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Roundup 10-25-2019

October 24, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum

— Cross Bay Ferry

Downtown – Encore

Planning – South County?

— Is This What You Want?

Downtown – The Arts

— Another Screen

— The Museum

Sulphur Springs – This is Part of Tampa, Too

USF – Still Working On It

Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

Tourism – A Limit

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Denver

— Something to Discuss

— Self Driving Cars

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

________________________________


Transportation


— Referendum

While waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to decide about the AFT referendum, the allocation process is still moving forward (as it should).

The Independent Oversight Committee met on Monday night to hear from agencies that drafted plans for use of proceeds from the Hillsborough County transportation surtax.

The committee will determine if pitched plans comply with the law of the relevant statute, the amended charter and the county ordinance.

So far the clerk has received transportation surtax proceeds of $143.8 million; funds have been distributed but the entities have not spent the money.

Here’s how the one-cent sales tax money has been distributed so far:

The charter intended 45 percent of proceeds for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority; 54 percent was to go to the county and municipalities for general purpose; and the remaining 1 percent was to go to the Metropolitan Planning Organization. 

For the county and cities, 27 percent was to be spent on safety improvements, 26 percent on intersections, 20 percent on maintenance, 12 percent on bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure and the remainder to a general transportation fund.

You can find the actual project lists if you go to the plan Hillsborough website (here). The lists are on the pages for the “improvement partners.” And for those who want the money to go to roads, as we have noted before, there are a number of categories where it can for specific purposes, and

Board members Manuel Menendez and Ray Chiaramonte agreed, asking attorneys to provide more clarity.

Duncan and Chief Assistant County Attorney Sam Hamilton told board members that 15 percent of the sales tax revenue could be spent on additional traffic lanes.

Meanwhile, in the lawsuit:

Tampa’s three leading economic development groups on Tuesday filed an amicus brief in the Florida Supreme Court opposing efforts to overturn the All for Transportation one-cent sales tax that 57 percent of Hillsborough County voters approved last November.

The brief was filed by the Tampa Bay Partnership, a nonprofit multi-county organization that brings top local chief executive officers together to focus on big issues like developing workforce talent, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., a government-supported non-profit that works to recruit new businesses and help existing ones grow.

You can read more here and get the docket here.  (You can search case SC19-1343 if the link changes)

Once again, we are all for moving forward with planning in the event the Florida Supreme Court upholds the tax.

. . . the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in February.

We shall see.


— Cross Bay Ferry

It is almost that time of year again.

Tickets went on sale Thursday for the third season of Cross-Bay Ferry service between the Tampa Convention Center and the Vinoy Yacht Basin in St. Petersburg.

The ferry is scheduled to run Nov. 1 through April 30, 2020. Tickets are $8 each way for adults, with discounts for passengers 65 and older, active or retired members of the military, college students and minors.

There are a couple of changes this year:

Service will run Wednesday through Sunday. Ridership on Mondays and Tuesdays during the second season of ferry service that concluded this spring was too low to support regular service in the third season. However, the ferry will run for Tampa Bay Lightning games if they are played on a Monday or Tuesday as more people are expected to use the service for a special event.

The ferry had originally been staged near the St. Petersburg History Museum, but had to move because of ongoing construction on the new pier.

The ferry will dock in Tampa at the Tampa Convention Center, where it docked during the first season.

Once again, just so we are clear: we are fine with the ferry as the fun cruise attraction it is.  We think it is a nice feature.  However, we think it should be privately funded.  And we object to people calling it transit.  It is an attraction.


Downtown – Encore

There was news about Encore.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

On Tuesday, Encore’s proposal for 1025 East Harrison Street called The Independent received approval. The project features 295 units and 2,500 square feet of retail space in a 5-story building. The project also includes an 8-story parking garage with 418 parking spaces. The code required 298 parking spaces.

We discussed it a few months ago here, saying:

In other words, basically there are no parts of this proposal that are good (and there is no excuse for the garage). Some, though not many, aspects may be OK, but nothing is good.

