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Roundup 12-13-2019

December 12, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— HART BRT

— Ferry

— Roads to Nowhere

— Talking to Developers

Economic Development – Job Posted

— One More Thing

Economy/Economic Development – Tech Town?

Economy – Update

— House Prices

— Rent

— Income

— Finally

Channel District – 111 Meridian

West Tampa/Hyde Park/Downtown – UT Parking Garage

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Downtown – AER

Ybor City – Centro Coworking

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

__________________________


Transportation


— HART BRT

While TBARTA has started their outreach informing the public of its flawed “BRT” plan that was not requested by anyone, HART has begun looking in a BRT plan that people have actually been pushing (more information of the study here).

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is in the midst of first phase plans for a bus rapid transit system for the busy Nebraska-Florida corridor.

HART held its first-ever Tampa arterial BRT study public workshop on Monday night at the Seminole Heights Garden Center, where more than 40 guests attended, including HART representatives, commissioners Patricia Kemp and Kimberly Overman and representatives with the project planning firm Tindale Oliver.

HART has been studying a connector to help link some of its busiest corridors for roughly six months. The linkage would be between the Florida, Nebraska and Fowler avenues to connect downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida campus.

HART’s busiest and most popular local bus routes are Route 1 located on Florida Avenue and the MetroRapid on Nebraska Avenue.

“Think about the corridors we are looking at, Florida and Nebraska are parallel on either side, cover a lot of same ground and have similar characteristics. Fowler is our only east-west one … it was just a matter of what we would do with it,” said Joel Rey, principal, vice president and director of transportation and transit solutions at Tindale Oliver. He explained that HART would also look at biking and walking areas in that corridor.

HART officials believe the bustling area needs transit service that is timely and reliable to improve connectivity for east-west routes that cross the USF to downtown Tampa corridor.

Here is a map posted by an URBN Tampa Bay commenter:

From comment on URBN Tampa Bay by Shane Michael Ragiel – click on picture for Facebook post

With that pivot, it is a slightly odd map, which is explained by:

Commissioners at the meeting voiced concerns on why it appears the Florida-Fowler area is being ignored when it presents an opportunity for economic development.

“Back when we did this presentation to HART staff, when we first came up with what the alignment was looking like, staff said, ‘Why aren’t you going up Florida to Fowler?’ That’s a great question because that’s what the ultimate desire is, but there’s three key issues,” Rey explained. One being redevelopment obstacles in that area and not having a transit-supported environment, another being the interchange at 275 and Fowler. That interchange has significant delays.

The third is that there’s a proposed transit station at the southeast corner of Nebraska and Fowler for potential future rail and could make it hard for the BRT system to maneuver around.

Our initial view is that we like the basic idea.  We would like it to run in fully dedicated lanes, though we understand there is a lack of space on parts of Florida (but not necessarily on Nebraska which was rearranged a couple of Mayors ago) for dedicated lanes the whole way.  The lack of dedicated lanes from Violet to Waters (where Florida is two-way without a median) could really slow the system down.  We understand, but do not love the Linebaugh connection.  That is another choke point.

Of course, there are a lot of other details yet to be determined that could affect our opinion one way or another.  But at least there is a real discussion of some, if partial, BRT on arterial roads.  We would much rather put effort and money into this and trying to maximize the BRT portion than an obviously flawed “BRT” plan that ignores the needs of the biggest county in the area and has almost no chance of spurring transit oriented development.


— Ferry

A few weeks back, there was news about the Cross-Bay Ferry:

The Cross Bay Ferry that links St. Petersburg and Tampa is outpacing last year’s ridership numbers.

The ferry carried 11,622 passengers during the month of November, a 25 percent increase over 9,268 passengers during the previous November.

The first thing we thought on reading that was “great, now they can drop the subsidies.”  Then we saw URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

That’s good news. The bad news is that the ferry’s ridership keeps rising the more the schedule is tilted to serving leisure riders on the weekends. Which when it’s costing over $30 dollars per ride in taxpayer subsidies on top of the $8 one way fare riders pay, one has to ask if it’s really an economic win for taxpayers.

On the plus side, with this ridership growth, it only helps make the case for permanent full time ferry service that’s funded with appropriate revenue sources, not money from the county’s general fund or by taking money from HART that would otherwise fund other transit projects.

