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Roundup 4-7-2017

April 7, 2017

Contents

Transportation – All Over the Place

— What They Said (or Not)

— Dancing With Ferries

— One More Thing

Transportation – TBX-ing

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

Transportation – Makeover

Economic Development – VC

Channel District – Condos?

Bayshore – Condo Update

Transportation – Trail Blazing

________________________________

Transportation – All Over the Place

As usual, there was much transportation news this week.  We’ll start with more local happenings

— What They Said (or Not)

HART has been working on an update to its transit development plan.  As part of that they did a workshop presentation on Facebook.   And it is very interesting.

Transit Now Tampa Bay was kind enough to take screen shots some of it, including results of the 2015 Hillsborough County survey (they do not say it, but it seems to be basically the Go Hillsborough public outreach) regarding transportation priorities.  First, the overall map of the survey effort:

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not sure what the black dots denote (they seem to correlate with the outreach meeting locations which were often placed in location that were inconvenient to large swaths of the area they supposedly covered, but the list is no longer posted so we can’t be sure).  Whatever they are, they leave some big gaps on the map.  In any event, Transit Now Tampa Bay also posted the screenshots of results of the transportation priorities by locations (Note that on the map the West Tampa dot is actually in Town and Country.  The Central and East Tampa dot is in West Tampa. And the Thonotosassa dot is in the “Northwest” while the Northwest dot is in Thonotosassa though that probably does not make much of difference).:

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So what do we learn from all this?

In Tampa and the near County, transit improvements were either the top or near the top (even in Westchase/Town and Country/Carrollwood).  Even Plant City had a major desire for transit.  On the other hand, “Northwest” (Odessa/Keystone/Cheval) and Brandon/South County were more interested in roads.

Of course, that is not all that surprising because the near County is about the same density as the City of Tampa overall, though not necessarily specific neighborhoods in Tampa (see Town and Country, Carrollwood, even the core of Brandon, City of Tampa), with some being quite a bit higher, like Egypt Lake.

We could say that, given the foregoing, it is a bit odd that the Go Hillsborough plan, while increasing some buses including, for no apparent reason, to the South County, did not really address the desire for a real transportation/transit vision, especially in the western half of the County.  And we could say that it is even odder that when the County found $800 million over a number of years to spend, they chose to dedicate it all to roads – not even funding some extra transit in the areas that showed a definite desire for it.  But, sadly, from years of experience, that is exactly what we have come to expect.

— Dancing With Ferries

Which brings us to ferries. With the Cross Bay Ferry test showing improved performance (though still averaging just 258 people a day), there was more ferry news this week.

. . . Hillsborough County laid the groundwork Wednesday to make water transportation a permanent fixture in the Tampa Bay region.

Commissioners voted to keep in reserve $22 million from the BP oil spill settlement with the hope it could one day go toward expanded ferry service, including a route between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

However, commissioners also said getting there will require re-imagining a project that has stalled for years due to federal red tape, environmental concerns and lack of funding.

“For this project to materialize, to be successful, it must involve a public-private partnership,” County Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “The challenge in my mind is determining the best model.”

It always was a public-private partnership, but we’ll set that aside for now.  Earlier coverage in the week had this:

For several years, Hillsborough County has had a standing agreement with two companies, HMS Ferries and South Swell, to bring commuter ferries from south county to MacDill Air Force Base. But a mix of federal red tape, environmental concerns and lack of funding has stalled the project.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan wants the county to rework the agreement with the hopes of getting boats in the water sooner than later.

On top of that, Hagan is proposing the county build a marina or two using the $22 million it received two years ago in the BP oil spill settlement. The marina, or marinas, would service the ferries and also create a public space, boat slips and maybe waterfront space for businesses that can generate money for the county.

But the Commission did more:

On Wednesday, commissioners asked staffers to renegotiate that arrangement into a long-term deal of up to 20 years. In a new deal, the county also would like to see HMS Ferries and South Swell take on all the risk — and potential financial reward — of the entire project. In return, the county would write the companies a check, though it’s not clear for how much. The project was estimated to cost the county $25 million to $30 million.

“This would mean likely paying more up front but in doing so we can achieve a long-term agreement for 15 or 20 years,” Hagan said, “and we will not be responsible for all of the other issues associated with this project.”

Additionally, commissioners want a new deal to guarantee service from south county to Tampa as well as a route between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The current agreement says market demand would dictate whether those routes are offered. Many area leaders and ferry advocates believe that demand was demonstrated by the six-month ferry pilot program linking downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa that is scheduled to end April 30.

Which is all well and good, if you can get it.  But, even if they get a total rewrite of the proposal, it does not alleviate all the other issues.  And it is not at all clear that a deal can be struck for all those services. Plus:

Still, much remains up in the air. The county has set aside $750,000 for a study of the project that will, among other things, determine a viable launch site in south county. The Schultz Preserve is one potential location.

Tampa and St. Petersburg would have to agree to the terms of any deal that services their cities, and they would also likely have to contribute to the project. Hillsborough, Pinellas County, St. Petersburg and Tampa each put in $750,000 to the pilot program but it’s not clear that kind of rare regional cooperation could be replicated to support a more ambitious expansion.

Even if they received the go-ahead tomorrow, it will take three years before the boats are operating full time, said Ed Turanchik, who represents the two private companies.

In other words, there is a lot to do.

The first problem is that we do not know where these marinas will be, though from the ferry project location, presumably the marina(s) will just be another chunk of money for South County while neglecting the needs of the rest of the County (and, the comments of a certain commissioner near the end of this article notwithstanding, we doubt many, if any, in the north of the County has discussed them nor with they really benefit). Nor do we know what the marinas will really entail or if the previously stated Port and environmental concerns  can be taken care of.

The second problem is that it does not solve the supposed problem at the MacDill end.

The third problem is that it is not clear the ferry company will agree.

Other than that, we are fine with this general idea (we have no details). . . except, fourth, it still does nothing for transit on the ground which is where most people travel. It is also notable that South County, where the ferry will presumably go, has some of the least support for transit options, but the County still wants to put money for transit there before putting money where people really want it.  There is no mention of ferries to Town and Country.  Nothing to the biggest employment center – Westshore.  Obviously nothing to the USF region.  Really, nothing, unsurprisingly, for the areas that really want transit.

We have nothing against the MacDill ferry idea as a general concept though we understand that it is just a commuter tool to a limited location.  We have something against throwing money at roads then throwing a little money on the ferry without dealing with the big void in proper transit on land because, simply put, the vast majority of people in the area will not be served by any ferry service.  And even for those who want to use it, there would need to be very good transit connections to get them to a ferry.

It is also worth noting that:

Hagan recently joined a majority of commissioners in rejecting a proposal to fast-track the ferry project using money set aside for transportation needs. Instead, commissioners voted to plan, design and engineer the project and make a decision on how to pay for it later.

Now, it’s Hagan’s hope that the county and the private companies can come to a new agreement that pushes more of the risk — and potential reward — to the private sector. In return, the county would agree to a long-term deal, up to 20 years, and public subsidizes would be unlocked if certain conditions are met and milestones are reached.

Setting aside that the money referenced above was set aside for roads – not “transportation needs” in general, the County playing field project ($15 million) + Bass Pro Shops subsidy ($6 million or so) would pretty much cover the ferry cost.  Not to mention that most of the road maintenance in that money should have come from other fees, freeing money for transit.

As we have said, we have nothing against ferry service.  But it is not substitute for actually dealing overall transit with the problem the County Commission tries so hard to avoid dealing with.  We still need a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system – not a piecemeal approach done on the cheap that does not even address the biggest needs.  Sadly, the latter is what is what we have come to expect.

— One More Thing

Which brings us to a blog post by a local transportation activist.  We are not going to go through the whole thing but there is an interesting analysis of the economics and performance of a variety of local transit including the Cross Bay Ferry, the bus, the streetcar, and the downtowner. You can read it here.  After going through all the numbers, he concludes:

These are different services that provide for different uses and all have good reasons to be invested in the key questions is: what is your goal with your transportation dollars. Then measure your investment against that goal.

As long as Tampa Bay is looking for a silver bullet solution to all it’s goals it will bounce from train plan to bus plan to ferry plan to “AVs solving everything”— while actually solving almost nothing. We need a methodical approach that evaluates these tests and looks to build an actual transportation system on real metrics and concrete goals.

Then we need the political and community will to fund it. 

There may be some debate about the goals (and short term, medium term, and long term goals may be different though the County – and to a lesser degree even the City – does not seem to really have any specific goals except to be seen to do something), but we totally agree with the approach.

Transportation – TBX-ing

Now on to more state level issues.

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

A few weeks ago we discussed a proposed bill in the state house to limit express lanes and tolls. (see “Transportation – Another Interesting Bill” )  Last week, it had a vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, failing by a vote of 6 for and 8 opposed. (For vote details see pg 19 of this pdf.) The vote probably kills the bill and leaves the way open for the full TBX and its deleterious effects on the neighborhoods in central Tampa that are leading the way in becoming more walkable and urban.

Interestingly, one of the no votes was a state rep from a mostly South Tampa district.  (though the district does not include the neighborhoods that would be directly harmed by TBX. ) What is odd is that this state rep is also a founder and Board President of a Walk Bike Tampa (not to be confused with Bike/Walk Tampa Bay  – these names are getting into Life of Brian territory):

Walk Bike Tampa was founded in the summer of 2015 by two residents of the City of Tampa, Hannah Strom and Jackie Toledo, who met at a local transportation meeting and shared their concerns for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Together, they decided that Tampa needed a citizens-based advocacy group focused on promoting connected bicycle routes, safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians throughout the city, and pedestrian-friendly streets.

They quickly discovered that there were many other people just as passionate about creating a safe Tampa. They also discovered that safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists was a community value shared across political, generational, and socioeconomic lines. Today, Walk Bike Tampa has an nine-person board and a very active executive committee that are working with other community groups and political leaders to make Tampa a walkable, bikeable, and livable city.

The co-founder of which gave a really good quote to the Times:

“When you design a system that is only focused on cars for generation after generation, people are really left to fend for themselves,” said Hannah Strom, who formed Walk Bike Tampa in September with local transportation engineer Jackie Toledo. The Tampa Bay area is the nation’s second-deadliest metro for pedestrians, she noted.

We support that quote and the stated goals of the organization.  And then there is this post on their Facebook page from March 24, 2017, linking apparently favorably to an article about LaCrosse, Wisconsin fighting a state highway plan.

We are not sure the reason for the state rep’s vote.  There may be good reasons for it.  We are not sure why she supports TBX, particularly the harmful aspects of it (this support for TBX of it was given before the Howard Frankland problem was fixed.

It seems to us that spending $6-9 billion on highway widening and express lanes that do not serve most people in the area (and that does not even reroute traffic from Pinellas out of central Tampa) and that is not part of a coordinated, systematic approach to a transportation infrastructure (which TBX clearly isn’t, especially since it was set in motion long before a the regional transportation/transit study even was proposed), not to mention harming rising urban neighborhoods, is perpetuating exactly the “system only focused on cars for generation after generation.”

We are open to hearing her reasoning on all this and how she reconciles these positions.

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

Speaking of TBX, ever since the Howard Frankland mess, FDOT has said it was going to reset the whole TBX effort.  It was not clear whether that meant redesigning it or just better public relations.  This week we learned a bit more:

The Florida Department of Transportation is hoping a trip to St. Louis can help revive its controversial plan to add toll lanes to nearly 100-miles of the Tampa Bay interstates.

The local DOT office will take a group of about 20 politicians, activists and business members to Missouri in April to learn more about how transportation planners and community members there came together and compromised on a highway construction project.

The rebuilding of Interstate 64 through St. Louis did not include adding toll lanes, but it did face significant opposition from the community — just like the Tampa Bay Express project has faced here.

“It started off probably not as well within the community as they would have liked, either,” Tampa Bay DOT secretary Paul Steinman said during a planning meeting for the trip last week. “They found ways to work with the community… and to compliment the neighborhoods surrounding those projects.”

Um, ok.  FDOT could easily compromise.  Local officials could actually learn what is in the plan.  We are not sure what the problem they think this trip will solve will be – maybe they should ride the St. Louis light rail while thinking about it. (And the local officials there can try to figure out how St. Louis managed to build a rail system that has parts in two states, when we can’t coordinate buses in two counties that used to be one).

A $12,500 federal grant will cover the cost of 10 citizens — including those who oppose TBX — to attend the two-day peer exchange April 11-12. Bay area politicians and business leaders, along with DOT, are paying their own way. State officials expect the trip to cost the agency just under $5,000 for its five representatives, including the local project lead, Bill Jones.

This trip is the main thrust of the “reset” of TBX that state leaders called for last December following more than a year of public outcry against the project that would have added managed toll lanes that could cost commuters up to $2 a mile. Building the new lanes would also have required bulldozing homes in minority neighborhoods around downtown Tampa.

The state also scrapped its plan to rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge in 2019 after the Tampa Bay Times reported that DOT’s plan would have added a toll lane but taken away a free lane, a tradeoff that surprised many local politicians.

“We’ve taken a step back as a department,” Steinman said. “We want to make sure we can move forward in such a way that we truly engage not only the folks in the downtown area but also in a regional manner.”

Other parts of the reset include redoing the environmental impact study for TBX and also paying for transit studies that will evaluate the downtown Tampa streetcar and other options such as rail lines and express bus.

To us, that sounds like repackaging what they have already proposed.  It might be worth considering changing the project to focus on the things that clearly need fixing (like why not do the bottleneck first) and dropping the silly elements, like the express lanes and the 18 lane wide sections.  It also might be worth having meeting with local officials to go over the plan mile by mile so they know what is in the plan.

