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Roundup 11-15-2019

November 14, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— The Outline of a Plan, a Note

— Roads to Nowhere

Downtown – Parks and Restaurants

— Gaslight

And One More Thing

— On the Outskirts

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Niche

Westshore-ish – Alta Westshore(-ish)

Airport – Finally

Built Environment – Another Sale

Economy – Another?

And Again the Trees

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

_______________________________________


Transportation


— The Outline of a Plan, a Note

Last week, we discussed the Mayor’s transportation committee report (here).  Among other things, we discussed the recommendation regarding the CSX tracks. URBN Tampa Bay had a comment about that:

We of course vigorously support the move to explore acquiring the CSX tracks for high quality and high frequency urban rail service. Preferably with electrification, not fossil fuel burning diesel locomotion.

However, it is important to note that we do not support acquiring the CSX tracks to waste a bunch of money implementing peak hour and limited stop, suburban commuter rail like the state did with TriRail and SunRail in Miami and Orlando respectively. There are better things to spend limited taxpayer dollars on than that sort of high cost, low yield transit service.

We have said similar things in the past, but we did not say it last week.  When we read their comment, we wished we had reiterated our view.

The CSX rails should be bought to run real urban rail service.  We would prefer that service to be electrified (though, if it used hydrogen, we’d be OK with that).  We also think the service should be real, urban transit, not commuter rail in the SunRail/TriRail mold. And, of course, the system should connect as seamlessly as possible to the airport/Westshore-downtown connection, preferably that connection just being an extension of the CSX tracks (if you have to make two or three connections to get from USF to the airport, people will just drive).

And as we said last week:

We need real transit.  But, if we are going to spend the money, we should build it properly from the beginning.  Building a bad idea will accomplish little and still leave us with all the needs – and they will be even more expensive to address later.

That is true for rail and BRT (and even highways).


— Roads to Nowhere

We recently discussed the Roads to Nowhere (aka M-CORES) plan noting that, unlike most road plans, there has been no showing of need or potential usage/revenue which, especially dealing with toll roads, is kind of important.  This week the Times reported:

State transportation officials announced additional meetings and resources for the task forces studying three new proposed toll roads.

After outcry from task force members, the Department of Transportation said Friday that it was adding two more public meetings and getting data on the potential projects to members sooner than previously scheduled.

“The department certainly heard the feedback,” department spokeswoman Beth Frady said in a statement Friday.

During last month’s meeting, task force members complained that they were not getting enough time or information to properly scrutinize the potential projects, which would be Florida’s largest expansion of toll roads in decades.

That is a positive development,

The justification and projections for the roads was not even going to be considered until next year.

Now the task forces will be talking about them in December, and the department will be data about those topics ahead of that meeting. The department also added two more meetings, in February and April, to their agendas.

“By facilitating additional meetings, I am confident the department is providing the support task force members need so they may complete the required assessments, which are so paramount to this process,” Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said in a statement.

We agree.  Assessments are paramount to the process.  However, they usually work better when done before committing to a project than after the fact.  And having a review does no guarantee proper vetting, especially when the whole thing went forward without any vetting in the first place.  There still could be more of this:

Other task force members asked for additional meetings to study the justification for the projects. Their questions prompted one department secretary to tell them to stop asking questions about why the roads were needed.

As we have said from the beginning, there may be a time when these roads (or some of them) are needed in some form.  However, as FDOT and various Governors have determined, they are not needed now.  We have bigger, more important needs for scarce transportation money than these roads.  (And, even if the state focuses on our actual needs, the road builders will still make money.)


Downtown – Parks and Restaurants


— Gaslight

Last week, there was news about Gaslight Park:

Eight months after the benches disappeared from Lykes Gaslight Square Park, a new plan has emerged: lending some of the park to the Tampa Downtown Partnership to open a cafe with outdoor seating.

That plan seemed to come out of nowhere.  But did it?  You may remember the benches were removed by the last administration without much warning or a publicly discussed plan.  Many thought it not coincidental that the homeless often used those benches, especially given other policies of that administration. When asked about the removal of the Gaslight Park benches earlier this year,

City spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said the city still plans to return benches to the park and those outside City Hall that also were removed. In all, some 43 benches are being renovated, some for the first time in 30 years, she said.

“We live in a city with a lot of green space and a lot of parks, which all require maintenance so people can enjoy these amenities for years to come,” she said.

