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Roundup 8-23-2019

August 22, 2019




— Roads to Nowhere

— Some Ferry

— More Ferry-ish

West Tampa – That Cigar Factory

Ybor City – German Club

Governance – Adventures in Planning

Politics/Regionalism – Water

Economy – Employment

USF/Downtown/Channel District – Moving

Because We Can

Meanwhile, Around Town

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State




We are still waiting for the Courts to finally decide all the issues surrounding the referendum.  Meanwhile:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is moving forward with a $253 million spending plan for new revenue resulting from the voter-approved All For Transportation tax referendum.

Included in the proposed spending plan is $82 million for reserves and extensive new funding for things like new buses, corridor studies, facility improvements and broad service enhancements.

Next, the plan will head to the Independent Oversight Committee, which was assembled as part of the All For Transportation charter amendment. The plan is due by the end of September.

Despite ongoing appeals to a lawsuit challenging the new tax, the spending plan will move forward.

And so it should be.  We have enough needs (hence the referendum in the first place).  If the referendum is upheld, no time should be wasted addressing them.

— Roads to Nowhere

We have discussed the Legislature’s toll road plan many times and we are not going to go over the whole thing again.  However, the Times had an opinion piece by the head of the Florida Chamber of Commerce that said something we thought was worth a brief comment.

Florida is growing fast. Florida Chamber Foundation research shows we can expect another 4.5 million new residents by 2030, and 3 million more drivers on Florida’s roadways by the same time period. On top of that, 50 million more annual visitors.

* * *

While Florida’s economy is stronger, our public budgets are healthier, and Florida is home to fresh perspectives that will continue to make us more competitive, there are challenges that come with 900 net new people moving here each day. Mainly, maintaining the safety and efficiency of our transportation system.

I understand there are some who will always oppose smart growth and economic opportunities, believing that a thriving economy cannot co-exist with responsible environmentalism or that our roadways are already adequate for the future. These are the same. And some will call these “roads to nowhere,” even though I highly doubt that cities like Lakeland, Ocala, Naples and others would consider themselves “nowhere.”

First, we agree that the population will grow.  Second, Lakeland, Naples, and Ocala already have interstate (and more) connections.  Third, the toll road that would have gone to Ocala was rejected by Ocala.   (The new plan does not appear to go to Ocala.)  And, as we have noted before, the road from near Naples to near Lakeland has been rejected numerous times and shown to be driven by large land owners in between.

But more to the point for us, some may oppose any growth, but that is not us.  We do not even oppose all roads.  However, there are two things to keep in mind.  First, we favor fixing problems that already exist before moving on to problems that may exist in the future.  We need transit alternatives where people are living now.

Second, while the people may be coming, where they will live is yet to be determined.  That is largely a question of planning and choices, in other words growth management.  Implicit in the highway plan is a sprawling pattern of growth that develops far more land that is now farms or open areas.  That does not have to be the choice.  Growth can be directed to already built up areas and money spent on improving the infrastructure there. It is not that we do not need infrastructure spending, and even some improved highways.  It is a question of where the money is spent and why.  We can have rational growth and protect the environment or we can have a model that promotes more and more sprawl throughout the state.

For us, it is all about choices and priorities.  The state has limited supply of money. (see, for instance, here) With this plan, it is choosing to create (not address) future needs rather than address the needs of the residents it already has.  As we have said many times, maybe at some point in the future these roads will be needed, but, now, with the money we have, is not the time.

— Some Ferry

Hillsborough County has decided to fund the Cross-Bay Ferry again.

Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to contribute nearly $300,000 over the next two years to help operate the Cross-Bay Ferry through 2021. St. Petersburg and Pinellas politicians have already approved their shares. Tampa City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday.

We have been clear that we think that ferry is fine, but it really should be a private venture. (Tampa approved the money, too.)  One thing it is not is this, From Florida Politics:

“The return on investment is incredible,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman. “I think that’s a point that needs to be made to the public, too.”

As we explained last week (albeit it took us two tries) is that the money invested in the ferry could be used more effectively on other things.  (see here)  Moreover,

The interlocal agreement also includes a revenue sharing provision. The city of St. Pete would receive half of any revenue exceeding $400,000 and split that revenue equally with Pinellas and Hillsborough and the city of Tampa.

However, revenues in the most recent season did not reach the $400,000 threshold and the city does not expect the next to seasons to reach it either, meaning it’s unlikely the local governments would recoup any funds.

