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Roundup 9-27-2019

September 26, 2019

This week’s Roundup is being posted a bit early.

Contents

Transportation

— Streetcar

— The Sad Truth

— Same Old

Downtown/Channel District – Edition

Downtown – Bye

Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

Economy – Jobs

Economic Development – MOSI-Wood

Airport – Again

The Other Port

USF – Logo Postmortem

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

_________________________


Transportation


— Streetcar

The study of expanding the streetcar is continuing:

The city of Tampa is granting more money for the study of the TECO Line Streetcar extension.

The study is meant to evaluate the potential for the extension of the Streetcar from its current 2.7-mile long alignment into the downtown core and Tampa Heights. The study will include modernization options for the existing streetcar vehicles and facilities and vehicle technology alternatives to improve ridership, operations and cost effectiveness, according to county documents.

The city approved an additional $401,540 to HDR Engineering Inc. and its subconsultants for the study during a Thursday meeting.

The new funding brings the total allocated for the study to $2 million.

What is the status of the study?

The original agreement with city and Department of Transportation was roughly $1.67 million in August 2016, HDR Planning and Urban Design Manager Steve Schukraft told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. He said HDR is in the project development and environment phase. He said HDR is planning to conclude the study in the spring.

The next step will be the final agreement on funding and implementation. The funding may come from state, local and federal dollars. 

Contingent on details, we are for expanding and modernizing the streetcar into Tampa Heights.  We are also for modernizing the rolling stock.  (However, we still believe that the transit connection from downtown to Westshore/airport (that many say should be using the streetcar) should be compatible with any larger transit system, like running on the CSX lines.  That is a reason why all the studies should be coordinated.)

The other major issue is funding.  We will have to wait until the referendum works its way through the courts to see exactly how that plays out.


— The Sad Truth

Last week, ABCactionnews reprised a report from January (January report here):

A report from Smart Growth America analyzed what they call a pedestrian danger index, looking at the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking in proportion to the number of people living in each metro area. They found more walkers are dying in Florida than anywhere else in the nation, and 8 of the top 10 worst metro areas are in Florida.

North Port/Sarasota and Bradenton ranked 4th worst. Lakeland/Winter Haven ranked 5th worst, and St. Pete/Tampa ranked 9th worst per capita, despite having the most deaths: 900 in 9 years.

The Smart Growth America report found drivers hit and killed 49,340 people crossing streets around the US between 2008-17. Of those, 5,433 were in Florida.

(We also discussed it when it came out here) Sadly, late last week the Times had two reports that once again illustrated the problem:

In separate collisions, vehicles struck and killed two women while they were crossing major Hillsborough County roadways, state troopers said.

In the first collision, about 2:15 p.m. Thursday, Ilda Alonso, 82, of Tampa, was hit by a flatbed tow truck as she was walking east across 50th Street near 16th Ave., just east of McKay Bay, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Alonso died at the scene.

And

A 58-year-old Tampa woman was hit and killed by a car Friday morning on State Road 574.

We do not know all the details of the accidents, but there are far too many of these kinds of stories.

And if that is not enough for you:

A recent report found that Florida is the top state when it comes to intersection fatalities and Hillsborough County is among the top 10 counties.

The report, which AutoInsurance.org compiled, analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 2010 and 2017 to determine which states and counties have the most fatalities at intersections.

Florida had the most fatalities per 1,000 miles of road with 10.03 deaths. The Sunshine State also has four of the top 10 counties with the highest fatalities. The counties included:

Rank, county, total fatalities since 2010

 

From autoinsurance.com – click on picture for website

You can find the report here.

Like Broward, Hillsborough voters passed a referendum that would address some of the safety issues.  But we’ll see how that goes.


— Same Old

There was a public meeting in St. Pete regarding building variable rate toll lanes (aka express lanes).