She said the planters were installed as a temporary measure and that claims that the benches won’t return are inaccurate although she could not provide an estimate of when the seats will be returned.

When asked why the city didn’t stagger the work to leave some benches in place, Bauman said, “It’s just how we operate; we are refurbishing all of them at the same time.”

Apparently not.  They were not returned and now we have this proposal.  (It would be interesting to see the City records on all that refurbishment.)  Whether the old administration planned to refurbish any or not (and whether it was forthright about it) is made more of a question because, in a report about the presentation of the cafe proposal to City Council this week, we were told:

The partnership, which levies an assessment on many downtown property owners to provide services like the Clean Teams and downtown guides, has been talking to officials for several years about the idea. But it was unveiled Thursday for the first time in a public forum.

It is also worth noting that the plan presented this week does not appear to include returning any benches to the park.  While it may all be as advertised, given how the City government has worked over the years, we would not be surprised to find that none of this was coincidental.

But, setting that aside for now, let us get to the actual proposal:

The Tampa Downtown Partnership, which already helps keep nearby sidewalks tidy, wants to open a cafe on the eastern edge of the park with tables and seats for diners. Castor supports it as part of her effort to “activate” the city’s parks into destination spots.

Sal Ruggiero, the city’s interim administrator of neighborhood enhancement, said the idea is to regenerate the park, which was a popular spot for the homeless to congregate and occasionally get fed before the changes earlier this year.

“With Tampa developing into a world-class city, this is going to be a world-class amenity,” Ruggiero said, pointing to parks in New York City with similar partnerships between cities and private interests.

No, it will be a café in a small park.  That does not make it a good or bad idea, but the hyperbole is unnecessary.  And, while we are open to considering the idea of a café in the park contingent on a number of factors, not every park needs an establishment in it.

In any event, the proposal got a rocky reception.

More than a half-dozen speakers said the cafe would compete with existing restaurants around the square-block radius of the park. They complained that it would only offer paying customers places to sit.

Those are two obvious issues.

Why should the City provide a competitor to downtown establishments rent-free?  And why is the partnership, which gets money from local landowners (so directly or indirectly from local establishments) seeking to compete with those same local establishments?  And should anything be built in the park?  It is not that big as it is.  Why not put some place to sit for people not going to the café?  Is it a public park or not? (And while it may not be popular, homeless people, like other people, have a right to sit in a public park as long as they obey the law.)

While we are also not definitively opposed to a café, we are not excited by the proposal either.  If there is a café, rent should be charged at a market rate.  And we think there should be places in the park for the public to sit.

Council member John Dingfelder offered a possible compromise.

“I think we can have benches and we can have a restaurant with proper seating,” he said.

Yes, possibly – though not subsidized.

The other question is: do we need it?  Just this week there was this, per URBN Tampa Bay:

CW’s Gin Joint is planning an outdoor restaurant and bar area along Franklin Street, at their current location. The expansion would replace part of the greenspace which currently occupies the northwest corner of that block.

We like how the design opens up the north side of this building, which is currently a blank wall, and allows the building to directly interact with the park.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We like this idea, though, to be honest, we do not love this design.  It looks a bit too 1990’s for us, but so be it.  It would activate the space, and it is private business on private land.  Why should the City or Downtown Partnership be competing with them when they are working hard and investing downtown?  Gaslight Park is not the Riverwalk.  It does not need activation or designation of specific spaces for retail.  It is in the middle of downtown surrounded by businesses.

Sometimes a park is just a park.  And if the City wants a café/restaurant in the park, the least that can be done is do a non-wired RFP.

And One More Thing

There was other news from the Downtown Partnership this week:

[CEO of The Tampa Downtown Partnership Lynda] Remund says, there are over 14,000 residents living in the area, and expect those numbers to double in less than four years.

The partnership reported the number of downtown residential units jumped from 5,709 in 2016, to 7,546 in 2018.

So far, there are 2,000 units already under construction, and more than 4,000 new residential units proposed.

“Downtown has turned into everyones neighborhood,” says Remund.

Plus:

And with more than 140 restaurants and hundreds of activities, organizers say the area continues to grow. 

Given the numbers of people living, working, and visiting downtown, there is no reason to just give away space in a public park.


— On the Outskirts

Somewhat coincidentally, there was another article about another downtown park and another restaurant.

