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Roundup 8-2-2019

August 1, 2019



— Taxing

— Anything But What Makes Sense

Hyde Park/Downtown – UT

Downtown – Like Old Times

Built Environment/Westshore-ish  – How Not To Do It

West Tampa/Built Environment – History


— That’s Cheap


Economic Development – Incubator Money

Tourism – How About the New Tampa


Because We Can

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Self-Driving Cars

— That Other Obvious Thing

— Sydney Trams



— Taxing

With the referendum lawsuits still out there and the loudly announced news that the County does not have the money for the past county Commission’s $800 million road plan, the present County Commission is looking for ways to pay for transportation.

Commissioners voted 6-0 to suspend the transportation surtax from the county budget. The tax is estimated to generate millions of dollars for certain transportation-related needs.

Even with the limited way the surtax could be spent, there will still be a shortfall, Public Works Director John Lyons said during the Thursday workshop meeting discussing the county budget.

So what are the ideas?

The likelihood of the Florida Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the county’s one-cent transportation tax by the final budget hearing is slim at best, Lyons said. And until that happens, the county can’t take a gamble on a favorable ruling.

Lyons presented the board with four options for funding the transportation shortfall. Increasing the county’s fuel tax by 5 cents would bring in an estimated $29.8 million in revenue for the county each year, Lyons said. Increasing the county’s communication services tax from 4 percent in the unincorporated areas to the maximum 5.22 percent would generate an additional $5.9 million each year, Lyons said, and levying a 10 percent public service tax on county services such as water and electricity would bring in up to $80 million each year.

Commissioners balked at the idea of increasing the countywide millage, voting instead to keep rates no higher than the current levels next fiscal year.

The county will continue to fund its existing transportation projects, but it will not embark on any new initiatives that rely on property taxes for funding.

Those are all ideas.  And if you want stuff you have to pay for them.  But let us remember how we got here:

The area’s current comprehensive transportation needs total $2.58 billion for safety, maintenance and congestion relief, according to the presentation. Out of the $2.58 billion, $249 million has been spent to date.


The county is facing a shortfall when it comes to funding the laundry list of transportation projects that have gone neglected despite years of urban sprawl and exploding population growth, said Public Works Director John Lyons said.

County Administrator Mike Merrill had hoped the commission would use some of the new transportation tax revenue to pay for previously-scheduled road projects that are now funded by the county’s dwindling reserve of property taxes. Merrill said the county should do that every year to reduce the budget deficit and free funds to address a backlog of other needs, such as expanding fire service.

In other words, promises were made that could not be kept and needs were ignored while money was spent on other things (like to subsidize sprawling developments that brought us things like TopGolf, which is now opening in St. Pete without any subsidy.)   Now the Administrator wants to use the referendum, which was passed for specific purposes, to pay for the things that previous County Commissions did not provide.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the surtax identified exact percentages for projects, being driven by revenue rather than actual need.

“It flies in the face of good financial planning,” Merrill said, stating it is frustrating because it doesn’t weigh in priorities of projects, and created deficits where the county doesn’t want them.

We are sympathetic to the Administrator’s problem of trying to provide things that his previous bosses promised without being given the money by his previous bosses to pay for them, but we think he has it a bit wrong.  First, the referendum exists because previous Commissions would not pay for things the voters considered priorities.  The referendum money was intended to pay for those priorities.  He does not have to agree with them, but that is clearly the case.

Second, the entire purpose of having categories in the referendum is to make sure the things promised are paid for.  One can speculate what the voters wanted but the only facts are that 1) the referendum with the formula passed by a decent margin and 2) in the same election the voters chose a quite different County commission that supported the referendum with that formula (and 3) there was no referendum endorsing the $800 million plan). It is fair to assume that the formula amounts are the voter priorities, at least for that money.  And those priorities include road money already.

Third, it flies in the face of good financial planning to promise what you cannot pay for and to take money from needed services to subsidize sprawl, pay for pet projects, and do all manners of things the County Commission did for years.  It also flies in the face of good financial planning to develop with the most expensive development pattern when you do not have the money to pay for the needs created by that pattern.  We understand that responsibility for that rest with past Commissions, but that does not change the fact that the situation was untenable.

It will take a lot of time, energy, and, yes, money, to fix the poor decisions (and buck passing) of past Commissions.  The referendum is part of that, but only part – and is to fix very specific things.  Much more will have to be done.  Thankfully, the Commissioners collectively seem to understand that.

