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Roundup 10-18-2019

October 17, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum

— Some Day

— Streetcar

— Virgin Trains

— This is Why

Tampa Heights – They Have Moxy

Westshore-ish – Admission

Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

East Tampa – Nah

Channel District – Sale

Airport – More

Economy – Nexus

Economic Development – What Is It?

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_____________________________


Transportation


— Referendum

There was news of sorts about the referendum lawsuit from Florida Politics:

The legal team representing All For Transportation in its ongoing legal battle against two complainants filed its response Thursday to an appeal seeking to overturn the 1% sales tax Hillsborough voters approved last year.

In their “answer brief,” the group makes two main arguments — that the voter-approved sales tax is constitutionally valid even if portions of it are stricken down and that the entire amendment is constitutional.

Because we are not getting into the legal arguments, we will leave it at that.  You can read more about AFT’s position here.


— Some Day

There is some more self-driving car money for Florida Poly.

Florida Polytechnic University is revving up its autonomous vehicle efforts, this time with the help of a grant from the National Science Institute.

The Lakeland-based university received a $350,000 grant from the institute earlier this month, which will help the school increase research on autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Arman Sargolzaei, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, was the lead researcher for the grant and believes this will be the first step to becoming one of the leading institutions on autonomous vehicles not only in the state, but the nation.

“This project and this funding is going to help us and as an institute — especially a new institute,” Sargolzaei said. “It will help with working and testing autonomous vehicles to be successful in the future.”

While the grant was intended for creating a facility, the research area will instead be in the electrical engineering lab until it is hopefully moved to the eventual Applied Research Center. That center, also known as the ARC, is slated to open in roughly 2021.

Which is fine.  We do not buy into the predictions that self-driving cars (aka “autonomous vehicles” or “avs”) will fix our transportation woes, but have no problem with research. Interestingly, the Economist had a couple of articles regarding self-driving cars this week.  The first (here) explained:

Jim Hackett, the boss of Ford, acknowledges that the industry “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles”. Chris Urmson, a linchpin in Alphabet’s self-driving efforts (he left in 2016), used to hope his young son would never need a driving licence. Mr Urmson now talks of self-driving cars appearing gradually over the next 30 to 50 years. Firms are increasingly switching to a more incremental approach, building on technologies such as lane-keeping or automatic parking. A string of fatalities involving self-driving cars have scotched the idea that a zero-crash world is anywhere close. Markets are starting to catch on. In September Morgan Stanley, a bank, cut its valuation of Waymo by 40%, to $105bn, citing delays in its technology.

The future, in other words, is stuck in traffic. Partly that reflects the tech industry’s predilection for grandiose promises. But self-driving cars were also meant to be a flagship for the power of AI. Their struggles offer valuable lessons in the limits of the world’s trendiest technology.

While the second (here) focuses on China and tells us:

For years Western carmakers have promised a world awash with AVs by now, making roads safer and less congested (see table). That it is not shows just how tough a computational and regulatory nut self-driving is to crack. It increasingly seems that if AVs are to become widespread, it may happen first not in the West but in China. A fleet of Chinese firms hope to profit handsomely in the process.

* * *

Yet in the absence of driving software which can handle chaotic city streets, some Chinese firms are adopting an alternative strategy. They are turning the streets themselves into something that software can handle. The approach involves installing sensors to guide cars, writing and enforcing rules about how humans move around, designing (or redesigning) urban landscapes to be AV-friendly and, critically, limiting AV firms’ legal liability in the event of inevitable accidents. All this is easier in authoritarian China than in the West’s unruly, litigious democracies.

There is a lot to unpack in that last paragraph.  First, it indicates that making a system that focuses on the car is difficult, so maybe change the roads.  How much it may cost to retrofit all the roads in the U.S. with enough sensors to make self-driving cars a truly viable means of every-day transportation is not revealed, but probably is a ridiculously large amount (especially if we cannot even afford resurfacing).  Then there is designing all the roads for cars and restricting pedestrians.  Designing for cars and not people is obviously not good planning and really would not make any improvement to the built environment.  Finally, by limiting liability, there is the tacit acknowledgement that self-driving cars may not be quite as safe as advertised (and it is unlikely to happen).

Once again, we are fine with research, but if our elected officials think that we should wait for self-driving cars to fix our transportation problems, they are basically saying that they are not going to fix our transportation problems for at least a generation.  Who knows how far behind we will be relative to our competitors by then?


— Streetcar

Ever since streetcar rides became free, ridership has exploded.  How much?

The FY19 streetcar ridership numbers are in – over 850k trips were taken on the TECO Line Streetcar this year! That is an increase of 181% over FY18 (303k trips)

Quite a bit.  And, giving credit where credit is due, FDOT’s very low-cost three-year grant is the reason.  It was clearly effective and should be renewed. FDOT should also take note that good transit planning in this area will work.


— Virgin Trains

While you are waiting to see if Virgin Trains can, in fact, strike a deal with the State to connect to Tampa, you might want to read a Florida Politics article on construction progress on the South Florida to Orlando line here.


— This is Why

We often say that Hillsborough should not lower its transit aspirations to the level of Pasco or Pinellas (though Pinellas is considering another referendum).  It should move forward and let them catch up.  We also believe that the “BRT” plan wastes too much money trying to get to Pasco when Pasco has shown no interest in making actual transit work.  Well,

Pasco County’s long-range transportation plan still imagines the area as autocentric in 2045 with fewer future dollars earmarked for mass transit.

That is different from an earlier version of the plan previewed four months ago for the Metropolitan Planning Organization — elected county and city officials sitting as transportation planners.

Why the change?

The more recent version no longer includes the idea of a new sales tax specifically for transportation. Commissioners objected in June when presented with a long-term transportation plan that included the option of adding a separate one-half or 1 percent surtax in 2028 or later, to pay for roads and mass transit.

* * *

To balance the ledgers, the long-term plan now calls for allocating just 25 percent of future revenue for mass transit instead of 75 percent. That means the plan no longer includes three central Pasco stations for a proposed commuter rail corridor paralleling U.S. 41 or bus rapid transit service near Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

The overwhelming majority of spending remains on adding vehicle capacity through new or expanded roads, said consultant Wally Blain of the Tindale Oliver.

If they do not want transit, that is their choice.  But it also indicates there are completely different visions between counties for how this area should look and function. That is a reason to now worry too much about transit to Pasco (or to merge MPO’s).  Just another reason to set up an express bus to Pasco and focus on the real transit needs elsewhere.


Tampa Heights – They Have Moxy

We now know what the hotel for the proposed hotel/apartment building just south of the Heights Union office buildings (where is seems some construction, likely the parking garage, is already underway) will be.

The developers of The Heights District in downtown Tampa are planning a new 25-story mixed-use tower — and it will include Tampa Bay’s first Moxy Hotel.

The Heights District said Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with Marriott International Inc. to bring its tech-forward Moxy flag to 153 hotel rooms on the first seven floors of the new tower. The new tower will be between West Oak Avenue and West 7th Avenue and North Highlands and North Tampa Street, on the block south of where Heights Union, an office development anchored by coworking giant WeWork, is under construction.

The remaining floors of the Moxy tower will be developed as apartments, and the tower will also include 5,000 square feet of retail space. A 1,500-space parking garage, with 9,000 square feet of retail space, will be built next to the tower.

* * *

Another 30,000 square feet of retail space is planned for the same block as the Moxy tower within The Heights. Documents previously filed with the city show the developers are aiming for a grocery store — possibly Sprouts Farmers Market Inc., which is named on one site plan — for the district.

We also have better quality renderings:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We previously said we like this part of the Heights project with a few caveats. (see here)  We like the apartment and hotel mix.  We like the retail. We are not sure why there are no balconies on a building that will overlook the river and have nice sunset views.  While that is a developer choice, we are just surprised. Additionally, the parking garage should be screened better (it will be the first thing many people see of the Heights.  It should not be so plain), and they could change the access on Tampa Street which will make Tampa Street less pedestrian friendly.  In any event,

Construction is slated to begin in early 2020, with the hotel opening in 2022.

Moreover,

The 1,500-space parking garage is slated to open first in late 2020 to support the Heights Union buildings. The parking garage will also include 9,000 square feet of retail space. Development of an additional 30,000 square feet of retail space on the same block will be announced at a later date. The full development of the entire block will be completed in 2022.

We like the Heights Union office buildings and look forward to seeing how this all plays out when built (though it could really use a couple of strategic tweaks).


Westshore-ish – Admission

We have long said that we like the Midtown idea internally.  It is urban and walkable. The big problem is that those qualities do not extend to its interaction with the surrounding neighborhood, which it basically walls off while focusing on people getting to the development in cars (hence the huge parking garage and completely unnecessary surface parking at Whole Foods).  URBN Tampa Bay featured a Facebook post by the Midtown developers:

If you take a peek, you’ll see a large parking structure going up! No need to worry about parking, with convenient covered spots next to your new favorite office and social destination.

With this picture:

From Midtown Tampa – click on picture for Facebook page

And that post was edited from this:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

In a sense, neither post is really wrong.  As URBN Tampa Bay notes (based on the first post, but really applicable to the second as well):

The caption from Midtown Tampa’s post here is the perfect example of how car dependency breeds more car dependency. It is a cycle that must be broken out of.

It’s in essence saying, “This area is car dependent so we’re going to design our project and build a ton of infrastructure so that it encourages more driving.”

The only way to “take traffic seriously” is by creating alternative modes of transportation and to decrease the amount of drivers on the road.

We completely agree.  Sure, they are going to have parking, especially for the grocery store.  But making parking a defining feature, having such a large garage (pictured is only a small portion of the garage), and having the garage face the retention pond (Midtown Lake) which is supposed to be a central feature of the development, is not really the best plan.

Once again, there is a lot to like about the Midtown project.  The two biggest flaws are its lack of connection to the surrounding area and the car-centric nature of its connection to the rest of Tampa. They really had the chance to fix those and make it so much better.  Apparently, that is not in the cards (and the City Council that approved it did not seem to care).  And that is Tampa’s loss.


Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

The TGH proposal for Kennedy (722 West Kennedy Blvd.) next door to Altis Grand Central went before City Council last week.  Per URBN Tampa Bay;

TGH is planning to build two new mixed-use buildings and a parking garage on the property directly west of Altis Grand Central. The current TGH office building there will be demo’d.

The site plan has already been approved by a previous rezoning. The purpose of this request is TGH is seeking to add more allowable uses to the project. We have no problem with the uses being added but we would like the city to take this opportunity to exact a better site plan and building design in exchange for the additional uses.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We had commented on this proposal previously (there are more graphics here):

As you can see, the building facing Kennedy has some potential retail space facing Kennedy.  The other office building (Magnolia building) has some very small space that looks more like a lobby facing Kennedy/Grand Central. Both buildings also have parking on the ground floor.  The part of the Magnolia building actually facing Magnolia is mostly parking, even facing the street.  From the renderings, it appears to be hidden parking, but it is parking and not an activated street – even though it is across the street from Altis Grand.

We are for having a busy activity center in the Grand Central area. We do not really have a problem with the massing of the office buildings or facing Kennedy and Magnolia with office buildings, but the street activation ranges from a bit weak to non-existent. We also get the need for parking, but putting parking right along Magnolia is weak, especially with so much parking and a free-standing garage. (It is also unfortunate that Cleveland will again be left dead for another block.)

At the time we said we did not have enough information on the facades. We do not have more information (we were giving them the benefit of the doubt), but the facades in the rendering look pretty questionable.  Surely, TGH could come up with something a bit more attractive. Plus, as URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Specifically, the buildings should be set farther back from Snow Park. Also, the general architectural style of the buildings are not really compatible with Snow Park or Altis Grand Central. We also think the loading entrance/exit on Magnolia is too close to Grand Central and could cause traffic to be backed up onto Grand Central and potentially onto Kennedy. Bad layout for a corner that may get substantial pedestrian traffic as well. The loading zone just needs moved away from the corner, or better yet, flipped to the other side of the building where internal driveways can provide access.

There is nothing to disagree with there.

We are not against TGH’s idea, we are against some aspects of the execution.  Surely, this prominent part of Tampa deserves better.

Unfortunately,

Tampa General Hospital’s new mixed-use campus proposed for 722 West Kennedy Blvd. was approved by a margin of 6-0.

That is a shame.  We did not expect that TGH would be denied the opportunity to develop their lot, but it is a lost opportunity to, with jsut a little work, do something really good that will be with us for decades.


East Tampa – Nah

As reported by URBN Tampa Bay, a public storage proposal was up for approval last week:

The second project of note on tonight’s Tampa City Council agenda is an A/C self storage project proposed for 1101 East Hillsborough Avenue in Seminole Heights.

We oppose this project.

We do, too.  As URBN Tampa Bay noted in their post, and we have said many times, self-storage is basically a warehouse that people drive to.  It is not proper in an urban or urbanizing area.  It is not really proper in a commercial area, and definitely not one that abuts a residential area.  Such projects are car driven and lack anything positive on the street level.  They create dead space where there should be activity.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

People typically don’t walk to these things no matter where they are put, so why put them in precious walking areas? Industrial areas are present just a 5 minute drive to the east. That would be an appropriate area for something like this. This particular parcel is only 1 block from Giddens Park, and once built will overlook the park with it basically functioning as this development’s back yard. It would be counterproductive to waste the public investment into Giddens Park by having a warehouse looming over it.

Moreover, this site has a bus stop on it and a crosswalk across Hillsborough Ave. Substantial public investments have already been made in this neighborhood’s walkable vision laid out in the Seminole Heights Vision Plan, and this request for PD zoning to allow this storage facility to be built does not contribute to that vision in any meaningful way. The proposal instead would hamper the community’s vision for itself.

In the end, (ed. The quote below has been changed from our original post to properly reflect the vote. Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for letting us know. Our apologies):

2. The self storage facility proposed for 1101 East Hillsborough Avenue was issued a continuance with a vote of 6-1, with Maniscalco voting no (he seemed ready to deny to project). There was dispute over several aspects of the project, including the storage building’s proximity to nearby residences, the location of an egress/ingress on a local street, and whether the use is appropriate for the location. While approval of this project is ultimately all but perfunctory under the current code, we oppose this project because self-storage is in functional terms a warehouse, which is an industrial use involving truck traffic. In this case on streets next to a park frequented by the neighborhood. We want to note that it is not the property owner’s or developer’s fault this use is allowed in this location, land use is the city’s responsibility. By all indications, they have worked with the neighborhood above and beyond what the city requires of them.