* * *

That is an absurd amount of parking, and it is arranged in a foolish way.

URBN Tampa Bay agrees, and has more:

This project definitely has a few key problems:

For one, the retail space is woefully insufficient. As you can see from the site plan, only 1 corner of the project is activated by retail space. The total building square footage (not including the garage) is 273,400 square feet. That means we have another 1-percenter – that is, a project in which retail space makes up less than 1% of the building’s square footage. That is not enough to qualify as a mixed-use project or provide sufficient commercial space that the several hundred new residents could patronize.

Also, as you can see in the elevations posted below, the garage is the tallest portion of the project. This of course is aesthetically unpleasing, but it should demonstrate that the extra 120 spots they are building above code is out of scale with the project. Building excess parking artificially raises unit prices and is an inefficient use of land, all for a transportation mode we should not actively be encouraging in this area.

Also, due to the positioning of the garage on the lot, it will tower over Cass Street, since there are only a few small 1-story buildings between the planned garage and the street.

We see nothing to disagree with there.  And we will say this again:

They are right.  Encore is a wasted opportunity to truly activate this part of downtown.  Then again, there is a drive thru Burger King pretty much next door.  That should tell you all you need to know about the lack of vision and quality in these proposals as well as the earlier buildings.

The acceptance of that lack of quality at Encore is also a warning about what may be coming in the West River redevelopment.  The City government needs to raise its game and get this fixed before it squanders acres and acres of redevelopment opportunities in the urban core and locks in a pattern of poor, uninviting development for decades.

We can do better.


Planning – South County?

The County Commission is working on a nine-month moratorium on development in South County.

Earlier this month, county commissioners tentatively set a nine-month moratorium on rezoning applications for parts of south county. But there are fears that won’t stop the sprawl, only delay it.

There is another public hearing for that re-zoning moratorium scheduled on Nov. 6th. That will be followed by a final vote by the commissioners. 

What is the purpose? From a Times editorial:

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed nine month moratorium that would freeze new rezoning applications under the so-called Residential Planned-2 land use category. As envisioned in the 1990s, that category was intended to promote self-sustaining developments—town center and village-style clusters in rural areas. But that hope never materialized; the category’s requirements lacked teeth and utility, frustrating residents, planners and developers. The commissioners’ recent approval of a 1,000-home development near Wimauma in rural south Hillsborough prompted them to vote unanimously to schedule Wednesday’s moratorium debate. While revisiting the land use category opens the door for both good changes and bad, it’s hard to imagine the existing framework could be worse. And it’s a welcome sign that both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the commission recognize the current rules only invite costly sprawl.

Who knows where this discussion leads. Commissioners could tinker around the edges, focusing on design standards, such as trails and sidewalks or architectural features, that might make new suburban developments more attractive. More likely, the debate will call attention to the lack of roads, mass transit, utilities, schools and other infrastructure in the rural areas, and the county’s need to manage growth more proactively. Stronger regulations could make for more efficient land use, improve connectivity throughout the area and help preserve natural habitat and resources.

We do not have a problem with calling a time out to rethink what is going on. (In fact, a rethink should have happened a long time ago.)  We are not sure why it is limited to South County.  The planning everywhere is pretty bad.  And we also agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

We hope that the BOCC and those stakeholders in the community involved with this process really look at this with a wider eye towards the big picture. Slowing growth down only to resume it in the same form it has now will change nothing. The goal needs not to be to halt growth, but to shape it into something the county can manage and serve more efficiently than the haphazard sprawl that’s been built can be served. New growth needs to look a lot less like car dependent sprawl flung across the county’s fringes, and a lot more like like urban infill closer in to town which brings life’s daily needs and residents closer to one another, and provides connectivity good enough that driving isn’t the only practical way to access them. Any new development not doing that, regardless of where it is in the county, should not be built.

Exactly.

