15, which is about two blocks from this site, has 362 units.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While the design is not the highest architecture, but it is decent filler on a complicated lot.   It is way better than a Burger King with a driver thru, the future possibility for which the City Council should remove from the Code while it is looking at self-storage.


South Tampa – More Altura

Last week, we discussed the Altura condo project proposed near Bayshore and Bay to Bay.  The original rendering was quite generic.  Now we have some more drawings.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

First, while the new rendering is not super exciting, it is better than what was initially released.  It still has a couple of issues. First, it is odd that the entrance is on a side street (Barcelona) and the frontage for the more traveled street (Ysabella) is just a landscaped parking garage wall. We are not sure why that choice was made.  While we do not necessarily think a building in this location is going to have a fully activated streetscape, there is enough activity on this street that just having a parking garage with no entrance is not the best.

Another interesting thing is that the parking of the building itself is under the building.  On the lower levels it appears fully covered but the screening gets a little thin higher up.  There is also a garage in the back for the office building next door that appears to be close to the condo building but free standing.

In short, the newer information is better than the initial release.  While not exciting, the monumental aspect of the tower is ok, but there are some things that still should be fixed.


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Another

There is another proposal for “North Hyde Park.”  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A new residential project has been proposed for North Hyde Park called The Crossing at North Hyde Park. The project features a 6-story, 264-unit apartment building at 1102 West Carmen Street. The proposal provides 348 parking space, while an obscene 397 parking spaces are required by the code (meaning a waiver is sought).

The project features no retail space. The project will vacate the end of Fig Street as it dead-ends into CSX railroad tracks.

The developer also reached out to URBN Tampa Bay to explain their ideas (a summary of which are in the comment section of the URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page):

. . . These preliminary renderings and site plan are simply to kick off the development process and should in no way be taken as “final” designs.

The developer is targeting a more attainable price point with this project then what is currently available in the neighborhood, at least among the new construction multi-family projects recently built in the area. Also, the lot is a difficult one, due to its obtuse shape and the CSX tracks to the east. These two points – the targeted price point and the lot – make the design process a bit tougher than other projects. The developer plans to work with URBN and others in the neighborhood to get the project to a point where everyone can be proud of it.

Here are some renderings and a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You can see the area here.

This is a slightly tricky project on an oddly shaped lot that abuts train tracks.  Our initial reaction is that the design is pretty generic.  In fact, almost all the “North Hyde Park” projects look basically the same.   It would be nice to have some variation.

The other striking feature is the lack of retail.  We get that this lot is a bit off the beaten track, but only a bit.  We also think this area is undergoing rather rapid redevelopment so that what seems a bit isolated now will not necessarily be so later.   We do not think this building, which is not on a large through road needs to have a huge amount of retail.  However, retail space for in the northwest corner for a corner store/coffee shop type establishment would be good.  Moreover, in the future, when the lots around it are developed, if they also have retail on the corner, it will become a small neighborhood hub like a proper urban neighborhood.

We appreciate that they do not want to have so much parking and have little problem with that aspect of their request.

We are not sure whether the lower price point is for students or to make the area more accessible to others.  However, it is good to have some offerings at a lower price point, as long as a certain level of quality is maintained.  We also do not think that changes the need for a little retail.

In short, a few tweaks should make this project acceptable.  It is not going to be a landmark, but not all projects are.  However, it can be made better for the good of the project and a rapidly redeveloping neighborhood.

A final note: we hope the City Council will finally address a vision and design standards for this area.


Palmetto Beach – Something New

For those who do not know, Palmetto Beach is an old neighborhood south of Ybor City and Adamo on the north end of the Hookers Point peninsula. (See map here)  While it is close to a number of developing areas, it has not been particularly active.  Now there is a new proposal.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A developer is proposing a 4-story mixed use project at 2020 Oakwood Avenue in Palmetto Beach. The project features 31 apartments and 6,500 square feet of restaurant and retail space.

82 parking spaces are required according to code and 62 spaces are provided (meaning a waiver is sought).

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for

As URBN Tampa Bay says:

Palmetto Beach has been described in some circles recently as a new frontier in Tampa’s urban redevelopment. We like this project. We like how the buildings with ground floor retail are brought up to 22nd Street, Oakwood Avenue, and Maple Avenue. We like the mix of uses. Hopefully this project will serve as a model when developers in other parts of the city say they can’t incorporate retail. (like the project recently denied along Gandy).

There are a series of waivers being sought, but none of them look concerning to us. The necessity of these waivers is more a product of the suburban-style code in this part of the city, then it is a bad project design.

Frankly, we wish more projects looked like this. We recommend approval.

We like this proposal, too. It is not large, but it is well thought out and fits the neighborhood. While there is surface parking, it is screened by retail/office on the street. The design is not earth-shattering but it has clean lines and is not in the North Hyde Park generic apartment style. And it can serve as a catalyst for Palmetto Beach’s redevelopment.

And it was approved.


Hyde Park/South Tampa – Berns

There are new renderings of the proposed small hotel by Berns.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

As we have previously reported, the 4-story hotel is proposed for 1234 South Howard Avenue, directly across the street from The Epicurean. There will be 43 hotel rooms in the 4-story structure, along with 8 suites which will be built inside the apartment buildings which currently sit on the front portion site.