For two years, city planners and residents have collaborated on a redesign of Herman Massey Park, a half-acre of troubled parkland bordering North Franklin and East Tyler streets. The plans were nearly complete and featured two dog parks, a high priority for many residents on the northern end of downtown.

But those plans hadn’t included Malka Isaak, 83, who owns the three-story building, at 214 E. Tyler St, bordering the park. Isaak has owned the former site of Cutro’s Music store for more than twenty years, waiting for the neighborhood to improve.

With high-rise apartment towers and condos shooting up all around it (and more planned), Isaak decided to partner with Rick Calderoni, who owns The Retreat, Hula Bay and The Green Iguana, to open an affordable cafe on her property, which dates to 1901.

That’s when the trouble began. City planners were hesitant to tear up their nearly complete plans to incorporate her desire to relocate two planned dog parks away from her building to the northern edge of the park. She wants to use the space next to the building for dozens of outdoor seating spots.

(Here and here are a couple of articles about the early redesign process and the troubles.  Notice the park was closed because of the homeless a couple of mayors ago.)  Now someone wants to put restaurant seating in a public park that had a homeless issue at one point (though they do not want to remove all other seating) and, notably:

To do that, she’ll have to negotiate a lease with the city to use part of the park for her customers.

It does not sound like she expects it to be free.  In any event,

The disagreement reached City Council, which sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, asked both sides to work something out.

On Tuesday evening, they did. The Downtown Redevelopment Area’s citizen advisory board voted to support Isaak’s plan, which she said could bring up to $3 million in investment and jobs to the neighborhood.

Several members said they weren’t happy with additional delays to a process underway since 2017 at a cost of about $100,000. But they responded favorably to Isaak’s offer to pay any additional planning costs and to her argument that keeping the dog parks just a few feet from her building would damage its value.

That seems reasonable enough.

We are all for dog parks, but a small space like Massey Park does not really need two, and if an apartment building really needs more dog park space than the City has provided, they can put it on their amenity deck.  But even more, why should this landowner have to lease space from City for a restaurant in a small park that is begging for activation but in the middle of downtown we are not sure if a café owner will have to pay anything?


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Niche

URBN Tampa Bay had some more news regarding the project at 1116 West Carmen, now named Niche:

We have three new renders of Niche, which we have formerly referred to as 1116 West Carmen. This is a project that was first proposed as an “apartment fortress.” That is, the ground floor units facing the sidewalk had no access out to the sidewalk. Instead, each of these ground floor, outward facing units had a fenced off patio along the sidewalk. After the developer worked with us, walk-up units were added along with a dog park, a rail platform along the CSX tracks, and a re-worked parking garage.

The project is 6 stories and features 264 residential units.

Our remaining recommendations for this project are two-fold:

  1. We would like for the palm trees along the sidewalk to be shade trees. This is for pedestrian shade.
  2. We would like to see the front entryway of the walk-up units be accented so they really scream “front door.” Perhaps with some trim around the entryway.

But overall, we are pleased with the improvements.

We are only going to post one, you can go here for the others.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Our opinion has not changed.  We like this project now, for the most part, though we do agree the tree should be shade trees, not palm trees.  And we would still like a little retail space on the corner (but that is not fatal in this case).  That being said, kudos to the developer for working with others to make the project better.


Westshore-ish – Alta Westshore(-ish)

There is now a proposal for the old TigerDirect/CompUSA lot on Dale Mabry south of Midtown.

Atlanta-based Wood Partners is seeking to rezone the Tiger Direct property at 701 N. Dale Mabry Highway to make way for the 285-unit Alta Westshore at the intersection of Dale Mabry and West Cass Street.

Setting aside that it is not in Westshore, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The project is 7 stories and features 285 units. The code requires a (far excessive) 479 parking spaces, and the developer is proposing 386 parking spaces, so a waiver is sought for that.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post and bigger renderings

 

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post and bigger renderings

The Business Journal tells us:

The proposed development seeks eight waivers from city requirements. One waiver is needed to reduce the amount of required green space for multifamily projects; several of the waivers are related to tree requirements.

These are URBN Tampa Bay’s comments:

The project features no retail space. It should be fairly obvious that any project of this size lining Dale Mabry Highway should have retail space on the ground floor facing that side. We would like to see that incorporated.