Not to mention:

The ferry continues to see most of its success on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. More than 18,500 tickets were sold on weekends in November, December and January last season. Weekdays were much slower, with the boat sometimes sailing with a handful of people or less.

Trips with just 15 passengers or less accounted for about a quarter of the departures during the first half of the season. That’s 10 percent or less of capacity, and happened most often on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A handful of times, it sailed with just one or two passengers on board.

Data from the pilot year showed people weren’t interested in taking the boat to and from work. The updated schedule caters to weekend events, sports games, date nights and other entertainment options.

We have seen nothing to change our opinion that the Cross-Bay Ferry, as nice as it may be, is a fun cruise and fun cruises should be privately run.  So fund it for now, but there has to be a plan to stop public support and sooner rather than later.

— More Ferry-ish

We are not going to get into this very much but it may have an effect on the ferry issue, so we will throw it out there.  The Times had an article this week regarding the main agent for the ferry companies and two County Commissioners with this introductory description:

Ed Turanchik, who represents companies hoping to operate a proposed MacDill Air Force Base ferry, denies any unprofessionalism. But both Sandy Murman and Les Miller have given sharply different accounts of their interactions with him following an Aug. 7 county commission vote.

As we said, we are not going to get into it, but you can read it here and draw your own conclusions.

West Tampa – That Cigar Factory

There is more news about the proposal to renovate and repurpose the cigar factory at 1202 North Howard Avenue.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans to renovate the vacant cigar factory at 1202 North Howard Avenue are moving forward again. Originally, the developer was proposing to turn the project into a hotel, then they changed the proposal to an office building, and now they are back at hotel.

The hotel would have 70 rooms total. The city code requires 75 off-street parking spaces. The developer is looking to provide 61 off-street parking spaces, so a waiver is requested. (possibly a sign that the parking minimums are too high?)


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, the renderings look nice. (Though maybe they should paint it white. . . just kidding) We have no knowledge of all the buildings indicated around the factory in the drawings, but the factory looks nice. However, as before, the pool is in an odd location as it will be shaded quite a bit.  And there is quite a bit of parking.  As URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Even with this waiver, you can tell from the attached site plan that parking takes up just as much if not more land than the hotel itself.

It’s an inefficient use of land, and at some point you have to figure that if you are going to surround your historic buildings with surface lots when you try to “save” them, then perhaps the surface parking is taking the structure so far out of its historic context that it loses its historic-ness altogether.

We’ll be interested to see if the developer has anything in mind for the land they are leaving vacant, lot “B” in the site plan.

Of course, we would be happy to see the factory renovated.

We understand that a hotel needs parking. However, as noted, there is an issue having so much surface parking around the building.  Right now, it will not be nestled in an urban area of similarly sized buildings.  It will be surrounded by surface parking and short buildings.  Moreover, some of that surface parking will front Howard. And the plan for lot B is relevant for a few reasons beyond simply being interesting in-and-of-itself. First, what will surround the surface lot that fronts Howard?  Second, will it use the parking in the surface lot or will there be even more surface parking?

We are all for repurposing the factory. And we understand the need for parking.  However, as noted, this much surface parking, especially the part fronting Howard is an inefficient and unattractive use of land. Since the developer has been going back and forth with designs, we hope they go back one more time and make it a cleaner, more attractive overall plan.  The building looks nice enough in the drawings.  It would be good if the surroundings did, too.

Ybor City – German Club

The German Club is being renovated and repurposed with an expansion:

Restoration has officially begun on the historic German American Club in Ybor City. The building, constructed in 1909, will soon serve as a new state-of-the-art facility for Metro Inclusive Health (METRO), and CAN Community Health.

* * *

The updates are all about preserving The German American Club’s history. The Grand Hall will be fully restored and is set to serve as a new gathering place for METRO’s community programs.

Of course, there will be some updates. METRO is building out a 3-story, 15,000 square foot addition to the historic building.


From – click on picture for website


From – click on picture for website

Repurposing and adding to a historic building is always tricky. The project looks good, at least in the renderings. (And we don’t mind if they paint this building white.) Hopefully, the final product will, too.

Governance – Adventures in Planning

The last two week have seen a bit of oddness from the County Commission.  From Florida Politics:

Hillsborough County Commission rejected an attempt to rescind a previous board action implementing guidelines for future development.

In a move initiated by Commissioner Mariella Smith, the board walked back a vote at a workshop last Thursday approving a guiding document for creating “a balanced approach to community building.”