The project’s next ARC hearing is August 5th.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture to post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture to

Really, there is nothing new but the color (and mural). While we are not really enamored with having two curb cuts and car openings in the Howard frontage, overall it looks fine.


Economy – A Looksee

Time to check in with the economy again.


— Employment

The new unemployment numbers are out.

Florida’s unemployment rate stayed at 3.4 percent from May to June, and the state added 16,100 jobs over the month (up less than 1 percent). It has gained and 218,800 jobs since last June (up 2.5 percent).

Business and professional services, which includes the financial service sector, added the second-most jobs between June 2018 and last month (40,500 jobs), following education and health services (54,700 jobs).

The growth in jobs for the sector is because of a strong talent pipeline from as early as high school, PNC economist Abbey Omodunbi said. He said that’s especially true for Tampa Bay, the “financial services capital” of the state.

Of course whether those services are lower pay back-off (the traditional strength in Tampa) and call center services or the higher pay jobs is a question.  In any event, growth is good, but

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate rose to 3.5 percent in June from May’s 3.1 percent. Hillsborough County’s unemployment rate jumped to 3.4 percent from 3 percent, Pinellas County increased to 3.2 percent from 2.9 percent, Hernando County jumped to 4.7 percent from 4.1 percent and Pasco County increased to 3.8 percent from 3.4 percent.

The bay area lost 7,500 jobs over the month (down half a percent) but has added 29,300 jobs over the year (up 2.2 percent), the second-highest annual job gain of any Florida metro after Orlando (48,600 jobs). 

We are not sure for the latest job losses, but hopefully that is just a blip. Also of note:

Tampa’s job growth numbers are the second-highest in the state among metropolitan areas. 

Industries with the highest growth include professional and business services, which added 7,200 new jobs, education and health services with 5,700 new jobs and construction with 5,000 new jobs. 

Tampa had the highest job demand of all state metro areas with nearly 60,000 posted job openings, according to the state’s data.

That would seem to indicate that the talent pipeline is not where it needs to be (as would the Tampa Bay Partnership’s scorecard). Moreover,

Of those, nearly 20,000 were for high-skill, high-wage jobs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. That’s also the highest job demand rate in the state. Tampa Bay area leaders and its various economic development boards target STEM jobs through things like tax credit incentives and job training initiatives. 

Once again, there are STEM jobs that are high-skill, high-pay.  But there are other things that often get lumped into the STEM category that are not so much – like tech company customer service jobs.  It is unclear what mix makes up the 20,000.  It is also unclear why, if population growth is so high and the area is such a draw, there are so many openings rather than having them filled with transplants if the locals do not have the needed skills (though it should be remembered that what might be higher pay here may be lower pay elsewhere and the opportunity for advancement may be more limited here than elsewhere).


— Housing

Then there is this:

According to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions, average earnings in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties fall considerably short of the annual income required to buy a house, based on a 28 percent front end debt-to-income ratio and 3 percent down.

The average resident in Hillsborough County earns slightly more than $54,000, compared to a required annual income (for a house) of $58,258. In Pinellas County, the average income is $49,000, less than the $60,284 required to buy a house. In Pasco County, the average income of $39,000 falls short of the required annual income of $44,877.

Housing has become less affordable within the past year. Median home price has grown by 6.8 percent year-over-year in Pinellas County. Pasco County has had 2.1 percent year-over-year growth in the same category, while the median home price in Hillsborough County increased by only 0.6 percent.

The report is here.  And there are mixed new numbers on sales:

According to figures released Tuesday by Florida Realtors, Pasco had the biggest decline in house sales in June, down nearly 8 percent from the same month a year ago. Prices rose 3.8 percent, to a median of $230,000.

Here’s how other bay area counties fared:

Pinellas — Sales down 7.4 percent, prices up 3.2 percent to a median of $275,000.

Hillsbrough — Sales up 3.2 percent, prices down about 1 percent.

Hernando — Sales up 11.3 percent, prices up 5.8 percent to a median of $179,900.

And this:

As a result, Bay area home shoppers are looking away from Tampa and St. Petersburg, turning their attention instead toward the more affordable suburbs. Data from the Opendoor app shows that the most buyer interest and activity occur in ZIP codes in Riverview, Brandon, Carrollwood/Northdale and Valrico. Homes are selling quickest in Largo, Town ‘n’ Country, Bloomingdale and Lutz.

Transportation is already a big cost in the area.  The farther away from jobs people have to move, the more expensive it becomes, especially with few alternatives and with FDOT (and some others) committed to variable rate toll lanes as the main means of improving to transportation infrastructure. When addressing talent, these are also issues that need to be discussed.


West Tampa – This Could/Should Be Better

A while back a development company (see here) bought the Santaella Cigar Factory at 1906 N. Armenia (map here). From 83 Degrees Media in September 2018:

Mike Hettrich isn’t a big believer in fate but he’s pretty sure fate has something to with his recent acquisition of the historic Santaella Cigar factory on Armenia Avenue just north of Interstate 275 in West Tampa.