The next hearing for the project will be December 12th.

Perhaps most importantly, towards the end of last night’s hearing, Councilman Guido Maniscalco suggested the city have a moratorium on the self-storage use so the code can be re-evaluated, and so that is being looked into now. We support this. Self-storage is allowed in too many parts of our city where it is inappropriate. We will have more information on that upcoming process as it becomes available from the city.

With the rapid proliferation of self-storage projects, the City (and County) need to get a handle on the issue.  Such projects should be in industrial areas.  We are not opposed to self-storage.  We are opposed to them where they are detrimental and does not belong.

And, UBRN Tampa Bay is correct.  It is not he property owners’ fault.  It is government’s fault. It needs to be fixed.


Channel District – Sale

There was news about a land sale by the Port for a project in the Channel District.

Port Tampa Bay’s board voted Tuesday to sell a half-acre it owns near the Florida Aquarium for $4.7 million to an investor looking at building a 33-story condominium and hotel tower.

* * *

The land consists of a 0.45-acre parking lot on the west side of Channelside Drive, just north of the port’s parking garages. Currently, the port uses the land to park recreational vehicles belonging to cruise ship passengers.

The proposed purchase price of $4.7 million works out to nearly $240 a square foot, or more than $10.4 million an acre.

* * *

But it’s too soon, Hampton said, to discuss the project’s potential development partners, schedule or construction budget.

Streams has until the end of 2020 to complete its due diligence on the sale. Port officials expect a closing in early 2021. Under the terms of the agreement, Streams will need the port’s permission if it wants to assign a controlling interest in the property to anyone else.

You can see the lot here.  And more details starting page 257 of this pdf.

Given the location of the property and the obvious lack of useful maritime purposes on it (or likely in the future), we have no problem with the Port selling this land for a nice residential/hotel project with a nice design.  It would fit well into the area.  One the other hand, such land is not going to go down in value over time. We are not for selling public land for mediocre projects.

However, since there are no details of any project, we have no real opinion except maybe the Port should have waited until they had some idea what was going to go there.


Airport – More

The airport broke more records last year:

Tampa International Airport continues to break records, serving 22,166,049 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2019 – a 5.5 percent increase over the previous year.

* * *

TPA’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 thorough the end of September.

Domestic passengers were up 4.8 percent, while international passenger traffic jumped 19.3 percent.

Since 2011, TPA’s international passenger traffic has increased 185.1 percent.

There is not much to say other than great.  It shows what can happen if you try.

In more sign of strong international growth, Norwegian announced that it is adding a weekly flight from Tampa to London, for a total of three a week, for the summer 2020 season.


Economy – Nexus

Last week, we discussed rent and income.  This week, the Business Journal had an article on a study that dealt with how they interact:

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. . .

* * *

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.

Given that our wages are rents are quite low relative to those states, it says quite a bit about wages.


Economic Development – What Is It?

A few years ago, the Tampa-Hillsborough County’s tourism agency renamed itself Visit Tampa Bay (after flirting with some other names to get away from the admittedly unwieldy name Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitor Association) even though it is an exclusively Hillsborough County organization. And the Port of Tampa changed to Port Tampa Bay, even though there is another decent sized cargo port on Tampa Bay.  Now comes news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is changing its name to Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, even though, as the old name suggests, it is just about Hillsborough County.

Moreover, but a bit differently, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is changing its name to Tampa Bay Chamber.

So, what gives?

First, it is worth noting that the Chamber of Commerce is a business organization.  And, even though from time to time there are rumors floating around that a mayor might get involved in some of the leadership decisions, it is not a governmental organization and has no specific boundaries.  Anyone could join though the name change will obviously annoy some other chambers.  The parties will have to work it out.

On the other hand, the economic development organization gets a lot of public funding and focuses on just Hillsborough County.  So why the change?

The EDC is rebranding based on feedback from its investors who urged the organization to adopt a “fresh, more contemporary brand,” its CEO Craig Richard said in an email to investors Wednesday. As the EDC celebrates its 10th anniversary, the timing is right, in parallel to the launch of a new, multiyear strategic plan.

Another motivating factor for the name change is market understanding beyond Central Florida.

“Tampa Hillsborough” causes confusion outside of the area, the EDC said, especially when other organizations marketing Hillsborough County are using “Tampa Bay” including Visit Tampa Bay, Film Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and Port Tampa Bay. The change means the EDC will now “belong to the existing Hillsborough County family of brands that market and serve this area,” Richard said in the letter. 

* * *

Despite the regional name, the EDC will not become a regional marketing organization and will remain focused on Hillsborough County only.

We doubt that it creates that much confusion when they say they are from the Tampa economic development corporation, but anyway.  As you can guess, some people are a bit miffed.

“This isn’t the right way to do things,” said Mike Meidel, Pinellas County economic development director. “Businesses looking to relocate will think they are getting Tampa Bay when they are only getting Hillsborough County.”

Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said he was disappointed that the Hillsborough group didn’t consult the other development corporations in the region. He also didn’t like that he had to hear it from the Tampa Bay Times, which found a copy of the name change documents in state records.

“My eyebrow is raised,” he said. “I don’t think that any one of us should claim ownership of that name because none of us represent the whole area.”

* * *

The Tampa Bay moniker is what economic development groups from the region have used to pitch area-wide projects. Now that one group has taken it, Meidel said it will be harder to find a label to rally around. If they still use “Tampa Bay” for regional projects, the business leads and web traffic will flow mostly to the Hillsborough group, he said.

“The name change will undermine the powerful Tampa Bay brand that we have developed over the last 25 years,” he said. “I don’t see how that helps any of us.”

* * *

In some circles, the name changes are seen as a power grab, the bigger players stamping their footprint on a region that has struggled for decades to get along. The critics see this as doubling down on division, which could push everyone back into their silos, just as they were starting to play nice.

To which, the EDC head says:

“I’m not sure why anybody would think that we’re trying to elbow anyone out,” he said. “We’ve proven ourselves to be a really good regional partner.”

Richard didn’t think the name would cause confusion. He pointed to several other Hillsborough organizations that have changed their name to include Tampa Bay, including Film Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and Visit Tampa Bay, which promotes tourism. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is in the process of changing its name to the Tampa Bay Chamber.

“We’re just joining a family of brands,” he said.

We’ll be generous and presume he said that because he is not from this area.  The move would not be worth making if it did not bring more attention, and it is obvious that the move will not go down well with people not in Hillsborough County. (Though it is ironic that the “Tampa Bay” name was opposed by St. Pete interests when it first was suggested regarding the Bucs because it emphasized Tampa too much. We had a link to the story from the 70’s but can’t seem to find it, though if you google Bucs history, you can find some information on the opposition.) The real question is whether the positives of the move outweigh the possible negative reaction.  At the best, it is unclear.

The [Tampa Bay P]artnership’s chairman, David Pizzo, said in a statement that this is an opportunity for community leaders to have a “meaningful conversation about what a regional approach could look like.”

“A regional brand suggests a regional approach — one that encompasses more than a single county — and if we’re going to say it, we need to do it,” said Pizzo, the West Florida president of Florida Blue. “We hope that this is a step in that direction.”

It does not look like a step in the right direction, though you never know what might happen.


Rays

First, we congratulate the Rays on a fine season.  Here is the Rays news.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A reader forwarded us the weekly TBARTA email blast again this week.  It contained a link to an interesting article on Utah. (here ) The developed parts of Utah – Salt Lake City, Provo, etc. – have a generally successful transit system, including light rail.  That also includes a BRT line, which was the feature of the article:

The Utah Valley Express (UVX), a bus rapid transit line in Orem and Provo that serves both Utah Valley and Brigham Young universities, now averages about 14,600 boardings daily. On some days, like the football game between BYU and the University of Utah, it had more than 16,000.

In comparison, ridership on the Green Line TRAX averaged about 15,400 boardings a day in August. Its lowest monthly average so far this year was in May, with 13,284, according to UTA data.

Light-rail lines such as TRAX — which offer service every 15 minutes on trains with many long cars — usually carry far more passengers than bus routes. UTA funnels most of its bus lines to trains because of their capacity for more people and swifter travel.

But the UVX is not a typical bus line. Officials have called it a sort of TRAX on rubber wheels.

It offers service every six minutes at peak times, and every 10 minutes off-peak. About half its 10.5-mile route is in exclusive travel lanes for buses not shared with other vehicles. Buses have extra doors and limited stops. Buses are longer than normal — 60 feet instead of 40.

Clearly, TBARTA is providing this link to say that BRT is better than rail to support its flawed “BRT” plan.  In some situations, on some corridors, BRT is better than rail.  But the article does not present exactly a straight up comparison.  Here are some other items in the article.

But Mary De La Mare-Schaefer, regional manager for UTA, sees an even bigger reason for high ridership on UVX.

“It’s the free fares,” she says.

UTA received a federal grant to allow free ridership on UVX for three years, and two years are left.

Free bus.  Makes a difference.  (We were unaware that the “BRT” plan was going to be free to ride.)

Moreover, the Green Line does not run where the bus is running. Train map here.  Google map here.  You can see the Green Line does not run anywhere near Provo, where the BRT line is.

And there is one more important fact about the Utah BRT that is quite different from TBARTA’s “BRT” plan: the Utah BRT runs on surface roads, not the interstate.  (and it is not the spine of the Utah system.) We have said many times that any proper BRT should run on surface streets, as both the HealthLine in Cleveland and this line in Utah do.  (And, of course, being free will boost ridership, like the streetcar in Tampa.) The TBARTA “BRT” plan will run on the interstate, which is a completely different circumstance.

This article shows once again the flaw in the TBARTA concept.  As we keep saying, just run an express bus to/from Wesley Chapel, and then focus on real, proper transit.

Roundup 10-11-2019

October 10, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

— At the Other End of I-275

— Roads to Nowhere

— Another Referendum?

— Virgin Trains

— 275LX

— On an Island?

Downtown – X Factor

Tampa Heights – Like This

South Tampa – Moving Forward

Economy

— The Rent’s Too . . . High

— So Is the House Price

— About that Income Thing

Airport – Interesting

Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Because We Can

_______________________________


Transportation


— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

For years, FDOT has been discussing Malfunction Junction.  After the latest rebuild (which was did not really fix much), there was TBX, then TB(n)X and options A, B, C, and D. All involved some express (toll) lanes and eating up a decent number of properties. Now, there is something new:

Transportation officials, who have been studying a rebuild of the interchange for years, previously focused on four options that would take anywhere from 40 to 200 parcels. Then the state developed a fifth plan this year that would take seven parcels, and it quickly gained favor within the agency.

The plan would cost about $175 million and be built in stages over the next five or so years as money becomes available, spokeswoman Kris Carson said. It consists of three main parts:

This is the FDOT video:

We have to say, we are surprised, for the most part pleasantly.  Public action can have an effect.

While we do not think this plan is without some issues (like still having some bottlenecks and merges), it is better than previous plans.  It will not damage central Tampa as much.  And, while we do not expect it to solve all the traffic issues in the junction, we do not think any of the plans would.  The reality is that we need other alternatives to roads.

As for the toll lanes:

Previous plans for the interchange involved adding toll lanes that would change in cost based on traffic and demand. These toll lanes, initially proposed as a multi-billion dollar plan known as Tampa Bay Express, are still planned for Pinellas County, the Howard Frankland Bridge, a rebuilt West Shore interchange and I-275 west of downtown Tampa.

* * *

The state has decided to end all express lanes on I-275 near Ashley Drive in Tampa. Drivers who enter the interstate at Himes Avenue will be able to take the toll lanes west, but not east.

Better, but still too much.


— At the Other End of I-275

Meanwhile, even the small work being done at the Westshore end of I-275 is causing issues.  See here and here.  If FDOT was going to cause all this hassle, the least they could have done was actually fully eliminate the bottleneck at the east end of the bridge.  But that is not going to happen.  Instead, they will make it a bit better, but keep a bottleneck, then add variable rate toll lanes.  You can decide for yourself why that is but remember that variable rate toll lanes charge (and presumably make) more money when the free lanes are more congested.


— Roads to Nowhere

In what should not be a surprise to anyone:

The controversial idea this year to expand Florida’s toll system by 300 miles was first pitched by road builders.

Now, months after lawmakers signed off on the expansion, it appears road builders are the only members of the public voicing support for the idea.

Out of hundreds of public comments solicited by the Florida Department of Transportation in August about the largest toll system expansion in 60 years, only two dozen came from people in favor of building the three roads.

Of those, nearly all came from road builders, contractors and engineers who sent their endorsements via personal email addresses without disclosing their employers.

About half of favorable comments came from employees of one of the transportation agency’s biggest contractors: HNTB, which has won nearly $1 billion in engineering and construction work since 2002 and is likely to win millions more if the roads are built. (Some of HNTB’s work included overseeing the hiring of Conduent State & Local Solutions to overhaul the state’s SunPass system six years ago, a job Conduent botched.)

Moreover,

Johnson did not write in from his HNTB account or disclose that he was an HNTB employee, choosing instead to identify himself as the president of a gun store he appears to own.

Nearly every other HNTB employee who wrote in repeated identical talking points, and all sent their comments in within a few hours of each other. Most commented from their personal email addresses, but one identified herself as a University of South Florida student.

And you may remember:

The idea to build the roads was rejected by three previous Republican governors until January, when Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, announced he wanted the state to build an entirely new toll road from Polk to Collier counties, extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and extend Florida’s Turnpike to meet the Suncoast.

Galvano said he heard about the roads idea during a pitch by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Transportation Builders Association. The roads are expected to cost billions of dollars if they’re built.

The president of the road builders group is Ananth Prasad, who worked for HNTB before being named by Gov. Rick Scott to be Department of Transportation Secretary in 2011. Prasad left the state job in 2015, then spent two more years with HNTB before leading the road builders association.

But it’s the Department of Transportation, not bills passed by lawmakers, that typically chooses where new roads are built, usually after intense studies and needs assessments. The three new toll roads weren’t in the department’s long-term plans.

The fact is that there never was a no ground-swell of public support for these roads.  And, while we have not done polling, we also think that is you asked most people if they would rather the State spend billions on highways that do not serve them or spend the money on transportation and services they need, they would choose the latter.

As we have said over and over, there may be a time when these roads make sense.  This is not the time.  Florida has bigger needs.