The ridership also makes an argument for not using the same boats that would be bought by Hillsborough for the South County-MacDill route for the St. Pete service.

More to the point: to us it does not matter how well the Cross-Bay Ferry does. We have always thought a fun cruise on the bay would attract people, especially when most of the cost is being paid for by the government. And, with its schedule, the Cross-Bay Ferry is going to always be a fun cruise, and fun cruises should not be subsidized.

If someone wants to run ferry from Tampa to St. Pete as real transit (which the present operator/company that proposed the ferry plan notably does not want to do), it will need a whole different proof of concept and business plan with a different cost/risk burden distribution.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Times had another article on opposition to the MCORES plan here.  They also had an opinion piece against the plan here. We are not going to get into either of them (even though the comments by the FDOT head in the article are tempting). We will just say that, as of yet, no one has actually presented a reason why these plans are needed now or should be prioritized over actually doing something to address the needs of where people actually live.


— Talking to Developers

The Business Journal had an article about an apartment developer panel discussion.  There were some interesting comments.  We will highlight two.  While we know that this is in the transportation section, if you want to know why local government should not settle:

In September, Crescent sold off Novel Riverwalk for $123 million or $312,000 per apartment. The average income in those apartments is around $125,000, Curran said.

“The median home price in the U.S. is $237,000,” Curran said. “We just sold 830 square foot wood-frame apartments for $312,000 a door.”

But what we really wanted to highlight is this:

Transit-oriented development: Charlotte, North Carolina — one of the Tampa Bay region’s top competitor markets for jobs and talent — is seeing a big movement of development built around transit access, Curran said. . .

“Charlotte’s blowing up from an office perspective and residential perspective along those [rail] lines,” Curran said. “Orlando has been a little less successful, but Tampa’s just devoid of that option, and it’s a shame because there’s a lot of success that’s come to this market. We’ve had a huge amount of success here, but it would be fantastic if there were more success and more focus on a long-term strategy for light rail.”

* * *

Milhaus, Wilson said, is closely following initiatives for a bus rapid transit system in St. Petersburg.

Setting aside that the developers are not discussing building right up against the interstate (see TBARTA “BRT” plan), that all makes sense.  Charlotte’s light rail is far more useful than Orlando’s system, which, as we have noted many times (like most recently, we think, here), is more of a commuter system that has limited frequency.  (And even with that, there is some development in Orlando around some of the stations.)

This is just another example of the message that transit done properly, on arterial roads or with rail, and not in the interstate, will do more than move people.  It drives development.

Moreover:

Curran also criticized Tampa’s parking requirements for apartment development, saying the city has some of the “most onerous, non-environmentally friendly parking requirements. … more and more municipalities are giving you the option of having no parking and let the market drive that demand.”

Especially in the inner core, Tampa really has to address the parking issue.  The idea that buildings are going to have no parking at all is highly improbable. People have cars.  But do we need so much parking and the associated costs?


Economic Development – Job Posted

We did not get to this last week, but there was some major news in Tampa with the selection of a new economic development director.

Mayor Jane Castor filled a crucial post in her administration Thursday with the official who has been in charge of her mayoral transition.

Carole Post, who joined Castor’s team in May to help the mayor assemble key posts, was named administrator of development and economic opportunity. The post formerly held by Bob McDonaugh had been vacant since McDonaugh’s August retirement.

Post, a top aide to New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, will wrap up her current duties as a University of South Florida administrator heading up the Morsani Medical School, which is nearly ready to open on the south edge of downtown.

* * *

“It’s really about unlocking Tampa, unlocking opportunity and doing that all over the city,” Post said.

After the event, she told the Times that she considers affordable housing and workforce development to be as important as attracting major projects like Midtown Tampa, the $500 million development at West Cypress Street and North Himes Avenue where Castor made her announcement.

* * *

“Philosophically, I think you see economic development as not just about buildings. The notion (is) that we want to drive opportunity and vitality through the economic engine across the city in all communities and all areas. Some of them are big high-rises and others are small neighborhoods,” she said  

That last point is a good one with which we agree, and it brought a positive response.

City Council member Bill Carlson, who has been critical of past downtown-heavy development efforts, welcomed Post’s hire.