We do not know what they will come up with, but we do know symbolic actions and nice words will not solve the problem.  And simply tweaking the sprawl model will not either.  Unlike so many plans in the past that were just tossed aside, there needs to be actual changes. They can start with fully enforcing the urban service boundary (plus having proper impact/mobility fees and no more subsidizing sprawl).


— Is This What You Want?

Which brings us to an interesting piece in the Times, which was sort of an editorial, sort of about commuting:

The best thing Tampa Bay leaders can do to fight climate change is simply get more cars off the road. But that’s a hollow hope in a region that still lacks meaningful mass transit, and where building more toll roads is seen as progress. A sense of urgency in solving the transportation problem is no longer just about convenience and economic competitiveness — it’s also now about global warming. Tampa Bay is particularly vulnerable to every aspect of climate change, from sea level rise to more powerful hurricanes. That’s something to ponder while stuck in another gridlock on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

In the last 30 years, tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, have risen by more than half in the Tampa Bay area, according to an analysis from the New York Times based on data collected by Boston University. And according to new Census data, 117,000 Tampa Bay workers spend at least an hour getting to work and another hour getting home, polluting all the way — our air and even our water, when nitrogen settles out. This is lose-lose, for productivity and for the planet.

They then list a number of statistics about increased emissions.  You can read it here. They conclude with this:

Until Tampa Bay leaders embrace real mass transit, this problem will only get worse.

There is a climate change discussion to be had, but even setting aside the climate change issue for a minute, do we really want all that pollution?  Do we want to sit in traffic inhaling car exhaust? Does that really help the quality of life? Shouldn’t there be real alternatives?


Downtown – The Arts


– Another Screen

We have been fans of Tampa Theatre for a long time – since we were kids, in fact (though we will spare you the reminiscing).  We also lament the lack of specialized/art film/indy film screenings in this area. Therefore, we were happy to read this:

The 1926 historic Tampa Theatre will break ground next year on an addition to create a new cinematic experience.

The theater will build a microcinema on Franklin Street. The small screening room will seat 40 to 50 guests and will occupy the storefront under Tampa Theatre’s marquee that currently houses The Nature Shop. Construction is expected to begin as early as spring 2020, and the new space staff nicknamed “T2” will open by early 2021, according to the theater’s announcement.

* * *

The microcinema is expected to cost roughly $1.3 million to build, which is funded in part by a $650,000 grant through the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners’ Capital Asset Preservation program. It’s also being funded through private dollars.

It is not clear what it will look like, though

Bell said the design of the new screening room will complement the existing Tampa Theatre aesthetics.

We do not expect it to be just like the main theater, but that is fine.  We think it is a great idea.


— The Museum

The Lightning owner has struck again.

The Tampa Museum of Art announced Thursday that the Vinik Family Foundation will make a $5 million gift to the museum’s endowment. The Vinik Family Foundation is a private foundation created and managed by Jeff and Penny Vinik.

Jeff Vinik owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and is the developer behind Tampa’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project that includes Sparkman Wharf. The Vinik Family Foundation is known for bringing free immersive art experiences to the public, as it did with the Beach Tampa and the Art of the Brick.

The gift was made to support the position of executive director, with a title that will be known as the Penny and Jeff Vinik executive director.

You can read the whole article here.  We are just happy that they are supporting local institutions. Sure, one could argue there is certain amount of self-interest in making downtown a cooler place to support the Water Street development, but that is fine.  It is a nice chunk of change, and it makes the city better for everyone.  So, thanks.


Sulphur Springs – This is Part of Tampa, Too

The Times had an interesting article on the Water Tower is Sulphur Springs:

One day, Keith Malson was boating on the Hillsborough River with his friend, Seminole Heights resident Debi Johnson, when the two decided to raise funds to renovate the tower by holding a music festival to bring the community together to do it.

The 214-foot tall water tower was built in 1927 by Grover Poole for developer Joseph Richardson, to pump water to the adjacent hotel property and Sulphur Springs Arcade he had developed into a tourist destination.