We are all for people talking and we all for public outreach, but that involves being open to changes.  If FDOT is doing that, great.  If this is just an effort to repackage what they had before, they likely will get the same result.

And anything done to the interstates still needs to be part of a coordinated transportation plan that takes into account the area in 2017, not 1995, which TBX is not.

Transportation – Makeover

There was an article in the Times regarding a proposed makeover of Fowler Avenue (which is a mess).

If Mark Sharpe’s hopes are realized, Fowler Avenue will one day turn green.

Grassy medians and wider shoulders with lots of trees, buffered bike lanes and wider sidewalks for walkers and joggers would make over what he calls the “barren wasteland” of asphalt, the main thoroughfare through the 19-square-mile swath of North Tampa that Sharpe and his team want to revitalize.

An engineering firm has translated their vision into a design concept that has been shared with the Florida Department of Transportation, which would make the decision on any changes to the road.

When people drive along Fowler, Sharpe said, they’re headed toward one of the top research universities in the nation, the University of South Florida; one of the top cancer institutes in the world, Moffitt Cancer Center; one of the most recognized theme parks in the world, Busch Gardens; and the fourth busiest VA hospital in the nation.

“Fowler Avenue ought to be reflective of that. We see it as an innovation gateway.”

We are not sure what an innovation gateway is, but, yes, Fowler should be nicer.  So what is the idea?

In the concept design by Sam Schwartz Engineering, Fowler would be reduced from eight to six lanes between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and 56th Street, with space between the bike paths and travel lanes and wide shoulders to cut the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross Fowler.

Mid-block crossings would accommodate pedestrians in the busier sections, said Jeffrey Trim, project manager with the engineering firm.

Green space would be expanded and travel lanes narrowed to slow traffic. The sidewalks would be widened from 5 feet to 8 feet on the south side and 12 feet on the north side. The effort is to encourage more walkers, joggers, bike riders and public transportation users.

* * *

Within the next decade, Sharpe predicts, automated, driverless vehicles will carry paying customers along the public transit lanes.

It takes too much time and effort now for people who work in the area to leave their buildings, walk to their cars and drive somewhere to have lunch or run errands, Sharpe said.

A reconfigured Fowler Avenue and adequate public transit would free up people for short trips, making it easier to get to businesses along the route.

Aside from the midblock crossings, we have nothing against those general ideas as concepts.  However, everything is in the details. Here is a diagram from the Times article of what Fowler might look like between Bruce B Downs and 50th:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The first thing that has to be said is that when trying to fix Fowler, the Innovation Alliance is playing a weak hand. This is the area in question.  Basically nothing addresses the street or is anything but designed for cars – including USF. (Of course, the area farther west is even worse).  So all credit for trying to them for trying to make it better.  That being said, we have a few concerns.

Take the slowing of traffic.  We have said a number of times that road diets (we consider this a baby diet) are fine but need to be done after there are alternatives.  Otherwise, they just create a more congested road.  In the case of Fowler, no one in the foreseeable future is going to be walking to their destination, especially right around USF.  USF is not built that way (the core of the campus is in the middle of a former airfield – that does not encourage people walking to it) and nothing else in the area is built that way.  It is not like they are reconnecting an old urban neighborhood.

That may also explain why the sidewalks are around 250 feet from each other on the outside of what appears to be drainage ditches.  Nothing encourages walking more than having to cross a six lane road by walking 250 feet then walking next to drainage ditches. (Though at least the sidewalks are not right next to the road, like much of the area.)

We also found a presentation from the engineer from January (here). On page six, there are some renderings of the road and some diagrams that appear to show all the left turn lanes removed.  We get the aesthetics of narrowing the road and removing turn lanes.  We get that it makes it nicer for people to cross.  However, how exactly is that going to work around USF on a morning when classes are going?  Where are all the cars going to go?

It’s not that we wouldn’t like more transit.  Clearly we would.  But it is not there.  And even autonomous vehicles have to turn. (And, given the layout of USF and the area, it will take people pretty much just as long to walk to autonomous vehicles, get in traffic and go to any lunch spot as it would to get in their own cars, especially if someone is blocking the road trying to turn left.)

The bottom line is that we are all for making the area around USF nicer.  We are all for alternative transportation and making it nicer for walking and biking.  But changes need to be practical, too.  The biggest thing holding a redesign of Fowler around USF back is the layout of USF and the fact that everything in the area has riffed off of USF’s car-centric design.

We do not want to say nothing can be done, because it can.  And we do not want to put down the effort to make the area better.  We are all for it.  And we know the Innovation Alliance leader is working hard on some large issues. Making Fowler a little nicer to experience is good, but we are not sure how the proposed road changes will substantially change the core issues which made the road that way in the first place.

If you want to have your say, there is a workshop on April 12 at MOSI from 5:30 to 7:30. (See the announcement here)

Economic Development – VC

It’s time to check in with venture capital spending.  From the Times:

The Tampa Bay metro market was home to 14 venture capital deals worth a combined $54.6 million, part of a VC funding effort statewide that backed 63 deals totaling $244.2 million in the first quarter of 2017.

The deals and the funding amounts continue to typify Florida and Tampa Bay’s modest standing in venture capital activity in the country. Led by $8.3 billion in quarterly venture capital funding in California — the VC epicenter of this country and planet — Florida ranked 11th among states in total venture capital funding. And Tampa Bay landed at No. 20 among major metro areas based on VC funding amounts.

Or from the Business Journal:

There were 14 venture capital deals in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area in the first quarter of 2017.

That made the Tampa metro the 24th most active metropolitan area for venture deals in the first three months of the year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

We are not sure why they have different local rankings from the same report, but it really doesn’t matter. Back to the Times:

To appreciate the profound difference in funding scale, the San Francisco metro area alone attracted $5.1 billion in the first quarter. That’s about 20 times the size of funding received in all Florida deals in the quarter. And it’s nearly 95 times the size of Tampa Bay’s funding in the first three months of this year, according to fresh data released Tuesday by Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.

Roughly calculated, we got about .3% of all VC for an area with about .9% of the US population.  Not great, but it is an improvement. You can get the report here.   We’ll see if it maintains, gets better or goes back down.

Channel District – Condos?

There was a subscription only article in the Business Journal regarding the developer of Grand Central and Channel Club.   They had previous proposed a 33-story condo building, Del Villar, before the recession (like Channel Club).  Nothing came of it.  It seems they may be considering a new condo project for the same location. From the Downtown Partnership website:

The neighborhood has come so far, Stoltenberg said, that Mercury Advisors is considering another condominium project, on land that the group has owned since 2006, at Channelside Drive and East Whiting Street. It would be a boutique project, with 61 units priced between $750,000 and $1.3 million.

From the developer website:

Rezoning approval has been obtained for this residential condominium tower in the Channel District. The complex is located in close proximity to the Florida Aquarium and the redevelopment area’s proposed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and the Tampa Port Authority. These redevelopments will lead to two billion dollar investment in the area with parks, entertainment and work and live space. 

Currently the project is undergoing final revisions and the goal is to start pre-sales on this residential condominium complex in the second quarter of 2017.

This is what the old design looked like:

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

The apartment market in the Channel District appears to be strong for now, but there hasn’t been a condo project in a while.  It will be interesting to see how strong the market for that is.

Bayshore – Condo Update

Speaking of condos, in the more mature Bayshore market, it seems pre-sales for the Virage are going well.

More than 50 percent of the condominiums in the luxury tower planned on the former Colonnade restaurant have been reserved — though the developers are only launching a formal sales center this week.

Ascentia Development Group, which will build Virage Bayshore in a joint venture with Batson-Cook Development Co., said Wednesday that deposits have been accepted on more than half of the 71 units in the 24-story tower. An exact number of reserved units was not disclosed.

Which is good.

Jay Tallman, principal with ADG, previously told the Tampa Bay Business Journal that construction could begin with as little as 30 percent of the units sold. A spokesman said Wednesday that the project will likely begin construction in early autumn.

We look forward to it.

Transportation – Trail Blazing

There was an interesting report on abcactionnews.com regarding a proposed trail link around Dale Mabry:

Plans are underway to find a better, safer way to cross Dale Mabry Highway and close what transportation leaders are calling a critical gap in the Regional Trail System.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Commission is working to find a feasible, safe pedestrian and bicycle trail crossing at Dale Mabry Highway.

They are talking about possibly putting in a major pedestrian trail crossover near Dale Mabry and I-275. This would allow pedestrians and bicyclists to go right over the six-lane highway.

Currently, the trail is located on the south side of I-275 and now terminates at Church Street.

* * *

Right now, the Courtney Campbell trail from Safety Harbor allows a pedestrian traveler to find their way to the Cypress Point Park. Through the park, a trail is being constructed to connect to Westshore Blvd. There is a gap between Westshore and Lois Ave at this time, but there are plans for a connection.

Creating a crossover could help one day connect the Pinellas County trail via the Courtney Campbell Trail to downtown Tampa and beyond to Manatee county, which is one possible destination.

Once the MPO has assessed if and where a Dale Mabry Crossing is feasible, they said they will engage in community dialogue to get feedback on the route and assess how the other planning and implementation projects are or will be supporting the goal of a connected trail system.

We definitely support the creation of a trail system and Dale Mabry is definitely an impediment to any surface trail.  A bridge over Dale Mabry is probably going to be kind of hot most of the year (though not much hotter than crossing the Courtney Campbell trail).  And the connections to any trail at this junction is a little complicated.  Helpfully, the MPO has posted a preliminary overview of their ideas here.

The one key element to having a useful trail is to keep it out of traffic and in its own right of way on either side of Dale Mabry.  Having a nice bridge that leads to having to bike in the street would not be very useful.

There is another thought, though it is not determinative.  The MPO document considers a crossing both north and south of I-275 at Dale Mabry.  While the bridge is going to be hot, it may make sense to keep the trail north of I-275 as much as possible to shield people from the sun at least part of the year.  And, of course, we don’t want to hear that the trail is contingent on TBX.  It shouldn’t be.

We look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Roundup 3-31-2017

March 31, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Yes, But

— Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

— Nothing to See Here

— Conclusion

Planning – Where’s the Money

Rays – Making Statements

Downtown/Channel District – More Buying

Channel District – Another Buy

Ybor City – Project List

West Tampa – Demolition

Transportation – Brightline Happenings

Transportation – What Is Transit Worth in Home Prices

An Urbanism Tool

Just Because We Can

__________________________________

Transportation – Yes, But

As regular readers will know, the Tampa Bay Partnership has started a concerted public relations campaign to merge the local MPO’s and get a unified transit authority, two things we actually support in general (We reserve the right to point out issues in the details).  Coincidentally, the Times ran a couple of articles about transportation funding from the state.

— Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

The first article discussed how the Tampa Bay area has a poor recent record of getting money from the state for transportation:

Tampa Bay leaders aren’t shy about proclaiming the need for more transportation dollars.

There’s $1.2 billion of unfunded road projects in Pinellas County. That number climbs to more than $4 billion in Hillsborough.

Cash-starved transit agencies in both counties spend less per resident than counterparts almost anywhere else nationwide.

Local officials have considered everything from raising the sales tax to using BP oil spill settlement money to plug Tampa Bay’s growing transportation gap. Yet as they’ve scrambled to fill the void, Tampa Bay’s state lawmakers have taken a pass.

Those extra buses this region sorely needs? No House or Senate member has asked for them. The expensive widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Brandon? Not on the list.

Legislators around the state asked for more than $700 million in transportation projects next year. The state’s two biggest counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, together asked for about $50 million.

But legislators in Pinellas asked for a paltry $6.2 million. In Hills­borough, the state’s fourth most populated county, lawmakers managed to request only $1.9 million in transportation projects.

That seems pretty bad.  And there is more:

A review of recent state budgets found that Pinellas and Hills­borough receive tens of millions less for transportation each year than similar-sized counties.

Although the general appropriations bill doesn’t outline all of the state’s transportation spending (such as operating costs or projects that cost less than a million), it includes major projects requested by legislators and those included in the DOT work program. The bill provides a measure of how successful each county is at securing money for road, pedestrian and transit projects.

In 2015-2016, for instance, Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward, Citrus, Orange and Palm Beach counties all received at least $50 million more for roads and transit than Hillsborough County, which received $185 million from the state.

Pinellas was even worse off, getting about $142 million that year. That ranks closer to counties like St. Lucie, whose 286,000 population is about a quarter that of Pinellas.

Things improved for Pinellas this year when it landed a whopper: $330 million for Gateway Express. The project is an offshoot to Tampa Bay Express, the state’s controversial transportation plan to bring 100 miles of toll lanes to the region.

But for Hillsborough, the disparity with other regions grows over time. Over the last three years, Orange, Broward and Duval all received at least $500 million more than Hillsborough. Miami-Dade, which has double Hillsborough’s population, received nearly $2.5 billion from the state for transportation projects. Hillsborough netted just over $500 million.

That gap could widen even more because, as this year’s state budget requests show, other regions are pursuing dollars more aggressively than Hillsborough or Pinellas.

Setting aside Gateway Express (which, we are generally ok with except the express lane part), what is the problem?

“We have no vision,” said Senate Transportation Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “In Tampa Bay, we haven’t built that foundation yet.”

Setting aside that who exactly is included in the visionless “we” is not clear:

Several Tampa Bay officials blamed the region’s lack of unity for the inertia.

For instance, Pinellas and Hills­borough each have their own transit agencies, when most major metro areas have one.

See below regarding the fault there.  Moving on:

Tampa Bay is also dramatically different from other regions in the country, which tend to have only one Metropolitan Planning Organization (the entity that puts together transportation plans). This puts Tampa Bay at a competitive disadvantage, said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional group focused on economic development.