The vote to rescind the approval fell along the same lines as the initial workshop vote with Smith and Pat Kemp voting to overturn the vote and Commissioners Kimberly Overman, Ken Hagan, Stacy White, Sandy Murman and Les Miller voting against.

Smith asked that the vote be rescinded because she felt “ambushed” by its introduction. The three-page document was not distributed to commissioners until the meeting, there was no opportunity for public input and taking action at workshops is against the board’s own rules.

Let’s look at what happened to cause this:

Smith, as well as the rest of the board, did not receive the document in advance of the meeting, which meant they had little to no time to review it or ask questions of staff before taking it to a public forum. 

* * *

“It’s as if [Mike Merrill] scribbled this out over lunch and then just handed it to us,” Smith said.

She has reason to feel that way. Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure, told commissioners angry they didn’t have more time to consider the document that it had not been ready the day before Thursday’s meeting.

In fact, when pressed further by Kemp, Garsys said the document had not even been ready at 11 a.m. the day of the meeting. The meeting started at 1:30.

That is far from ideal for anything dealing with planning (or really anything), even just setting guidelines.

Further, Hillsborough County Commissioners aren’t supposed to take action during workshop meetings where no public comment is taken.

However, board members can ask their colleagues to waive the rules to make a motion, a request that is often obliged as a professional courtesy. That’s what happened Thursday when White moved to approve the three-page document.

What exactly was in the document:

The document in question is vague, but it covers a sweeping variety of issues the county is and will continue to face in the future.

It’s aimed at ensuring long-term financial sustainability, growing responsibly, meeting essential service needs for residents and delivering “an agreed-upon quality of life.”

To do that the document calls for the county to include agricultural preservation but also provide choice to property owners to have the ability to transfer development rights of their property.

It also recommends preserving heritage lands, creating urban scale development that attracts innovation, creating economic development zones in natural “nodes” like the Interstate 4 and Highway 60 corridors, requiring developers to cover the cost of all infrastructure and service needs in areas outside the urban service area and encouraging workforce housing and transit choices.

* * *

The document also mentions “sector planning.” County staff described such a tool as a way to manage growth and development based on an area’s needs in a data-driven approach that’s specific community-to-community.

However, Smith argues it’s more commonly used by developers to create large-scale projects on rural lands that encourage urban sprawl.

(If you want to read a little about sector planning you can look here.)

You can see the document, a PowerPoint, in an agenda item here. According to the linked agenda item linked above, there is a lot of background material, but the PowerPoint does not represent that (and it does not seem the information was presented with the document).  In fact, the above quote is probably longer and more informative than the PowerPoint.  We are not clear why Commissioners felt the need to vote so quickly and without real discussion on a rushed and unsupported document, even if it had some good ideas.

Going back to the meeting this week:

In the spirit of compromise, both White and Miller said they would support at a future meeting an amendment to the document that provided alternatives to sector planning. 

In a related move, Overman made a motion to set a Development and Mobility Workshop for as soon as possible and require any back up documents for that meeting to be provided at least 48-hours in advance. She also asked to waive board rules blocking public comment during workshops so members of the public could weigh in.

Her motion passed unanimously.

We are glad that they are acknowledging that there are issues with the document.  The compromise process seems tolerable (especially given the votes), if not optimal, as long as it actually addresses the real issues.  However, we still are not clear why there was a rush (or why sector planning was even mentioned in such a vague document).

The fact is that planning is fraught with issues.  And, in this area, it has been very poorly done (and costly to residents).  Even setting guidelines in such a rushed and not well-considered way is problematic.  (Even more so given the long history of poor planning and failure to adhere to any plans.)  And, more to the point, even if there were some good things in the document (and there were) what would have been the harm in not rushing and actually considering it properly and publicly? The Commission could have saved itself some hassle (and bad optics) and increased public confidence by just taking a little time and being more open.

And whatever guidelines they come up with, we need to be done with subsidizing sprawl.

Politics/Regionalism – Water

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Tampa’s Toilet to Tap proposal and said this:

And that is all interesting.  However, the bottom line is that if the idea is good – meaning the science makes sense and the cost-benefit analysis is favorable – it should be pursued (especially if Tampa Bay Water is the organization that does it).

But that caveat is important.  The coverage of this issue has focused much more on arguments between politicians rather than the actual idea, more specifically the science and the cost-benefit analysis.  That lack of serious information about this project plus the aggressive push for it over time has made us wonder more and more. . .