In the 1960s, nearby construction of the interstate isolated the area surrounding the tower. The city’s water department took over the water tower in 1971, and the arcade, once a beautiful landmark, was demolished in 1976 to create more parking for the adjacent Tampa Greyhound Track.

This is the arcade:

From TampaPix – click on picture for website

Good thing that got torn down.  Back to the tower:

The last time the tower was painted was 1989, when Sherwin Williams donated the paint, and the city’s Park and Recreation department took over the site around the park in the early 2000s.

This is the water tower:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the location here.  You may notice it is surrounded by public land.  That land is riverfront property.  The tower was cleaned up a bit a few mayors ago and lighting was added, but then not much has happened at the park (even though the City has spent quite a bit of money on other parks).  No splash pad.  No history walk.  Not much attention at all.

Thorpe said a renovated tower could see a similar effect as to what a refurbished Armature Works did for the Heights District. He said he sees the potential for several community activities around the tower, including revamping the park from which kayaks could launch and bringing a series similar to Lights on Tampa to create a light show that could be seen from the highway.

“Something similar could easily happen around this water tower because it’s such an iconic structure,” he said. “Imagine the Sulphur Springs Water Tower District or just the Tower District. It would certainly help bring up the rest of the neighborhood with it. It’s really about identity.”

The fact that it’s starting as a community-led initiative, he said, gives residents all the more credibility while they’ve seen the city pour attention into revitalizing neighboring districts.

To that end:

They created a committee to plan the River Tower Festival, which will take place Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and feature 10 bands, seven DJs, fire performers, food trucks and vendors. They plan to light up the boardwalk from the pool to the interstate.

The group contacted Sherwin Williams, who offered 50 percent off the paint this time, and architect Patrick Thorpe, who has been involved with other restoration projects. Though he has yet to inspect the tower closely, he thinks most of the renovation will be cosmetic.

The group estimates they will need to raise $80,000 to $100,000 to repaint the tower, but plan to do it over time.

“We’re not trying to rebuild the tower with one festival,” Malson said. “Right now we’re shooting small: get the crown painted or get a marker.”

So far they’ve raised about $35,000 to put on the festival, Johnson said, including a $9,500 grant from Hillsborough County’s Cultural Assets Commission, which they are eligible to receive again for five years.

We are all for getting the tower cleaned up and fixing up the park.  It is time to recover and revitalize this part of the urban riverfront. It is part of Tampa, after all.

You can get more information about the event here.


USF – Still Working On It

USF had revised it consolidation plan.

In a major shift from the first proposal, presented last month by USF’s new president Steve Currall, the new framework promises that the regional chancellors leading campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota will retain authority over academics, budgets and hiring.

* * *

Under the new plan, Tadlock and Holbrook will have direct reporting lines to Currall as members of his executive cabinet. And Sprowls is praising the university for a proposal that “reflects the will of the Legislature.”

* * *

The new proposal, shared with students and faculty via email Thursday, falls in line with those comments. It calls for investment in strong, existing programs — like marine science and journalism in St. Petersburg, and aging studies in Sarasota — to establish “centers of excellence” that might grow to be nationally recognized.

At the same time, it quiets fears that programs would be taken away from St. Petersburg and Sarasota and instead describes a more equal distribution of academic offerings across all USF campuses through “multi-campus colleges,” which will share curriculum and faculty.

Students could, for example, earn a degree in finance from any campus, and oversight of that program would be shared. The plan suggests new options for nursing, architecture and engineering students on the smaller campuses, too.

“I think what the students will actually see in it is that there’s going to be a lot more opportunity for them, no matter what campus they’re on,” Holbrook said. “The opportunities are much, much greater.”

The new plan will make boundaries between the campuses “more permeable,” Currall said, allowing for collaboration between students and faculty. That is a big plus for Sarasota, Holbrook said, where there are only a few professors for each academic discipline.

More communication lines will open up between USF educators, she added, and that will help those interested in research to share resources and gain access to bigger grants. The setup is sure to help USF recruit talented faculty, Currall said, because candidates will have more options and opportunity.