“You can see how fractured it is,” Homans said. “It’s incredibly inefficient.”

So as other regions have legislative delegations that work together for a common cause, Tampa Bay has a delegation of lawmakers who represent rival agencies. Homans said a DOT official told him that he finds himself acting as a referee trying to manage competing interests from each county.

“If there was one regional MPO, (DOT) could much easier take direction from that,” Homans said. “It would prioritize the regional projects and the big asks from Tampa Bay.”

Yes, having a unified MPO and transit agency could help (as long as it did not promote things like taking a free lane from the Howard Frankland Bridge to make it an express lane, like the Tampa Bay Partnership president supported).  But, really, that is not the issue in the article.  A fractured legislative delegation may make it harder to actually get the money, but, as noted above:

But legislators in Pinellas asked for a paltry $6.2 million. In Hills­borough, the state’s fourth most populated county, lawmakers managed to request only $1.9 million in transportation projects.

They did not even ask for their rival agencies.  You would think that with a fragmented approach without prioritizing the ask would be even bigger than a coordinated plan, not miniscule.

As for actually landing money, the fractured local politics is not helpful:

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, filed bills to transform the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into a regional transit entity that would coordinate plans across four counties.

“It helps if you have an organized agency,” Latvala said. “We get state money for HART and for PSTA, but it’s not a coordinated multi-county approach.”

Latvala has tried for years to change this by suggesting Hills­borough and Pinellas transit agencies merge. While Pinellas was receptive to the idea, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pushed back hard against Latvala.

Several transit lobbyists said that clash made it much more difficult for HART to get dollars for projects — including the regional bus ticketing system that the agency listed as its No. 1 legislative priority for three straight years. HART hoped the state would pay for about $6 million of the $12 million for the system. The Legislature shot down the request each time.

During that same period, lawmakers approved $9 million for express buses in Miami-Dade, $8 million for a streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale and $10 million for a bus transfer facility in Jacksonville.

Note, Duval County (Jacksonville) has fewer people than either Pinellas or Hillsborough, so a fragmented Bay area delegation that does not explain how other areas they got the money. (Especially with so many recent legislative leaders being from this area)  That is not absolving HART of behaving foolishly.  It is just pointing out a simple fact.

And, really, regarding landing money, there is no reason that the legislative delegation cannot ignore the bickering of local politicians and support funds for neighboring counties.  Legislators are not picked by local politicians.  Hillsborough legislators can vote for Pinellas projects and vice versa. (It’s not like Pinellas legislators don’t move around Hillsborough and vice versa.  They can see the problems.)  A unified legislative approach could be a model for local officials.

— Nothing to See Here

But setting all that aside, the Times then ran another article where various people tell us why the legislators do not ask for more, such as it is FDOT’s fault:

There are two paths toward earning state dollars for transportation: landing a spot in the DOT five-year work program or asking a legislator to place a line-item in the budget. A recent Tampa Bay Times review found that Pinellas and Hillsborough county lawmakers asked for far fewer line-items for transportation this year than their colleagues in other major counties.

One reason, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said, is that DOT officials make it clear they prefer local transportation planners to work through the agency process already in place.

The work program uses plans from county- and region-wide transportation planning groups to build a cohesive, five-year funding plan. Requests by state lawmakers for one-year allocations could be seen as circumventing that process, Kriseman said.

“You don’t want to do something that they perceive as going behind their back,” Kriseman said.

There is a perception within the agency that legislative project requests could affect the amount of money allocated for DOT, Kriseman said. Because of that, local and state politicians are encouraged to use the system already in place.

We’re not going to defend most of FDOT’s decision-making, but wait, there’s more:

But while some local leaders point to Tampa Bay’s fragmented region as a reason why senators and representatives aren’t making these asks, [Pinellas MPO executive director Whit] Blanton said there are identified priorities, both on a county and regional level, for which lawmakers can advocate.

For instance, a group comprised of MPO leaders from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco put together and adopted a list of regional transportation priorities for this legislative session. That list of preferred projects exists, but it’s up to someone to advocate for it, he said.

“We have a cultural, fragmented mindset we’ve got to overcome,” Blanton said. “And it’s certainly so much more than how many MPOS are in our region.”

Yes, we do have a fragmented mindset, but coming up with a common list is not fragmented. In fact, that is essentially what a unified MPO would do anyway.  And it removes the excuse of fragmented priorities.  And there is this:

County Administrator Mike Merrill said it is difficult for legislators to ask for state money when there aren’t any local dollars available to match.

“To put a legislator in a position of just saying, ‘give us $15 million,’ but not having anything to put up with it is probably not a good idea,” he said. “Once we can show that we have plan and it has a long-term funding source, then I think we’re in a better position to make a big ask.

Which is fine except the County found $800 million for road work this year.  How does that explain the minimal requests?  And even more:

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, said she wanted to make more transportation asks — she requested $500,000 for Hillsborough’s transit agency — but she needed the county or city to recommend a project.

Toledo said she called Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office asking if they had any requests. His office provided information for a stormwater drainage project, which Toledo did ask for, but nothing for transportation, she said.

“As much as I want to do these transportation improvements, I can’t just invent them,” she said. “It’s something I have to get from the city or county, so I can then go through the appropriations process.”

Tampa certainly needs money to do stormwater improvements, but that is not transportation money. She didn’t even ask the County, which apparently did not ask her for anything either.

To summarize: it is FDOT’s fault; it is the legislators’ fault; and it is local officials’ fault. Apparently, there is blame to go around.  Even without formal structures, local officials can work together to develop lists of needs.  Legislators can advocate, cooperate, and vote for them.  (FDOT can deal or have its funding threatened by the legislature. It sure moved fast when locals officials and a legislator complained about the Howard Frankland.  If the Governor vetoes the money, so be it.  That is on the Governor.  He could veto regional requests, too.)

— Conclusion

So, yes, we support a regional approach (as long as it does not ignore neighborhoods and the average residents).  We favor regional transit.  We favor regional planning and a unified approach. We even favor merging transit agencies.  But 1) if local officials and legislators cannot get together even when there are lists of common priorities and needs and cannot work for the region overall when needs are obvious and 2) if the local officials and legislators have not figured out yet that they cannot get the money they want without cooperating, we are not sure that simply rearranging the chairs and unifying the MPOs will really solve anything.

Fractures institutions may have exacerbated the problem, but a fractured mentality is the real cause. Before rearranging the institutions can really accomplish anything, we need to fix is the mentality that led to this situation in the first place.

Planning – Where’s the Money

The County Fire Chief brought up an old issue this week:

Hillsborough County needs 25 new fire stations in the next 25 years to keep up with the thousands of people moving here each year, Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones told county commissioners Wednesday.

The county is already failing to meet emergency response benchmarks, Jones warned, and it will only get worse as Hillsborough grapples with one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. A new fire station hasn’t opened in a decade, though one is expected to go online in FishHawk later this year.

“We have an urgent need for more fire stations,” Jones said.

Rescue personnel respond to an emergency in less than seven minutes about 55 percent of the time in urban and suburban areas, well short of the department’s goal of 90 percent.

Which is not good.  But, as we said, it is not new:

It’s not the first time a county fire study has sounded the siren. A 2003 master plan called for 32 new fire stations by 2015. Instead, the county built five to bring the total to 42.

There is particular need for investment in south county, Jones said, where there hasn’t been a new station south of Bloomingdale in 30 years.

The issue, of course, is money. Capital costs, meaning the expense of building the fire stations and buying the trucks to fill them, would require about $20 million a year through 2031. Staffing those new stations would increase the operational budget for Fire Rescue by more than $70 million a year once the proposal is fully realized.

What was the response?

Commissioner Ken Hagan said the plan was “extremely aggressive” and the county will have a difficult time weighing it against other county needs.

A parks master plan is also in the works, and the county’s court system also has millions of dollars in unfunded projects planned. As is always the case in Hillsborough, there are plenty of transportation needs that loom over any budget conversation, as well.

“Additional funding sources need to be considered,” Hagan said.

“I’ll be honest with you — I feel there is some that feel that we have unlimited revenue and that our budget decisions do not have consequences,” he added. “Sooner or later, we will have an economic downturn and our chickens will come home to roost.”

It would seem that those chickens have already come home.  There is the lack of proper impact fees, the subsidizing sprawl, the poor planning, and poor budgeting (plus paying for pet projects like $15 million for playing fields).  Maybe the needs exceed the revenue, but that was easily predictable while the County was spending years not funding nor planning to fund what was needed.

As we said, this need is not new.  The road needs are not new.  The need for parks is not new.  The fact that we have busy courts did not sneak up on anyone.  And remember, the County found $800 million to spend on roads for the next ten years.  While the fire department plan may be aggressive, clearly more needs to be done.  Most of the Commissioners have been on the Commission for a while.  Why has nothing been done?

Rays – Making Statements

With baseball season approaching, there was a flurry of news about the Rays stadium search.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg revealed some complications in his team’s search for a new stadium on Thursday, yet said he’s still confident they will find a new home in the Tampa Bay area.

What were the Rays’ top five choices for a new stadium — three in Tampa and two in St. Petersburg — are unavailable. That may push the team’s time line for finding a new site from August to the end of 2017.

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said before the Rays’ game at their spring training site in Port Charlotte. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4.”

* * *
“We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we’re working and trying to find out what will be next best.”

As a result, Sternberg said the team doesn’t know if it will find what he has previously described as a “pin-perfect” site. Later, he clarified his stance, saying he remained optimistic the team can find a stadium solution in the bay area.

So what are we talking about, exactly?

Four of the Rays’ top sites that are unavailable have long been the focus of speculation: the Heights, a 43-acre mixed-use project taking shape in downtown Tampa along a bend in the Hillsborough River; Jefferson High School in Tampa’s booming West Shore Business District; and two adjacent waterfront sites in downtown St. Petersburg, Albert Whitted Airport and Al Lang Stadium.

Sternberg confirmed those sites and mentioned a fifth that hasn’t been discussed before: the Tampa Tribune‘s old headquarters along the Hillsborough River, which is being demolished to make way for an eight-story apartment complex. The 4.2 acre site sold in 2015 for $17.8 million, and the Rays would have needed to assemble more land to build a stadium along that part of the river.

What was the problem with those locations?

There are all sorts of reasons why the first four sites wouldn’t and couldn’t work: The Heights’ owners were never interested in a baseball stadium; Jefferson High is a nonstarter because of neighborhood and political opposition; St. Petersburg residents voted to keep the airport at Albert Whitted in 2003; and the Rays’ 2008 proposal to build a new stadium at the Al Lang site was met with stiff opposition. Al Lang is also now being looked at as a Major League Soccer venue.

Hagan said Rays executives approached the owners of the Heights site about a year ago. But by that time, their plans to develop a 2.16 million square-foot development of office, residential and retail space had already coalesced. Heights developer Adam Harden has said repeatedly that his company did not consider making room for a potential Rays ballpark.

“A baseball stadium has never been in our plans,” he texted.

And that is fine with us.  The Heights location, while being on the water, is not really a good spot to bring in large crowds.  The highway access is not good and there is a real residential neighborhood right there.  Jefferson was clearly problematic.  And the Tribune land, while probably having a cool outfield view, is really tight.  So what is left in Tampa?

So what’s left for the Rays to choose from in Tampa? There’s the Tampa Park Apartments between downtown and Ybor City. There are more problematic sites far from downtown such as the Florida State Fairgrounds and the Tampa Greyhound Track. 

Coincidentally, the Tampa Bay Apartments is still our favorite site (aside from somewhere near the Amalie arena).  It would help connect downtown and Ybor City and give patrons something to do before and after the games if they want (and relatively convenient parking garages).  It is near the streetcar, whatever becomes of that, which also helps with access, parking, and pre/post game entertainment issues.  It will help redevelop the area.  And the site has decent access from both the interstates and the Selmon, as well as some surface roads

The one downside of the site is that open air or retractable roof stadiums tend, for baseball reasons, to have the batters looking east, which means the view looking towards the outfield will not include downtown, but that is a small thing.

Of course, even if a site is chosen, there still is the issue of paying for it and the stadium.

Downtown/Channel District – More Buying

SPP, the Lightning owners company bought more land last week.

Strategic Property Partners has acquired more property in Tampa’s urban core, including an events venue where the developer will move its offices and launch a marketing center for its project.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, said Friday that it has closed on the 20,000-square-foot District 3 building at 802 E. Whiting St. as well as an adjacent 12,000-square-foot office building at 817 E. Washington St.

* * *

SPP will vacate its offices in Channelside Bay Plaza to move into the District 3 building in early 2018. The tenant in 817 E. Washington will remain.

Which is interesting, but more interesting is this:

The first phase of SPP’s development will include a full-service grocer, a boutique hotel, corporate office space and residential units. Ferg’s Channelside will be demolished to make way for a boutique office building. . .

“As we prepare for construction to begin on our phase 1 projects in 2018, our office space requirements have evolved, and our staff has grown,” SPP CEO James Nozar said in a statement. “The District 3 space is ideal for the collaborative work style that our staff enjoys, and with our high-quality design team onboard, we will breathe new life into this historic property.”

We have a general date when the main project will start.  This is the map included with the article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Interestingly, the map has residential where the USF Med School parking garage goes (plus a grocery store, though it is not clear what kind).  That did not show up in the USF Med School rendering.  It is not entirely clear if there will be residential there or, if there is, how it will relate to the large garage.  Apparently, we shall find out relatively soon.

Channel District – Another Buy

Another major downtown land owner bought some more land last week.

The twin brothers who own and operate 717 Parking Enterprises have added a historic warehouse in downtown Tampa’s Channel district to their growing real estate portfolio.