— Anything But What Makes Sense

When last we checked in with TBARTA it was going to study hyperloop’s application to transit in this area (hint: extremely questionable).  In certain people’s never-ending quest to not study the most obvious and tried and true solutions for moving large number of people (hint: rail and real BRT on arterial roads) we now have this:

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long told members during a Friday TBARTA committee meeting that there are two opportunities that she wants the board to further discuss, one being the idea of a cable-propelled transit system, also considered gondolas — a concept that has been brought up before and now may be on a future TBARTA agenda to discuss as well as sky taxis.

Long didn’t mention details on the sky taxi system, but said she’s had conversations with Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano about the possibilities.

Sky taxis can go from the rooftop of the Tampa airport to downtown St. Petersburg in six minutes, Long said to the other TBARTA members.

In other words, sky taxis are basically like taking helicopters across the bay.  That does not really sound like mass transportation (nor are we sure about the idea of having a large number of passenger carrying drones flying around the airport).

She said the Tampa Bay area is attractive for sky taxi testing as the companies could take off Tampa and land in St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport going over water, making it safer.

“The problems they are having at Dallas-Fort Worth is where they [would] take off and fly over a very congested area,” Starkey said. “That route, Tampa-St.Pete is a good test route,” she said, stating that’s what Bell Helicopter told her.

Tampa to St. Pete-Clearwater Intl. may be a good test route for technical issues but it is a test route of almost zero utility to the vast majority of the population.  Maybe Raymond James and Franklin Templeton could sponsor it. (We do wonder how these drones will fare in our summer weather.)

How likely is this?

A Tampa airport spokesperson confirmed that Long did speak with Lopano about the concept of sky taxis, but the airport does not currently have an upcoming meeting with any sky taxi companies.

It’s an area a lot of companies working in this space are looking at for vertical takeoff and landing, the airport spokeswoman said, stating it’s an area the airport is watching but there isn’t anything imminent at this time.

Who knows and who really cares?  It is a private initiative.  If they can get it to work and make money from flying people around, great.  But it is not mass transit. (And mass, long distance gondolas which we also mentioned seems a bit ridiculous).

It would be nice if TBARTA would actually look at the real needs of the area and try to come up with solutions for them.  It seems that all the “reform” of TBARTA accomplished was making TBARTA even less relevant to real transportation planning and solutions.

All this silliness is just another reason Hillsborough should not be tied to the lowest common denominator with regional transit idea.

Hyde Park/Downtown – UT

There was news about more building at UT.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The University of Tampa is proposing a new one-story research building at 909 West Kennedy Blvd. where a surface lot is currently located.

Specifically, the project would get rid of the current 1-story structure connected to the larger brick building in the back. The new structure would be built on that current structure’s parking along Kennedy, while the new structure’s parking would go in the back where the current structure sits.

This appears to be on the lot in front of the old Verizon building here.

Here is a rendering and site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

We like the fact that the building is being brought up to Kennedy, and this project does address Kennedy a bit better than other UT structures, but we wish the density was higher for such a prime piece of land.

We agree about the density. However, to our eyes, this proposal, like many other UT buildings on Kennedy, seems to have no actual door onto Kennedy (near Kennedy, but not on Kennedy).  Its Kennedy frontage is mostly fenced, like most of UT.

UT has really improved the school and their campus in the 2000’s. But if we had one complaint it would be that sometimes it seems that UT is determined to not really interact with its immediate surroundings.   We get the idea that a campus should be a sanctuary and learning and study, but there is a nice middle ground between being an island and being completely open.

Downtown – Like Old Times

URBN Tampa Bay had some news of a small project downtown right next to Jackson House (see map here and some pictures of how close here):

An Enterprise Rent-A-Car proposed for Downtown Tampa will go before the Tampa City Council on Thursday:

As you may know, Downtown Tampa has what is called a form-based code. In simple terms, this means that land use is primarily regulated by design as opposed to use. Downtown Tampa’s form-based code does not typically require a hearing before the Tampa City Council. However, when a project proposed within Downtown Tampa is rejected by city staff, the applicant has a chance to appeal before the Tampa City Council to override the staff decision.