— Another Referendum?

Even with the referendum stuck in the courts, Hillsborough has now made a clear choice that is different from Pinellas or Pasco regarding transportation.  Maybe that will change:

The Pinellas County Commission is inching closer to choosing a way to pay for more than $400 million worth of transportation projects, with three of the seven commissioners saying they are leaning toward a 2020 sales tax referendum as the preferred approach.

Officials this year have taken part in numerous meetings and discussions that explored the county’s transportation needs and evaluated options to pay for them. They are expected to make a decision in the coming months, following additional briefings from county administrator Barry Burton.

Commissioners Ken Welch, Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard told the Tampa Bay Times they believe a sales tax is emerging as the best option to pay for the county’s needs. Their colleagues Charlie Justice, Janet Long, Kathleen Peters and Karen Seel said all options are on the table and they need more information before they decide.

The question is what would it be for.

Local transportation leaders warned that the county’s transportation trust fund will hit zero in fiscal year 2022. Additional revenue sources would be needed to maintain existing services. Even more would be needed to pursue new projects.

But in order to decide what funding option is the best for Pinellas, commissioners said it was important to first identify the county’s needs.

Burton has put together a presentation for the public and local officials that focuses on reducing congestion, improving safety and enhancing transit. His proposed project list includes:

“It’s a broader based, bigger picture look at congestion management and traffic issues,” Eggers said.

The cost to build those projects, and others that address only unincorporated Pinellas County, is estimated at nearly $400 million. Annual operating costs were more than $31 million. County staff warned that not all the projects listed would receive money, depending on what path commissioners choose.

That is a start, but it is quite lacking in ambition, especially in transit.  Rather than really moving Pinellas forward, it is more like just not falling behind as fast. We will see what the Pinellas cities say, but we would not be surprised if they did not include a proper transit idea. Like we said, it is a start, but there is a long way to go. We will see what they come up with.

In the meantime, Hillsborough should not hold back its ambitions. Just like with the idea of a referendum, better to move forward and let the neighbors catch up.


— Virgin Trains

The Virgin Trains Tampa-Orlando Route negotiation deadline has been extended again.

A proposed high-speed train route between Orlando and Tampa anticipated to commence in 2021 had another deadline extended for right-of-way negotiations.

Miami-based Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, received more time for its negotiations to use the Interstate 4 corridor to connect Orlando to Tampa. Virgin Trains, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation had an Oct. 3 deadline to enter an agreement, but as of today no agreements have been reached regarding the Orlando to Tampa route, a Central Florida Expressway Authority spokesperson told the Orlando Business Journal, a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Negotiations now have a Jan. 1, 2020, deadline, buying Virgin Trains, CFX and FDOT another 90 days to reach an agreement. Virgin Trains was the sole bidder to submit a proposal to build an intercity rail line along I-4, which has been designated for federally funded high-speed rail.

The original deadline was September and was extended. We are not sure what the hold-up is.  One could argue that giving multiple extensions is a sign that the State wants to get a deal done, but it would be nice if the deal was actually concluded.


— 275LX

We saw a tweet on the Airport Twitter page that caught our attention.

From Pasco County to TPA with just three stops in between?? We’re all for this route!

Tampa Intl Airport

✈️ added,

[picture omitted]

HART @GoHART

Riding our @GoHART 275 lx bus from @FlyTPA to Downtown Tampa… zip zip zip… and we are there!! #FDOT

7:34 AM – 2 Oct 2019 

To which URBN Tampa Bay replied:

Yes, because nothing says better transportation like a 20+ mile long bus route that doesn’t serve any of the neighborhoods it passes through, even though their money was used to fund it.

(You can find information on the route here.) And to a large degree, URBN Tampa Bay is right.  And we are not completely sure why this is a HART responsibility, especially the Wesley Chapel leg.  Pasco should pay for that, if it does not already.

But there is another angle.  We keep saying that we oppose the “BRT” plan and that there be an express bus to Pasco and then focus on real transit in Hillsborough. That could be something like 275LX with limited stops downtown, near USF, and at the airport if proper local transit is created to get riders around Hillsborough (rather than spending time and money on the poor “BRT” plan).  We would be fine with that (as long as Pasco pays for its share).


— On an Island?

We have written about St. Pete Beach’s strange and not so coherent objections to the St. Pete- St. Pete Beach BRT line.  We have also noted that St. Pete Beach works hard to not really be part of PSTA.  Now they are working harder.

People looking to take the trolly from St. Pete Beach to Pass-A-Grille Beach will soon get a free ride thanks to St. Pete Beach’s new Micro-transit bus service.

The city has decided not to renew it’s contract with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) for that route. Instead, St. Pete Beach has signed a contract with BeeFree. It’s a company based in Miami, and it will operate the micro bus.

City manager Alex Rey said, PSTA will still provide services for people on the north side of the city, but will no longer go past the Don Cesar Hotel. The micro buses will run from the Don Cesar to the south end of the city. 

Sounds like a useful circulator for riders of the BRT when it stops at the Don CeSar.  In truth, we are not sure why a large bus would run south of the Don CeSar anyway.


Downtown – X Factor

A new project was announced for the lot with the Presbyterian Church just south of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.

X Social Communities, a division of Property Markets Group, has filed plans with the city for a tower on more than an acre at the northeast corner of North Florida Avenue and East Zack Street. The existing historic church on the property will be kept on the site and incorporated into the design.

* * *.

Here’s what the tower will include:

* * *

If X Tampa comes to fruition, it will be a marked departure from the other multifamily towers built in downtown Tampa this real estate cycle. The other towers and mid-rise apartments in and around the urban core are pursuing renters by choice with high household incomes.

* * *

Residents can “rent by bedroom for the lowest rent,” the developer says on the website for its project in downtown Miami, known as X Miami. That tower opened in 2018; PMG is already pursuing a second tower — 49 stories and 646 apartments — in Miami. A bedroom with a personal bathroom in the existing X Miami tower starts at more than $1,300.

Here are some renderings and a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We are not going to get into the business model.  Whether they can get that price for that product is an issue for the developer.  However, acknowledging that aesthetics are subjective, looking at the renderings, we find no angle that this building looks good.  The parking garage is hulking.  The tower portion extremely bland.

Moreover, URBN Tampa Bay reports this break down:

The project includes 306 units, 17,138 square feet of co-work office space, and 13,126 square feet of retail space. The church building will be kept and is set to be converted into a private club for the residents. 356 parking spaces are required by the code, and the developer plans to provide 409 parking spaces. The tower is 326 feet tall.

Looking at the site plan, we are having a hard time identifying clear retail space, except maybe the large space on the bottom left that looks like a cafeteria without walls or a kitchen. (Though we are open to the possibility we missed something.)

On the good side, there is pedestrian protection from the elements through an overhang (though the Polk Street façade is exceptionally devoid of any life). And they do seem inclined to have oak or other shade trees, not useless Palm trees.

We are all for redeveloping lots (preferably the multiple surface parking lots remaining downtown first) and mixed use, but there need to be active streets, especially along streets with a cycle track and on the way to the park. And mixed use needs to really be mixed use. Furthermore, the garage is just bad. Hopefully, they will do something to make it a bit more attractive. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up about parking garages and how you can contact the City regarding this project’s garage here)

We know that not every building will be a work of art, but there are minimum standards that should apply.  Based on the renderings, this proposal is still not there.


Tampa Heights – Like This

While architectural style is subjective, basic building concepts are often not.  There are things that work in certain circumstances and help accomplish a goal and things that do not.  That is why there are building standards.

URBN Tampa Bay had an example from Tampa Heights:

On Monday, this 15-unit Victorian-style townhome project was approved for the northeast corner of 7th Ave. and Morgan Street in Tampa Heights by the Architectural Review Commission. The vote was 4-0.

The developer had originally proposed townhomes with no direct “walk-up” entrance. Instead, the exterior boundary of the property was a series of patios and porches and the front door of each unit simply led out onto the porch. After coming back with this redesign featuring classic “walk-up” units/brownstone-style entrances, the project easily won ARC’s approval.

This project will have a city council hearing, to resolve an underlying zoning issue. We will post that information when it’s out.

They linked to some documents from the developer, which you can find here.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And then provided their opinion:

We like the look of this, and this is a good demonstration of how walk-up units can make a project feel like it is organically part of a neighborhood. In other parts of town we often see mass-produced apartment fortresses proposed, where the ground floor units don’t have direct ingress/egress out to the sidewalk. Or if they do, the ingress/egress looks like a back entrance, not a front door. This project has its front doors right on the sidewalk, giving it a traditional home and neighborhood feel.

To be honest, we are not that fond of the (neo-)Victorian thing, but that’s ok.  That is a subjective element.  What we do like is the townhouse design and the real front doors (and the patios on upper floors).  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, if you want to create a real neighborhood feel, it helps quite a bit to have people have real front doors opening to the street. (We are not as sure about the front doors that exit to the walkway at the back of the lot.)  That is a basic concept that would not be too burdensome to enforce.

Hopefully, there will be much more of that.


South Tampa – Moving Forward

There was news about the Hyde Park House project.

Kolter Group has officially opened a sales gallery for the 22-story Hyde Park House, a luxury condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard.

The new sales gallery is at 142 W. Platt St., offering a scale model, a designer kitchen fitted with the appliances and finishes buyers can choose and an interactive presentation.

South Florida-based Kolter already has $30 million in condos reserved, the developer said; presales began in May, months before the sales gallery opened.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As we said when this was announced, there are things to like about this project, but we have a few issues with it.  In any event, it seems like it is going to get built, it is just not clear exactly when.  We shall see.


Economy


— The Rent’s Too . . . High

We are all for nice developments and fancy amenities, but there is a problem:

Those are among the findings of the “2019 Rental Market Study,” done by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. Commissioned by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which helps fund affordable and low-income rental projects, the study found that:

“This is the seventh one we’ve done,” said Anne Ray, an author of the study, “and each time the housing needs go up. That’s because more people are renting and also the affordability gap grows because rents are rising faster than incomes.”

As of last year, the most recent for which figures are available, the median household income in the Tampa Bay region was nearly $55,000. To avoid being “cost-burdened,” renters could pay no more than $1,750 a month at a time when many new apartments have prices starting at that amount.

(You can read more in the Times article here.) First, we understand that developers want to make money.  We also understand market forces.  And we are not really laying blame anywhere.  However, it still should be noted that housing costs are outpacing many people’s ability to pay for it, and that is a problem.  Even with relatively low rents (compared to other metros), our relatively low incomes still make it a problem.

We do not have a comprehensive solution, especially given the large number of people spending too much on housing.


— So Is the House Price

So, maybe you want to buy.

ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of the nation’s premier property database and first property data provider of Data-as-a-Service (DaaS), today released its Q3 2019 U.S. Home Affordability Report, which shows that median home prices in the third quarter of 2019 were not affordable for average wage earners in 371 of 498 U.S. counties analyzed in the report (74 percent).

There is a lot of data to sift through, but you can see a nice interactive map here. On it, you will find that Hillsborough requires 30.4% of its income to buy a house, which is close to the “affordability” line.  Pinellas and Pasco were at 33.3%. However, Hillsborough’s house prices were rising by 7.5% and income by only 2.9% (Pasco is 11.1% and 3.4%, while Pinellas is 4.7% and 3.0%), so the percentage of monthly income needed to buy a house should be increasing, lowering affordability. And, as usual, none of that includes transportation costs. (And none of that discusses the different margins on building different sizes of homes.)

Then there are the challenges of building affordable housing, which the Times featured, sort of, in this article. The interesting thing about the article is that is discusses single family homes when it says things like this:

The economics of home building work against affordable housing. While there are some incentives, costs like permits are the same — about $13,000 in Tampa — no matter the price of the home, Robles said. And low-cost housing is most needed in urban areas, where land is most expensive.

“To produce the most inexpensive house you can, you’re starting with the most expensive element: that’s the lot of land itself,” he said.

While there is room to discuss having an offset for fees on designated and qualified affordable housing, more importantly, the use of the land is key.  If you want it to be more affordable, let there be more units on a lot.


— About that Income Thing

At the core of much of the housing issue is income. The Times had a column that sifted through some Census Bureau information.  One thing it said was:

Median household incomes in the Tampa Bay area reached $54,912 last year, which means half made more than that and half made less. That’s a significant $2,700 jump from a year earlier, but the area remains well behind the nation and many of its peer cities, even those with a similar cost of living.

Low pay remains a challenge in attracting and keeping talented workers, though it has helped lure companies looking for a low-wage workforce.

First, a we have often said, we have improved over our previous performance.  The question is how much have we improved relative to our competitors. Apparently, not that much.

Second, yes, low wages help lure companies looking to pay low wages.  However, that also perpetuates a low wage economy, especially since those who can often will leave to earn more elsewhere.  Another issue that does not appear in those numbers is that there quite an inequality gap that exacerbates many of the problems discussed above. We are not saying there are easy solutions to any of this, but it needs to be acknowledged and addressed.


Airport – Interesting

Delta is adding a nonstop flight from Tampa to Seattle.

Delta Air Lines will connect Seattle/Tacoma and Tampa next year, its first new domestic route from Seattle for next year.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer a daily flight between the cities with Boeing 737-800 aircraft that seat 160 passengers, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. Tampa (TPA) will be Delta’s second nonstop flight to Florida from Seattle (SEA), joining Orlando (MCO).

* * *

Delta established its Seattle hub in 2014 to support its growing Pacific gateway at the airport. The airline will operate up to 180 peak-day flights from the airport by next June, Diio schedules show.

It will be another connection to Delta’s trans-Pacific network. And, obviously, it will compete with the Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle.

Tampa is an interesting airport because, unlike many other major airports, it does not have a dominant airline.  It will be interesting to see how the competition develops as the area grows.

Meanwhile:

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving forward with a project to rehabilitate its main runway.

Pinellas County commissioners approved a bid award to Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC that specializes in concrete and asphalt manufacturing for the Runway 18-36 rehabilitation project.

This project involves removing the asphalt and other expenses as well as extending Runway 4-22.

As we said a few weeks ago, this is good, especially given the Coast Guard station.


Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl

The Times had an article about how much the Pasco County government wants more office space in Pasco, so:

Later this month, Pasco County commissioners will consider a $2.9 million incentive for Colwell Avenue Properties, which is under contract to acquire nearly 22 acres from the LeDantec family at 17905 SR 54 in Lutz. The undeveloped site abuts the Ballantrae subdivision and sits between a Pasco County fire station on the east and a strip of retail stores to the west.