Jason and John Accardi said Thursday that they have closed on the warehouse at 223 N. 12th St., known as the Artists Unlimited Inc. building for when it served as a collaborative space for local artists. The warehouse is 26,000 square feet and the purchase includes an adjacent surface parking lot.

* * *

Jane Levin and Barry Hanerfeld from Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc. have been retained to market the space for lease to a “unique retail, office and or urban work space environment,” the Accardis said in a news release. The building has high ceilings and exposed brick walls throughout.

We hope that is actually the use, though we worry that the location it will be mostly used for surface parking, which, after all, is their main business.  We’ll just have to see about that, too.

Ybor City – Project List

The Times (on its Tribune website) had an article on one of the major developers involved in Ybor City.   While it was nice, we are not as interested in the personal profile part as the list they provided:

Projects of Quintela-Shaw partnership

And a couple of renderings that we have seen before, but still:

Casa Pedroso:

From TBO.com – click on picture for article

The Marti:

From TBO.com – click on picture for article

We like most of these projects and their attention to the feel of Ybor.  And all this activity is one more reason that the City should keep public land for future use.

West Tampa – Demolition

This week, the City started clearing some land which in the “West River” area.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped into a giant excavator Wednesday morning to take the first bite out of the Water and Wastewater Maintenance Yard on Rome Avenue in West Tampa.

The city is demolishing the structure at that site to make room portions of the $350 million West River redevelopment plan, which includes a massive rehab to parts of West Tampa along the Hillsborough River north of downtown.

You can see the property here.  As you can see, it is not waterfront, but near where there could be waterfront development.

Plans call for putting out a proposals request for developers to build on the N Rome Avenue property, which the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office estimates has a market value of $2.5 million. Buckhorn doesn’t know what he expects to get for the site, since the city has not yet done an appraisal. Invitations to bid will probably go out in a few months.

The land has good views of downtown, and Buckhorn expected the property would be well-suited for an apartment complex with six- to eight-story buildings.

* * *

The site is a designated “brownfield,” meaning it may have contamination that would need to be cleaned up. For now, the city will demolish nine buildings on the site but leave the asphalt in place. The eventual developer will be eligible for state tax credits and other incentives for doing the cleanup.

The reality is that we don’t really know what might go here.  While the North Boulevard Homes project has slowed down because the Housing Authority did not get a federal grant, there is a case to me made for waiting to put out the RFP on the Rome property until the North Boulevard Homes project moves farther forward for two reasons: first, with more development towards downtown in this area making it part of a redeveloped urban neighborhood, this land will be more valuable, and, second, we will likely get a better project in a developer area than an empty area with only the promise of future redevelopment nearby.  We know waiting is hard (we have long wanted to see this area redeveloped), but, in the long run, it may very well be the better thing to do.

Transportation – Brightline Happenings

Just last week, we discussed a statement from Brightline (formerly All Aboard Florida) that they are going to look at connecting to Tampa in their next stage. This week, there were a couple of relevant news items regarding.  First:

Grupo Mexico, a mining and rail conglomerate, is buying the Florida East Coast Railway Holdings Corp. for $2.1 billion under an agreement announced Tuesday.

However,

The sale of Jacksonville-based FEC Railway, which is owned by Fortress Investment Group, will have no impact on the company’s other holdings — including the Brightline passenger train operation in South Florida.

The investment group also owns Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company of All Aboard Florida, developer and owner of the Brightlight passenger train system being built from Miami to West Palm Beach and Orlando.

“The sale of the Florida East Coast Railway does not impact Brightline,” said a spokeswoman, AnneMarie Mathews. “Brightline is a separate company that has dual ownership of the corridor and the right to operate passenger service.”

Ok.

Meanwhile:

A bill that could have made bringing high-speed rail to Tampa more difficult died in the Florida Legislature Tuesday.

House Bill 269 would have increased state and local regulatory authority over high-speed rail, but was temporarily postponed in the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee. Tuesday was the subcommittee’s final meeting, which means the bill will not be heard again.

That is good to hear.

Transportation – What Is Transit Worth in Home Prices

There was an interesting item from Redfin regarding the effect on housing values of access to transit using the WalkScore transit score.

Homes with great transit access are extremely rare in U.S. cities. Less than one percent of homes that are listed for sale today are considered to be in a rider’s paradise (Transit Score of 90 and above). Yet in a survey of more than 1,300 people who bought a home last year, more than one in five said they wish they had paid more attention to the length of their commute from their new homes.To estimate how much transit access is worth when buying or selling a home, Redfin looked at the sale prices and Transit Score ratings of more than one million homes sold between January 2014 and April 2016 across 14 major metro areas.Here are the price premiums of one point of Transit Score on a home, grouped by metro area.

* * *

On average, across the 14 metros analyzed, one Transit Score point can increase the price of a home by $2,040. But the price premium varies widely from metro to metro. One point of Transit Score in Atlanta bumps up the price of a home over one full percentage point, or $1,901.

You can see the results in more detail on the website here.

An Urbanism Tool

We also ran across a very interesting tool from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Atlas of Re-Urbanism.

As the National Trust’s ReUrbanism initiative seeks to build the successful, inclusive, and resilient cities of tomorrow, the Atlas of ReUrbanism is a tool for urban leaders and advocates to better understand and leverage the opportunities that exist in American cities.

The Atlas of ReUrbanism takes the massive amount of data currently available about cities and makes it more accessible, allowing for the exploration and discovery of connections between older buildings and economic, demographic, environmental measures. Whether you’re an activist, journalist, developer, or resident, the Atlas of ReUrbanism contains detailed information about the businesses and residents, buildings and blocks that make cities work for everyone. 

It includes a large amount of information, including maps (see here):

The Atlas of ReUrbanism is an evolving and expanding tool, allowing users to explore the built environment of American cities, block by block. Using our maps, you can interact with data on your city’s built assets, and click to layer demographic, economic, and environmental data from the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, and more. The maps focus on the Character Score for buildings and blocks across 50 U.S. cities, as established in the Preservation Green Lab’s Older, Smaller, Better report. Individual building and block characteristics are also selectable and viewable.

So far they do not have maps of Florida cities, though those are apparently coming.  Nevertheless, the website is very interesting for those interested in such things.

Just Because We Can

Here is a recent picture of Aquatica on Bayshore:

(c) Tampasphere – Click on picture for larger version

 

Roundup 3-24-2017

March 24, 2017

Contents

Growing

Transportation – Survey City

— Streetcar Survey

— Some Questions

— Some Thoughts

— Bottom Line

— Regional Transportation Survey

— Conclusion

Transportation – More on Rearranging

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

Transportation – Ferry News

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

MacDill – The More the Merrier

Tampa Heights – Progress

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

_______________________

Growing

The Census released their 2016 population estimates on Thursday. For the first time, the Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metropolitan area is listed as having more than 3 million people, 3,032,171 to be exact.  Sarasota-Bradenton has 788,457 and Lakeland-Winter Haven has 666,149.

All the counties in the Tampa Bay area grew (Manatee 3.5%, Pasco 3%, Polk 2.66%, Hillsborough 2.16%, Hernando 2.5%, Sarasota 1.9%, with even Pinellas county growing by a respectable 1.3%).  Even with not the highest growth rate because of its size, Hillsborough County had the tenth largest actual increase in terms of numeric change among counties. (In Florida, only Orange County gained more people)

The Times crunched some other numbers:

South Florida grew by nearly 65,000 residents from births and migration, and its population stood at more than 6 million last year.

The Tampa area grew to 3 million residents last year, adding 61,000 residents through natural increases and migration. Orlando grew overall by nearly 60,000 residents and had a population of 2.4 million residents last year.

* * *

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said the Tampa area had the nation’s fourth-highest gain from people moving there last year. Some 58,000 new residents moved there.

South Florida had the nation’s seventh highest gain from migration, adding about 48,000 residents who moved there.

Orlando added nearly 47,000 residents through migration, placing it at No. 8.

Coincidentally, 3 million people was about the size of the Dallas-Ft. worth area when they began building their light rail system.  And it is far larger than other cities when they started theirs.

Transportation – Survey City

As anyone who follows such things knows, there are a general transit study and a streetcar study underway in our area.  As part of both studies, there are online surveys.  The one for the streetcar is here  and the regional transit study is here.

We are all for gathering public input and are all for participation in these surveys.  People should take them, but with the understanding that there are some issues. The overriding issue is whether they will produce truly useful information.

— Streetcar Survey

Let’s start with the streetcar survey.

— Some Questions

In it, you will be asked:

What is the biggest transportation challenge facing downtown and surrounding neighborhoods? *

Safety for pedestrians and cyclists

Traffic congestion

Walkability / ease of access between destinations

Cost of transit and other shared mobility services

Availability of transit options

Event related parking and traffic

Access to parking

You can only give one answer.  But there are multiple challenges facing downtown and they are interrelated.  Arguably lack of transit is the key to all that so you can put “availability of transit options.”  Fine.  But then you get to the meat of the survey, where coming up with a pat answer gets harder.  You have this:

What PRIMARY TRAVEL MARKETS should we focus for a streetcar mobility solution? *

Downtown residents

Transit-dependent people

Commuters to downtown jobs

Visitors to Ybor City

Patrons of cultural and entertainment venues

Convention attendees

Visitors from Tampa International Airport  

It asks for markets but only lets you choose one.  A rational system should serve more than one market (a well planned system would create opportunities for basically all those markets to use it) so how do you answer that?  And does limiting the answers give a real picture of what the respondents want?

Then, it gets to the real heart of the matter asking what kind of system you think the streetcar should be, giving you these choices:

Downtown Circulator

A downtown circulator service would be designed to connect housing, jobs, and shopping destinations, and provide a convenient alternative to driving for downtown residents and workers. Service within the downtown core and close-in neighborhoods would be frequent and would run from early morning through late evening.

* * *

Venue Connector

A venue connector service would be designed to directly link cultural, entertainment, and tourist destinations in Downtown and close in neighborhoods. The service would focus on serving the needs of visitors with stop locations close to key venues and service hours and frequency designed to service visitors and event patrons.

* * *

Subregional Link

A subregional link service would be designed to allow for future connections to activity centers in the City such as Westshore and Tampa International Airport. To serve a broader area and more distant destinations, such a service would have fewer stops downtown and faster travel speeds.

We get the distinction of a downtown circulator.  It does not help anyone get in and out of downtown, just around it.  Then you have venue connector.  A transportation system, including a downtown circulator, should connect to venues – it is just a matter of how many and which ones.  (Though clearly any system should not just be for visitors.  That is what we basically have now, and it does not work well.)  The circulator and venue ideas are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they complement each other.

And then there is the idea of a “subregional link.”  URBN Tampa Bay has this to say about subregional link option:

They don’t get into the specifics in the poll, but we have seen the proposal’s details elsewhere. This “subregional” concept would route the streetcar from downtown Tampa to the Westshore area, via the median of I-275 as part of the $9 billion TBX boondoggle FDOT is pushing, with no intermediate stops between downtown and Westshore.

In our opinion, this concept is a non-starter, as such an alignment is not designed to serve urban commuters moving within the urban core, but would instead turn the only piece of true urban mobility we have in Tampa, into another amenity designed to serve suburban commuters cutting across town. That’s flat out an unacceptable use of urban taxpayer’s money. Urban tax collections need to start benefiting urban residents. Period.

We do not know if that is the plan for subregional rail or not because the City has been lacking in providing information regarding the concept of the downtown-Westshore rail, including during the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process. (Though this presentation to the City Council does seem to indicate that at least the 275 median is a main consideration.)  Whatever they are considering, the survey should say it – clearly.

Anyway, digging around the streetcar study website, this is the closest we could find was from a page 81 of the pdf of a Presentation at the March 7, 2017 meeting:

From City of Tampa website – click on map for document

It is quite vague (and not included in the online survey) and includes no real route or stop options, though it implies, without clearly saying, that there is consideration for at least a stop at West Tampa. (And the graphic does show that the City priorities remain the same from the failed 2010 plan.)

— Some Thoughts

Because the subregional concept is not entirely clear and the survey does not allow for a detail discussion, this seems like as good a place as any to elaborate what we would consider a reasonable “subregional” concept.

The whole point of a transportation system is to transport people – from home to work, to events, to the airport (which is why the “venue” idea makes no sense – people rarely just travel from one venue to another).  A line as described by URBN Tampa Bay above would not do that. (And, if that is the plan, it would leave the “West River” redevelopment area without transit).

We are all for a line from downtown to Westshore/TIA, but any reasonably designed system that has any hope of improving transportation in central Tampa and eventually being expanded to form the spine of a larger system would have to have stops in between Westshore and downtown (and more than just one at West Tampa) to make it useful for urban residents as well as people coming from farther out. It should function more like light rail than a streetcar – with dedicated right of way, faster speed, and fewer stops (at least more distance between stops; the overall number might be the same or increase depending on length of the route) – but, again, with enough intermediate stops and stops near important locations and venues to make it actually useful for potential riders.

As for using the median of 275, that its own issues of making the stops attractive and easy enough to use to convince people to ride and promote development along the line. It is possible to use the median, but it would have to be done very carefully and not on the cheap.

In sum, we would support a properly designed true starter line (not just a City rail line) between downtown and Westshore/TIA.  It should be expandable into the County – especially the near County – and any rail should be relatively quick (far faster than the streetcar is now).  But it also needs to have useful stops and plan for the future when the central part of Tampa (which is Westshore to Ybor) gets denser.  And any system should be designed to be expanded.