Tadlock and Holbrook will continue working as the university’s “eyes and ears” in St. Petersburg and Sarasota by keeping tabs on local workforce and research needs, according to the plan. Each year, they will use that information to build a campus-based budget, which will first go before their campus advisory boards, then on to Currall, who will build them into USF’s master budget.

The regional chancellors also will manage recruitment and hiring, as well as evaluations of faculty and student support services, like academic advising, mental health counseling and financial aid. They will report directly to the president on all administrative matters, the plan says.

It all sounds like a reasonable structure, even if it is not really consolidation.  Then again, we were never beholden to consolidation.

As we have said all along, the only thing we care about is that it works for the students and that it should have all been worked out before there was a law.  The whole process has created friction that was entirely unnecessary.


Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

Speaking of entirely unnecessary friction, last week we reported about the EDC changing its name to Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.  Not surprisingly, that move has drawn complaints, as exemplified by three different pieces in the Times (an editorial here, an opinion piece here, and a column here) We are not going to get into them in depth.  You can read them for yourself.  However, we wanted to note a few things. From the column:

After the news broke last week, I heard from 10 local business and political leaders, all of whom thought it was a bad idea. Even the ones who live and work in Tampa said it was a step backward. One said it showcased everything that is wrong with the way some of our organizations work — Balkanized and a little underhanded. Another called it an “obvious power play” designed to poach business from other counties.

The economic development corporation is funded by private businesses and government, including the city of Tampa, one of its biggest investors. City council member Bill Carlson said at a recent meeting that the name change “sends a very aggressive negative signal to the region.” He then persuaded his fellow council members to agree to send a letter to the organization’s leaders asking them to reconsider.

* * *

Craig Richard runs the economic development corporation. He’s smart and earnest and seems like a good advocate for business. But he said last week that he didn’t know why anybody would think his organization was trying to horn in on other local economic development groups. That seemed naive — or cunning.

Last week, we said we will just assume that the EDC head was just naïve. For the time being, we will stick with that. Regardless, the reaction to the name change should have been entirely predictable and the City Councilman was correct: the name change sends a negative signal to the rest of the area. Moreover, the Times editorial board was correct (for the most part) when it said this:

Political, business and civic leaders throughout Tampa Bay have spent years promoting collaboration and building a regional identity. That necessary progression from the unproductive petty parochialism didn’t happen overnight, and the benefits are undeniable. The successes range from a surge in business and tourism to greater regional understanding to a common mission in areas such as transportation, the environment and higher education. Tampa Bay is a brand, and with that regional brand comes an obligation to have a regional vision.

* * *

It would be counter-productive for organizations that help companies navigate the local landscape to foster confusion in the marketplace — or to unintentionally rekindle outdated rivalries. The Tampa Bay brand carries a unique mission and certain expectations for those who embrace it. There is nothing that prevents civic and business groups in any corner of the region from contributing to the larger civic good. That contribution, after all, is what prompted a regional spirit across Tampa Bay that has delivered on a range of fronts. If they don’t have it already, organizations that call themselves “Tampa Bay’’ should quickly build a regional vision and mission that earns the broader name.

First, political officials may have been promoting regional identity but they have been uneven in promoting regional action and cooperation. But setting that aside, the EDC name change was unproductive, if not destructive, and, even worse, it was completely unnecessary (and completely avoidable). Though, sadly, given this area’s history, we cannot say it is surprising.


Tourism – A Limit

We all know about the AFT referendum lawsuits. There is another tax in Tampa that was in court:

A circuit court judge has ruled that a hotel room surcharge — collected by the City of Tampa on top of its existing maxed-out bed tax — is an “illegal tax,” according to a spokesperson for the Florida House, which sued the city over the $1.50-per-night fee two years ago.