The current reevaluation is for the addition of two express lanes on I-275 from Interstate 375 to south of Gandy Boulevard and the addition of a second express lane on I-275 from south of Gandy Boulevard to north of 4th Street North, Bogen said.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Despite all the issues with FDOT’s plans and variable rate toll express lanes (especially in a state with low incomes), St. Pete officials have been largely supportive.  That is most likely because they feel the urgent need to connect to Hillsborough and support basically anything that does so, no matter how flawed the idea.  It is too bad they do not have a better vision, but we understand, even if we disagree.  They should be seeking real alternatives to highway construction (and definitely real alternatives to variable rate toll lanes).  But it is seductively easy for elected officials to support highway construction when, unlike for mass transit, FDOT promises to not make local government have to make the hard decisions to pay for it. (The contrast between billions for express lanes and ignoring mass transit is made clear in this article about how PSTA is teaming up with Greyhound for weekend service across the bay.)  The plans will not deliver what is promised, but we get the allure for elected officials. (Even if St. Pete wants variable rate toll lanes, that is no reason Hillsborough should join in.)

On the other hand, this part:

. . . straightening the interstate and reducing merge points from I-275 down to 54th Avenue S . . .

is rational, necessary and should have been done years ago.


Downtown/Channel District – Edition

There was more news about Water Street.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The EDITION in Water Street Tampa recently broke ground, and they have begun marketing the condo units which are a part of the project.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

URBN Tampa Bay also quotes what we presume to be the press release:

The Residences at the Tampa EDITION include 37 two- to four-bedroom homes featuring 1,821 to 7,177 square feet of interior space as well as expansive private outdoor balconies. Construction is currently underway with first move-ins anticipated in 2021. Sales prices start at $1.8M.

Interesting prices.

In any event, Water Street keeps going, which is as much as we can ask.  We will enjoy watching this go up with the others.


Downtown – Bye

The demolition of the CapTrust building, which is necessary for Riverwalk Place to begin construction, is finally back underway.

The external demolition of downtown Tampa’s CapTrust began Wednesday morning.

The building is being knocked down to make way for Riverwalk Place, the 53-story condo tower proposed at Ashley and Brorein streets on the Tampa Riverwalk. The demolition process has created a traffic detour in downtown Tampa, and the developers said that detour could be in place for up to several weeks, depending on demolition and excavation.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We hope this means the Riverwalk Place project is close to starting construction but:

A developer’s representative said he had no update Tuesday on when construction of the tower might begin. In July, developers stopped taking reservations for the condos. They said the halt was temporary while they revised floor plans for the project, which had been changed from a mix of office and residential space to all residential with restaurants on the ground floor. Once the new floor plans were ready, they said, prospective buyers could reserve units with the updated design.

We shall see.


Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

A few months ago, members of the City Council announced that they were interested changing the way CRA’s are handled in Tampa.  That idea has not gone away.

By a 6-1 vote as the Community Redevelopment Area board, council members asked Chief of Staff John Bennett and city staff to develop a plan to hire an executive director paid for out of the CRA budget. Bennett agreed to explore the issue and report back at the October meeting.

Council members did unanimously vote to approve the CRA budget and, for now, keep the current structure intact while the details of the new position are being developed.

Council member Charlie Miranda voted no. He said a system that is working well doesn’t need an overhaul.

What is the present system?

For decades, it’s been the mayor who appoints staff, including an economic development administrator who acted as a de facto czar over the city’s eight CRAs. That system prevailed even though the City Council, sitting as the CRA board, wields final authority over budgets and projects.

And what is the change being considered?

Still to be worked out is how, legally, city staff can report to a CRA chief who doesn’t report to the mayor. Currently, each CRA has a manager and the city provides legal work and other services free of charge.

Under the city’s charter, the mayor is responsible for city employees, who answer to her. Exceptions to that rule include the seven legislative aides that work for council members and City Council attorney Martin Shelby.

Carlson suggested that the new hire be treated like those aides or Shelby. He said spending up to $200,000 to attract a qualified candidate would be cheaper than replacing existing staff.