— Bottom Line

All this highlights the problem with the survey as a whole – its vagueness.  It does not allow for full answers, it does not even ask full questions, and does not flesh out its concepts.  That vagueness leaves it unclear just what is being asked – and open to manipulation. And even if you argue that things will get fleshed out later, remember the early survey are used to limit later surveys, so inaccuracy early on jsut gets amplified.  Moreover, all of these things should have been discussed during or even before the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

So take that survey.  It is a way to provide input, and it is what we have. Just understand its flaws and don’t assume the results will adequately reflect the thoughts of the participants.

— Regional Transportation Survey

The Regional survey is a completely different animal.  It basically asks if you think there should be better transit and why in a one page survey.  Frankly, it is just an unscientific poll, the utility of which is questionable simply because it is so minimal.  On the other hand, the website for the study provides some interesting information, like the timeline.

From tbregionaltransit.com – click on chart for website

And a presentation for what the whole study is about.  And a summary of that:

The Regional Transit Feasibility Plan is underway. This effort will evaluate opportunities for premium transit within the urbanized areas of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties.

The purpose is to identify projects for the Tampa Bay region that have the greatest potential to be funded (compete for federal grants)and be implemented, are the most forward thinking and make the best use of today’s technology, and best serve our region today while supporting tomorrow’s growth.

Our region is growing, a trend that will continue in the years to come. We have an amazing system of roads with several projects planned and under consideration to ensure our world-class road system remains effective well into the future. While these projects will help, widening and improving our roads alone will not satisfy long-term needs brought on by our growing region. We need to look for complementary mobility options to connect our region and promote continued economic growth and job opportunities.

We would have rather not had so much hype and a little more focus on the point.  If we had such a great transportation infrastructure (like that “world-class road system” – which, no matter what it actually means, we don’t have), we wouldn’t need to study.

— Conclusion

So, by all means, do the surveys.  But remember that they ask your opinion of a limited number of options that are not really explained.

Transportation – More on Rearranging

A few weeks ago we discussed a legislative proposal to change TBARTA to make it a transit agency and reform its structure. (You can follow along with the legislative fun here)  That is moving forward.

A legislative measure aimed at restructuring the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to foster greater regional connectivity passed its first committee stop in the Florida House of Representatives Tuesday.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee voted 14-0 on the bill. The measure would change the “transportation” in TBARTA to “transit” and eliminate some local representation in favor of state appointees who represent the local business community.

* * *

The measure, which is also sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater,) amended language that would have limited city representation from the existing board.

The transit agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties would maintain a seat at the table. In the original bill the Florida Senate president and Speaker of the House would each appoint two members from the regional business community. The amendment reduces that to one each.

The amendment answers some criticism that ceding local control to appointed members could have reduced input from the urban centers that drive transportation decisions.

Looking at the amendment, it basically makes the Tampa and St. Pete Mayors board members (though not in so many words).   That is fine, even if it ignores that they have half representation as all the counties (2 seats to 4) while not representing the vast majority of even their own county populations.

More importantly, the amendment does not address our major question: why the appointed members should come from the “regional business community” or what that even means (which no one really knows because it is left undefined.)  For the sake of argument, if it means anyone with a job or who buys anything (a consumer is arguably part of the “regional business community”), it is superfluous language.  If it means anything else, as we noted previously, people other than the business community have an interest in transportation. Sure, business people will be on the board, but there has been no explanation or justification for limiting public membership to them (however they are eventually defined) or how other residents and their interests will be represented and protected.

And then there is this:

“This bill gives me pause,” Newton said, referring to the fact that Tampa Bay voters have rejected recent tax referendums on transit. “I don’t see how changing a board is going to do that.”

Which does raise a relevant point. The problem with transit in this area hasn’t really been mayors, other local officials, and the business community not working together. It is that they have not come up with a plan they could sell.  We still wonder how that will be addressed.

Which leads into this: the proposed structure risks adding to the impression, right or wrong, of many that whatever is proposed is a backroom deal between politicians and big business and help rally opposition. Adding some other voices will enhance the process and give it greater legitimacy.

The Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which appears to be the driving force behind the bill had this to say, among other things:

This legislation is a critical first step to creating a seamless regional transit system that successfully addresses these issues. We thank the sponsor, Rep. Dan Raulerson, and the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which includes Bay Area Legislative Delegation members Rep. Amber Mariano, Rep. Ralph Massullo, Rep. Wengay Newton and Rep. Jackie Toledo, for recognizing the importance of this bill and allowing it to move forward through the legislative process. Their actions today encouraged continued discussion and allow for future efforts to improve the bill. 

And that is positive.  We are all for getting TBARTA to be useful and having a regional approach to transit, but this bill needs some tweaking.  And, even with that, a rearranged TBARTA is just a preliminary step. The real issue of coming up with a plan that sells remains.

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Sunshine Citizens noted an interesting pair of bills floating around Tallahassee.

The “High-occupancy Toll Lanes and Express Lanes” bill is known as SB250 in the Florida Senate and HB777 in the State House. You can find your Senator and Representatives here: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find

This bill helps put an end to the addition of express toll lanes on our interstates throughout the state. And it ensures that all new toll roads will pay for themselves, repealing the tolls once the bond debt is paid off. We think this is a smart plan and ensures that we only plan and pay for infrastructure and roads that are truly needed.

You can find the bills here. Among other things, the bills provide:

High-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes may not be created on or after July 1, 2017. Upon elimination of the tolls on existing high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes pursuant to subsection (1), such lanes may continue to exist but not as high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes

The bill would put a crimp in the TBX plan, though we have no idea if it has a chance to pass and be signed.  We’ll see what happens.

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

There was news about more jobs in Tampa:

Biotechnology giant Amgen is opening a facility in Tampa this October with promises to create as many as 450 jobs here by 2018.

The facility will be primarily back-office operations spanning four floors of Corporate Center One in Tampa, which neighbors Tampa International Airport to the east.

Amgen, which is investing $25 million in the Tampa project, specializes in developing medicine for diseases with few treatment options. Their focus areas include: oncology and hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience. Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the company operates in nearly 100 countries with nearly 20,000 employees worldwide.

* * *

Amgen did not receive any tax incentives through the state job-creation agency Enterprise Florida, or any local incentives, economic development officials said. 

First, the jobs are definitely welcome.  We welcome all jobs.  We also find it interesting that there were no incentives.  That is also a positive, not for a political reason, but because it shows an ability to attract the jobs, though given our well-developed back-office history that is not so surprising.

The only thing is that, much as we are happy these jobs are coming, we would really like to have actual life sciences jobs in addition to back-office jobs. Then we will really be forming a biomed cluster.  Maybe the life science back office jobs will serve as a gateway to the heart of the business, but that remains to be seen.

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

There were a number of news items from the airport in the last few weeks.  First, adding to the accolades, the airport came in third in Money Magazine’s The 10 Best U.S. Airports for a Stress-Free Trip

Silver: Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Florida’s Tampa airport ranked highest for the ease of its security process in J.D. Power’s 2016 survey. That’s a particular achievement, considering that J.D. Power reported an 8% increase in the wait time travelers spent in security lines over the past year. Tampa owes its speed to a decentralized design with multiple security checkpoints. That gives travelers more time to explore the 45 shops and 34 restaurants, a dozen of which opened in the second half of 2016 alone. Southwest, a top MONEY airline, is Tampa’s largest carrier, serving about 35% of the airport’s passengers.

That pesky Portland airport came in first.  Salt Lake City came in second.  Speaking of Salt Lake City,

Delta Airlines is launching a new nonstop daily flight from Tampa International Airport to Salt Lake City starting Dec. 21. 

Cue the cool graphic:

Screengrab from a Tampa International Airport video – click on picture for tweet with the video

The nonstop daily year-round flights will begin Dec. 21 on a Boeing 737, departing for Salt Lake City at 7 a.m. and arriving at 9:41 a.m. Service from Salt Lake City to Tampa will depart at 5:15 p.m. and arrive at 11:41 p.m.

That is a good schedule.

TIA has been working on getting this nonstop route for about a year, Strickland said. The airport did a study and found that Salt Lake City, as a destination, suffered from an abnormally high amount of travelers diverting from Tampa and going to Orlando to get a nonstop flight to the Utah capital. 

This flight will help retain some of those lost passengers and develop more traffic.  As usual, we also like the airport’s methodical approach;

“We added Seattle and then San Francisco and now Salt Lake City,” Lopano said in a telephone interview. “It’s very difficult to get that first route, but once you start adding routes, people start noticing. Our strategy is working. Tampa just added three (Western) destinations. Airlines have taken notice of our growing market.”

Indeed, it seems they have:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Starting later this spring and summer, Frontier Airlines will launch seasonal service to five cities from Colorado Springs. . . Later this fall, Frontier will add new seasonal service to both Fort Myers and Tampa, Fla. Frontier is offering special introductory fares as low as $29* on these new routes as of today at Flyfrontier.com. 

Once again, the airport is showing why it gets so much love in this area.

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Recently, the rendering of the USF Med School was released.  For all their glitz, literally, renderings are nice but real details are nicer.  URBN Tampa Bay recently posted a first floor plan for the building.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can find a bigger version here.

The notable detail is the 14,000 sq. feet of retail facing Channelside and the plaza.  It is unclear what will go there (probably a restaurant in at least one space), but having this retail is a positive sign that the building will be integrated into the surrounding area and not be just a dead academic streetscape.

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

It seems that a hotel on Rocky Point is finally going to start construction.

A boutique hotel with a rooftop bar will celebrate its groundbreaking next week on the Rocky Point waterfront.

Current, which will be the Tampa Bay region’s third Autograph Collection by Marriott property, is a 180-room, nine-story hotel on the former Crawdaddy’s Restaurant property, which is currently used as the Rusty Pelican’s overflow parking. A groundbreaking ceremony is slated for March 30.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside the rendering trying to make a nine-story building look towering, the building looks fine and the rooftop bar should have great views.  We just wish that Rocky Point had been developed properly.  It has residential, office, and hotel (not to mention a great location), but they are built in such a way that it is very difficult to get around the island, certainly by walking or biking.  It could have been so much better.

Transportation – Ferry News

There was more news about the ferry ridership:

The Cross-Bay Ferry is now attracting enough riders to send money back to the local governments that helped finance the 6-month pilot project, said Ed Turanchik, a project advisor.

In just the last 40 days, Turanchik said in an email, more than $50,000 in operating revenue has been returned to the City of St. Petersburg, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and Pinellas County.

That’s because HMS Ferries is now covering its management costs, he said, which means money from ticket sales “reverses direction and start(s) going back to the four governments.”

The “switchover” moment happened in late January, and ticket sales are accelerating, Turanchik said. The ferry sold 2,000-plus tickets during the first week of March, with as many weekday tickets sold as weekend tickets.

Which is a good sign (though nowhere near the money that local governments paid for the test), though the increase in ridership is not surprising given it is tourist season and

After a bumpy start, the CrossBay Ferry linking the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa had a good month of February, helped by slashing weekday ticket prices in half.

A record 6,070 tickets were sold last month, a 57 percent increase from January. Ferry operators credit cutting the weekday one-way fare from $10 to $5 and also cutting by half a value package. 

As we have said many times, one of the problems with the test was the high fare, so cutting prices logically brought more ridership.  On the other hand, the whole purpose of a test is to find the sweet spot (if there is one) for the fare, so good for them for adjusting. Sadly, the trial is almost over.  We would really be interested to see how the ferry functions in the summer when it is hot and rainy.

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

The Housing Authority is caught in another muddle (in addition to the Tempo muddle and having to ditch the initial developer for redoing North Boulevard Homes):

The Housing Authority is being sued by a developer who agreed to a $7.4 million contract to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block as part of the Encore project on the northeast edge of downtown.

The Housing Authority in July terminated its contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings after giving it two years to close on the deal, officials said. The Tampa development firm, owned by Frank DeBose, had paid a $50,000 deposit for the land and subsequently paid $250,000 in additional deposits to extend the closing date.

In what may be a first step toward a damages claim, Pinnacle is suing the Housing Authority, saying it failed to fully comply with a public records request. It is seeking records that would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

From the Times – click on map for article

Of course, there is another side to the story:

Housing Authority officials said the contract with Pinnacle was terminated because the firm defaulted on a $10,000 deposit required for the most recent contract extension, which was signed in April. It was the 10th revision to the original contract. There was also doubt that Pinnacle was ever going to come through with the project.

That decision did not go for approval to the Housing Authority’s governing board because it was made by Central Park Development Group, a development entity composed of the Housing Authority and Banc of America Community Development Corp., said Leroy Moore, the agency’s chief operating officer.

“As we got longer and longer into the contract, we kept saying to them, ‘the extensions are going to stop,’ ” he said.

You can read the article here for all the details.   We are not going to judge any of this, because we have no basis to judge any of it.  At this point, it is just two stories being told.  The real question is whether the Housing Authority is going to sell the lots to Related and, even more importantly, why the Housing Authority seems to do everything the hard way.  With Encore now and the North Boulevard Homes on the horizon, we need the Housing Authority to focus on the actual projects not these kind of distractions.

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

We have often asked why the discussion regarding the Brightline (formerly All Aboard Florida) rail has been so muted here.  Frankly, we are still wondering, but there was a tidbit from Brightline itself which is intriguing.

Executives responsible for Florida’s Brightline passenger rail project say they’re open to taking passenger services to other U.S. markets that could “benefit from the type of service” Brightline offers. Tampa, Fla., is a definite.

The news comes as Florida East Coast Industries executives announced that they’ve hired a former Madison Square Garden and New York Mets executive, Dave Howard, as Brightline CEO. His job is to get the FEC subsidiary ready to start Miami-West Palm Beach passenger operations this summer. Current Brightline President Mike Reininger moves to a new position as Executive Director at FECI to concentrate on constructing the line to Orlando International Airport.