* * *

Well, why aren’t the questions answered?  And why did Tampa push the project so hard if they did not have the science proven and the cost-benefit analysis done? If there is a risk to the environment, is it worth taking for the benefit?  Is there a better/safer way to do it? And how is this project going to be paid for? Who is in line to benefit from the $350 million?  Is that even a reasonable number or is it going to be bigger (we suspect it will be)?  How much will it really cost the City after loans/bonds are accounted for?  How much of a burden on the City budget will that be?  What is the actual projected need for the new water?  What is the hurry? And why can’t/won’t Tampa Bay Water do it instead?

There are more questions, but that will do for now.   We need actual answers based in actual facts.  Institutional inertia (at City Hall) is not justification for a project, especially one this expensive.  If it wants this, the City should make the case (not just to Tampa Bay Water but to the people of the Tampa, who will likely have to pay some way or the other).

This week, there was another Tampa Bay Water meeting and the report in the Times (here) was once again full of arguments like this:

Rice said Tampa withdrew its proposal rather than provide more details earlier this summer, squelching an option to get $1.6 million in funding from the agency for the project the city dubs the “Tampa Augmentation Project” or TAP. And she decried Tampa’s objection to using Nickerson for additional analysis.

“There’s a pattern here. When Tampa didn’t like the way things were going with the $1.6 million that we offered, they took it off the table when we asked for more transparency. And, now, alas, that Mr. Nickerson gave us an opinion that Tampa didn’t like now they’re using a legal technicality to block us from asking the same attorney any more questions,” she said.

That got Miranda’s dander up. The Tampa council member, who has been involved in water issues for decades, suggested St. Petersburg was lawyer shopping for an opinion backing its position. He also predicted another water war and reminded the other member governments, which includes Pasco County and New Port Richey, that Tampa is largely self-sufficient in its water supply.

But that is not the point.  The point is that there should be a comprehensive study and the whole process should be under Tampa Bay Water, which is supposed to handle water issues in this area.  The more Tampa fights against acting in a cooperative way, the more it seems like there is something to hide.  We do not know if there is or not, but why not allay everyone’s concerns?

We will say it again: if the science and cost-benefit analysis make sense, there is no reason not to do this.  However, there are many questions to be answered to determine if the science works and the cost-benefit analysis makes sense.  So, the City answer them.  Then, if there is a good case to make, make it.

And while we are on the subject of water and the aquifer:

ST. PETERSBURG — Days after Subtropical Storm Alberto dumped heavy rain on this city in May 2018, officials gave themselves a glowing report card on progress made repairing its leaky sewage system.

“The city’s infrastructure handled the inundation from the storm’s rainfall completely and without incident,” read a May 29 posting on the city’s website.

But the city didn’t tell the public that a few weeks earlier, it had pumped nearly 19 million gallons of wastewater into the Floridan aquifer that didn’t meet state or federal standards.

Since the beginning of 2018, the city has violated its wastewater permit at least six times by pumping more than 21 million gallons of wastewater downs its wells, state records show. A probable seventh violation occurred this past weekend. Its size is still unknown.

We understand emergencies, but this all seems a bit excessive.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials say St. Petersburg is the only wastewater permit holder in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to violate state law by putting less than reclaimed water quality effluent down its wells between Jan. 1, 2018 and Monday, the period covered by a Times public records request for all sewage systems in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The city had higher than allowed amounts of total suspended solids, a measure of pollution, in the wastewater it sent down its wells. But state officials said elevated amounts of fecal coliform, a dangerous bacteria, were not present. They also said the state didn’t take corrective action because St. Pete’s pumping didn’t meet the criteria for “significant non-compliance,” meaning that the city’s six documented violations didn’t occur often enough or were sufficiently serious within six consecutive months.

That may be so, but not bad enough does not mean that it is not bad. And then there is this:

After rain pummeled the Tampa Bay area last week, Mayor Rick Kriseman on Sunday tweeted a laudatory note about the way the city’s sewage system handled the inundation.

“Really proud of our Public Works & Water Resources for guiding our improved wastewater system through the past few weeks,” the mayor tweeted, “& esp yesterday.”

Yet the day before, his sewage system pumped 6.6 million more gallons of illegal dirty water into the Florida Aquifer through an injection well.

St. Pete needs to get a handle on this situation.