From the quotes above, the structure and process of any changes has not been determined, but there is nothing wrong with examining ways to improve.  If the CRA’s report to the Council, there is a certain logic that the staff overseeing them would also report to the Council not the Mayor. (And it does not appear the Mayor is opposed to looking at changes.)

At the Sept. 12 meeting, though, both sides celebrated the give and take of a new mayor and City Council.

Bennett said Castor shares council members’ desire for more “accountability” in the CRAs.

We will wait until the actual proposal is made before opining about it, but, as we said, we see nothing wrong with considering it.  We will see what happens.


Economy – Jobs

Time to look into unemployment numbers:

The Sunshine State saw the addition of 22,500 jobs created, equal to .02 percent, in August. Over the last year, Florida has seen a 2.5 percent increase in job growth, which is above the national average of 1.4 percent. The industries that gained the most jobs were education and health care. The only industry to lose jobs was the information industry, which saw a 2.3 percent decrease. 

Job growth is good, though it is important to keep pace with population growth.  Locally,

Of Tampa Bay’s seven counties, four — Hernando, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota — all their unemployment rise, though only by 0.1 percent. All four were still below the national average of 3.7. Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties saw unemployment rates hold steady, though Pasco’s and Polk’s were both above the national average at 3.8 and 4.1 percent. 

Overall, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area had an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, up .01 percent from July. That rate ties for the highest among Florida’s major metropolitan areas. The Miami area also had an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, while Jacksonville sat at 3.4 percent thanks to a .01 percent decrease. Orlando’s rate held steady at 3.2 percent, below the Florida’s unemployment rate.

It is hard to say anything negative about unemployment rates that low and one cannot expect unemployment to always go down.  However, it is notable that Orlando continues to have a lower unemployment rate while having higher rate of population growth. Notably, none of that takes into account the wages paid.  For the state overall:

Wages and salaries in Florida have started to rise more rapidly. In general, wages climb in tight labor markets. Businesses use higher pay to retain workers and attract new ones. But this time around wages remain sluggish compared to the growth rates during previous eras of low unemployment. They are going up, they just aren’t rising as fast as expected.

The growing labor pool may help explain why. The extra workers are filling open jobs, which eases the pressure on businesses to increase pay. They are soaking up demand, not enough to eliminate wage growth, but enough to slow it down.

We shall see what happens, but we do not see many indications that low wages economic model Florida has had for so long has changed substantially.


Economic Development – MOSI-Wood

There was news about a new idea for the reuse of MOSI once it moves downtown (assuming it will).

The Hillsborough County Film Commission is studying whether there’s demand for a large-scale production studio in the area.

If so, the MOSI building is the top choice, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said at a commission meeting Wednesday. The county owns the 70-acre MOSI campus along Fowler Avenue as well the buildings.

The County Commission last week set aside $2 million for a studio project from the county’s BP Oil Spill Settlement funds while it awaits results from the study, expected next month.

Setting aside for a moment whether this is the best use for the land, if they can get a private (really private, not funded by the County) entity to do it, then it might be interesting.  We see no need for the County to get in the business of production studio management, especially when there are so many needs that have to be funded.

County administrator Mike Merrill said it is too soon to estimate how much space the studio would get if the MOSI site is selected.

The studio would be part of a larger plan to redevelop the 70-acre MOSI campus along Fowler Avenue, across the University of South Florida, into a research village that would be a “live, work, play sort of development,” Merrill said.

Requests for proposals from potential developers will be sought in a next year or so, he said.

We discussed a preliminary vision or master plan for the land presented to the County Commission here.  You can read the whole discussion there, but our conclusion was:

The conceptual drawing is basically a 1990’s suburban office park with MOSI on one side.  It has no imagination and none of the elements in the vision board images.  And it fails to achieve the stated objectives.  If this is a serious idea, they need to go back to the drawing board and try again. 

We do not know if they went back to the drawing board, but they really needed to.  The land is valuable enough (and will only become more so) that it should not take incentives or subsidies to develop well.  The County needs to get it right. If that requires waiting, that is fine with us.  And if that somehow includes a privately funded and operated production studio that properly fits into a larger, intelligent plan, we would not object.