In a Trains News Wire interview with both men, Reininger made it clear that the reason for the reorganization now is that the parent company intends to expand and replicate Brightline’s passenger rail blueprint to other markets, starting with the next segment from Orlando’s airport to Tampa, Fla., while “Dave can keep his hand on the wheel of the operating company.”

“Tampa is Florida’s next largest population center. For years we’ve had an expression of interest from leaders in that marketplace who are more than a little interested in a connection into our service,” Reininger says, “So we will be able to research and apply ourselves to that opportunity for sure. And [Florida East Coast Railway] already controls the right-of-way into Jacksonville, so we will start to explore whether that is a feasible and reasonable alternative.”

The first thing to note is that they say Brightline will research the opportunity for connecting to Tampa.  There is no imminent plan, and there may never be one.  Second, it seems someone has been talking behind the scenes, though it is not clear who that was.  Regardless, if there is a statewide transportation network, we need to be connected.

And we’ll just toss this out: right now Brightline is connecting to Orlando’s airport, which is not really the best option for a connection from here to Orlando, though it is fine if you are going to Miami.  Moreover, where would the connection be in Tampa?  Would it be in the land that was to be for a high speed rail station?  Union Station, which is already built and has land around it that could be redeveloped?  Should it go all the way to the airport? What is best for the City and area? (If you look at page 25 of this consultant presentation to HART , at least one consultant thinks that the station will go where the flour mill in the Channel District now is, though we wonder if CSX would let a competitor use its rails or if the competitor would even want to.)  And, of course, none of locations have any connection to local transit – even the streetcar.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

MacDill – The More the Merrier

MacDill may be in line to get more tankers.

The Tampa Bay Times has learned that MacDill is one of two bases competing to host 12 more KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets and the estimated 400 personnel who come with them.

That is in addition to 16 Stratotankers already there and another eight set to begin arriving this year.

The Air Force is moving the planes to make room for newer KC-46A Pegasus tankers — part of a $50 billion program to replace the aging fleet of Stratotankers with 179 new planes by 2028.

The 12 Stratotankers will be coming from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. MacDill is competing with Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash., for the older jets.

The more activity at MacDill the better.  It is already an important base and more activity protects its status that much more.  The one thing we don’t get is this:

Twice, the Air Force has found MacDill unsuitable to house the new tankers.

If MacDill is good enough for the older tankers, we are not clear why it is isn’t good enough for the new ones?  We are happy to get the relocated Stratotankers and possibly some more, but we would be even happier to have the next generation.

Tampa Heights – Progress

And, just because we want to and it is a cool picture, here is the latest photo from The Heights, showing the Pearl under construction to the left.

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

One thing you can really see in this picture is just how much land they have to work with and just how transformative a full build out of the Heights project would be.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

Every now and then we come across something that we want to share but that does not really fit into a specific category.  Recently we ran across an interesting online library from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard called the Operational Excellence in Government.

The project seeks to promote government transformation through an open-access website outlining efficiency and cost savings examples. As a free resource, the Operational Excellence project eliminates common financial and functional barriers to attaining, analyzing, and implementing proven practices. The project positively impacts the ability of individual governments to share ideas and build momentum across jurisdictions to achieve operational goals.

By providing a free resource to inform and support government transformation, Operational Excellence in Government promotes the attainability of effective governance across all jurisdictions, ultimately leading to a more effective, efficient, and accountable government for all.

As the project develops we will populate the website with additional resources, case studies, and tools highlighting efficiency initiatives and successful government implementation projects.  

Basically, it is an online library of reports from various jurisdictions about efficiency and best practices.  The idea is to disseminate good ideas and make it easier to spread those practices without having to create new reports in every jurisdiction.  Our local governments, which are so fond of consultants, seem like they could use it.  It can be found here.

Roundup 3-17-2017

March 16, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 3-10-2017

March 10, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Rearranging

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

— A New TBARTA?

— Bottom Line

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

Port – Containment

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

________________________________

Transportation – Rearranging

As usual, there was much news about transportation, though the actual impact is not clear.

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

First up was this little nugget.

The Showtime Speedway, once thought to be a temporary attraction until a connecting road was built, is here to stay.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and speedway’s owner Bob Yoho recently announced that a compromise was made with the Florida Department of Transportation to reconfigure a planned road connecting Interstate 275 to the Bayside Bridge so that it bypasses the speedway. The change will allow the quarter-mile, figure-8 speedway and dragstrip originally named the Sunshine Speedway to continue operating.

Latvala said it took “just me sitting down with the department and explaining how important this was to people in the community and they just figured out a way to do it.”

“We worked with the property owner and were able to design the Gateway Expressway so the roadway alignment did not impact the operations of the Speedway,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The road will run on the drag strip’s west side and will be more compact, with walls as buffers instead of dirt. Yoho said the speedway will lose some parking. 

So, as shown with the Howard Frankland issues, it is clear that FDOT plans are subject to change.  And like the Howard Frankland, the impetus for the change came from a Pinellas State Senator (the same one, in fact) who bothered to voice concern.  That’s all it took.

Sadly, there does not appear to be anyone in Hillsborough County that cares enough to get some fixes to TBX through Tampa.  As we have said a number of times, the biggest blame for TBX and bad local planning is on local officials.  But legislators could get changes.

— A New TBARTA?

The other big transportation news was a move to change TBARTA.

Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers are looking to put a dent in the region’s long-stagnant access to transit by creating a regional entity to oversee plans throughout the region rather than isolating solutions to individual counties.

* * *

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and Rep. Dan Raulerson (R-Plant City) filed bills to replace the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. The bill represents a lot more than just changing “transportation” to “transit,” and aims to include local business leaders. 

You can find the senate bill here.

The Business Journal told us this about the proposed new TBARTA:

The bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would charge a restructured TBARTA with coordinating regionally significant transportation projects and creating a conflict resolution process to address problems associated with implementing regional plans.

The new board would be immediately tasked with establishing a committee structure and plan for developing a regional transit plan and bringing those findings back to the legislature ahead of the 2018 session.

The legislation would leave intact local transit agencies like the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but would create a regional board whose sole purpose would be to establish regional connectivity plans. Those plans could later be implemented through a series of interlocal agreements.

Interestingly, that is pretty much what TBARTA does.  So what are the changes? The biggest addition is (starting line 313 in the pdf):

(a) Plan, implement, and operate mobility improvements and expansions of multimodal transportation options for passengers and freight throughout the designated seven-county Tampa Bay region.

(b) Produce a regional transit development plan, integrating the transit development plans of participant counties, to include a prioritization of regionally significant transit projects and facilities.

As a general idea, we are fine with that.  However, we are not sure it solves the problem of how they would operate anything and how HART and PSTA would fit in to the mix.  It is also not clear where any money would come from.

Another issue arises from another big change, which was referred to above: the structure of the board. From Stpetersblog:

The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). They would serve two year terms, for no longer than three terms. 

What is not made clear in the articles is that the people appointed by the Governor, Speaker, and President of the Senate who would be the clear majority of the board have to be “members from the regional business community.” While, as a practical matter, people appointed to boards are often successful business people and the business community definitely has an interest and should be involved, it is unclear why there should be a statutory requirement that the citizens involved need to be exclusively businesspeople rather than people interested in serving with knowledge to do a good job.

Even more problematic though is that “members from the regional business community” is not defined.  If you are going to put it in a law, the meaning needs to be clear.  Do you have to own a business or do you just have to have a job somewhere?  Does your business have to be a certain size?  What is the “regional business community” as opposed to just a small business? What if you are retired? What if you are a professor?  What if you hit the lottery and decide to serve but never owned a big company?

And a final concern is that most of the members of the board are appointed from Tallahassee. What of local interests other than the business community?

We do not have a ready-made, air-tight solution, especially given that the Hillsborough County Commissioners put anti-transit people on the HART board. Yes, the composition of a board requires balancing various interests, but the bill as written is not very balanced.

— Bottom Line

We are all for having a real regional transit authority that can actually do something.  We appreciate that the State Senator is out front in efforts to get the region to work together and has been the one to show that TBX is not set in stone.  We think the TBARTA bill is a start, but it needs some tweaking.

We are all for the involvement of the business community.  Like we said, as a practical matter, many appointed members of the board will be business people, but the language used in the bill is ambiguous and will lead to problems.  Additionally, there are others who can also provide useful service, and there are other interests that should have a voice.  The bill would be much better if those things were fixed.

And there is always the question of funding. . .

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

This week, the City held the first of three public meetings regarding the streetcar in downtown.  From Monday’s Times:

The city’s project, being called “Invision: Tampa Streetcar,” will look at a range of corridors and equipment, including autonomous transit vehicles, and will recommend alternatives and possible funding. If an upgrade is seen to be doable — that decision should come by this summer — then local officials will start to consider a preferred alternative.

Tonight’s meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St. Officials say its agenda is to brainstorm on the purpose of and need for the streetcar.

A second meeting to discuss technology and alignment alternatives is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 4, also at the history center.

A third and final meeting to discuss results of the effort will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 2 at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus at 2001 N 14th (Republica de Cuba) St.

Setting aside the small number of meetings, there was something in interesting from the first meeting.  URBN Tampa Bay linked to another Facebook page:

From Kevin Thurman – click on picture for Facebook page

At the streetcar public meeting and when asked the biggest barrier to expanding the streetcar. It wasn’t even close: “Political Will”

Are you listening Tampa/Hillsborough elected officials?

Any regular reader will know, we totally agree with that sentiment about political will. And the best way to develop political will is to call local officials on it.

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

The Business Journal had an item about a recent economic report from Brookings:

Median earnings in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area slipped 3 percent from 2000 to 2015.

A meager 0.1 percent gain in median earnings in the metro area between 2014 and 2015 still left that benchmark short of where it was at the turn of the century.

Those figures are part of a new Brookings Institution report about economic growth in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

In other words, for all the much-talked-about recent boom and job announcements, our incomes are still lacking.  Sure, some people are doing very well, but overall, not so much.  And, while over time, there has been improvement, it is not strong and steady.

We decided to dig a little deeper into the Brookings report (which you can see here), but it only mentioned Tampa once, in the “Inclusion” section, on page 19 of the report (21 of the pdf):

Tampa ranked eighth on reducing the gap in the employment rate between whites and people of color from 2009 to 2014, but its sizable increase in the median wage gap ranked it 85th on that indicator. 

Do with that what you will.

There is a related Brookings database that can be accessed here.  The database measures changes in three categories for three different periods 2005-2015, 2010-2015, and 2014-2015.  The categories are growth, prosperity, and inclusion. You can see the methodology here. To summarize, growth tracks GMP, jobs, and jobs at young firms.  Prosperity tracks standard of living, productivity, and average annual wage.  Inclusion tracks employment rate, median wage, and relative poverty.

Because the report tracks three categories for three different periods, it is difficult to determine an area’s overall rank.  Instead, we have made a chart of major Florida cities and a number of the usual suspects to which we are often compared and/or which are of relatively similar size to us.  We compiled the numbers over the three categories for the three periods.  Finally, because of the difficulty in comparison, we decided to add up the ranks for each area for each period to give a “total” (in red).  The lower the number, the better they have ranked across the three categories.  It is not an exact rank, but just gives a quick reference.  This is a chart of those numbers:

Click on chart for a larger version

A quick glance tells one that Austin and Denver consistently have done pretty well.  The Tampa Bay area did well in the 2010-2015 category which tells us that we have recovered somewhat from the depth of the recession.  On the other hand, the 2005-2015 numbers are not so good, which means we still have not gotten back to where we were before the recession.  The 2014-2015 numbers are not that good either.  There is good growth, but prosperity and inclusion are lacking – which is another indication of our poor wages/incomes, which also can be seen in the relatively poor scores of other Florida areas.  (And note that in this study increased growth can just be more people having low paying jobs, which is better than unemployment, but not really optimal).

As with most of these reports, the most useful part of them is tracking performance over time.  And over time, our Achilles heel has been our low incomes.  The cheap land, cheap labor, real estate based economic model has long been standard in these parts, and, while it has gotten a bit better, it is not clear that it is substantially changing.  Yes, people are working and we are growing (and that is great), but it we still have a long way to go, especially compared to the best performers.  Hopefully, we will get there.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

Last week, the City Council approved Lafayette Place.

A three-tower complex with more square footage than International Plaza has won final City Council approval, setting the stage for a huge transformation of the area south of the University of Tampa.

John Avlon, president of the Hillsborough River Realty Corp., which owns the property, said the company can now move to the next stage of design for the project, which does not have an announced start date.

“City Council’s unanimous approval of Lafayette Place reflects public confidence in the emerging development which brings new urban density to the west bank of the Hillsborough River,” Avlon said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lafayette Place will be anchored by Lafayette Tower, a 40-story building rising south of Kennedy Boulevard at the foot of the bridge leading to downtown. It is planned to include 12 floors of hotel rooms and 24 of offices, plus retail.

Lafayette Tower will be connected by a skybridge over Parker Street to the Lafayette Parkview, a neighboring 26-story tower with high-end residential, retail and a parking garage.

A couple of blocks away at Cleveland Street and Hyde Park Avenue will be Lafayette Central, another 26-story residential tower. 

As regular readers will know, our biggest concern about this project is the parking garages, which are really big.  The developer had said that it will have a light feature screening part of one of the parking garages.  Below is the most recent rendering of the project:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the screen on the parking garage to the rear of the rendering on the left side.  From the rendering it does not appear to be much, but it is better than nothing.  Still, you can see how big the garages really are, especially for the neighborhood.

In any event, we did not think the City Council would really address the issue.  That’s just not how they work.  The biggest question remaining is whether this project will get built, especially given that the same group has owned the land for decades and had previous proposals that never happened.  We shall see.