Colwell Avenue Properties, an affiliate of the Rizzetta & Co. property management firm, plans to build a pair of three-story office buildings that will each total 60,000 square feet. If approved, as expected, it will mark the third time since 2017 that the county has agreed to help finance Class A office space on speculation.

Setting aside the questionable nature of subsidizing regular office development (market forces, anyone?), the Times article contained renderings and an overview of the development (here).  It is completely standard, low-rise development with a large surface parking, and oddly placed retention ponds, lot off of SR54.

In other words, Pasco not only approves of, but actively wants to fund, sprawling development along a corridor that is already a mess.  It really is sad that they have no learned from all of Hillsborough’s mistakes.


Rays

You can find your Rays news here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and, tangentially related, there is this).

Though we decided to note one paragraph in one Times commentary regarding low attendance:

For two decades, we have sought answers and pointed fingers. And yet nothing has changed.

Actually, much has changed.  But a few things have not changed much: the location of the Trop (and real transit access to the Trop from across the Bay), and the population of St. Pete and Pinellas County.  In the meantime, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, and almost every other local county keep growing quickly, among other things making the Trop even less central.  (And, in that vein, there was this.)

None of that is really new.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There have been discussions recently about air taxis in the Tampa Bay area. While there have been no tests, the New York Post recently had a comparison of Uber helicopter, which is a bit different, with transit.

The Post put Uber’s new helicopter shuttle to JFK to the test, racing the car-sharing company and its chopper from Midtown to the hub against old-fashioned New York City Transit — which proved three minutes swifter at a sliver of the price.

You can read the article here.  Reuters did their own test here.

Additionally, the Atlantic had an article about the Uber service, to a degree, though it touched on a broader idea:

Even before Uber announced its helicopter service from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport for $200 to $225 a ride, transportation in major U.S. cities already reflected the growing inequality within them. Buses creep through streets choked with cars. Major subway systems are in disrepair. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley companies are selling the idea of escape to those who can afford it—often at the direct expense of those who can’t. Big cities are suffering from a mobility crisis. The delusion that the wealthiest American urbanites can buy their way past that crisis helps explain why it isn’t being fixed.

That sounds very much like express lanes. In any event, you can read the article here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Previously, we have discussed the predictions that self-driving cars will actually increase congestion and traffic.  This week, there is more:

An increase in driverless cars that some in Europe anticipate will occur between now and the year 2050 could result in what one research group likens to “rush hour that lasts all day.”

The report, released last month from Europe’s Transport & Environment, calls the potential “Wild West” unregulated increase in driverless cars a threat to commute times and stress levels that could make Europe’s climate goals “all but impossible to achieve.”

You can see the article here. See also here. You can find the study here.


Because We Can

We noticed something interesting over at Water Street recently.  You can see it from this still shot from the USF Med School construction webcam (here).

From the USF Med School webcam – click on picture for website

If you notice, the tower cranes are not the usual tower cranes (a-frame tower cranes) you see in this area.  They are the kind (luffing/luffing jib cranes) used in areas where normal tower cranes cannot rotate without hitting something.   We are not sure, but that might be a first for this area.

October 3, 2019

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 9-27-2019

September 26, 2019

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

Contents

Transportation

— Streetcar

— The Sad Truth

— Same Old

Downtown/Channel District – Edition

Downtown – Bye

Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

Economy – Jobs

Economic Development – MOSI-Wood

Airport – Again

The Other Port

USF – Logo Postmortem

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

_________________________


Transportation


— Streetcar

The study of expanding the streetcar is continuing:

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

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

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

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

What is the status of the study?

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

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

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

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


— The Sad Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alonso died at the scene.

And

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

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

And if that is not enough for you:

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

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

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

Rank, county, total fatalities since 2010

 

From autoinsurance.com – click on picture for website

You can find the report here.

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


— Same Old

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

On the other hand, this part:

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

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


Downtown/Channel District – Edition

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

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

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

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

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

Interesting prices.

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


Downtown – Bye

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

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

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

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

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

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

We shall see.


Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

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

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

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

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

What is the present system?

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

And what is the change being considered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Economy – Jobs

Time to look into unemployment numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Economic Development – MOSI-Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Airport – Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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


The Other Port

There was news about the second port in our area:

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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


USF – Logo Postmortem

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the article here.


Rays

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


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see the study here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Not to mention

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

The editorial gets into other mistakes made in Sumter County.

You can read the rest here.

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


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

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

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

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

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

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

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


Because We Can

Another Water Street update from the Accountant at SkyscraperCity:

 

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

Roundup 9-20-2019

September 19, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum Funding

— Not Enough

— Looking at the High Road

Governance – Show Us the Money

Downtown – AER, Finally Something

USF Area/Pasco – Moffitt Moves

USF – Consolidation Blues

Built Environment – Still More

Port – Still More

Airport – Still More Change

St Pete – Housing and Parking

Because We Can

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

___________________________________


Transportation


— Referendum Funding

This week the County Commission did what it should do:

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 6-1 Wednesday to restore funding allocations associated with the voter-approved All For Transportation sales tax.

The move means revenue from the 1 percent sales tax will be allocated consistent with the plan voters approved last November. Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas had struck the spending allocation “buckets” down this summer as part of a legal challenge seeking to overturn the tax.

Barbas instead placed the onus on the County Commission to determine spending.

The funding allocations place 54 percent of the revenue with the County and the three municipalities within it, 45 percent to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and 1 percent to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization for planning and development purposes.

Interestingly,

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance. White launched the legal challenge that led eventually necessitated Wednesday’s vote and is currently challenging the lower court’s ruling upholding the tax.

Among other issues, White complained that the transit-dedicated portion of the allocations was too vague.

“We cannot say with confidence what the implications of this ordinance will be,” White said.

He later clarified that the allocations do not provide specific uses for the funding.

White also argued the spending plan disproportionally benefitted downtown Tampa at the detriment of other areas in unincorporated Hillsborough County like east and south Hillsborough. Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman joined White in that concern, but voted in favor of the ordinance with the stipulation that they would continue fighting to change the allocation prescription to better fund road projects in more rural and urban parts of the county.

Setting aside that not enforcing impact fees and poor planning decisions and budget decisions over the last decade (or two) by the County Commission are a major cause for the County’s problems now, we do not share their concern. There is money for the County and, as we said last week, the cities are in the County anyway.

As always, it is still up to the Courts.


— Not Enough

We hear from time to time that the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit systems are woefully underfunded.  The AFT referendum would change that for Hillsborough (using local funds, not taking it from other counties), but we still do not know what the courts will do.  Last week, there was more proof about just how bad the funding issue is.

A new study from Wallethub published Tuesday looked at 100 US cities to determine the country’s best and worst public transportation systems based on a few measures. The website looked at accessibility and convenience, safety and reliability and public transit resources. The former two measures were given a weight of 40 points max each, while the final measure carried a weight of 20 points max.

Based on the standard grade scale, no city earned better than a C+. The top-performing system per the study is in Seattle, which got a score of 77.97. Each city also received a ranking based on the submeasures, and in this case, Seattle was only seventh for accessibility and convenience, sixth for safety and reliability and third for public transit resources.

The other four top cities were Boston, San Francisco, Washington and Madison, Wisconsin. Each scored at least 71 points in the rankings. Outside of the top five, cities fell under 70 points with the worst of the 100 cities scoring a mere 24.69 points or fewer. The bottom three cities (Tampa, Florida; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Indianapolis) scored 24.69, 24.03 and 21.13, respectively. That’s not a great look for a big city like Indianapolis, especially considering a single category alone was worth a max of 20 points.

The study can be found here.  Tampa (Hillsborough) was 98th and St. Pete (Pinellas) was 99th.  They tied for 91st in “Public Transit resources” and tied for 98th in safety and reliability.  Needless to say, that is quite poor.  It is also not surprising given the choices that have been made by local and state governments over the years.  While some may be comfortable with being next to last, we are not.  And it definitely is not helpful in recruiting businesses (and talent) that consider transportation one of our weak spots.


— Looking at the High Road

The Selmon Expressway is has had an odd history.  The first leg, from Gandy to downtown, did not really connect anything because it did not go to the bridge or the interstate.  Eventually, it was extended to a growing Brandon and made more sense.  The elevated lanes and I-4 connector were very useful touches, as is the Gandy connector.  Now:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is trying to prepare for the Tampa Bay area’s growth by looking at ways to improve the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

One capacity study is happening now. Another is on the way.

Sue Chrzan, THEA Director of Communications, says the South Selmon Capacity Study has been going on for several months. The focus area stretches from Gandy Boulevard to downtown Tampa.

First, the Selmon provides a useful alternative to the interstate.  We use it.  Aside from the lack of southbound entrance ramps west of downtown and the odd design of the eastern terminus, we have no problem with it.  But what exactly are they looking at?

Chrzan says THEA is looking at a number of possibilities to best deal with future growth in Tampa Bay, from widening lanes to changing the length of entrance ramps, and everything in between.

* * *

A second capacity study will look at the east side of the expressway from 22nd Street to I-75. The project is expected to examine the impacts of potentially widening the lower eastbound lanes from two to three and adding lanes elsewhere.

We assume that “widening lanes” means adding lanes (there is no reason to widen the actual lanes). First, we are not sure that is really needed, especially in south Tampa where the biggest backups are usually at Gandy, where the backups are the result of a bottleneck and the connector is being built.  Additionally, we are opposed to increasing the footprint (and we doubt South Tampa residents really would go for that either).  Moreover, on the Brandon end, they already have reversible lanes to increase capacity.

In our opinion, if they are going to change anything, they should start with the Brandon terminus, where the end of the Selmon is kind of a mess. They should also look at adding some southbound on ramps once the Gandy Connector gets built.  Other than that, if they can add a lane within the present footprint, we do not care that much, but we do not think it is really needed or will change anything, as the Gandy connector is still going to be one lane and would still have a bottleneck.

The reality is that Hillsborough County should be focused on alternatives to driving.  It may be possible to tweak the Selmon to make it incrementally better, but is it really worth the debt or the maintenance of the tolls at the present levels (or going higher)?  It really is not a priority.


Governance – Show Us the Money

Last week, throughout the Roundup, we noted how the State is not providing support for local communities in developed areas to upgrade their infrastructure and, at least in the case of the referendum (though also in other ways) getting in the way when those people choose to do it themselves.  This week, the Times had an editorial brought on by news that the Governor wants to increase fines for dumping wastewater echoing those concerns:

DeSantis announced this week he wants the Legislature to increase fines for environmental crimes by 50 percent across the board, from sewage spills to releases of hazardous waste. The governor said he wanted to get the attention of polluters who had not taken these fines seriously enough in the past to change their practices or upgrade their operations. And the example he made of a city in “the Tampa Bay area” was an apparent (and justified) shot at St. Petersburg and its long-running wastewater problem. Still, this is a welcome wake-up call for government and industry alike.

The state, though, needs to pair tougher punishment with stronger financial support for communities struggling to rebuild their infrastructure. While the state has grant and loan programs, those funds come nowhere close to meeting statewide needs; Tampa alone just approved a $3 billion plan to rebuild its water and wastewater systems. And the Legislature has moved to block a locally approved transportation tax in Hillsborough County that could free up tens of millions of dollars for water and sewer improvements. The stick should be accompanied by some carrots.

We agree.  We have no problem with the State holding local communities to account when they do things like dump wastewater in large quantities.  However, the State should also provide real help avoid to situations where such things happen.

And when a County or area chooses to tax itself to fund what it needs, at a minimum, the State should not get in the way.


Downtown – AER, Finally Something

After many years, the AER apartment building near the Straz may finally be getting somewhere.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

On Thursday night, the Tampa City Council (in their capacity as the Downtown CRA) voted 6-1 to enter into a land development agreement with American Land Ventures to approve the long awaited AER tower, and to spend $1 million of city money to improve the Riverwalk at the Cass Street Bridge.

AER, first proposed all the way back in mid 2012 (!!!), is a 26-story apartment tower set to be built directly south of the Straz Center entrance and directly west of the John F. Germany Library. Cass Street and Tyler Street will be reconfigured to create a square block here, as you can see in the attached site plan.

As for the Riverwalk improvements, from the Business Journal:

The improvements to the Riverwalk will total $1.115 million. The Riverwalk construction will take place from the south side of Cass Street and west side of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The improvements include a 12-foot wide sloping walking trail along the Hillsborough River’s seawall, more streetlights, traffic and pedestrian signals, crosswalk enhancements and relocation of utilities.

The crosswalk and lighting improvements will make it safer for Riverwalk pedestrians to travel from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the portion of the Riverwalk adjacent to the arts center, according to city documents.

While it we would like the Riverwalk to have a walkway under the bridge, it difficult because of the train tracks/bridge. Looking at the agenda documents (here and here) the improvements seem to be making the Riverwalk a bit friendlier and smoother to use (than this, which is kind of a mess right now) north of Cass.

Just a reminder about the AER project:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The design is significantly different than the original (or the second iteration).  We are not that fond of the large, free-standing garage and odd alleyway (or the big, funny hat on the top of the building). While this project has dragged, we think the City could have done better on this lot than the project we are likely to get.  As for the Riverwalk work, the Cass crossing is a one of the bigger weak-spots, so any improvements would be welcome.


USF Area/Pasco – Moffitt Moves

In addition to all the good work it does for patients, the Moffitt Cancer Center is one of the major anchors and drivers of the biomed industry in this area.  It is a huge asset for the area and is looking to ramp up its size and scope.

Moffitt Cancer Center is turning to the state to ask for support in funding its major projects on and off the Tampa campus.

The cancer center is asking the Florida legislature to help fund a new inpatient clinical research center and a new hospital on its campus. Moffitt says the matter is urgent as it is at capacity with its 206 beds, its core buildings are more than 30 years old, and it needs to have a major expansion and update to care for the ever-growing population.

“Since we’ve opened our doors, the population has doubled. We are seeing many baby boomers, which is a large population at risk for cancer,” Moffitt CEO and President Dr. Alan List said.

Moffitt is seeking legislation to increase from 4 percent to 10 percent its share of annual cigarette tax money, which would generate an additional $22 million annually. Moffitt currently sees $15.5 million from the tax.