“Carole Post is the kind of world class talent that the people of Tampa deserve. She will make sure that the city focuses on economic development, not just real estate,” Carlson wrote in a text.

And then there was this from the new director:

“If you create an engine that brings businesses, retains businesses, the byproduct is going to raise all boats,” she said.

That all sounds good, and, if that is where this is going, we are all for it.

Given all that, we are not sure how this fits in:

Making Post’s job easier, Castor said, will be a raft of reforms to the development process ranging from faster inspections and using private inspections to quicken the pace for projects. The city will also launch a pilot program allowing private certified arborists to sign off on development-related tree issues so that the city won’t have to inspect each tree before it’s impacted.

Castor said she inherited a good foundation from mayoral predecessor Bob Buckhorn, but wanted to cut more red tape and make the city more attractive to developers.

She wanted her task force “to focus on immediate ways to cut the red tape and improve efficiencies in dealing with the city.”

She said development fees, some unchanged since 2006, would be evaluated for possible increases or decreases, probably by the end of the year. Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, said any changes would be in line with neighboring jurisdictions and weren’t opposed by builders.

It is not that we think that the City should make things hard for developers (while we think the City should not settle, the actual process should not be overly difficult or bureaucratic.  You can have efficiency and standards at the same time).  We just find it a bit odd that every new mayor seems to feel the need to cut more red tape for developers soon after entering office.  How is it that the red tape is never cut enough?

For instance, the last mayor came in an immediately did this:

The Economic Competitiveness Committee, which Mayor Bob Buckhorn appointed, was made up of 17 lawyers, engineers, developers and builders, plus a City Council member and a neighborhood representative. It began meeting in early July and recommended changes with an eye on repairing the city’s damaged reputation in the business community.

“Over time,” the group said at the start of a 26-page report, “Tampa’s development review and permitting process has become confusing, unpredictable, time-consuming, costly, and in some cases onerous for anyone trying to do business in the city.”

(The member list of that committee can be found here.)  Note that that “economic competitiveness committee” was all about developers and making development easy.  However, if this recent report from the Business Journal is to be believed, the last Mayor’s efforts did not really succeed:

Tampa’s permitting review process poses “significant challenges” to commercial construction, CBRE Inc. says in a new report — but the lack of state income tax and demand for commercial space still leave it well-positioned.

* * *

In Tampa, CBRE highlights both the timeframe for approving building permits as well as the lack of available subcontractors. Tampa’s construction cost index has risen 6 percent since 2014, to 193.6, according to CBRE. That’s still below the U.S. construction cost index of 229.6.

* * *

The report comes just as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor unveiled a plan to streamline the permitting process. The first steps, already underway, include additional staff in the planning and development department as well as making the online permitting process more clear and user friendly. The report doesn’t break down the cost of regulatory approvals by market, but says the approvals process makes up 32 percent of a project’s total cost, citing data from National Association of Home Builders and the National Multifamily Housing Council.

If the present review process poses “significant challenges,” how did previous reform efforts get it so wrong?  And if they did indeed get it so wrong, how come no one mentioned it until now?

In any event:

At the recommendation of an advisory committee . . , the city has also started overhauling parts of its development process to be more transparent and user friendly. Castor on Thursday unveiled short-, medium- and long-term goals for the overhaul.

The city isn’t cutting steps from its development approval process, Post said. Already, the city has added staff to its planning and development services departments and has made the city’s website more user friendly. There are also workshops on how to navigate the online permitting process.

A big focus is on transparency, Post said, and making expectations for construction and development clear from the get-go. A common complaint among restaurant and small business owners is inconsistency in the city’s inspection process. Unexpected issues during the inspection process can cause costly delays in opening.

“A recurring theme was that providing clear and transparent guidance could resolve many common process issues,” the committee’s report says. “For example, if applicants consistently make the same filing errors, provide better instructions to resolve the common point of failure.”

You can see the list of committee members here.

Once again, how is it that the process is never streamlined enough?  Was it not transparent before?  If not, why not?  (What would help make the process really transparent is if the code got a nice upgrade to reflect what the City really wants to be now so everyone could see it up front.)

As we said, we are not against a streamlined and transparent process (providing it still enforces proper rules and is not a free-for-all of poor development), but, and this is not about this Mayor – or any mayor – specifically, we do wonder why the process always needs to be streamlined and made transparent at the beginning of each administration. It just seems very odd.