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

There was more news about the old New Port Tampa Bay project site.

A Fort Lauderdale company, BTI Partners, is moving steadily ahead with plans for what will be a new waterfront community near the intersection of Gandy and Westshore Boulevards. If all comes to pass, there will be apartments, townhomes and condos with sunset views of Tampa Bay. There will be a hotel, shops, a marina and two boat-up restaurants. The public will have access to a waterfront park and up to three miles of trails.

At an estimated cost of more than $600 million, Westshore Marina District will rival other mega-projects that are transforming Tampa’s Channelside district and blighted areas along the Hillsborough River. 

So what is the plan now?

Since 2015, BTI has been successfully marketing the site to builders:

BTI is keeping about eight waterfront acres to develop a pair of condo towers, each about 16 stories with ground-floor shops. A third tower might be added later along with shops, a cafe and hotel.

In all, Westshore Marina District will have about 1,250 residential units — 500 fewer than originally proposed for New Port Tampa Bay. 

We have not said much about this new project, because, while large, it has not been very inspiring. (You can see a site plan here)   The rendering of the Related proposal (here) is quite ordinary.  The other aspects have no renderings.  The one thing that still give us a little hope that this can be more than a generic development is the part about the condo towers with ground-floor shops, but, as New Port Tampa Bay taught us, there is no guarantee.

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

While we’ve come to expect the airport to get awards and high rankings, it is always nice when it happens.  This week:

On Monday, TIA was named Best Airport in North America in the 15-25 million passengers per year category, as part of the Airport Service Quality awards. The program is conducted by Airports Council International, the international trade group representing airports.

You can dig into the awards more here.

Well done. We still think it is the best overall airport, not just for its size.

Port – Containment

It is well-known that the Port is lagging in container service compared to other ports in Florida.  This week, WFTS had an interesting report on what might be going on.

While Anderson brags about the weight of containers coming in, “…for an annual total of over 37 million tons!” he says during his 2017 State of the Port speech.

The Tampa Port is lagging way behind when it comes to the number of containers coming in.

In 2015, Tampa, the largest Florida port land wise, shipped a total of 39 thousand (39,761) cargo containers, according to the most recent data by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But smaller ports like Jacksonville shipped more than 700 thousand (755,452). Miami (765,980). And Port Everglades (716,182) Also topped 700 thousand.

Usually, when you are trying to attract business from competitors, you go for competitive pricing and features.

“Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business” says Omer Ozer.

Omer and his brother Ugur own Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. They have been using Tampa’s port exclusively for 15 years. But now, they are considering leaving and alternative resources.

“We really love to stay in this town, we really enjoy here for family and everything but of course from business point, it doesn’t really make sense to stay in Tampa.  I’d rather be in Jacksonville or Miami” Omer says.

Omer says Tampa’s port only has one major ship line run by Zim, and the other ship line, MSC, piggybacks off Zim’s ships. They say a lack of competition drives up prices.

 “If we were in Jacksonville or Miami we would be making more than a million dollars a year and have less overhead.” Ugur says.

 “Tampa bay customers will end up paying more because the cost of freight to Tampa port is higher” Omer adds.

That would be a unique strategy for building business.

National chain, Rooms To Go, while headquartered in our area, is using Jacksonville’s port way more than Tampa.

According to industry used data company, Import Genius, they’ve shipped more than 11 thousand (11,775) containers in Jacksonville, and only 588 in Tampa all of last year.

Rooms To Go’s CEO Jeffrey Seaman tells us there just aren’t enough ships coming into Tampa.  

Local Kanes Furniture shipped 1,536 to Jacksonville while only shipping 122 to Tampa.

Badcock Furniture shipped 1,507 in Jacksonville and only 89 in Tampa.

“Tampa freight has always been higher than the rest of the ports” says Scott Taylor

Scott knows about freight costs, he’s Vice President of American Chung Nam, he says they’re one of the largest exporters per container in the world.

Scott tells us they have business in Tampa, but use other ports to save money.

“We have been forced to haul a lot of our business up to Jacksonville” Scott says. 

So what does the port have to say about it?  First, apparently nothing:

Reporter: “Mr. Anderson, Jarrod Holbrook ABC Action News good to meet you. Is there a reason why you won’t sit down and interview with us sir?”
Anderson: “No I have no reason not to sit down and interview with you.”
Reporter: “Ok we got an email from your office saying you have no interest in sitting down and talking to us.”

An email to the I-Team from Edward Miyagishima Port Tampa Bay’s VP of Communications and External Affairs states, “…..we believe there is no reason for a face-to-face interview.”

Setting aside that the port is partially funded with taxpayer money and is not a private company so the reticence to speak to the public is a bit odd, he finally said something:

Reporter: “Can you explain why businesses based here in Tampa, are using other ports other than Tampa?”
Anderson: “Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida. That’s something our citizens are so happy for.  It’s like your portfolio of your 401k.”

Diversification is a good thing.  Lack of competitiveness is not.  We all know that the Port underperforms in terms of containers. We get there are some challenges to building business at the Port. But some of the issues raised above have little to do with the usual reasons for not handling many containers.  What would be really helpful would be if there was an honest discussion about them and a clear plan to overcome them. (And less focus on real estate development.) Trying to avoid discussing obvious problems will get us nowhere.

No one wishes the port ill. We all want the Port to do well and help drive the economy. Nevertheless, reports like this and a seeming reluctance to address them head on creates concerns.

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

There was new about the Morrison, mixed use (really mixed use) development on South Howard this week.

A Pilates studio and a new concept from a Tampa entrepreneur have committed to ground-floor retail space in The Morrison, a mixed-use development under construction in South Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood.

The Morrison, at 936 S. Howard Ave., will be home to the region’s second Club Pilates studio as well as the third location of the Blind Tiger Cafe — one that will be open for happy hours and dinner, serving food, wine and cold-pressed juices alongside its coffee menu.

We are actually not that interested in what retail will actually be in the building.  We are more interested in the building itself.  It looks like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

What is remarkable about the project is that it is remarkable at all.  It is a building built to the street with apartments above and retail below.  In other words, it is a standard, urban building.  It may be nicer than some but the concept is not new (just look literally across the street to the building that housed Hugo’s.

It just makes us wonder why it seems so hard to get something so straightforward to be the basic model of development (not necessarily even of that size, 2 stories is fine) in all of our urban corridors.  It does not have to exclusive to “upscale” areas.  Yes, we have gotten better, especially in historical areas (and with renovations), but we still have too many new buildings that either are set back with surface parking out front or that, if built to the street, fail to interact with it (or are built up with parking underneath and barely even have a front door) even in areas that the City says it wants to be walkable (like this in Westshore).

Hopefully, the success of this project will breed copy-cats.  Having a truly supportive code would be even better.

Roundup 3-3-2017

March 3, 2017

Contents

Transportation – More Tales from the Couch

— Hillsborough

— Pinellas

— The Editorial

Transportation – Gandy/Selmon Connector

West Tampa – Old is New Again

Economic Development – A Big Deal

Hyde Park – Whatever

Economy – Housing

Rowdies – The Plan Moves On

Transportation/Latin America – Cuba Flight Update

Transportation/Downtown – PTC is a Decade Late

Transportation – The Water Taxi

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_______________________________________

Transportation – More Tales from the Couch

There was more news on transportation/transit, and it keeps reinforcing our argument that it is not that local officials don’t know what needs to be done, they just have other priorities.

— Hillsborough

Probably, not coincidentally, the Hillsborough County Commission was discussing their $0 to $600 million to $800 million road plan.

In Hillsborough, county commissioners evaluated how to spend $812 million allocated for transportation in the next 10 years.

* * *

Hillsborough commissioners each took turns speaking to the need for a better system:

“We have woefully underfunded transit,” Commissioner Pat Kemp said in a Wednesday meeting.

“I fully support additional transit funding,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said.

“I know, as you know, that need is there,” Commissioner Victor Crist said.

“Bottom line is, folks, we do not fund transit the way we should,” Commissioner Les Miller said.

But when the meeting ended, the use of the $812 million remained the same. About $1 million will go to transit projects — a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops in south county. The rest, just under $811 million, will go to roads, sidewalks and safety projects.

There were no proposals to take some of that money and allocate it toward bus service. Hagan said after the meeting that he thinks the money is “still subject to being revised” and that he’s “open to considering additional transit funding” within the plan.

When asked if he would be willing to make a motion to move funding from some of those road projects to transit projects, he said, “That’s too early to tell.”

Do we need more funding sources for transportation? Yes, especially if FDOT spends $6 billion on TBX rather than creating a holistic plan.  But if transit was a priority for it, the County would not have gone from no money to $600 million to $812 million basically just for roads, without anything substantial for transit.  That does not show real interest in transit.

Though, this does, at least for one Commissioner:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp plans to put up a fight for transit when the board votes Wednesday on its $812 million transportation plan.

* * *

Kemp wants to hold off on spending about half that money, including canceling plans for a $97 million widening of Lithia Pinecrest Road. Instead, she wants to put some of it toward a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority program that provides vans for people who want to carpool, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s pilot program that offers rides to get people to and from bus stops and a proposed ferry between south county and MacDill Air Force Base.

The rest shouldn’t be spent until Hillsborough studies all the options on the table and conducts a master plan with a vision for solving congestion problems and incorporating transit, she said.

We are all for the basic idea, even if we do not necessarily agree with the transit choices (maybe do the next Metro Rapid line or some other combination of projects). But that is a question that can be worked out.  And what road projects do not happen right now is also a question, but that can (should) be discussed.  More to the point is not spending everything on roads.  Of course, while such a proposal is worth trying, we did not think it would lead to much because the political will is lacking.  And it didn’t:

Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a road-centric $812 million, 10-year transportation plan Wednesday despite calls from residents and one of their own for more transit options. 

Which is in no way surprising. Per Stpetersblog:

Commissioner Sandy Murman praised several of Kemp’s ideas, adding in a motion to come back and potentially incorporate several of her ideas in the two-year budget cycle. But she said it was important to follow “the process,” adding that “we can’t just slap money at HART right now without knowing what we’re throwing money at.” 

Which is odd, because that is HART has a plan.  We think it is quite modest, but it is there and it is a start.  And Go Hillsborough had a HART plan just like it had a road list, you know, the one which the Commission seemed to have no problem slapping $800+ million.  What is the difference? Back to the Times:

“We’ve got to find a dedicated funding source to support transit funding,” Murman said. “Not a band aid approach.”

That is true.  Transit requires recurrent funding, but, then again, so does road maintenance (including maintaining roads that would be expanded), and the County is spending a good chunk the $800+ million on that.  How will they pay next time they need to do maintenance? Even if the future road maintenance money comes out of general revenue, which it should, budgeting still requires being able to come up with the money going into the future.  The Commission’s actions do nothing to solve that or transit.  And just sitting back and saying that studies are under way does not solve the problem, either.  You still need funding.

After Go Hillsborough, the Commission had the opportunity to, as we suggested (See “Transportation – Time to Move On”), take a systematic approach to working out the problem.  They chose to find $800 million for roads and do nothing about transit. There is nothing stopping the Commission from investing in transit now in the interim while they figure out long-term funding, just like on roads, except their own lack of doing it.

And one last thing from Stpetersblog:

Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert supported the proposal, but requested that the county list the projects included in the $812 million, and some of the criteria about why they’re in the plan. “I think it would bring some comfort to making sure that we’re doing the right projects today,” she said.

With which we completely agree.  We may not have the same view on what is “right” in all cases as the person making the request and we’re not so sure that it would bring comfort, but we definitely agree the Commission should justify the spending of the $800 million they said they did not have.  Let them definitively define their priorities rather than always saying they will do something while never actually doing it.

— Pinellas

The Times also details how PSTA (and Pinellas) is doing a good amount of talking.  (Of course, PSTA needs local governments to really do the lifting on funding, and they haven’t.)

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he wasn’t surprised at all that the Times found the region to be one of the worst, most underfunded transit systems in the country, but he was “incredibly frustrated.”

“It puts us at such a disadvantage as a city, as a region and as a state economically,” Kriseman said Friday.

Yes, it does.  But it still does not make the argument for this:

That frustration is amplified as a leader of a city in Florida, he said. The state does not allow cities to put referenda for transit funding on election ballots, and instead delegates that right to counties. As a result, cities are left with limited options to fund transit projects.

Because 1) no one has said what they would do with the City tax money other than the most general statements (which isn’t the best way to convince people to support a new tax or way of getting taxes), and, 2) if we need regional solutions, going even more local will not give them.

“We either get real creative where we look at trying to provide funding ourselves, which is what we did with the ferry project, or we hope we can maybe get some federal dollars,” Kriseman said. “Aside from that, there’s just not a whole lot of options for cities.”

While using the Cross Bay Ferry trial, which is overpriced and poorly scheduled, is not the best example, we totally agree with getting creative – as should the Counties (and we have said it many times).  We suggest that if the cities want people to get behind them for any push, they need to come up with more substance.

— The Editorial

Along with their series of articles, the Times also had an editorial that echoed much of what we have been saying, and, logically, with which we would agree.

An exhaustive account by the Tampa Bay Times published last Sunday chronicled the region’s long history of failure on transit and the profound consequences to residents, employers and the economy. For a region that aspires to be great, this is what holds us back.

* * *

Many of the transit initiatives that failed were hobbled at the start, crafted by committees with a lack of vision and sold to voters with public relations campaigns that never succeeded outside the urban core. A 2010 Hillsborough referendum was supported by city of Tampa voters but opposed by county voters. A 2014 Pinellas referendum narrowly lost in St. Petersburg but was soundly defeated everywhere else. Yet the Times report also shows that tired arguments by transit opponents that Tampa Bay’s geography and density are not suited to mass transit are not viable.