The increase to its share of the tax would take place in two phases — one from 4 to 7 percent in 2020 and then to 10 percent in 2023. The two increases would each provide an additional $11 million annually.

The new legislative session starts in January.

There are two projects they have in mind:

Moffitt said the additional collection from the taxes would be used for:

You can read more about the new tower here and the Pasco project here. This is a rendering of the new Tampa building:

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

As the Times explained in an editorial, this is how the money would be used:

Moffitt clearly serves a broad public need in a growing state and region where biomedicine plays an increasing role in the fabric of the economy. Moffitt wants lawmakers to increase its share of the state’s cigarette in two phases – to 7 percent in 2020 (from the current 4 percent) and then to 10 percent in 2023. The two increases would each provide an additional $11 million annually to the $15.5 million that Moffitt currently receives from the tax, with the first increase added to $332 million from Moffitt for a new clinical and research hospital in Tampa and the second increase devoted to a new research campus in Pasco County.

And this is why they should get the money:

Moffitt’s request reflects Florida’s unique dynamics and its own success in pioneering cancer treatment and research. Since Moffitt opened in 1986, the state’s population has doubled. Florida is second only to California in the number of cancer cases statewide. Moffitt’s clinical and research facilities are out of space, with some operating rooms too small to house advanced medical equipment. The hospital serves more than 68,000 patients, up 42 percent from 2009, and demand for outpatient care is expected to jump another one-third in the next six years.

* * *

Moffitt has a compelling case. As one of the top 10 cancer hospitals in America, and the only National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive cancer center” in Florida, Moffitt has delivered on the ideal lawmakers envisioned more than three decades ago. Beyond nurturing a global brand for excellence, Moffitt has become a major engine for high-paying jobs and for growing the region’s biotech industry. Expansion to accommodate the newest technology, more patients and more researchers in north Tampa and Pasco makes economic sense.

Moffitt does have a compelling case. It serves not on this areas’ growing population, but the state’s growing population and beyond.  And the business case is also important (though building a biomed cluster in Pasco is even farther than USF from the oft-discussed desired downtown biomed cluster around Water Street).  In fact, it is a win-win: better health care and better business potential.

It would be nice if Moffitt were not needed, but it is and will be for the foreseeable future. We support the request.


USF – Consolidation Blues

In what should not be a surprise to anyone, the USF consolidation process is having some issues.

The public on Tuesday got its best look so far at how the University of South Florida might be organized once its three now-separate campuses consolidate as a single institution next summer.

USF president Steve Currall laid out a plan for university trustees that shows some shared leadership and curricular offerings across those locations. But as many faculty feared, it strips administrators on the St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses of power to make decisions about academics — forcing them to yield to leaders in Tampa.

Currently, regional chancellors in St. Petersburg and Sarasota manage faculty hiring and academic program budgets while also serving as community liaisons in their respective communities.

* * *

Florida lawmakers who ordered consolidation last year addressed those concerns in May, unanimously passing legislation that requires USF’s consolidation plan to include St. Petersburg and Sarasota as “branch” campuses.

The term is defined by accrediting authorities as campuses that are in charge of their own budgeting and hiring, but it is unclear whether that includes all budgets — academic and otherwise.

Currall says it doesn’t, and that his plan fully meets the branch campus requirement because chancellors will continue to oversee budgets and hiring for non-academic matters, like campus upkeep and emergency management.

Which drew the obvious reaction:

Longtime USF professor Ray Arsenault, who has been vocal about consolidation concerns as president of the St. Petersburg faculty senate, said Currall’s logic is flawed and does not meet the branch campus requirement Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law June 24.

“This is contradictory to the … legislation passed this year,” he said. “It guts the meaning of it and really is a defiance of the legislators.”

Arsenault called Currall’s proposal disappointing in that it “takes away almost all academic authority” from leaders on his campus who have made great strides in recent years. The plan would put St. Petersburg in “serious jeopardy,” he said, “because everything will go through Tampa.”

St. Petersburg regional chancellor Martin Tadlock also voiced concern in an interview following Currall’s presentation, pointing to better student retention rates and increased research spending under his leadership.

He said he expects continued concern among faculty on his campus, due to the lack of local academic leadership in Currall’s plan.

“That’s a big question mark,” Tadlock said. “Someone on every campus has to have responsibility and be accountable for academic affairs.”

There were similar reactions from Pinellas Legislators (see here and here).

We are not opposed to consolidation in theory, but we are still are not sure why the consolidation legislation was passed before any of these issues were worked out.  It should have been quite obvious that this would happen because the argument was essentially already happening, just in slow motion and at a lower temperature.  (And, frankly, it is a clear microcosm of the problems this area still has working regionally.)

And we are not going to take sides except to say that we just want it to work for the students.  So far, they seem relatively unharmed, but, the longer this goes on, the more likely it is to have a negative effect on them.  Unfortunately, we do not see how it will end, and it is not clear anyone else really does.  Once again, until there was an answer to that, it should not have been made a law.


Built Environment – Still More

There was news of the sale of an apartment building on Harbour Island last week:

A 21-story residential tower on Harbour Island has sold for a record-setting price per unit.

500 Harbour Island was sold to Northwestern Mutual for $103.45 million or $440,212 per apartment, according to JLL, which announced the deal Thursday.

JLL represented the seller, a partnership of Tampa’s Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group, which completed the tower in 2017.

It is the first time a market-rate apartment community has surpassed $400,000 per unit, and the sales price beats the previous Tampa Bay record of $354,748 per unit, which Camden Property Trust paid for an apartment tower in downtown St. Petersburg in early 2018.

We admit that we really just wanted to have this picture (the building in question is on the right):

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

But it is also another reason why the City should not settle. Quality projects will bring quality returns in a growing market.


Port – Still More

Holland America is coming back:

When Holland America said dropped Tampa as a cruise ship port last spring, it hinted it might be back in the future.

And so it will be.

“Holland America Line is excited about returning to Tampa with 18 Caribbean and two trans-Atlantic cruises from November 2020 to April 2021,” Holland America director of public relations Erik Elvejord said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

That is a bit of a wait, but it will be good to have them back.  The more cruises the better.  It does not address any long-range issues with cruises, but at least it will be bringing in revenue.


Airport – Still More Change

If you are planning to fly, this might be useful information:

Both Alaska Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will move from their current locations at Airside A to join Southwest at Tampa International Airport’s Airside C. Airside A is currently home to one of the Airport’s fastest growing carriers, Spirit Airlines, and also houses jetBlue and United Airlines. The move will allow for the airlines at Airside A to continue growing and expanding services. Alaska will make its move on September 19 while Sun Country will move on September 25. Check-in counters and baggage claim for both airlines will remain at their current locations.

We will be interested to see what all that growth entails.


St Pete – Housing and Parking

St. Pete is starting to make moves in the affordable housing arena.  From St. Pete Rising:

Over the past 18 months the City of St. Pete’s Planning and Development Services department has been working on a series of three change packages that will update the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) and Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan). These charges are part of the City’s response to increased concerns over housing affordability.

Individually, the proposed changes in these packages are relatively minor, but together they’ll add more flexibility to how housing can be built in St. Pete. The hope is that this will translate to more housing units being built at lower price points.

Because it is farthest along, they only discuss package one right now.  That package has three parts, beginning with minimum sizes for multifamily developments.

St. Pete’s building code currently requires multifamily units be of a certain size. Current code requires a minimum of 375 square feet (SF) for studios, 500 SF for one-bedroom units, and 750 SF for a two-bedroom units. Each additional bedroom beyond two-beds requires an additional 200 SF. These minimums are larger than Florida Building Code requirements. By removing the city-specific requirements, the minimum unit size requirements would simply default to to Florida Building Code standards.

This change will allow developers to build smaller units, such as mirco-units, if they see fit. Micro-units are typically one room living units that are smaller than a studio. Think of a hotel room or a student dorm room. To be fair, micro-units aren’t for everyone, but they may be appropriate for some. And because of their small size they are typically more affordable.

That is straight-forward enough.  And, as they said, smaller or micro-unit might not be for everyone, but it does not have to be.  Allowing them provides an alternative and is a choice that some people might make.

The second part is addresses accessory dwelling units (ADU).  While these are often apartments over detached garages and the like, they can be other things.

Currently, the City requires a minimum lot size of 5,800 SF for a homeowner to be eligible to build an ADU. With this change, the minimum lot size will be reduced to 4,500 SF. This change may not seem significant but it will open up approximately 9,617 lots citywide for potential ADUs. That’s about a 43% increase in eligible lots.

ADUs are already very common in desirable neighborhoods like Old Northeast, Crescent Lake, Historic Uptown, and Historic Roser Park. This change will simply allow homeowners in other neighborhoods to build ADUs too, potentially adding to St. Pete’s housing stock.

Once again, this is a reasonable change.  It may not be for everyone, but it does not have to be.  It just has to be for some.  It provides alternatives.

The final part has to do with minimum parking requirements for multifamily developments.

Currently, new multifamily buildings in Downtown St. Pete are required to have one space per multifamily unit. These requirements are higher in St. Pete’s traditional and suburban neighborhoods. With the approved reduction in parking minimums, the City will require parking based on unit size.

This means that for new multifamily buildings in Downtown St. Pete, units under 750 square feet will no longer have parking requirements while units above 750 square feet will continue to have a one space per unit requirement. The grid shown to the left displays the approved changes.

The City is also hoping to spark development of affordable housing and development near high frequency transit routes by providing additional parking reductions. Affordable housing projects, where at least 50% of the units are designated “affordable”, will be able to reduce their parking requirement by an additional 10%. And for affordable senior housing projects, the parking requirement is reduced by an additional 5%. Additionally, multifamily developments located within 1/8th mile of high frequency transit routes, defined as a route that comes every 35 minutes or less, are eligible for a 10% reduction.

And these reductions are stackable. Meaning an affordable senior housing project near a frequent bus route could reduce it’s parking requirement by 25%. The hope is that the cost savings from requiring less parking will be passed on to residents in the form of lower rents.

 

From St. Pete Rising – click on picture for website

That is a start, though, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

This is a good step in the right direction, though these cuts are a bit modest. Also, we personally don’t see why one would discriminate against units which are more than 750 square feet vs. units less than 750 square in Downtown. Nonetheless, this code change is a positive step in making housing more affordable and improving urban design.

We support deeper cuts in parking requirements here in Tampa.

Particularly in walkable urban areas, we see no need for parking minimums at all.  Of course, some (probably most) developments are going to build parking because most people will want some, but that does not mean all people want it or that all developments need it.  In those urban areas at least, it should be a matter of choice.  (If St. Pete had robust transit, we would say the same for the areas it served.)

Overall, just like we commend Hillsborough County for putting money into affordable housing, we commend St. Pete for beginning this process. However, there is more to be done.  We look forward to seeing the other proposals St. Pete comes up with, and we look forward to hearing what Tampa will do.  Affordable housing is a complicated problem but there are things that can and should be done.


Because We Can

The tower cranes are being installed at the 1001 Water Street site.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We look forward to watching it grow.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

A while back we discussed the controversy surrounding Quayside, a proposed urban development project in Toronto by Google’s Sidewalk Labs arm.  This week, there was more news. From the Guardian (UK):

A controversial smart city development in Canada has hit another roadblock after an oversight panel called key aspects of the proposal “irrelevant”, “unnecessary” and “frustratingly abstract” in a new report.

The project on Toronto’s waterfront, dubbed Quayside, is a partnership between the city and Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs. It promises “raincoats” for buildings, autonomous vehicles and cutting-edge wood-frame towers, but has faced numerous criticisms in recent months.

The latest critique comes with just over a month to go before the city decides to approve or reject the project. It was prepared by the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, an arms-length group that advises Waterfront Toronto, which oversees the sprawling development.

You can read the full article here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

The Netherlands has probably the most developed bicycle culture in the world, so if you want to know how to build a proper bicycle infrastructure, that is probably a good place to look.  The New Yorker had an article that did just that.  If you are interested, it can be found here.

Roundup 9-13-2019

September 12, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Roads to Nowhere

— All Together Now

— “BRT” Plan

— CSX

— Virgin Trains

Governance/Infrastructure – Water, Water, Everywhere

Housing – Necessary

Built Environment – This is Why

Rocky Point – About that Parking

Airport – Realized Potential

Downtown/Channel District/USF – Surprise

Port – Another

St. Pete – Tallest

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

And Finally

_____________________________


Transportation


— Roads to Nowhere

In all honesty, writing more about the roads to nowhere (aka M-CORES) project is pretty low on our list of things we want to do.  However, at the end of last month, there was a meeting in Tampa to kick off the three evaluation committees that are supposed to do this:

The three task forces, one to oversee each corridor, will meet seven times beginning next Tuesday – Hurricane Dorian permitting – to chart the proposed road’s routes, construction design, environmental impacts and issue a report to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature by Oct. 1, 2020.

The reports are only advisory, and, given that various parts have been rejected by the State government before, the plan is political not practical, so do with that what you will. In any event, they met.  Much was said and much was written (including this interesting article about whether people in the counties affected even want the roads. We are sure some do, but is it most?)

Our objection to this plan has been and remains essentially this:  First, we have made clear many times that we are not against all highways construction.  However, this plan is unneeded at this time and will likely just promote and subsidize inefficient, sprawling development which will eventually compound rather than fix any transportation problem.  And, even more, there are other, bigger needs (transportation, water, sewer, public safety, etc.) where people live now and more likely than not will be moving to in the foreseeable future, and, aside from plans to just build variable rate toll lanes everywhere (which we do oppose), those needs are going unaddressed by the State. (A number are discussed in this week’s Roundup.) And when a local population decides to raise the money themselves, roadblocks are often thrown up.  And the failure to address those needs in the populated areas of this state will inhibit competitiveness, economic development, public safety, and the quality of life.


— All Together Now

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Florida House (essentially the Speaker of the Florida House) decided to oppose the AFT Referendum in the Supreme Court case.  Now, the Senate (essentially the Senate President, who is also the lead advocate for the roads to nowhere) has also joined the suit.

A lawyer for the Florida Senate told the state Supreme Court on Monday that the chamber wants to weigh in against Hillsborough County’s transportation tax, joining their colleagues in the House.

“The Senate agrees with and supports the House position, which respects and protects the voters,” the lawyer wrote.

Once again, we will not get into the substance of the suit.  However, it is worth noting this quote from the Senate President from an article regarding the roads to nowhere:

“Several years ago, when I began planning to make infrastructure the heart of my term as Senate president, I had a broader vision, one that went beyond what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Galvano told task force members.