The Chicagoan and his partner, Phil Farley, purchased the century-old building about six months ago, immediately after year-long negotiations on an Ybor City cigar factory fell through. 

* * *

Hettrich, who is a carpenter by trade, has been overseeing the roughly $2.7 million worth of construction and renovations on the property. Additions include new windows, a paved parking lot, and a steel and glass entryway that flows into the old brick building. “We’re trying to create the juxtaposition of clean and modern with the old,” Hettrich says. 

* * *

“Anything we’re pulling out we’re reusing,” Hettrich says. “Our insurance company made us take down the block wall around the building because it was falling into the sidewalk. We took it down surgically and then cleaned all the stones and piled them up where the walls are to rebuild with the same stone.”

Santaellla has also built a reputation as an artist’s commune, where creatives can find affordable rent. Perhaps most importantly, the new owners say they won’t raise rents on any existing tenants.  

Rebuilding the wall with the original materials is good, but it seems the overall plan has not turned out exactly as portrayed.  From the Times back in January:

Despite repeated warnings, Hettrich failed to obtain permits for the work or to certify that new electrical work is safe, according to city authorities. On Friday, artists who rent space in the Santaella building were ordered to vacate and power was shut off.

It marked the third time the city ordered construction on the project stopped.

Hettrich said he thought he had all the proper permits and sees the delays as a part of doing business. He said the work now under way will restore each factory to its former glory.  

* * *

This includes rebuilding shaky walls, he said, and adding a new events center.

City officials remain skeptical.

“We don’t know the extent of their work or the potential risk,” said Dryden, with construction services. “It is impossible to know if it is safe.”

Said Tampa Fire Marshal John Reed, “There were conditions inside that met the definition of being immediately dangerous to life and health.”

Fire sprinklers were covered, stairways had no rails, and electrical modifications were never inspected by the city, Dryden said.

Hettrich’s record in construction also has the cigar factory advocates worried.

He is still facing a felony charge in Pinellas County from October 2017 that he did contracting work without a license. In 2015, his Artisan Group in Cook County, Illinois, was ordered to pay a client nearly $424,000 over fraudulent construction services. And last February, his business partner Phil Farley pleaded guilty to negligently causing the release of asbestos in the development of St. Petersburg’s Urban Style Flats apartments.

We do not know the details of any of that so we are not going to get into it.  But, this week, URBN Tampa Bay re-posted a Facebook post protesting the painting of the brick exterior of the building white. You can see the post here.  This is one of the pictures included:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Also note the first floor window replacements. As you might guess, most of the comments were against the repainting. That drew a number of responses from the developer, including this:

Good thing it’s our building, our money, and our decision. The building has been in Tampa since 1902. Plenty of time for anyone who thinks they have the right to dictate design choices, to buy it themselves. For that matter, if these buildings are so treasured by the city and its residents, why doesn’t the city step up and rehabilitate them. Looks like we’re the only ones willing to take the risk. While everyone tries to give input from the sidelines. Reminds me of my favorite quote…

First, we are sympathetic to not making things exceptionally difficult for developers who want to invest money and improve an area, though they should not have carte blanche. And we are cognizant of the property rights. Though we are also cognizant of community interest in certain buildings and the general environment of their area.

And everyone is entitled to their opinion.  However, let’s just say sometimes the expression of that opinion lacks some nuance.

But more to the point, this is a complete failing of the City to deal with historical buildings. First, how do they not really know what is going on inside the building?  Second, why are there no protections for the cigar factories?

In 2006, the City Council considered declaring all of Tampa’s cigar factories historic landmarks but a group of owners argued successfully that the move would infringe upon property rights.

Linda Saul-Sena, a member of the City Council at the time and a backer of landmark designation, said it is time to reconsider that decision.

“Instead of looking at the greater good of the community, the city administration was afraid of making property owners angry,” she said. “When you buy a cigar factory you have a responsibility to protect it.”

Which is why we agree with this:

“We have to do anything and everything within our power and the limits of the law,” said Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who represents West Tampa. “They are the castles of our neighborhood.”

One option, he said: Have the city declare all cigar factories historic landmarks, providing some level of government oversight. Neither the Santaella nor Pendas factories carry this designation.

Typically, it is property owners who seek out landmark status, but it comes with a burden: Changes to the exterior must follow city guidelines meant to preserve its original appearance. Owners do have access to preservation grants.

Historic designation does not preclude modernizing the interior, but Maniscalco said landmark status might scare owners from cutting corners that could endanger the buildings.

Tampa is not the same place it was in 2006.  It is all well and good to go on and on about our cigar making past and call ourselves “Cigar City,” but we have already demolished so much of our history.  Instead of just having lectures at the History Center, it would be far better to protect at least the exterior appearance of the few remaining factories that were the key infrastructure in that history.  Just another thing on the City Council’s plate.


Rays

Here are this week’s Rays links. Here, here, here, here, and here.


Because We Can

Finally, a couple of update pictures of Water Street from the Accountant at SkyscraperCity.

Here’s a closer-up of 815 Water Street:

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for

And the big view:

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

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