More broadly, we all know that real estate development is a major function of the City government and that property taxes are a major source of revenue. However, that this is an early focus risks giving the impression that real estate development is still the main focus of economic development efforts.  We are all for good development.  In fact, as any reader will quickly realize, we love good development.  But, as we have pointed out many times and new economic development official basically said above, economic development is not just about buildings.  It is about having businesses that can fill and customers that can frequent business in (not to mention workers who can live nearby and work in) those buildings. That is really where much more energy needs to go.  If you have the demand, the buildings will come.  And without tenants, even the easiest, most transparent system will not be used.

From her statements and some of her other actions, it seems that the Mayor understands that. (And, if anyone at needs a reminder, just look at the County Center building and its history.)  We hope this is just something that was easy to do (though, once again, and this has nothing to do with the present or any other mayor specifically, one has to ask why each mayor does it but the job never seems done) and that the City will focus on the other valid issues she has previously discussed.  We are better than we were, but we are still not where we need to be relative to the competition.


— One More Thing

The Times had an article about Tampa’s resiliency effort, sort of (here).

The Tampa Bay area had a visit from a resiliency and sustainability guru named Henk Ovink and he met with the mayor. Through that, the Netherlands (consulate) down in Miami put together a government-sponsored opportunity for communities to come over there and see what the Netherlands had done. The South Florida area was contacted, the Tampa Bay area, Houston and New Orleans.

You can read the article to see some of what was learned, but we will highlight this:

The big lesson they shared was that you need natural defense systems like sand and mangroves and you don’t want to build a ‘hardscape.’ It’s not going to survive. You just can’t build a wall around everything is what they said. You can use non-natural barriers in certain locations, dams and dikes, but what you can’t do is just ring with hard surfaces. They showed evidence of hundreds of years ago where they tried to do things like that and the unintended consequences — the salt water intrusion, those kinds of things.

In other words, while it goes against Florida’s historical (and some present) tendencies (see MCORES), developing every last square foot of land is not really a good idea.


Economy/Economic Development – Tech Town?

There was some interesting and contrasting news about the local tech scene recently.  First,

A recent report by CompTIA, a nonprofit technology trade association, ranked Tampa among the top 20 best cities for information technology jobs in the U.S. 

To compile the rankings, CompTIA looked at the cities with populations over 250,000 that had the most job postings for tech jobs between August 2018 and July 2019. From there, the top cities were ranked by their cost of living, number of postings for open IT positions and projected job growth over the next year and next five years. 

Tampa ranked as the 19th best tech city, one spot behind Jacksonville, the only other Florida city to make the top 20. The Big Guava ranked high because of its 6 percent projected job growth over the next five years. The city also had 43,151 tech openings in the last year, which affirms a recent report by Burning Glass, which found Tampa was among the top markets looking for tech talent.

As we all know, our cost of living in absolute numbers is low relative to other places (though not relative to our salaries).  We are a bit dubious that the 43,000 “tech” openings (not jobs, openings) are all what most people think of as tech jobs: programmer, engineer, etc.  Other surveys of the tech job scene have included customer service jobs and other jobs at “tech” companies, which we do not consider tech jobs. (Also of note is that the report deals with metro areas, not the City of Tampa. “ . . . CompTIA Tech Town Index takes a deep dive into metropolitan areas . . .”)

This is the blurb Tampa got in the press release (here, where you can also get the report):

. . .Tampa (no. 19) has been hard at work putting attractive tax structures in place and developing innovative research centers to entice tech businesses.

Do with it what you will.

In any event, being a tech town sounds great, especially if you get to replace Trenton, NJ; Madison, WI; Des Moines, IA; and Lansing, MI (yes, Trenton was on the list last year, probably because of Princeton and all the tech around it, which is in the Trenton metro area).

So, there is that. But there is also this from a Times columnist:

Cities covet high-tech jobs. Economic development professionals talk about them like they are the holy grail of the modern employment landscape. They pay well, attract young people and are perceived to be less vulnerable to automation.

Creating a flood of tech jobs in any given city isn’t easy. In fact, it’s so hard that only a handful of metro areas have pulled it off, leaving places like the Tampa Bay area to fight for scraps.