That is fine, but we think it should focus on creating the desired and needed infrastructure in areas that already have large populations, especially where the citizens have clearly indicated that they want to pay for such things.  (Though, it should be noted that, as far as we can tell, there have been no lawsuits regarding the Broward referendum, so maybe it is just Hillsborough County that gets special treatment.)


— “BRT” Plan

Speaking of (un)desired infrastructure, TBARTA continues to promote on an idea that has no widespread public support: the “BRT” plan.  This week, it came out with a video for the “BRT” plan (rebranded “Regional Rapid Transit”) that is well produced if not informative.

 

We are not sure if this is what they used their funding increase on.  Regardless, the reason it is not informative may be explained by this from the TBARTA website:

Regional Rapid Transit, or RRT, is the Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study that will advance the bus rapid transit (BRT) project connecting Downtown St. Petersburg, the Gateway area, Westshore, Downtown Tampa, the USF area, and Wesley Chapel from concept towards implementation. While we know the project will use I-275, this two-year study will determine the amount of the route that is dedicated (uses a lane separate from cars), where the stations will be, and how the vehicles will get to the stations. This study will also determine approximately how much it will cost and how it will be paid for.

To get to these answers, the team will begin design and engineering, identify any impacts to the environment and community and how to address and potentially alleviate them, identify the best vehicle to use, and design how the service will operate.

First, using the interstate is still a problem for the various reasons that have been discussed before (like lack of ToD potential).  They still have not determined (or at least say they have not determined) how much will run in dedicated lanes (most likely the previous fudges will remain), which is necessary for real BRT, which the “BRT” plan has never been. They do not know where the stations will be or how vehicles will get to the stations (because they want to run on the inside shoulder of the interstate, however they do it will be clunky which is probably why the video does not show any stations).  And they do not know how much it will cost (recall that low cost was the main reason the idea was picked) or how it will be funded.

What do they know?  It will be a bus, and it will run on the interstate.

As we have noted many times, the “BRT” plan is already an outdated and poor idea that will not serve the real needs of Hillsborough County.  Referendum or not, Hillsborough should not fund it.

Last week we said this about transportation in this area:

While this area seems to have made some progress in understanding our issues, many of the ideas, and even attitudes, are still inadequate for where we need to be.

Aside from the overblown rhetoric about the Cross-Bay Ferry, nothing could be a clearer illustration than the “BRT” plan.  Just run an express bus for much less and move on to real BRT or rail – or both.

And note, TBARTA wants to hear from you about their plan.  Their contact/comment page is here.


— CSX

For decades people have been proposing buying the local CSX tracks for use with rail transit, as was done in Orlando. Of course, in Orlando, the State bought the CSX tracks, while in Hillsborough, it would likely have to be local government buying them (that special treatment again).  In any event, HART is beginning to explore the idea:

Charles Banks, president of railroad consultant group R.L. Banks & Associates Inc., and Kevin Sheys, partner at law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP, presented to the HART board and addressed potential challenges of an acquisition process for CSX tracks.

This transaction will be different than any other deal HART has ever worked on, Banks said, who focuses on railroad negotiations and financing.

“Negotiations with CSX will take a very long time, be very frustrating and you will encounter numerous roadblocks,” Banks said.

CSX had set a target in 2018 to sell $800 million in rail lines and real estate by 2020. It has sold or solicited more than 1,500 miles of track, Tampa Bay Business Journal sister paper the Jacksonville Business Journal reported.

CSX has several advantages such as the company being familiar and comfortable with the process, Banks said. CSX has entered agreements numerous times and can take its time, whereas HART cannot — the Hillsborough transportation surtax has the potential to give HART large funds for a limited time.

Setting aside that this all assumes that the referendum is upheld and HART gets the money, it will be a complicated negotiation and it will take time. On the other hand, if CSX wants to actually sell, there are a limited number of buyers and the money will not be there forever.

Yes, it could take a while. And there is always the possibility that a deal would not get done (especially without State support, at least on liability). At least someone has started looking at it, which should have happened long ago.


— Virgin Trains

There was also news about the Virgin Trains/FDOT negotiations.

The state is allowing more time for Virgin Trains USA to enter an agreement for right of way to connect from its Orlando station to Tampa.

Miami-based Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, had a September negotiation deadline with the Florida Department of Transportation to lease the right of way along Interstate 4. FDOT told the Tampa Bay Business Journal the negotiations with all parties are ongoing and the deadline was extended to Oct. 3. However, FDOT did not provide a reason why.

We have no idea why negotiations are taking so long, but hopefully they will get a deal done.  And, hopefully, the short extension is a signal that they are almost there.

If there is going to be an intercity rail network in the state, this area needs to be connected to it.


Governance/Infrastructure – Water, Water, Everywhere

Getting back to local infrastructure, Tampa is moving forward with plans to deal with storm water.

The City Council approved a massive $2.9 billion utility rate increase Thursday night that will pay for the most expensive and extensive infrastructure project in Tampa history.

Mayor Jane Castor’s proposal to fix the city’s aging water and sewer systems will see the average residential bill increase from the current $41.29 a month to about $80 by 2028.

Her chief of staff John Bennett told council members the city won’t regret spending billions to slow and eventually end the nearly constant water main breaks and sewer line cave-ins. There have been more than 3,500 such failures in the last two years alone.

* * *

Customers will see an increase in their bills starting in the November billing cycle. The average bill will increase from $41.29 to $46.50 a month, about half the regional average.

Moreover,

[City Council member] Dingfelder, however, successfully persuaded his colleagues to further expand a low-income assistance program that could cost $1.8 million next year if each of the 51,980 eligible families take advantage of it.

That is a good thing.

No one wants to pay more, but if you want something – in this case, a water and sewer system that does not constantly break – you need to pay for it. And the longer you put off fixing it, the more expensive it will get.

Additionally,

. . . at least for now, a $300 million proposal to convert wastewater to drinking water dubbed ‘toilet-to-tap’ by critics and Tampa Augmentation Project by the city is off the table.

Mayor Jane Castor officially announced the sewage reuse project wouldn’t be part of what is now a $2.9 billion plan to revamp the city’s aging sewage and water infrastructure.

In a memo to council members Thursday —hours before a public hearing and crucial vote on her Progressive Infrastructure Plan to Ensure Sustainability (PIPES) plan— Castor said it was important to move forward on the rest of the plan without toilet to tap.

But the mayor signaled her intent to keep searching for new sources of water.

We are all for looking for new sources of water.  Our standard remains the same: it is fine if the science works and the cost-benefit analysis makes sense.  The fact is that, as far as we can tell, so far no one has made that case for toilet to tap. Until they do, the idea should not go forward.  The decision to drop it at this point is a proper one.

And just one more thing.  We are told this regarding the roads to nowhere plan:

We also have the opportunity to invest in infrastructure that will revitalize the rural, legacy communities that have formed the backbone of our state for generations. Broadband, water, and sewer connectivity are key quality of life issues. All Floridians should have access to clean water. Meanwhile, investments in sewer systems can help mitigate current and prevent future damage to our environment. Through the the multi-use corridors program, we have a real opportunity to bring water and sewer lines within reach of rural communities across our state.

We agree that broadband, water, and sewer are important.  But that applies even more to the far larger number of people living in and around the cities we already have that need to update their infrastructure.  That includes the very high cost of this project in Tampa and the fact that St. Pete keep dumping wastewater into the bay.


Housing – Necessary

The issue of affordable housing is a large and growing one nationwide.  That includes this area, especially with our rising housing costs and low incomes.

The $1,133 average rent for a two-bedroom apartment here is well beyond the reach of minimum wage and other low-paid workers, a study released in June by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found.

A salary of $21.79 an hour — more than $13 above the state’s minimum wage — would be needed for that rent to be “affordable,” which is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of a person’s income on rent. Households that exceed that threshold risk spiraling into debt.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the Florida Legislature continually raiding the statewide Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust. Since 2001, lawmakers have siphoned more than $2 billion from the trust into general revenue, according to a Senate report.

Setting aside the issue of the Legislature redirecting money intended for affordable housing to the general fund, something has to be done.

. . . the county’s new Democrat-majority commission pledged to set aside $10 million every year for an affordable housing trust fund.

The fund will be used both as a subsidy and incentive for the construction and preservation of affordable housing. Construction will be done through partnerships with non-profit groups and affordable housing developers. The money can also be used to purchase land suitable for affordable housing.

At least half the money must be spent on housing for low-income families. That includes 30 percent for households categorized as “very-low income.” Based on federal calculations used for housing vouchers, a household of four people would need a combined gross income of less than $33,500 to meet that criteria.

“Investing in ways to increase access to affordable housing is critically important to our communities,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman. “When we don’t, we end up with homelessness.”

That last point is definitely true.  And the housing issue is not just about panhandlers or the obviously homeless.  And it is not about old mental boundaries:

The money for Hillsborough’s new trust will come from the county’s general fund. Commissioner Sandy Murman said she is concerned a majority of the money will end up being spent inside the city of Tampa at the expense of unincorporated Hillsborough.

“We’re doing a huge favor to the city of Tampa by doing this,” Murman said. “The Mayor should be sending us a grand thank you note.”

But other commissioners said it makes sense to build affordable housing close to work centers and proposed transit routes expected to be funded by the transportation sales tax.

The creation of a housing trust fund is a significant u-turn for the county. In recent years, it made money available for low-cost housing — as much as $5.1 million in 2018 — but commissioners had been reluctant to make the long-term commitment required for a trust.

Last time we checked, Tampa was in Hillsborough County (in fact, the Commissioner’s District – District 1 – includes a big chunk of Tampa.  See here).  It definitely makes sense to address the issue where it is and to create solution that are more effective.  If that means investing inside the city limits, so be it.

The fact is that the plan is a good start, but, and we’re sure the Commissioners promoting it will agree, only a start.  It will definitely help people, though the waiting list of Tampa Housing Authority units is thousands of people.  And, although it is just a start, we commend the County Commission for acting and at least starting to mitigate the problem somewhat.  Housing is and will be a problem.  It cannot be ignored and should not be shortchanged.


Built Environment – This is Why

We are often told by developers that the market in Tampa will not support this or that feature found in their projects. Of course, the City often just goes along with this line of thinking and settles.  This week we had another example of why it shouldn’t.

In the last few years, Crescent Communities developed the Novel in downtown Tampa near the Straz.

Crescent Communities paid $8.1 million for a 5-acre site at 109 W. Fortune St. in a deal that closed Friday, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Tuesday.

Crescent also closed on a $51.2 million loan from JPMorgan Chase on Friday, according to public records.

We assume there were some more costs in the construction, but you get an idea from that late 2016 article of the cost.  Well, this week:

A mid-rise apartment building in downtown Tampa, near the David A. Straz Jr. Performing Arts Center and Tampa Riverwalk, has been sold for $123 million.

Novel Riverwalk, which has been rebranded Anchor Riverwalk after the acquisition, was purchased by Ohio-based Connor Group in a deal that closed Sept. 6, the company said Monday.

The purchase price breaks down to $312,182 per apartment; the building, developed by Crescent Communities, has 394 units. It wrapped up construction in 2018.

That is a pretty good return on investment, especially for a stick construction, single use project that makes poor use of the large lot it is on.  It is also a sign that the City does not need to settle.  Developers can make money without shortchanging the City (or County) by building lesser projects with poor designs.


Rocky Point – About that Parking

We (and others) have long said that parking requirements are too high and we just don’t need that much.  This week we have an example of the market saying the same:

Nashville-based Castlerock Asset Management, which paid $57.6 million for the Westin on Rocky Point, has filed plans with the city that would add hotel rooms to a portion of the unoccupied garage floors — the fourth, fifth and sixth floors. When plans for the 16-story Westin were proposed in 2007, it was approved for 300 rooms, though only were 255 were built.

Castlerock’s proposal would bring the hotel to 304 total rooms and reduce parking by 56 spaces, from 440 to 384 spaces. Castlerock also wants to significantly reduce its on-site dining room and staff — from 7,487 square feet and 460 employees to 4,320 square feet and 190 employees. That reduction further justifies the reduction in parking spaces, Castlerock says in city filings.

It is interesting that the proposal is not for eliminating a few parking spaces in one floor. It is 56 spaces on three floors. That is a lot of excess parking.

We have no problem with the idea.  If they can make it work, there is no reason not to do it.


Airport – Realized Potential

We have often covered the past debate over international service to Tampa.  Last week, there was more evidence that those who pushed for an aggressive approach rather than the past complacency were right.

72 percent

That’s Tampa International Airport’s growth in passengers flying non-stop to and from Europe in July, compared with the same month last year. This is an increase from 30,000 European passengers in July 2018 to more than 50,000 this year. That outpaces growth in international travelers more generally (up nearly 25 percent year-over-year to about 110,000) and all passengers for the month (up nearly 5 percent to 1.9 million).

A hiccup at British Airways (a strike) this week notwithstanding, the growth is the result of a strategy for growth that has worked, even with the occasional (and inevitable) setback like the loss of Icelandair (which may or may not come back when the 737MAX issues gets worked out).

More generally,

Between January and June of this year, which is the most recent data available, 13.6 million passengers passed through Tampa’s main air hub, which is up 5.64 percent from the same time period in 2018. Domestic flights also grew 4.93 percent to 12.8 million and international flights grew 19.97 percent to 734,616. 

None of which is surprising to us.

Regarding the international growth,

“There was once a perception that we could not grow international here in this airport,” Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano said. Not true, he said. “There’s pent-up demand in this market.”

There is, and there has been for a while.  We have always believed that this area had the requisite demand.  It just needed the supply.  We are thankful that there was leadership that decided to end the old complacency and stop selling this area short. It is a lesson for other issues where, while decreasing, selling us short still happens too often.


Downtown/Channel District/USF – Surprise

It appears that the USF Med School in the Water Street area is going to be a bit more expensive than anticipated.

The project first gained approvals in 2015 with a budget estimated at $152 million. Since then, the university decided to add two floors, bringing the building to 13 stories with a total cost of $173 million. Now, it has increased to $189 million.

The rise in the price is due to “unanticipated costs” over the past two years, according to university documents. Causes for the change revolve around a number of factors including higher costs for research equipment and furniture; construction inflation; and costs of technology. USF said it would be utilizing Microsoft and the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation.