One thing we do like, however, is the project is brought all the way up to Dale Mabry Highway. That is something Midtown Tampa failed to do, when they decided to put (and the city council regrettably approved) a surface lot between their under construction Whole Foods store and Dale Mabry. Also, we like that shade trees are incorporated as opposed to palm trees.

The outward facing units on the ground floor appear to be walk-up units.

First, we think the size is good.  We too like that the building is brought up to the street (as noted, Midtown failed to do that).  We like the walk-up units.  However, we are not sure how many people will want ground floor units (walk up or otherwise) on Dale Mabry, which is another reason they should have put some retail there (the value is in the exposure).

In any event,

The rezoning hearing for this project is set for April 9, 2020.

Hopefully they will make some tweak before then.  With a few changes, this could be a very nice addition.

There is one more point: this is exactly why Midtown should have been planned in a way that is more open to the surrounding neighborhood.  People living in this building should not feel the need to drive to Midtown.  Midtown should be seeking to invite people from a project like this into its space.  That would only encourage more developments like this on that corridor, which would be a positive thing.  Too bad the City did address it.


Airport – Finally

The Wall Street Journal ranked airports with separate categories for large and medium.  Tampa International is in the medium category.

Tampa International Airport ranked slightly higher than Portland International Airport in Oregon. Both have strong followings among frequent travelers for their ease of use and amenities.

Yes, we beat that pesky Portland airport and their specialized donuts. (We have beaten them before, but they seem to keep coming up).

You can read more here.


Built Environment – Another Sale

There was another apartment project sale this week:

In yet another sign of Tampa Bay’s torrid apartment market, a Texas-based company has bought the 340-unit ICON Harbour Island for a record $131.5 million.

The sale by Miami’s Related Group to Olympus Property is the most ever paid for a bay area apartment community and the second highest price per unit, $387,000. Newmark Knight Franklin Multifamily, which represented Related, said the quality and location of the 21-story building make it “one of the premier assets” in the southeastern United States.

“The Related Group’s brand is associated with iconic, ultra-luxury developments, and Harbour Island is a prestigious, affluent, walkable urban location in the emerging downtown Tampa market,” Patrick Dufour, Newmark’s vice chairman, said in a release.

It is true that this is a Harbour Island project and is quite nice, but it is also close to a record.

Also notable:

Known in South Florida for its luxury condo projects, Related has become a prominent apartment developer in the Tampa Bay area. Earlier this year, it opened the 15-story, 368-unit ICON Central in downtown St. Petersburg; the three penthouses rented quickly at nearly $6,000 a month.

In Tampa, Related built Pierhouse Channelside in 2013 and recently completed Manor Riverwalk downtown and Town Westshore in the Westshore Marina District.

They flipped Pierhouse for quite a good price as well.  And then there is this market note:

Dufour noted that Tampa ranks third among the nation’s top 20 metro areas in rent growth — the rate at which rents are rising— and has the sixth fastest growing population.

The fact is that there is no excuse for local government to settle and approve poor projects.  Even building good projects, the developers will get their money.  We should get insist on good projects, especially since they will be with us for decades.


Economy – Another?

One of the issues this area has had over the years is that companies are founded and grow here and then get bought by out-of-town companies or funds.  Sometimes, most of the day-to-day control and high paying jobs stay in the area.  Sometimes they don’t.  This year has seen a number of such deals and potential deals.  This week saw another.  And there was news of potentially more.   We are not sure how those will play out in terms of local effects but this, from a Times columnist, sums up a concern:

The Tampa Bay area has struggled over the years to hang on to some of its largest companies.

We’ve lured a few. But we’ve lost more. Outsiders buy them up and move the headquarters elsewhere. Even when most of the jobs stick around, the clout leaks away. The area loses a bit of its business mojo.

That is also true, though not as much, when an out-of-town fund buys a local business and ultimate control goes elsewhere.

We understand why companies get sold. And we understand the people who work hard to build companies and who invest in them want a return.  We do not begrudge them that. And we are in no way opposed to people from elsewhere investing in this area (especially if they move here, like the Lightning owner).

Without speaking about any specific company or deal (each of which has its own dynamics), we just would like to have this area collecting more companies and having strong local ownership presence.  Just as with people, economic development is not just about attracting talent or businesses.  Retaining what is homegrown is also important.


And Again the Trees

Last year, an MIT study ranked Tampa’s tree canopy as the best.

Tampa is known for many things: Beads, Bayshore, Bucs and Bolts. You can now add “branches” and “bark” to that list.