Airport – Again

Recently we discussed the growing international traffic at the airport.  One of those flights is the Delta flight to Amsterdam.  It was originally announced as year-round, then changed to seasonal.  Well, from the Delta website:

Additionally, the carrier is expanding the operating season between Tampa and Amsterdam in 2020.

Not much detail there, but apparently it will be back and the season will get longer.  Maybe it can get long enough to be year-round soon.

In other news, over at St. Pete-Clearwater:

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport a $19.75 million grant to aid in a runway rehabilitation project. 

The project, which includes asphalt pavement rehabilitation and new edge lighting, is expected to cost $24.1 million total and will be complete in 2021. 

* * *

The rehabilitation project is not the only thing in the works at PIE. There is a proposed plan for sky taxis that would take off and land at the airport. In March, the board of commissioners also approved a lease to allow a developer to build a hotel and office building on the airport’s property.

Setting aside the number of issues regarding sky taxis, runway rehabilitation seems a good idea, especially with the Coast Guard presence at the airport.


The Other Port

There was news about the second port in our area:

One of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America is extending its lease at Port Manatee

The Palmetto-based port and longtime tenant Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) have extended their lease agreement through August 2023, with options to continue cargo operations at a 5-acre waterfront site for as many as 18 additional years, following the approval of the item during the board’s Thursday meeting. 

The initial term of the lease was to end in August 2020.

Rent is $12,525 per month the first three years of the term, according to port documents.

* * *

The Kinder Morgan Port Manatee Terminal facility handles fertilizers, ores, salt and other inbound and outbound bulk cargos via multiple ship docks, warehouses, conveyor systems and truck and rail sheds.

The port has numerous tenants and operators including Carver Maritime, Del Monte, Federal Marine Terminals, Logistec and Logistec Gulf Coast.

Port Manatee handled a record high of more than 9.3 million tons during fiscal year 2018, up 19.1 percent from the previous fiscal year.

More business in the area is a good thing.  While we get the politics, we still believe it is inefficient to have competing ports on the bay.


USF – Logo Postmortem

The Business Journal had an interview with the USF Chief Marketing officer in charge of the logo change/no change.  We just want to note a couple of things:

You did a lot of research upfront [by involving focus groups]. No. 1, it sounds like you went into the research groups wanting to change logos. So, did the people know changing the logo was what you wanted? And what research would you do differently? People didn’t know we are changing the logo, but we presented them three logos to choose from, so it was pretty obvious. Where we made a mistake is we talked to student leadership groups and talked to university leadership. We didn’t talk to a larger group of alumni. And I know better than that. Had we done that, we might have gotten more pushback. It was the same with students. They were pretty neutral across the board and had I talked to them and understood the depth of their concern, it might have shown where we ended up.

That is a lesson with applications across the board in decision-making in this area.  When you only talk to “leadership” or a group of “stakeholders,” you run the risk of creating an echo chamber. And sometimes, it is not cheap.

Are you willing to comment on the financial hit the university took by this failed logo campaign? “If you look past the financial numbers, to double your [social media] numbers, that was brilliant spending,” he said jokingly. “The only thing hard to recover from is the cost of new signage of the [Morsani College of Medicine] medical building. That will cost in the neighborhood of half a million dollars from putting the new bull up, taking it down and putting a new logo up. I would have much would have rather spent that in Fast Company or Businessweek, but everything else we did — we didn’t produce that much stuff. The water tower hadn’t been painted in 15 years and we said if we paint it and put the new bull on and repaint it, that’s another $500,000. So we didn’t do it.”

Which would seem to get the cost up to $1.5 million (see here for the $1 million) for something that was  unnecessary in the first place.

You can read the article here.


Rays

This week’s Rays news can be found here, here, and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Last week, we discussed a Wallethub survey of public transit systems and woeful performance of Hillsborough and Pinellas.  We forgot a couple of things:

In a race pitting the trains, trolleys and buses of American cities, Miami would finish in the middle of the pack. Miami’s oft-maligned public transportation system ranked No. 52 among 100 cities with the best and worst transit, according to a WalletHub study.