This Thursday we have one of those rare appeals. The structure and some surface parking at 608 North Nebraska, owned by the Accardi Brothers, is proposed to be turned into an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Staff has rejected the proposal for a few reasons. First, the “auto rental” use has 4 performance standards that must be met for approval:

“(1) Auto rental shall be limited to noncommercial automobiles, SUV’s, and vans;
(2) No more than twenty (20) rental vehicles shall be stored on the property at one (1) time;
(3) Storage areas for rental vehicles shall be located within an enclosed building or on the second (2nd) level or higher of a multi-story structural parking garage; and
(4) Accessory uses may include car wash, cleaning, and preparation and minor vehicle repairs for rental vehicles only, and such activities shall only occur within an enclosed building or on the second (2nd) level or higher of a multi-story structural parking garage.”

Sec. 27-184.1.

The staff comments note that these standards have not been met by the proposal. From looking at the site plan, it appears as though Enterprise wants to store vehicles outside.

There also appears to be an issue regarding the lot’s former use. It appears the land had been used previously for car rental/storage. It appears as though Enterprise is making an argument that this proposal is a mere renovation, and therefore they shouldn’t have to come in compliance with the 4 special code requirements listed above, which were created after the last car business on the property came into being. However, city staff has noted that the previous car business on the property was acting illegally without proper approvals. Therefore, the city is arguing that this is not a renovation of a past approval, but instead a brand-new project that must conform with today’s code requirements.

The project is also seeking a waiver for narrower drive aisles in their parking lot, and the vacation of the existing alley.

Here are some renderings:


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, setting aside any thoughts about the use of the land, the design, if you can call it that, is terrible.  The walls are mostly blank and uninviting with actually fewer features than the existing structure. There is no pedestrian protection.  Basically it is a nothing box – classic old, cheap Tampa.  We get that the existing building is no work of art, but renovations should make it better not worse, though in past history Tampa had a number of downtown “renovations” that did just that.

Second, as UBRN Tampa Bay points out:

As you can see from the site plan, most of the project’s land area is surface parking, which is inappropriate for Downtown. Also, the surface parking comes all the way up to the historic (and collapsing) Jackson House. What’s the point of keeping historic structures around if we are just going to take them out of their historic context by surrounding them with surface lots?

We also don’t see how a car rental lot with a surface lot contributes to good live, work, play environment. As you will see from the renderings, the proposal does an awful job of interacting with the street. Most of it is just blank wall.

Not only is this project really bad, the fact that it could have, in theory, sneaked through without a vote in downtown is ridiculous.  Of course, it does not matter when this happens:

BREAKING: The Tampa City Council APPROVED the Enterprise Rent-A-Car for 608 Nebraska Avenue in Downtown Tampa. The vote was 6-0. Carlson was absent.

URBN Tampa Bay is right about this:

It’s rather disappointing the council is willing to waive development standards in order to approve a sub-standard project, regardless if it’s a existing building or not.

Some mention was also made that this lot, despite falling within the CBD zone, is in a part of of the CBD which is somehow “different” then the rest of Downtown, and that the standards should be lower.

Just because this part of the CBD isn’t as developed as other parts of the CBD, doesn’t mean it should have lower design standards. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to lower development standards due to an area not being as nice. That’s all you’ll ever get.

Pretty much.

The low standards and low expectations so many of our elected officials really have for our area as evidenced in the votes always kind of amaze us (especially to undermine staff’s working to maintain rules).  There is so much hype and then we get things like this.  Really poor, Tampa.  Really poor.

Built Environment/Westshore-ish  – How Not To Do It

While this building has actually been under construction for a while, URBN Tampa Bay gave us some details:

Men’s Warehouse in Westshore will relocate to make way for Midtown Tampa. The store currently along Dale Mabry just south of I-275 will move just a block away to a new building under construction at the southwest corner of Dale Mabry and Cypress. The site plan is attached.

Here is the site plan

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

You can click on the picture to see a much larger site plan. The plan is not that clear but it appears that the store will face the parking lot in the back, not the street. This was URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

While we like how the new buildings are being brought up to Dale Mabry, though it may not matter if it is only the back of the building.

They are right, and this is not the first time this faux urban design has happened in Tampa. A few years ago, there were some developments on Westshore just south of Spruce that were planned close to the street. (Here)  However, they faced back into the parking lot.  Before that there were a number of office buildings built around town up to the sidewalk with no door facing the street.  We thought Tampa had learned. But maybe not.

Moreover, why is there a curb cut in that plan?  The lot is bounded by two side streets.  There is no need to break up the sidewalk.

It is just not that hard to plan something this straightforward properly and make it work.  All it takes is the caring and not being lazy.  Then again, when the Midtown plan was approved with a large and unnecessary surface lot right on Dale Mabry, we should not be surprised.  Just remember that if the City does not care, neither will developers.