Tampa beat 26 other large cities worldwide to become the top city in the “Treepedia.” Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab used Google Street View data to measure urban ‘green canopy’ which they call the “aboveground portion of trees and vegetation.”

“By using [Google Street View] rather than satellite imagery, we represent human perception of the environment from the street level,” the Treepedia site states.

Factoring in Tampa’s population density, the city earned a 36.1% green view index, beating other large cities around the world, including notoriously tree-friendly Vancouver (25.9%), Sacramento (23.6%), and Oslo (28.8%).

(The study has a cool website here)  This week, it got more love from a more global publication, the Guardian (and even better, this does not seem to be a “placed” article):

The Florida city of Tampa claims a number of firsts: the world’s largest pirate festival; America’s longest continuous sidewalk (at 4.5 miles); and Babe Ruth’s longest ever home run (587 feet).

And now the city has another accolade to its name – it’s a world leader for trees. According to calculations by the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), more than one third (36.1%) of the city is given over to tree cover.

The arboreal city tops MIT’s Treepedia list, which measures canopy cover in cities, closely followed by Singapore (29.3%), Oslo (28.8%), and Sydney and Vancouver (both 25.9%). MIT’s home city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, meanwhile, scores 25.3%.

Though it is worth noting:

Tampa won’t be entering the Guinness Book of Records quite yet however. The Treepedia study is not designed to be comprehensive – it only features 27 cities that MIT researchers selected out of curiosity to see how very different places compare (it has since made its code freely available online so others can calculate their own city’s tree coverage).

Regardless, it is nice to get the exposure, and it is nice to have the canopy.  Over the years, much work has been done to protect it. Unfortunately, the Legislature passed a law making it much harder to protect the canopy.  We will just have to see what effect that has over time.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Recently, we saw this news from Jacksonville:

Today, FIS Chairman, President & CEO Gary Norcross and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans for growth and expansion of the Jacksonville-based international financial technology services firm. Known as Project Sharp, the announcement called for the Fortune 500 company to create 500 new high-wage jobs and $150 million in capital investment with the construction of a new 300,000-square-foot headquarters along downtown Jacksonville’s riverfront.

Hiring for the 500 new jobs will begin next year and all will be in place by 2029. The jobs will add to the more than 1,200 Jacksonville-based FIS employees, and the more than 55,000 employees worldwide serving more than 20,000 clients in 130 countries.

The incentives are quite large and you can get more detail here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We often refer to articles about driverless cars.  This week, we have another, though with a slightly different angle:

Waymo, an autonomous vehicle company owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., said it is closing down its Austin operations.

* * *

“Waymo is growing our investment and teams in both the Detroit and Phoenix areas, and we want to bring our operations teams together in these locations to best support our riders and our ride-hailing service,” a Waymo spokesperson wrote in a statement to Austin Inno. “As a result we’ve decided to relocate all Austin positions to Detroit and Phoenix. We are working closely with employees, offering them the opportunity to transfer, as well as with our staffing partners to ensure everyone receives transition pay and relocation assistance.”

* * *

Meanwhile, in April, Waymo said it was planning to put final assembly off its self-driving cars in Detroit — adding 100-400 workers in the area.

At the same time, a couple of weeks ago the Business Journal had an article on SunTrax (here)

TBBJ: So the oval track has been built. What’s happening in the infield?

Liquori: It’s about a $140 million project. We’ll start that construction in January. What that will do is take this 200 or so acres of the infield and we’ll build out these different test scenarios, different areas, a technology pad, an area that can be used to simulate multi-modal connection or a downtown urban core. That construction will start in 2020.

TBBJ: Original equipment manufacturers dominate places like Michigan and California. So why is this here in Florida?

Liquori: We recognize Michigan as the premier place, but what we’re finding is technology is advancing so quickly, there’s just an overwhelming need and demand for places to test. And there really isn’t a place in the southeastern United States, a large-scale facility like what we’re envisioning. So it just really offers more opportunities to an ever-expanding part of the transportation industry.

Setting aside questions about the high cost of the project, while we are skeptical of letting self-driving car companies do whatever they want on our roads, we have no problem with a test track (though, once again, we are not sure about the cost), even if we do not necessarily believe it will make us a center of the industry.


Because We Can

FDOT doing something right, this time for Veterans Day:

From the Times – click on picture for article

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