(We are not sure about the relevance of the last sentence.)  But there is more.

Williams said the change was due to modifications for the first floor dedicated to retail, making changes to the building after seeing destruction of buildings from Hurricane Irma, which included flood protection additions and having to move equipment if a surge were to occur. He also said there weren’t any estimations done on research equipment, which is now estimated at nearly $10 million, and inflation costs.

We can understand the equipment may cost a bit more.  We understand that construction costs could increase.  What we cannot understand is not planning for flood protections in a building built a block from the waterfront in Florida.  Did they really need Irma to tell them expensive equipment really should not be on the ground floor during a storm?  (And do not forget the cost of a new USF sign to replace the failed logo.)

Setting that aside, we are not at all surprised that the price has gone up. This has always been that kind of project. But we are a bit surprised that, even at the new cost figure:

Williams responded saying all the resources for a total cost estimate were not available at the time of construction.

In an $189 million budget, Williams told the board eight floors will be completed:

“I have no confidence [that the final amount is $189 million],” trustee Michael Carrere said.

Given what the Board was told, it is pretty clear the final cost will not be $189 million.  And USF has no idea how much the finished building will cost. However, considering this:

The project is currently 90 percent complete with occupancy and classes scheduled for January 2020.

This is also true:

The board members said they felt obligated to approve the new budget in order to not halt the project and have it built on time.

One could argue that, in the long run and spread out over decades of use, the cost increase will not be a big deal.  And it will be even less of a deal if the money is donated.  On the other hand, the price creep is troubling, especially since there is no estimate of the final cost. It is a public university, after all. But, like we said, we are not surprised given the history and nature of this project.


Port – Another

There will be another cruise option at the Port:

MSC Cruises, a Switzerland-based cruise line, announced Thursday that it will add Tampa as a new homeport starting in November 2020.

The cruise line will offer both a winter season of four- to five-night trips and a summer season of weeklong cruises that will sail to the Caribbean, Mexico and the Bahamas.

Good deal.


St. Pete – Tallest

The Red Apple project that, if built, will likely be the tallest building in St. Pete is back in the news.

Red Apple Group, controlled by grocery titan John Catsimatidis, on Thursday unveiled new plans for the 2.3-acre site in the 400 block of Central Avenue. Red Apple said in a news release that it has filed a site plan reflecting the new vision with the city.

Catsimatidis’ plans now including the following:

Pending city approvals of the plans, Red Apple said it intends to begin construction in 2020. The developer plans to retain ownership of the hotel, retail and office space. The group paid $16.5 million for the property in 2017.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Going from the rendering, we like this project.  From what we have seen (which is admittedly limited), we do not have any real issues with it.  As for it getting built:

The application filed Thursday sets in motion a city staff review of the project. Red Apple is not asking for any variances so it probably will not need to go before the city’s Development Review Commission or City Council.

And

“Don’t forget: We have the cash,” Catsimatidis said. “We don’t need other people’s funding. We’re capable of writing a check.”

We look forward to it. It would be a really nice addition to St. Pete.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about migration between cities and remote working:

Ms. Swift joined a group of workers fueling a renaissance in American cities that lie outside the major job hubs. People who do their jobs from home, freelance or constantly travel for work are migrating away from expensive urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco toward cheaper, smaller cities including Boise; Denver; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore.; according to economists and local residents.

That has brought a boom to these midsize cities, and while the ultimate effects aren’t yet clear, the development comes with a few downsides. Many places are dealing with growing pains like fast-rising home prices and traffic congestion, but aren’t accruing all the economic benefits, such as the deep investments companies often make in the areas where they are based.

Also mentioned is Orlando.  The Tampa Bay area is not (though we still have rising housing prices and traffic congestion).

While it is not necessarily an unmitigated positive for the cities getting the new residents, right now it is a benefit. You can read the whole thing here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

We often write about local obsession with roads at the expense of history. We recently ran across an even more surprising example in the UK.  From the Guardian:

At stake is much that Tories are supposed to hold dear: the ancient fabric of the country; fiscal responsibility; Britain’s good name. Yet ministers seem content to sit on their hands. As a result, with the clock ticking down towards an October deadline, a grotesque act of vandalism threatens. We are facing a desecration: the desecration that is the Stonehenge road tunnel.

* * *

Shockingly, based on Highways England’s own figure, it will save just 4.8 seconds per mile on an average 100-mile journey. Adding to the sense of a white elephant on the rampage is evidence heard only last week from a hydrologist, warning that tunnelling through the rock risks seriously affecting the water table. The damage this would inflict on both the archaeology of the Stonehenge landscape and the broader ecology of south Wiltshire’s riverways will be fully known only when it is too late.

You can read the whole piece here.


And Finally

The Washington Post had a nice animation about autonomous vehicles, how they work, and some of the practical issues they have getting around.  If you are interested, you can see it here.

Roundup 9-6-2019

September 5, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— A Taxing Issue

— Another Taxing Issue

— More Taxing Issues

— Roundtable

— Scooters

Downtown – High Seasons

Westshore-ish – Change

Westshore-ish – Unambitious

Westshore – A Proposal

South Tampa – Starting

Port – Expansion

Economic Development – A Change

St. Pete – About Time

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Virgin Trains

— Another Possible Referendum

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

___________________________


Transportation


— A Taxing Issue

As the news about the County budget has made clear over the last few weeks (and before, really), after years (or decades) of poor planning and management (like routinely cutting taxes when there are outstanding needs) and kicking the can down the road, the County has many needs related to development and growth.  Among those needs are not just the huge transportation backlog and need for transportation alternatives, but also for proper emergency services to serve the population (things like fire stations). While the AFT referendum would fill a decent part of the transportation hole, it would not fill all the transportation needs, let alone the emergency service needs.  That leaves the present County Commission with a problem: either raise revenue to actually pay for what is needed or continue to be behind the needs.  One revenue suggestion was to increase the gas tax. But

Hillsborough County Commissioners won’t raise the county’s gas tax — at least not yet.

During a meeting Wednesday, the board voted to temporarily approve a 5 cent gas tax, which means the issue is still on the table but won’t go into effect.

The county already levies 6 cents allowable under state law, but has not adopted the 5 cent local option fuel tax. If adopted, the additional tax would create an estimated $20.6 million a year in additional county revenue for transportation projects.

So why did they take this path and not just raise the tax?

First, the issue requires a supermajority vote of the County Commission. As noted by Commissioner Pat Kemp, the votes just were not there.

If the issues had gone to a vote for approval, instead of temporary approval, it would have made it more difficult to bring back to a vote at a later time. The temporary approval allows the issue to come up again without too much bureaucratic hassle.

Second, some commissioners were concerned about timing. Hillsborough County residents are already paying a 1 percent sales surtax for transportation and transit enhancements in Hillsborough County. Several residents showed up at the meeting to lament they were already being taxed enough for transportation.

Setting aside that we do not yet know if the AFT referendum will stand, they may not want to pay more taxes (we do not either), but the revenue does not meet the needs.  Still, raising taxes is always fraught, and the gas tax more so because:

Commissioner Board Chair Les Miller agreed, noting he had received numerous emails opposing the proposed tax increase.

In addition to opposing more taxes in general, others lamented the tax would be regressive, meaning it would disproportionately affect low-income residents who could least afford to absorb the additional tax. 

Gas tax, which is really a form of sales tax, is to a large degree regressive.  On the other hand, it is a user tax and, arguably, if there are more transportation alternatives, people can avoid paying it by using those alternatives (cheaper transportation also goes to making housing more affordable).

In short, we recognize that if you want something, you have to pay for it. We also recognize that for years the County has underinvested while cutting taxes, failing to collect proper impact fees, and wasting money subsidizing the exact pattern of development that has contributed disproportionately to the deficit and needs we now have.  And, to a large degree, we agree with this from URBN Tampa Bay:

We liked Commissioner Overman’s take in support of raising the gas tax sooner rather than later, which was not covered in this article… Generally, her point was that the gas tax and AfT are two independent sources of transportation funding, and that AfT is just another piece of the county’s transportation funding pie, and does not raise enough revenue to cover the county’s backlog of transportation needs on its own. The sooner the gas tax is passed and goes into effect, the sooner work can begin shortly thereafter on the acute roadway needs that are driving commuters nuts in places like south county and elsewhere.

This key point to us is acknowledging that AfT alone is not enough. It will help plenty, there’s no doubt about that, but it is not enough to backfill the huge hole in transportation funding that past irresponsible BOCCs have saddled today’s residents and this new majority on the BOCC with.

On the other hand, we do not really want to raise (and pay) more taxes, and we are concerned with the burden for lower income residents.  Consequently, we are open to raising the gas tax, though we think we should see what happens with the referendum first to see exactly how much new revenue will be needed to meet those needs (and what the effect of that tax burden will be).  In other words, be ready to act but see what the needs are.  Fixing the mistakes of the past will involve some pain, but the Commission should work to minimize the pain while still addressing the problem.


— Another Taxing Issue

There is another voice in the AFT suit:

The Florida House of Representatives is joining the fight over the future of Hillsborough’s transportation tax.

A lawyer for the chamber has filed a brief in support of a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the tax and is set to go before the Florida Supreme Court. House General Counsel Adam Tenanbaum asked the court to reverse a lower court ruling and eliminate the tax, along with the charter amendment that authorized it.

The argument, as explained in Florida Politics:

In the House brief siding with challengers, Tanenbaum argued the tax usurps legislative authority to oversee how sales surtax is levied.

“The House has an interest in preserving this legislative prerogative to strictly control non-ad valorem taxation,” Tanenbaum wrote. “Hillsborough County’s effort at levying a sales surtax without strictly complying with the Legislature’s requirements for doing so, and the trial court’s application of the severability doctrine to preserve a portion of an otherwise unconstitutional levy, threatens to diminish the Legislature’s exclusive constitutional power regarding non-ad valorem taxation.”

Tanenbaum also argued the All For Transportation referendum illegally included language directing specific uses for revenue, an authority that should be reserved for the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners or the Florida Legislature.

“In fact, for this particular surtax, the Legislature charges the county commission, and no other person or entity, to decide how the tax proceeds will be spent across several statutorily enumerated categories of transportation projects. The county’s failure to put a “clean” levy question to the voters renders the proposed surtax invalid,” he wrote.

And note:

While the brief is an official Florida House of Representatives action, it does not necessarily represent the opinions of the entire chamber. House Speaker Jose Oliva has the authority to direct staff action without putting such a matter to a vote among members of the House.

Once again, we are not going to get into the legal issues.  However, it is interesting that Broward passed a referendum.  Orange is considering a referendum (see below here).  There are other referendums in large counties.  (Meanwhile, the Legislature is passed the legislation on the roads to nowhere.) One has to wonder why residents of these big counties feel the need to pass local referendums.


— More Taxing Issues

Speaking of the AFT referendum:

Hillsborough County commissioners will do a first reading of an ordinance that would maintain the percentages and uses that the new transportation surtax would be applicable toward.

Commissioners will discuss the ordinance on Sept. 5.

The ordinance will approve percentages that a judge removed, All for Transportation organizer Christina Barker said. The draft ordinance doesn’t present any significant changes to the original charter. The percentages previously ruled out can be reinstated.

If the ordinance moves forward, it would require staff to schedule and advertise a public hearing for Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. to consider enacting an ordinance generally providing for the use, allocation and distribution of the proceeds of the sales surtax, according to county documents.

The Commission moved the ordinance forward, and there will be the public hearing.  That is as it should be.


— Roundtable

The Business Journal had an article regarding the comments of some local officials regarding transportation in this area. (See article here)  We are not going to get into all the comments.  Some are straight-forward enough.  However, some are worthy of comment.

First, the leader of TBARTA:

On ferry service: I’m a huge fan of ferry service. TBARTA’s mission revolves around mobility, reducing congestion, improving air quality. The Cross Bay Ferry service has been a success. [St. Pete Mayor Rick] Kriseman and the private partners in St. Pete have done a fantastic job.

As we have noted many times, including in the last few weeks, the Cross-Bay Ferry is a fun cruise that does not really do anything regarding congestion or providing a real transportation options.  It is fine as far as it goes, but it really is not a major regional issue.  We hope TBARTA is not spending much time on it and see no reason that the Cross-Bay Ferry should be an example for regional transportation planning.

From a Pasco County Commissioner:

On BRT and the region working together: It is important to the entire region. Pasco County is the fastest growing in the region. I’m very thankful Pasco County was invited because at one time that wasn’t the case. Let’s be honest, Pasco was a forgotten county for many years. What people are realizing again is the impact we have on the region. We have the largest skating rink in the southeastern U.S., we have an indoor recreation facility that will be focused on amateur sports. We are getting there. The challenge is there are so many agencies, committees moving this direction, that direction, no one is on the same page. Somehow, some way all these agencies need to get together because we’re not.

First, let us clarify the facts behind growth.  According to the latest Census Bureau figures, since 2010 Pasco County has added 74,927 people for a 16.1% growth rate (between 2017 and 2018 it added 14,609 for a 2.8% growth rate).  Between 2010 and 2018, Hillsborough County added 207,710 for a 16.9% growth rate (Between 2017 and 2018 it added 26,773 for a 1.9% growth rate).   So, in terms of one-year growth rate, Pasco County is the fastest growing county in the area.  By any other measure, including actual people, it is not.

Setting that aside for now, no, this area is not on the same page.  TBARTA is working on a “BRT” plan that events have overtaken (assuming the referendum is ruled valid) and that was never a good plan or even about actually being truly useful.  And Pasco is not on the same page as Hillsborough because Hillsborough is actively working to develop real transportation alternatives that can move people around the area while Pasco is focusing on sprawling development that makes having a useful transportation infrastructure more expensive and difficult.  Pasco is also blocking a needed east-west road in the north of the area, ignoring the needs of Pinellas and Hillsborough (as well as its own needs). That is their choice, but not cooperating then complaining about lack of cooperation, while common in many spheres, is not a road to solutions.

And, as for the “BRT” plan, it really only serves Pasco commuters and does nothing for Hillsborough residents other than using their money for something that does not help them.  As we have said many times, we have no problem with a reasonably priced express bus that would accomplish the same thing for much less cost.

While this area seems to have made some progress in understanding our issues, many of the ideas, and even attitudes, are still inadequate for where we need to be.