Seattle earned the gold medal with 77.97 points. Boston, anchored by the 122-year-old T, the first subway in the nation, was No. 2, followed by San Francisco with its cable cars and streetcars. Indianapolis lagged far behind in last place.

Miami scored 55.86 points and placed ahead of such major cities as Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia but behind Washington, D.C. (4), New York (7), Minneapolis (11), Denver (12), Los Angeles (14), Chicago (22) and Atlanta (47).

In car-dependent Florida, the state that public transit forgot, no cities cracked the top 50. Tampa (98) and St. Petersburg (99) were ranked near the bottom. Hialeah (78), Jacksonville (61) and Orlando (56) did not fare well, either.

In other words, the poor transit systems are not just a matter of being in Florida.  Miami, Orlando, and Jacksonville are almost average.  Of course, Hillsborough voted to fix it, but we will see how that goes.

You can see the study here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

URBN Tampa Bay pointed out this editorial from the Orlando Sentinel:

If growth pays for itself, as we’ve so often heard in Central Florida, then local governments like Sumter County — the epicenter of The Villages’ development — must be swimming in cash.

Instead, it’s acting like a government drowning in the costs of growth.

Sumter is so desperate for money that its five Republican county commissioners look ready to vote next week for a whopping 25.6% increase in the current property tax rate. (We’ll leave to your imagination the reaction if a group of elected Democrats proposed such an increase.)

The county concedes in its own budget documents that the main culprit for this tax increase is the breakneck rate of growth tied to The Villages’ success.

* * *

It doesn’t help when governments like Sumter refuse to raise taxes until they reach a tipping point, which Sumter apparently has.

According to Florida TaxWatch, Sumter’s various governments in 2017-18 collectively averaged the fourth-lowest property tax rate in Florida. That’s a real selling point until you tell people they’re going to get slapped with a nearly 26% bump in their tax bill in a single year.

Not to mention

In Sumter County, the transportation fee charged for a new home is $2,600. Unless that new home is in a retirement or age-restricted community, in which case the fee for each new home is $901.

The editorial gets into other mistakes made in Sumter County.

You can read the rest here.

We want to reiterate that we are not in favor of just raising taxes for the sake of raising taxes.  However, we understand that if you want something, you have to pay for it.  Sometimes that requires raising taxes (though if they having a rational impact fee system might have helped a bit).  Of course, someone made money from all the development in Sumter County, but the residents will now have to pay.  Sounds kind of familiar.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

In an item above, we discuss plans for variable rate toll lanes in St. Pete.  As has been shown over and over, highway expansion will not really change anything regarding congestion, especially in a growing area, because of induced demand. (though, of course, the whole point of variable rate toll lanes is to make sure their use is not maximized and to push congestion into the free lanes.)  Just take Interstate 405 in LA:

Five years ago, the California Department of Transportation completed a $1.6 billion project to rebuild a 10-mile portion of the Sepulveda Pass of the 405 in Los Angeles. The project, like nearly all highway expansion projects, was billed as a way to relieve congestion and improve travel times. Often, such projects are also sold to the public as environmentally friendly because stop-and-go jams result in higher emissions than free-flowing traffic.

But the Sepulveda Pass project accomplished none of those things. An analysis by the University of Southern California-affiliated non-profit organization Crosstown found that during the project, traffic speeds were much higher than right afterwards because so many drivers heeded the “carmageddon” warnings and found alternate routes.

But once the project wrapped up, speeds tanked right back to where they were before. And in the five years since the project was completed, traffic is even slower.

This was an all too predictable outcome. The concept of induced demand—that building more lanes and more roads results in more cars and more traffic—has been around almost as long as cars itself.

The article also discussed how such expansion increases pollution, as well. (Something the St. Pete City Council may want to consider).  You can read it here.


Because We Can

Another Water Street update from the Accountant at SkyscraperCity:

 

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

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