How bad is the imbalance? From 2005 to 2017, the country created 256,063 jobs in what the authors of a new study called the innovation sector — 13 of the highest-tech industries, including satellite telecommunications and semi-conductor and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Five metro areas — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego — accounted for more than 90 percent of the job growth. Another 35 metro areas posted minuscule gains. The rest of the 382 metro areas broke even or saw their slice of the pie shrink, according to the study released Monday from the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

(You can find the report here.) Needless to say, that sounds quite a bit different. (It is worth noting that, while Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach is listed on page 18 as a “superstar metro area” where these jobs are concentrated, the Tampa Bay area is only mentioned on the list of metro area job increases in an appendix).  As does this:

The Tampa Bay area has picked up 1,789 innovation sector jobs since 2005, the study found. Still, we didn’t increase our share of the total. We remain a blip, though we have lots of other blips around the country to keep us company.

(The very definition of improving relative to our past but not relative to others)

So which report to believe?  Well, we assume there are more jobs in the Tampa Bay area than there were before.  However, truth be told, that does not mean that the jobs really involving tech/innovation – where the money is – have really grown that much.  This is how the report defines those jobs:

The “innovation sector” as discussed here is an especially high-tech subsector of the “advanced industries” sector, an earlier delineation of America’s highest-value industries by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

Innovation industries” encompass America’s 13 highest-tech, highest-R&D industries. Selected from among the 50 advanced industries, the 13 innovation industries represent a cohort whose R&D expenditures exceed $20,000 per worker and have a STEM-worker share of 45%. The 13 innovation industries include:

(pg. 18 of the pdf) That is not to say that people are not working to build those sectors (and there are some successes like this seems to be.), but, as the report notes, they are clustered in a limited number of metro areas.

Too many college-educated workers are flowing to a small handful of cities, they said, leaving other metro areas to make do with a thinner talent reservoir. The cost of living and doing business in the five tech hubs is also skyrocketing, they said.

“The result is that investments flow to places such as Bangalore, Shanghai, Taipei, or Vancouver, rather than Indianapolis, Detroit, or Kansas City,” they said.

To remain competitive, the authors suggested a massive federal effort to transform 8 to 10 metro areas into vibrant, low-cost innovation hubs. The move would include $100 billion in federal spending over 10 years on research, tax benefits, workforce training, transportation improvements and other programs.

They identified 35 metro areas that have the right mix of size, educated workforce and established track record for innovation to warrant the investment. Madison, Wis., Minneapolis, Minn., and Albany, N.Y., ranked highest.

The Tampa Bay area didn’t make the cut. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, with its aerospace industry, was the only Florida metro area to make the list.

The first sentence goes once again to the talent issue in this area.

All we will say about the targeted investment concept is that the politics of choosing champions would get very messy.  Major Florida metros may not be listed as potential spots, but, for a variety of reasons, they would be hard to ignore, though the in-state fighting would also be a bit crazy.  For that reason alone, it is problematic.

But, for us, the real point is that, for all the rhetoric, the Tampa Bay area is just not relevant to this report.  But the report is relevant to us, especially things like this:

Agglomeration economies refer to the external benefits that accrue to firms when they locate in urban areas. There are two kinds of agglomeration benefits, as we have seen: urbanization effects and localization ones. The former refers to effects that benefit all firms in a region, including good transportation systems, broad and deep labor markets, high-quality health care, an enjoyable quality of place, and other livability factors. For example, in a more globalized economy, having an international airport with an array of reasonably priced international flights is much more important than it was 40 or 50 years ago. And these urbanization advantages build upon themselves: A metropolitan region with a more robust international air hub, for example, attracts more companies whose workers travel internationally. That, in turn, leads airlines to provide even more flights, including nonstop flights, which draw in more companies valuing this factor, and so on.

Localization economies, in contrast, refer to factors that provide value for a particular industry. These include a specialized labor force, the ability to share machinery, access to specialized suppliers, regional research institutes, venture capitalists, and professionals (e.g. law firms) with specific industry knowledge, and the ability to learn from competitors through “knowledge spillovers.” These industry-specific localization benefits are what people usually think about when they refer to the special vibrancy of tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, Boston, and Seattle.