The House Speaker at the time, Republican Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes set out to stop the city from collecting a special “marketing fee” on each room night after a WTSP-TV report spotlighted the controversial charges, created by Tampa in 2017 to generate new revenue for tourism marketing. State law prohibits a city or county from taxing hotel guests more than five or six cents on the dollar, depending on the county’s annual tourism figures.

* * *

Judge Rex Barb[a]s announced the state’s motion for summary judgment would be approved last Thursday, according to the House spokesperson. The state successfully argued that a per-night fee on hotel stays was a charge on an activity that varies over time, and therefore, a tax that was never authorized by the legislature.

We do not comment on ongoing litigation and this could still be appealed.  It is interesting though. (And, meanwhile, in Orange County this)


Rays

Your Rays news here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Denver

Last week, we discussed a TBARTA featured an article on Utah BRT which basically pointed out problems with its “BRT” plan.  This week, TBARTA had another featured article on BRT, this time involving Denver.

RTD is putting the finishing touches on a study of busy arterial roads that are good candidates for bus rapid transit. Those lines would use rubber on pavement and have other premium characteristics that are more typical of rail. The most important are dedicated lanes so buses run independently of traffic and service as frequent as every five minutes.

* * *

RTD’s feasibility study started with 30 or so corridors from Longmont in the north to Parker in the south. That’s since been winnowed down to eight: I-25 north of Denver, Park Avenue/38th Avenue, Speer Boulevard/Leetsdale Drive/Parker Road, Broadway/Lincoln Street, Colorado Boulevard, Alameda Avenue, Havana Street/Hampden Avenue, and Federal Boulevard.

You can see more on the proposed corridors here. One thing you notice right away, seven of the eight proposed corridors are on arterial roads, not the interstate. (And, oddly, the one interstate corridor seems to roughly parallel a rail line under construction.)  Moreover,

Billings cautioned that the city will need to do a variety of studies on each corridor before any major changes are made, though he said Denver is generally supportive of RTD’s plan for faster buses. It’s also moving forward on its own plan for BRT along Colfax Avenue. There’s a need now, he said, and it’s only going to get more pressing over time. 

That plan is also on an arterial road (you can see more here).

And, it also needs to be remembered that there is a core of rail throughout the Denver area.  It is not a system built around BRT.

So, once again, we are not opposed to BRT, but it should be done properly, on arterial roads.  As for TBARTA’s “BRT” Plan, scrap it should be scrapped. There should be a relatively inexpensive express bus to Wesley Chapel, then there can be a focus on real, proper transit.


— Something to Discuss

The Washington Post had an interesting piece by one of its regular columnists about attitudes regarding roads and transit.

Imagine a transit system that kills more than 260 people every year in one metropolitan area, maims and seriously injures another 2,600 or more, and forces those who survive to waste more than two hours every week in unscheduled delays.

We would demand an immediate shutdown, of course, followed by a radical change in culture and ­oversight.

Except … we have such a system, and we demand no such thing. It’s the system of roads and highways in and around the nation’s capital. And it’s not all that different from the system of roads and highways in any other metropolitan area.

Why are we so much more forgiving of their punishing costs than we are of the transgressions of Metrorail and other rapid transit systems?

It is a good question.  You can read more here.


— Self Driving Cars

The PBS show Nova had an episode on self-driving cars.  You can find it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

We have our doubts about the usefulness of the air taxi idea to have a real impact on congestion. URBN Tampa Bay had a very interesting post about the subject:

Oh? You thought that flying cars would save space and relieve congestion? Not really… The graphic shows how much right of way each mode of travel needs to move 10,000 people. Note how flying cars dwarf everything else while moving the same number of people. And then in the rendering from Uber, check out how the landing pad for just a handful of flying cars utterly dwarfs the highway underneath it.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook pageSetting aside the issues of traffic in the air, noise, risk of injury or death, cost, etc., of large-scale use of air taxis, if the representation is accurate, it is a poor use of space.

And Finally

FDOT has started decorative (and practical) lighting on the Skyway.  Here is a video from the Times (article here):

 

They are still working on it but plan to make it permanent.

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