West Tampa/Built Environment – History

Last week, we discussed the goings on at the Santaella Cigar Factory and issues with the renovation.  We said this:

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.

This week:

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder said he will ask at Thursday’s council meeting to have the city’s legal department investigate options for historical preservation of all Tampa’s cigar factories.

Two of his colleagues on the council agree a discussion is needed — Guido Maniscalco, who represents West Tampa, and Charlie Miranda, who lives there.

We do not know what they will come up with, but we are all for that effort.  While there should be limits on just how much is declared historical and worthy of preservation, something are quite obvious.  In Tampa the cigar factories are high on the list (especially when we have to deal with situations like this, which are further discussed in the Times article here).


— That’s Cheap

It turns out that:

Looking for cheap flights? Domestic airfares at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport average $126.14, the eighth least expensive among U.S. 416 airports during the first quarter of 2019.

Nationally, the average fare was $352.06, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The averages are based on round-trip airfares or one-way flights where no return trip was booked. Domestic airfares at Tampa International Airport averaged $311.32.

Of course, if you look at the list from the government (here) it becomes fairly obvious fairly fast (and fairly unsurprisingly) that small airports served by only one or two ultra-low cost carriers have the lowest average prices. (Not surprisingly Orlando-Sanford and Punta Gorda, both with a big Allegiant presence like St. Pete-Clearwater were also very cheap)  And that is fine for St. Pete-Clearwater, except it leaves them vulnerable to problems with that one airline.

More interestingly, the average fare at Tampa (311.32) seemed a good bit higher than the average at Orlando (260.89) or Ft. Lauderdale (265.01). (You can see a list of Florida airports in a Business Journal article here)  While they are both hubs/focus cities for low cost carriers, that still seems a big difference, as there also seems to be with a number of international flights.


In more regular airport news, which we kind of knew:

United Parcel Services will be in a new and larger space at Tampa International Airport.

The new UPS warehouse building will be more than double the current space at 41,000 square feet. UPS’s current 17,640-square-foot warehouse space is in Suite S at the North Cargo Building. However, that will become Airside D, a 16-gate international airside in Phase 3 of the airport’s $2.6 billion master plan expansion.

As a result, cargo operations are being relocated to 70 acres east of the main terminal.

Airport officials will discuss a new ground lease for UPS during the Aug. 1 meeting as its current lease ends June 18, 2020. The initial term for the new ground lease is for 20 years. There are two, five-year renewals. If approved, the agreement will have a termination date of Aug. 1, 2049.

While Amazon is moving to Lakeland, this is good news for the cargo business. We look forward to all these changes and the new airside that should be built where the cargo planes are parked now.

Economic Development – Incubator Money

There was news about the Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator in St. Pete:

The Trump administration on Monday awarded Pinellas County $7.5 million to help build the planned $12 million Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator just south of downtown.

* * *

Pinellas County commissioners have agreed to put up the remaining $4.5 million for the project, a 45,000-square-foot facility to be built on 2.5 acres currently owned by the city. The site is at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and 11th Avenue S in the Brookside Park neighborhood.

The proposed location is here.  The area is primed for redevelopment so, aside for the incubator aspect, this facility could be very useful.

“There’s just so many opportunities that a facility like this can bring,” said Tonya Elmore, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nonprofit organization that has a county contract to provide incubator services to startups and growing companies. The new facility will be big enough for the center and its incubator program and should have space for public gatherings, too. Elmore also is looking to bring in a 3D printing prototype lab and advanced manufacturing capabilities so that tech companies can show prospective investors and clients examples of their products.

* * *

Local officials have estimated the 2-story building will take 12 to 16 months to design and another 20 months to build. Within its first nine years, the incubator is expected to work with three cycles of new firms, creating or growing an estimated 150 companies along the way. Greenwood Consulting Group has estimated that the incubator should be supporting 1,265 jobs and generating $127 million annually by its fourth year. Local officials have projected those jobs will pay average salaries of about $54,000 a year.

While that would be nice, we do not necessarily buy into those projections.  Nevertheless, having a dedicated facility for an incubator will be a good thing and having the federal government pay for the majority of it is even better.

There is one thing.  This is the rendering included in the article:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The building looks ok, but given that they still have to design it, the rendering is more conceptual.  However, as URBN Tampa Bay notes:

. . . we can’t help but point out that the asphalt surface parking lot which dominates this rendering is anything but innovative.