(Pg. 37 of the pdf). Unfortunately, in the past, this area has neglected things like good transportation and international flights while call centers were one of the larger focuses of the local labor force.  Yes, people have learned that was a mistake, but it put us at a disadvantage that still has to be fixed.  And, as can be seen in much transportation planning, not all lessons have been adequately learned.  The columnist goes on:

The report is another reminder that Florida and the Tampa Bay area must keep making strides when it comes to education and innovation or they risk losing the slice of high-tech jobs they have now.

True, but the report is also a reminder that everything (including transportation) is connected and those interested in really developing the Florida economy have to ask themselves:

if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Because that is what we are really talking about.  And every report like this provides another answer.  Doing things on the cheap and ignoring the factors that really attract such businesses and the talent that builds, brings, and supports them is a recipe for further underperformance and marginalization in the discussion.


Economy – Update


— House Prices

It is time to check in with a few economic indicators.  First, a little housing.

Growth in home values for Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranked among the top of the nation’s 35 largest markets in October, according to a report from residential real estate website Zillow Group Inc. (NASDAQ: Z).

Home values in Tampa metro area grew at the sixth highest pace in October, according to Zillow’s market report. The median value of a local home increased to $221,100 — up 5.3 percent from a year ago. Orlando also saw the 10th highest growth, up 4.5 percent from last year.

Or you could choose this report:

Tampa Bay ranks sixth among U.S. metro areas in the increase in single-family home prices. Between the third quarter of 2018 and the quarter ended in September, house prices rose 8.1 percent, according to a new report by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The only areas with higher rates of increase were Boise City, Idaho; Tucson; Honolulu; Grand Rapids, Mich., and Memphis, Tenn. The Miami area was the only other Florida metro area in the top 20, ranking 13th.

Either way, house prices growth is outpacing wage growth anywhere from “by a bit” to “quite a bit.”


— Rent

So how about rent?

According to a new report from online rental site Apartment List, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Tampa Bay is now $1,287, which is significantly more than the national average of $1,191.

This jump in local rental rates represents a 2.3% spike over the past year, placing Tampa Bay’s rental increase as the 10th fastest growth rate among the 100 largest cities in the country, says the study.

Though Tampa Bay rental prices stayed relatively flat in November, it’s worth noting that this jump in rates isn’t exclusive to just the last 12 months, it’s been happening for nearly 5 years. According to the same study, rental rates in Tampa have grown by 24% since 2014, which outpaces the national average of 11.3%.

Which leads into this:

Nearly 800,000 Florida renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 40 percent of their income for rent. In the Tampa Bay area, cost-burdened renters make up nearly a third of all renters.

While we like all the development around urban centers, those units are usually on the higher end. There is still a problem.


— Income

That brings us to the other major housing factor – income.

The typical worker in the Tampa metro area earned $33,248 last year, according to the one-year version of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, which was released this fall.

That puts Tampa Bay in 44th place for median worker earnings among the nation’s 53 major metropolitan areas. Orlando and Miami ranked behind Tampa at Nos. 52 and 50. Jacksonville ranked the best of Florida’s cities at No. 42.

Needless to say, that is bad.  Or you could put it this way:

A recent study from Business.org found Florida ranks as one of the worst states for pay.

To compile the rankings, the study calculated the number of hours someone would need to work at the median wage to afford the median rent for a one bedroom apartment in each state. The salary data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the rent prices are from Zillow. All data is from May 2018, the most recent available.

Florida was the fourth worst state for pay with 84.5 hours of work needed to afford a one bedroom apartment. The only states that ranked worst were New York, Massachusetts and California.

Or maybe this:

While Tampa is often touted as one of the nation’s most affordable metropolitan areas, a new list shows that might not be true for the state of Florida as a whole.

The Sunshine State is No. 45 on planning website Theseniorlist.com’s ranking of where paychecks stretch the farthest.

According to the list, which was created using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Floridians spend 87.9 percent of their average income per capita on things like housing, utilities, food, clothing, health care, transportation and insurance.

In any event, that is nothing new, even if it gets lost in the sales pitches.  It has been a persistent issue.


— Finally

That all makes one wonder about affordable housing (and when we say affordable, we mean affordable, not just subsidized).  There was a decent editorial from the Times about affordable housing which you can read here.

How do we solve this?