Economy – Employment

There is a lot of talk about a looming recession (in all honesty a recession is always coming eventually), so let’s check in with the employment numbers.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s unemployment rate inched down last month to 3.3 percent from June’s 3.4 percent. That’s down from 3.5 percent in July of last year. The state added 22,900 jobs over the month, up less than 1 percent from the same month in 2018.

Education and health services have led the state in job growth, adding 65,900 jobs over the year (up 3 percent), followed by business and professional services (41,900 jobs, up 3 percent) and leisure and hospitality (25,900 jobs, up 2 percent).

* * *

Tampa Bay added the third-largest number of jobs of any Florida metro from July 2018 to last month (31,500 jobs, up 2.4 percent). It trailed Orlando (49,000 jobs, up almost 4 percent) and Miami (31,700 jobs, up 2.7 percent).

* * *

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in July from June’s 3.5 percent.

Hillsborough County’s unemployment rate stayed at 3.4 over the month, Hernando County’s dropped to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent, Pasco County dipped to 3.8 percent from June’s 3.9 percent and Pinellas County slid to 3.1 percent from June’s 3.2 percent.

Overall, those numbers are good.  We are not sure why we seem to trail Orlando most of the time (Miami is a little easier to understand, at least in raw numbers).  We are also not sure why Hillsborough trails Pinellas and did not move.  But for now, the numbers are good.

However, we did notice an interesting tidbit in the Times this week:

According to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half, about 40 percent of Tampa professionals expect to begin a job search within the next year.

The driving reasons, the survey found, were to increase their wages (32 percent), seek a promotion (32 percent), get additional time off (12 percent) and find a new manager (12 percent). In a separate survey also conducted by Robert Half, 77 percent of Tampa senior managers surveyed were concerned about whether their companies would be able to keep valued employees.

That does not mean that they are going to leave this area.  But for those working on our talent issues, it does indicate that is not just about education.

USF/Downtown/Channel District – Moving

It seems that the new USF Med School building in Water Street will be getting another tenant.

The University of South Florida’s College of Pharmacy has received the largest donation ever made to a pharmacy school in Florida, USF officials announced Friday.

The $10 million gift came from the Taneja Family Foundation, according to a news release, and will result in a name change. The school will be known as the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy.

The money will allow the college to move into in the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute facility, currently under construction in downtown Tampa. The building is scheduled to open later this year with pharmacy students expected to start classes there in fall 2021.

First, thank you for the generous gift.

Second, it will be interesting to see how they are going to fit the med school, the pharmacy school and the heart institute into that building.

Because We Can

Some nice pictures for Eagle 8 WFLA which posts many good aerials on its Twitter page, where you can also get bigger versions of the picture below.

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Twitter page

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Twitter page

Meanwhile, Around Town

For those who don’t know, The Points Guy is a travel website (the “Points” is a reference to bonus/frequent flyer programs).  They cover a range of topics (and recently did not rank Tampa’s airport as one of the nation’s best. Shame) Well, this week we ran across an interesting article that starts like this:

For 2019, I set a goal of flying at least 30 different airlines and staying in at least 30 major hotel brands. Although I’ve logged over one million miles on 75 different airlines, I’d never flown Spirit Airlines. So, when I planned to take a trip to Tampa from Atlanta, it seemed like an obvious choice to try out the ultralow cost airline for the first time.

Little did I know that it’d end up being both cheaper and faster to take a bus home from my destination after my original Spirit flight was canceled, and I was rebooked on a flight 11 hours later.

He spent 11 hours in the airport.  It is an interesting perspective for anyone who is curious. (You can read it here.)

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

This area is constantly working on its startup infrastructure and to develop local companies.  But that is happening in many places.  For instance, Miami:

Miami is famous for beach parties, gators that wander onto golf courses and iguanas that tumble out of palm trees.

But now the city of “Scarface” and “Miami Vice” is vying to become a new powerhouse of tech startups that some in the business hope will spawn a novel phenomenon — the “iguanacorn.”

The word is meant to represent the tropical answer to the Silicon Valley “unicorns,” start-ups that are worth more than $1 billion.

While still lagging behind San Francisco and New York, the Florida city is trying to position itself as a tech hub, and already has its first “unicorns” under its belt. They include ParkJockey, which has disrupted the car parking sector, and Magic Leap, which takes users into the world of augmented reality.

We are not going to get into details, but there is a story emphasis on being an international city. (An aside: international cities need international connections, like flights) You can read the article here.

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