Since they still have to do the 12-16 month design phase, they may want to address the parking and also make sure they treat any frontage on Booker Creek, which already has some very cool segments and should become a central and connecting feature of Central St. Pete once the Trop land is redeveloped, properly.  There is still time.  Be innovative and do it right.

Tourism – How About the New Tampa

The Times ran an odd little article entitled “Is Tampa the new Miami for tourists?

As tourism analyst Chris Klauda was on her way from Tennessee to Tampa, she chatted with a fellow traveler: “a classic millennial.”

“She told me Tampa was the new Miami,” Klauda said during a Thursday morning presentation to a group of Hillsborough County hoteliers.

That one comment notwithstanding, the simple answer to the question is “No.”  Mayor’s media team which forwarded the story in an email take note, Tampa is Tampa and Miami is Miami. (When an internationally known figure says they are “taking their talents to South Howard” or something similar and everyone knows what they mean, then maybe they’ll be the same.) They may have some things in common, but they are very different, especially tourism/reputation-wise.  And that’s OK, though we would like more international flights and tourists and a higher profile.

The rest of the article is devoted to how the tourism industry in this area is doing fine, along with most of the state, though there is the possibility of rough patches. You can read it here.


This week’s Rays article is here.

Because We Can

The Business Journal had another of their aerial construction photo collections.  We decided to post two.  The first is an example of lost opportunities at the Westshore Marina District:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Yes, other parts of that development will be better, but the large section pictures is not an urban, walkable design at all.

The other picture is the JW Marriot, because, well, it is not a waste of perfectly good land near the waterfront.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As some may know, TBARTA has a twitter account and a weekly email newsletter with links to various articles of apparent interest to TBARTA.  This week they had a link to an article about Pittsburgh’s new BRT line (here).

As some of you may remember, Pittsburgh has a bus transitway that has been held out as a (flawed) model for some local bus service.   But, as we have noted before, the new Pittsburgh BRT line is not in the transitway.  In fact, it is along surface, arterial roads. We are not going to get into all the details about how the Pittsburgh line is nothing like TBARTA’s “BRT” plan, but it is nothing like that plan. The Pittsburgh plan makes sense.  You can read more about it here, here, and here.

Now we know that TBARTA knows what real BRT looks like.  They have even less excuse for the “BRT” plan.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Self-Driving Cars

There is more news about the issues facing self-driving cars (autonomous vehicles) like this:

Ford Motor Co. Opens a New Window. , General Motors Opens a New Window. and other carmakers Opens a New Window.  are pouring billions of dollars into developing autonomous technology Opens a New Window. as companies come to the realization that launching the self-driving vehicles will be much more difficult than previously envisioned.

* * *

The fear is that the offering will be too difficult to develop and the firms will be forced to license software from Google or Apple, effectively giving those companies ownership of the customer interface and, subsequently, all the data that is collected. While companies may make some profits off of providing mobility services like ride-sharing, the major revenue stream for self-driving cars will be in the user information they gather.  

In other words, self-driving cars will be another means to get and profit from your information.

Or this, this or this.

The fact is that the more you read about it, the more you realize that wide-spread self-driving cars for everyday driving are a long way off. As we have often said, we are fine with testing, especially on a closed track.  However, real transportation solutions for today and the foreseeable future should not be dependent on a technology that does not exist and probably will not exist for a long time.

— That Other Obvious Thing

And at the nexus of drone-taxis and self-driving cars is this:

Cybersecurity has quickly become a priority for large corporations, businesses, and individuals alike in recent years. It seems like another major data breach is being reported every other week, and personal online accounts are often compromised by malicious actors. Now, a new study out of the Georgia Institute of Technology has found that hackers may soon be able to cause major traffic problems in the real world by hacking and stranding internet-connected cars.

The study’s authors theorize that hackers would only have to shut down a portion of cars on the road in a busy city like Manhattan during rush hour to completely shut down traffic and gridlock the city. Researchers hope that their findings will spark a more detailed analysis of automotive cybersecurity, especially moving forward as cars become more and more high tech.

(Full article here) And this

The Department of Homeland Security issued a security alert Tuesday for small planes, warning that modern flight systems are vulnerable to hacking if someone manages to gain physical access to the aircraft.

(Full article here) And that hacking will only get easier if aerial vehicles are remotely controlled.

This is just one more major reason to be a little cautious about autonomous vehicles.

— Sydney Trams

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting story (here) of how Sydney, Australia, got rid of its tram network in the 1950’s.   We are not going to get into the details, but it sounds strangely familiar.

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