There’s no clear solution, but there are a number of small ways local governments can help. Streamline a better process so people can more easily go through the public housing system. Create more public housing opportunities that are actually desirable for tenants. Make affordable housing a priority in city and county governments, like the Clearwater City Council, which recently sold city-owned land near downtown Clearwater to a developer who will turn the property into 81 units for renters making between 30 and 80 percent of the median area income. Enact local ordinances that ban discrimination by “lawful source of income,” which includes vouchers. And create housing opportunities that serve those in the middle-class. For too many Tampa Bay families, affordable housing remains out of reach.

Contingent on various circumstances, that is all relatively sound (if focused mostly on subsidized), but there are other things that can be done as well, like lower or eliminate parking minimums, at least in urban areas. There could also be higher allowed density (at least for workforce housing) so that developers have a reason to build more units.  URBN Tampa Bay had a few more ideas:

Just to throw some more fodder out there for the discussion… How about higher wages? How about reducing build requirements that raise housing costs, like on-site parking? How about by-right upzoning of lots zoned for single family housing, which can be developed with a slate of pre-approved plans for duplexes and triplexes with minimal red tape? How about incentivizing the repurposing of overbuilt suburban retail into workforce housing?

There are all kinds of ways to increase the supply of housing at prices the local workforce can afford. Does the community have the political will to follow through, that is the question.

Of course, it does not have to be (and probably should not be) every idea in every neighborhood or on every block.  There is no silver bullet.  We need to try a number of ideas and focus on the ones that work best in this area.  (And we need the Legislature to put the money designated for affordable housing towards affordable housing.)  However, we need much more than we have now.

And it all works better with decent transit in sufficient quantities that people can get around without needing to spend so much on cars.


Channel District – 111 Meridian

There was news about the 111 Meridian apartment/storage project which we have discussed and opposed (see for example here and here).

Lee Partners of New England Managing Partner and commercial broker Bruce Lee, working on behalf of Kurian Limited Partnership, has brokered the sale of 101 N. Meridian Avenue a one- acre parcel in the Channelside District of downtown Tampa Florida for $6,075,000.

* * *

The 101 N Meridian site was combined with 111 N Meridian Avenue and the City of Tampa approved  a mixed-use development project consisting of a total of 460,000 sq ft of retail, multifamily, and self-storage components for the project.  Construction is projected to commence in 2020 with completion scheduled for 2021-2022.

We still believe that the Channel District is not the place for self-storage, but we also don’t think people should be welcomed to downtown Tampa with a Burger King drive-thru, either.


West Tampa/Hyde Park/Downtown – UT Parking Garage

URBN Tampa Bay reports that UT is looking to build a parking garage next to the lacrosse field.

The University of Tampa wants to construct a new standalone parking garage on campus.

We don’t think UT (or anyone) should be allowed to build a single-use parking garage that doesn’t allow for uses on top and/or the ground floor of the structure.

The garage would replace Gilchrist Avenue, some surface parking, and some green space.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We have mixed feelings about this garage.  As a general principle, we support URBN Tampa Bay’s position on it.  This is a wasted opportunity to have roof or ground floor usage (or both). It is just a bland garage.  What mitigates that objection somewhat is the actual location: squeezed between the CSX tracks and the lacrosse field.  In other words, the lot is cut off from most of the surrounding area, especially Kennedy.

The truth is that, while development on UT’s campus is definitely impressive, they have a strange tendency to cut the campus off from the surrounding area.  For an urban campus, it has surprisingly little effect on the immediately surrounding area (while the housing built for UT students downtown is definitely having an effect, that is not a UT project.)  We would love to see a real, vibrant university district grow around the campus.


Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Speaking of vibrant urban areas and a university, the Times had a sneak peak of the USF Med School in downtown.

About 1,800 students, faculty and staff will fill the 13-story tower when the next semester begins Jan. 13. With 395,000 square feet of space, it has been billed as a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility connecting the medical school with nearby Tampa General Hospital and other downtown destinations.

While it does not actually connect with TGH, it is closer, and we are sure it will be a nice building with some nice views (at least for now).

From the Times – click on picture for article

USF’s Heart Institute will move into the building in February, and will have dedicated labs and collaborative space focused on cardiovascular research. USF’s physician assistant program will move into the building in May 2021. The university’s Taneja College of Pharmacy will occupy the 12th floor and will start classes there in the fall of 2021.