— Scooters

As regular readers will know, Tampa is in the middle of year-long pilot program regarding scooters.  One would expect that the safety of the scooters would be an issue of interest in the pilot program.  According to the Times,

As scooter trips grow to more than 250,000 in Tampa, so have concerns over safety.

Earlier this month, City Council members praised the city’s scooter program while at the same time peppering staff for injury data and safety concerns.

“It’s definitely fun when they go fast, but boy, I hit a bump and almost fell and bumped myself,” said City Council member John Dingfelder.

Transportation director Jean Duncan told the council that finding the data isn’t easy: “We don’t always know about those injuries — unless it’s something, of course, unfortunately very horrific.”

Others are finding a way. And data is beginning to trickle in for Tampa.

You can read the article (here) for details, but

Medical journals publish studies, local governments monitor headlines and scooter companies track their own data, but a centralized, comprehensive source of data on scooter injuries remains elusive. Instead, transportation officials are left cobbling together reports from a number of sources.

Unless a scooter accident involves a hospital or law enforcement, it’s difficult to find records.

Yet,

The city’s transportation department hopes to get preliminary accident data around the end of the scooter pilot program in May, from emergency rooms, the police department and the scooter companies themselves, Duncan said.

Tampa is working with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and a formal report is expected around July, said center Prof. Yu Zhang.

The center is also evaluating the scooter program overall, assessing the frequency, severity and causes of scooter collisions, as well as the percentage of vehicles illegally parked and the program’s economic and environmental impact.

While that sounds good

Still, the city isn’t taking advantage of information on complaints and injuries from the four competing vendors — Bird, Lime, Jump and Spin — even though its operating agreement allows it to.

City bicycle and pedestrian engineer Calvin Thornton said that level of detail is not necessary.

However, the city does ask for information on usage, performance and ridership.

We are not saying that the accident rate is too high because we do not know the accident rate.  And we are not saying finding that rate is easy to do, but there should be a specific method of collecting safety data. Without accurate information how will the City know if the program is safe and/or if there should be tweaks to it?  Accurate safety numbers should be among the most important part of a pilot program.


Downtown – High Seasons

The Seasons Apartments and Suites proposal on Whiting have received FAA approval.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The multi-tower project proposed for 601 and 602 Whiting in Downtown Tampa has received approval from the FAA for its height.

The project features 541 residential units, 10,520 square feet of restaurant space, and 1,137 square feet of retail space.

The yellow tower tops out at 41 floors and 476 feet, meaning it would be the 5th tallest building in Tampa if it was built today. The blue tower tops out at 27 floors and 325 feet.

The project is designed by famed architect Helmut Jahn.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook post

While we harbor some doubts about this project, it is interesting that it is moving along in the approval process. We will see what happens.


Westshore-ish – Change

There were some Midtown changes this week.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

Here’s an update on Block H of Midtown Tampa. Originally proposed as a movie theater, it will now be an office and retail building called The Loft at Midtown.

The building will include 51,982 square feet of office space and 23,521 square feet of retail space.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook post

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook post

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook post

We are not really surprised that the movie theaters got eliminated.  As for the building itself, it seems OK.  At least there is nice sidewalk, protection for pedestrians, and activity area on Himes. We are not really sure about putting the trash/loading dock right next to the building lobby, but it will have to go somewhere.  If the entire bottom floor is retail, it is going to be around something (but maybe it should not be the lobby).

It is hard to get really excited about a 3-story building.  As we said, we like the treatment of the connection with the outside world.  Hopefully this change is a sign that the developer will be working to make better connections at other parts of the project.  It has always been a weak spot.


Westshore-ish – Unambitious

Sticking with the Westshore area, when we noticed Jerry Ulm Dodge building a new facility next to the present facility at Columbus and Dale Mabry, we were hoping for something substantial going in at that very busy corner.  We did not know what was planned, but the potential for redevelopment of the old lot was very high.  Well,

Rooms to Go could be leaving its location at Walters Crossing in Tampa to move less than a mile down the street to a prime corner of North Dale Mabry Highway.

A major redevelopment of the Jerry Ulm car dealership property, on the southwest corner of Columbus Drive and Dale Mabry, would build a 52,191-square-feet Rooms to Go close to the hard corner of those two roads, according to rezoning plans filed with the city.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Needless to say, that is not what we had in mind.  While the building would sort of go to the street (at least there would be no parking lot in the front), that is not the kind of development that could really activate that lot. Sure, there is a shopping center across Dale Mabry and it will be right next to a car dealership (or two), but we were really hoping for something a bit more substantial at one of the gateways to Westshore.


Westshore – A Proposal

There is a new proposal for an office building in Westshore.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

A large mixed-use project has been proposed for the Westshore District. Highwood Properties is proposing a mixed-use project at 4600 West Cypress called Westshore Square. The project would tear down the existing 5-story Bank of Tampa office building.

The project is 10 stories and is primarily an office building with 230,000 square feet. The project also includes 15,000 square feet of restaurant space, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a 5,000 square foot bank, 5,000 square feet of adult education, and 926 parking spaces.

There is 50,000 square feet of “mixed-use space” on the top of parking garage, facing i-275.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

First, the good.  The building is built to the street and seems to want to activate the sidewalk. Moreover, there are a mix of uses (though we are not sure adult education is really that different from office), and we are not sure about the mixed-use space over the garage.  It also appears that there may be retail space at the base of the garage along the Trask side.

On the other hand, we are not sure they really need a bank drive-through going through the garage, and we are not sure that helps with circulation of either people or vehicles.  Moreover, while they seem to be planning fewer spaces than required (site plan indicated 1029 required – a huge amount – and 926 provided), the garage also seems a bit bland, especially given how it appears to hulk over the interstate, which is not the most attractive feature.

From what we have seen so far, at least how it deals with the street, the building is not bad.  At least it recognizes the theoretical possibility that someone might walk, and that is an improvement over many prior Westshore buildings.  They just need to do some work on the parking garage.


South Tampa – Starting

Work has started on the first condo building at the Westshore Marina District:

Site work is underway on Marina Pointe, the piece of land that juts out into the land that will eventually be home to three condo towers within the Westshore Marina District. BTI Partners, the master developer of the district, is also developing the three condo towers.

The deepwater marina, a key selling point for the condo towers, is also under construction. The first tower is slated for completion in early 2021.

* * *

The first tower, with 120 units in 16 stories, is about a third pre-sold, said Brian Van Slyke, executive vice president overseeing Florida’s West Coast for Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners.

BTI has yet to finalize a deal with a general contractor for the vertical construction, Van Slyke said.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As far as we are concerned, the condo buildings are the heart and by far the more interesting part of the Westshore Marina District. We are glad they started work and hope the construction moves forward smoothly.  We will also have to see about this:

All three towers are of similar size and architecture, Van Slyke said, though the final unit count for the second and third towers has yet to be finalized. The towers will be sold sequentially, and the second will break ground after the first is near completion.

“Ideally, the construction crews would never leave,” he said. “The towers have roughly a two-year construction cycle, and ideally we’d top out on the first tower and be poised to start tower two.”

That would be nice.


Port – Expansion

There was interesting news from the Port:

Port Tampa Bay has plans to build a new container and berth terminal at its Hooker’s Point property.

Currently, the property consists of Berths 212 and 213, which are used by COSCO, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA CGM. Berth 214 would be to the south of those berths, Port Tampa Bay Vice President of Business Development Wade Elliott told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

“The container business is very strong and the response from it has been seeing three new shipping services. We want to make sure we have the capacity to handle those services,” Elliott said.

He said it may take roughly two years to build out and cost $4.5 million. The end result would allow three ships to be docked simultaneously.

The port submitted a request for a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation for the new berth.

Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in support of funding the project, referred to as Project 214.

The Aug. 16 letter states that the MPO board supports Port Tampa Bay’s application for the port infrastructure development program grant for Project 214.

We are all for expanding container capacity and business.  The price in the report seems a little low, but if they can do it for that much, great.  We are also not sure if the expansion is contingent on Federal money.  We are all for having the Federal government pay for a portion (or all) of the work, but if the expansion is needed, it should be done, especially if that is all it costs.

In other, a little more ambiguous, Port news:

In three months this spring, Port Tampa Bay saw four members of its leadership team resign: two vice presidents (operations and finance) and two directors (information technology and public relations).

Normal turnover, port officials say.

But on their way out, two of those departing employees hinted or said outright they felt not all was well.

You can read the whole article here.

We do not know exactly what is going on.  It could be completely innocuous.  Nevertheless, it sounds a bit odd.  We are not going to draw any conclusions, but, if there are improper things going on, they need to be cleaned up.


Economic Development – A Change

Speaking of economic development, there was news in Tampa:

Bob McDonaugh, who had his hands on virtually every big project in town under former Mayor Bob Buckhorn, will retire Friday as Tampa’s top economic development official.

McDonaugh, who joined the city in 2008 under then-Mayor Pam Iorio, became the city’s economic development administrator under Buckhorn. In that position, he played key roles in the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, the renovation of the Armature Works, the expansion of the Riverwalk and talks about bringing the Tampa Bay Rays to the state’s third-largest city.

Change happens (especially with new administrations), and we are not going to get into the personnel issue.  What really caught our eye in the all the articles was this from the Business Journal:

“The city wouldn’t be what it is today without his expertise. There isn’t a project he hasn’t touched. No one had a bigger impact on brick and mortar in the city,” former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Wednesday morning.

The Times had a similar quote.  And to be honest, it very well may be accurate because, in the City for a number of administrations, it often appears as though economic development is focused on real estate development.  There are a number of reasons for that, including that is how the City gets much of its revenue.  And real estate is important (we talk about it a lot for economic as well as urban development and quality of life reasons – including attracting talent), but one would hope that economic development would go beyond that.  Of course, City economic development employees’ remit is given to them by their bosses, so what they touch and focus on is not necessarily within their control.

We hope going forward that the economic development director, while dealing with real estate, also goes beyond to all the other economic development issues (including lifting those people and areas at the lower end of the income spectrum).  We are all for building nice buildings (really, we are all for it), but we still maintain that, if you build business and the economy, the buildings will come (but the converse is not necessarily true).


St. Pete – About Time

St Pete is planning on honoring a little bit of history:

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council has approved the site for the Benoist Centennial Plaza planned for the new Pier District.

The plaza, which will include a monument to the world’s first airline, will be in the southwest corner of the Pelican parking lot. It is where the hangar for what was to be the inaugural flight of the world’s first commercial airline was located.

The plaza will feature a monument honoring the historic 1914 event, which drew more than 3,000 spectators to the downtown waterfront. Pilot Tony Jannus flew the Benoist Airboat on the St. Petersburg-Tampa roundtrip. His passenger was former Mayor Abe Pheil.

While being in the corner of a parking lot is not optimal, we get the location and hope the final product is better than that description.  And we are happy that there will be a physical monument to Jannus. We should honor our innovations.


Rays

Your Rays news is here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State


— Virgin Trains

Work is progressing on the Miami to Orlando section of the Virgin Trains line:

Drivers on the BeachLine Expressway between Orlando’s airport and Cocoa have begun to witness both a moment in history and one of the more unusual scenes in the nation – construction of an entirely new rail line.

The higher-speed Brightline passenger system, now transitioning to the name of Virgin Trains USA, is clearing shrub, forest and muck from a corridor just south of the BeachLine.

The more than 35 miles of new dual track – running east and west across Orange and Brevard counties – will require six, 10-hour workdays a week for nearly three years.

You can read more here. We are still waiting to hear if Virgin Trains will get an agreement with the state regarding the Orlando to Tampa segment.


— Another Possible Referendum

From Florida Politics:

Early in his new administration, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is gambling big, putting together a tax-and-spend proposal and asking residents two questions: Do you want to raise the sales tax by a penny to improve transportation? And what transportation projects need to be done?

The first question could sink the whole proposal. The second question could lead to broad community discussion about fundamental roads, buses, trains, bikeways, and trails plans that already have daunting challenges and could be radically changed, regardless of what happens with the tax.

We will be interested to see how this idea develops in Orange County, especially in light of whatever happens with the AFT case. We will also be interested to see what happens to the Broward transportation surtax (see here) that passed last year and, as far as we know, has not been subjected to lawsuits . . . yet.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Speaking of referendums, Phoenix has been studied in this area quite a bit regarding how they got their initial light rail system built.  Recently, their expansion plan was put to the test.

For years, Phoenix’s public transportation plans have included a network of light rail lines connecting downtown to the suburbs, cutting air pollution and carbon emissions in a city dubbed the least sustainable in the US.

But as the city prepares to vote Tuesday on an expansion of its light rail system into a poorer, and more black and Hispanic, part of the city, the train is facing opposition from a group of business owners who fear they will lose customers. And they are receiving help from some eye-catching backers: activists affiliated with the Koch conservative network.

According to the language of the referendum, which the director of a Koch-funded political organization helped draft, not only will a vote against the expansion result in the cancellation of this particular line. It will also prohibit all future light rail construction in the city.

Moreover,

A broad coalition of companies, nonprofit organizations, individuals and political action committees has invested nearly one million dollars in the effort to preserve Phoenix’s long-planned light rail expansion, a sharp contrast with the small group of about 10 well-heeled individuals who have financed the effort to stop any future light rail projects.

You can read more about the effort here and here. The effort failed:

Voters in Phoenix have soundly rejected a proposal that would have halted the expansion of the city’s light rail system — a proposition that had the backing of dark money linked to the notorious anti-transit Koch brothers.

In a 62-to-38 percent vote, residents turned aside Proposition 105, which would have redirected a previously passed tax away from light rail towards other transportation improvements. It would also have required “terminating all construction, development, extension, and expansion of” light rail.

Do with it what you will.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Earlier this year, there was a lot of local news about We Work entering the market.  Just an update on the company from Bloomberg:

WeWork’s initial public offering won’t be quite the celebration the office-rental unicorn once foresaw.

The New York-based startup is considering seeking a valuation of about $20 billion to $30 billion in the IPO, people with knowledge of the matter said. The range could end up closer to $20 billion, said one of the people, which would be less than half the valuation it secured from its biggest backer just a few months ago.

The outlook for the public debut of WeWork, which has racked up billions of dollars in losses in recent years as the company funds grand ambitions, is cooling after the disappointments of other major IPOs this year such as Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. That could put pressure on WeWork, which has a mammoth credit line tied to the success of the IPO, as well as SoftBank Group Corp., which invested at a $47 billion valuation earlier this year.

You can read the article here.