Tampa General Hospital signed a $20 million lease to operate an urgent care clinic and an imaging center on the first floor of the building. The clinic will open in April and the imaging center in July. The hospital also will have some space on the unfinished floors of the building to develop as clinical and office space at a later date.

Also of note:

The building will cost $189 million. University officials originally earmarked $152 million for construction and design in 2015. The USF board of trustees board revised the budget to $172.9 million in 2017, when the school decided to add two floors. Three floors will not be open when the building welcomes students and faculty next month.

More important to us is that it is first building in Water Street to open.  We will not know how well it really works until others open.


Downtown – AER

There was news about the AER (aka Straz Tower) project:

In September, the project reached a critical milestone: The city transferred ownership of that parcel to ALV, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed in mid-October. The local developers who were originally part of the team behind AER assigned their rights to ALV years ago, Tracy said.

The demolition of the Cass Street bridge — currently underway — is the first step in the construction process. After that, the roadway reconfiguration will take four to five months, and Tracy said he hopes to begin vertical construction by June. It’s a 24-month construction process, and the tower could wrap up construction by mid-2022.

On Oct. 7, ALV took out a $4.25 million loan from City National Bank of Florida, according to Hillsborough property records. In September, the city approved an agreement with ALV for improvements to the Tampa Riverwalk to be made concurrent with the construction necessary to carve out a parcel for the 33-story apartment tower.

ALV is still finalizing the design of the tower, Tracy said, so it hasn’t yet sought bids for general contractors. The larger units will be specifically marketed to downsizing baby boomers, with floor plans as large as 1,335 square feet. ALV is projecting rents of $2.70 per square foot.

As we have noted before, we are not enamored with the large, freestanding parking garage (which was not in the original) facing the Riverwalk (though at least it has decent screening), the narrow alley, and the funny hat of the latest redesign.  We hope they fix those things (though it is unlikely at this point).  If you are going to have a building on the Riverwalk on what was City land, it needs to be very attractive, not just OK.


Ybor City – Centro Coworking

Centro Ybor is going through some changes.

Centro Ybor’s former movie theater will become the second in-town Industrious coworking space, the company announced Tuesday.

Industrious, which has 90 locations nationwide, and investment firm Third Lake Capital’s advisory arm — Third Lake Partners — will together convert the former AMC theater into a 45,000-square-feet flexible working space.

Industrious opened its first Tampa office at the SunTrust Financial Center in 2017.

* * *

Kelmer said even after expanding to a second floor in the SunTrust building, it has continued to have a long waiting list. Small startups, other businesses and individual workers use coworking spaces to fill office needs without having to sign rental agreements with landlords or worry about office upkeep.

All that coworking space will be in addition to the troubled We Work’s new local space, more space at Midtown, and

Nearby in the Channel District, another former movie theater is going through similar renovations. The new offices, likely to be coworking spaces at Sparkman Wharf will take over the former movie theaters at what was previously called Channelside Bay Plaza. Both projects require construction teams to punch holes in the walls to create windows.

We have no strong opinion one way or the other regarding coworking space (though we are not so fond of the hype surrounding some providers).  If it fills underused buildings with good business and creates activity, that is fine with us. We assume there is local demand for coworking space, though we are not sure there is demand for all that space.  Time will tell.


Rays

This week’s Rays news is here, here, here,  and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was news about Kansas City transit:

Kansas City is poised to become the largest city in the country to eliminate bus fares.

The Kansas City Council on Thursday enthusiastically endorsed the idea, voting unanimously to direct the city manager to identify up to $8 million from the city budget to fund free bus service.

Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the measure along with Mayor Quinton Lucas, acknowledged the importance of the change.

“I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city,” Bunch said.

The Kansas City streetcar, which has two proposed expansions, is already free.  You can read more here.  Interestingly:

The zero-fare option would only apply to Kansas City, Missouri busses, even though Ride KC serves the entire metro area, which is split across seven counties in two states.

We know that the free streetcar in Tampa caused a boom in ridership.  We will see what happens across all of KC’s buses.


Because We Can

A few more nice shots from Eagle 8’s Twitter feed (here):

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

 

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