* * *

The region’s elected leaders also need to show more creativity and follow-through. Several Republicans who opposed the Go Hillsborough plan last year that never made it to voters said the initiative wasn’t comprehensive enough. These same leaders had years to shape Go Hillsborough for the better. That didn’t happen, and they cannot now distance themselves by feigning disappointment with an outcome that happened on their watch.

That is true.  But it is also true that Go Hillsborough’s city transit component lacked any (publicly released) detail (and in 2010 the only real transit portion was city-only).  And both the County and City component lacked any vision.  And no real vision has been forthcoming since from the City or the County.

Local leaders also need to make a stronger connection between good transit and good jobs. The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa have already drawn attention to the role that mass transit plays in growing and enlivening the downtowns. But transit can maximize a region’s entire workforce, creating a newly mobile marketplace for employers and upwardly mobile opportunities for workers who cannot afford a car or the costly rents of a prime location. The time, money and resources saved by cutting commuting times is returned to the community in the form of reclaimed wages, less congested roadways, cleaner air and other tangible benefits.

And that is true, but they need to expand beyond just addressing the need riders to argue for and work to gain choice riders.  People do not need to be trapped in their cars.  Which gets us to this:

Voters in the region have shown they will vote to tax themselves to pay for investments crucial to the area’s quality of life, from public safety and infrastructure to health care and education. It’s past time to invest in transit. Other metro areas struggled through defeats, only to build and expand their mass transit systems. They are moving ahead of Tampa Bay, and this region cannot afford to remain stuck at the bottom of those transit lists if it wants to compete to be an attractive destination to live, work and play. 

The bottom line is that need riders should deserve better service, and the potential choice riders need to be provided an actual choice because, as we keep saying, the real question for developing the economy to its actual potential is this: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Transportation – Gandy/Selmon Connector

One road project that actually does make sense is the Gandy/Selmon Connector.  WTSP had a report this week:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to start constructing the Selmon Expressway Extension Project in January 2018.

* * *

The Selmon Expressway Extension Project is expected to be complete and up and running by Fall 2020. The project will be paid for with existing money already raised from tolls.

If so, that would be good, though we are still not completely convinced that one lane in each direction is the best idea.  At least it is something and will provide an alternative to the Howard Frankland.  It should have been done long ago.

West Tampa – Old is New Again

A few years ago, the City put out a master plan for redeveloping the area around the North Boulevard Homes which included demolishing the public housing and rebuilding the area in a more urban way.  It was still not that dense, but it was better.  The Housing Authority then hired a developer that was clearly not good for the job (which was clear when they were selected).  Subsequently, that developer was dropped.  Eventually, the Housing Authority/City chose the Related Group as the developer.  While Related is a fine developer, usually of large, dense projects, in Tampa it has mostly been a mid-density developer (see Pier House and the Tribune property) not up to its usual high standards.

As part of the whole Housing Authority project, the Bethune building, which can be easily seen from I-275 was supposed to be demolished.  This week, there was news about that:

The Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments provided low-cost housing for Tampa seniors for 50 years before it was scheduled for a date with a wrecking ball.

Demolition of the apartments and of the sprawling North Boulevard Homes public housing project was to make way for the West River project, the authority’s ambitious plan to revitalize the area west of the Hillsborough River with a walkable community.

Now, the aging eight-story apartment tower block close to Interstate 275 in downtown Tampa may have won a reprieve.

Tampa Housing Authority officials now say they are planning an extensive rehabilitation of the 1966 building to again provide senior housing and they plan to modify the West River plan to accommodate it, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority chief operating officer.

“The structure seems to be salvageable,” Moore said. “Both our developer and we are pursuing that as an option.”

So why the change?

The approach means the housing authority can pursue different county and state funding pots than the more competitive sources earmarked for new public housing construction.

“We could potentially close in the next 12 months and be under construction as opposed to doing work to secure funding,” Moore said.

In other words, it is more likely to get done.  And, really, we are ok with that.  While dated in design (and kind of ugly with outdoor “hallways”), the building probably can be updated.  This one change is not really an issue, except how it will fit into the overall plan.  To understand what we mean, you need to know a few things.  First, this is the Bethune building:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

The aerial view is here.  Looking at the picture and the aerial, facing the streets are almost all surface parking.  Now consider this:

The idea came from similar projects in Miami such as the Jack Orr Plaza, a 1975 12-story tower block that was restored by Related Group, the developer the Housing Authority is partnering with on the West River project.

* * *

A small group of Tampa tenant leaders toured some of Miami’s restored buildings Feb. 16, including Jack Orr Plaza, as part of a Housing Authority plan to get resident feedback on the Bethune proposal.

“We wanted to give them a firsthand view of substantial rehab projects so they understand this is practically new construction without tearing down the structure,” Moore said.

This is Jack Orr Plaza.

From Miami-Dade County - click on picture for website

From Miami-Dade County – click on picture for website

The aerial view is here.  If you look at the aerial, you might also notice it has large surface parking lots facing the street.  Not really a model of the West River plan that is supposed to urbanize (not enough in our opinion) and make walkable the area.

As you may have guessed, our concern is the parking lots. If the Bethune building is renovated but there is not any better interaction with the street and neighborhood, that is a retreat from the whole idea behind the West River Master Plan.  We don’t mind saving the building and making it better, but that needs to at least fit into the plan.  (It’s just kind of sad that, as the article noted, the Bethune building will be unusually tall – probably be the tallest building – in the redeveloped West River.)

Economic Development – A Big Deal

There was interesting news for a Pinellas County economic power:

Tech Data Corp. has closed its $2.6 billion purchase of Avnet Inc.’s Technology Solutions business.

The deal gives Tech Data (NASDAQ: TECD) a presence in the Asia-Pacific region, a new market for the Clearwater-based IT distributor. It’s expected to boost Tech Data’s annual revenue from $26.4 billion to about $35 billion and increase employment to about 14,000 from about 9,000.

* * *

The deal likely propels Tech Data into the prestigious Fortune 100. Tech Data was No. 108 on the 2016 Fortune 500 list. Northwestern Mutual, the No. 100 company on last year’s Fortune 500 list, had $28.1 billion in revenue. Tech Data would be the Tampa Bay area’s second Fortune 100 company; Publix Super Markets Inc. was No. 87 last year.

It is always good to have large companies succeed here.  Not just because it is good for the company and their employees (and the money they have to spend), it also helps show other companies that this area is good for big companies.

Hyde Park – Whatever

There is a new proposal for a nine story assisted living facility on Hyde Park right near the bridge to Davis Islands (509 S Hyde Park Ave). URBN Tampa Bay posted the filed rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We can’t really tell much from that, except there is nothing interesting at the ground level (and they did not spend a lot on renderings).  This is the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Most of the parking appears to be under the building, which is good.  The biggest issue we have is the lack of street connection.  We get that it is an assisted living facility.  Also, the location can be seen here.

While we usually think street retail is a good idea, this particular stretch of road is pretty much a dead streetscape.  Moreover, it connects to the bridge rather than Bayshore.  Based on that, we are ok (though not thrilled) with the lack of any retail.  On the other hand, there needs to be some better connection to the street for the sake of residents and passersby.

Economy – Housing

Amid a constant stream of reports about the hot housing market focusing mostly on housing prices (see here and here), there was a slightly different report this week.

First-time homebuyers in Florida have among the most obstacles in the nation when it comes to bagging a property, according to a study by Bankrate.com.

The financial information website (NASDAQ: RATE) evaluated home affordability relative to median income, credit availability, unemployment, the tightness of supply in the housing market, and the percentage of young homeowners in every state.

Florida scored very low for credit availability and homeownership among millennials and below average in the job market for young adults. The state also had the eighth-highest percentage of rejected mortgage applications in 2015.

Its housing affordability score was average.

Of course, if income is low and credit is not available, it is likely that most houses will not be affordable.  In any event, we get that this is one survey and is Florida-wide, not Tampa Bay specific, but it does raise some concerns, especially for the future.

Rowdies – The Plan Moves On

The Rowdies MLS attempt is moving forward.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies bid to make the jump to Major League Soccer took a leap forward Thursday when the City Council unanimously approved a citywide vote on the team’s plans to expand their home field to MLS standards.

The May 2 vote means that residents can weigh in on whether the city could negotiate up to a 25-year lease with Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards for Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies plant to expand the stadium to 18,000 seats.

Any agreement would have to approved by the council and is contingent on the team getting one of four MLS expansion slots to be decided within the next few years. The first two slots should be decided this year, said former mayor Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We hope is passes, a deal gets done, and they get awarded the MLS slot.

Transportation/Latin America – Cuba Flight Update

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding Cuba flights:

When word came that commercial flights between the United States and Cuba would resume after more than five decades, major airlines jumped into the competition for routes.

* * *

Now, just six months later, some airlines are scaling back because demand is less than expected — except in Tampa.

Total passengers using Tampa International Airport to fly to and from Cuba is growing to the point that more flights may be added.

“Tampa is a strong market,” said Mark Elias, president of charter operator Havana Air, who hopes to receive landing rights in Santa Clara from the Cuban government within the next month. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”

Southwest Airlines, which began offering daily direct commercial flights connecting Havana and Tampa on Dec. 12, echoed that sentiment.

“Our nonstop service from Tampa Bay to Cuba is performing in-line with our expectation,” spokesman Brad Hawkins said in an email. “There were many days in December when an empty seat was hard to come by.”

How strong?

Passengers traveling to and from Havana through Tampa totalled 7,923 in December, up from 6,693 in December 2015 when only charter flights were available, according to the airport.

In January 2017, the first full month of the commercial service, the number rose again to 8,731 — nearly 32 percent above the same month a year before.

How does that compare to other cities?

The United States and Cuban governments negotiated 110 daily commercials flights connecting the nations — 20 a day to Havana, with nine other cities on the island each receiving 10 a day.

The secondary cities received fewer bids than expected but a dozen U.S. airlines applied for nearly 60 flights a day to Havana from 20 American cities.

Ultimately, eight airlines and 10 airports split the Havana routes. Commercial service to the nine secondary Cuban cities began in August. The first Havana flight took off in November from Miami and Tampa’s launched a month later.

American Airlines has already dropped one of its two daily flights between Miami and the Cuban cities of Varadero, Santa Clara and Holguín.

Silver Airlines, serving all nine of the secondary Cuban cities from Fort Lauderdale, reduced its number of flights to six of these destinations.

JetBlue has switched to smaller planes, with 50 fewer seats, to serve Havana out of Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and New York. It did the same for flights to Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale.

We are happy for the strong performance, especially since we are the only non-hub with Cuba flights.

If Southwest chose to make us a focus city for such flights, they could build on our already developed market as well as their extensive flights into Tampa. (We are sure the airport folks are working on it.) Hopefully, we will get a few more flights that do well.

Transportation/Downtown – PTC is a Decade Late

As we have noted numerous times, years ago there used to be a free electric shuttle downtown that the PTC killed on behalf of the cab companies.  Recently, the Downtown Partnership and local government contracted with an out of down company to provide another one.  What did the PTC say?

. . . now the Downtowner can officially claim the cachet of being a limousine, albeit a low-speed, non-luxury one.

Public Transportation Commission board members approved that designation in a recent decision to regulate the fleet of 12 electric cars that give free rides around downtown. It was done at the request of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which launched the service in October.

The change is about more than status.

Putting the vehicles under the regulation of the PTC means the cars can legally be used as commercial vehicles like taxicabs. There are no plans to start charging for rides but the partnership plans to sell advertising on the cars, said Karen Kress, the partnership’s director of transportation and planning.

It also means drivers will now be able to accept tips, although the partnership may lower their hourly pay accordingly.

We are all for the electric shuttle, though we also were when it was a local company. It was also not using government money, unlike the present:

But [the Downtowner’s] popularity is also hampering the growth of the service. Only six cars are on the road at one time, while the other six cars are recharged.

That can mean long wait times, sometimes up to 40 minutes.

“People are getting frustrated with the wait time,” Kress said. “We need to find ways to get more revenue so we can expand and enhance the service.”

One option the partnership is exploring is to get more funding from state and local agencies. Kress is scheduled to meet next week with officials from the city, Florida Department of Transportation and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

If the Downtowner can meet some of downtown’s transit needs and complement other transit services, then it might make sense for agencies like HART to switch resources elsewhere and assist in funding, Kress said.

The service costs about $1 million per year. Initial funding sources included a $560,000 award from downtown and Channel District community development funds. The state DOT has already pledged to pay $150,000 for three years. Downtown commercial office towers and hotels have also pitched in with contributions, Kress said.

What this story really tells us is how local government functions for some but not others, and not necessarily for the innovative.  It also tells us that, while we are happy for this option, more, real options (especially ones that connect directly to outside of downtown) are necessary.

Transportation – The Water Taxi

There was interesting news about the big, yellow water taxis in downtown.

The Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa is expanding its fleet with a new direct route along to the Hillsborough River to the Lowry Park Zoo.

Passholders got a free sneak peek at the new route this past weekend, and is now open to the public.

The trip takes about 45 minutes each way, going from the Tampa Convention Center to the Zoo dock located at 7252 North Boulevard, in a City of Tampa park directly across the street from the Lowry Park Zoo.

Pirate Water Taxi built an entirely new 29-seat boat for the new route. It leaves daily from the Tampa Convention Center at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. And it leaves from the Zoo Dock at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily.

It may be a little slow for some, but that is a nice development.  And it is good they are doing well enough to expand.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

With all the talk of transit funding, or the lack thereof, in this area, there was interesting news from the Atlanta area.

For decades, the explosive northern reaches of the five-county core metro area have found themselves in the transit doldrums. That is, more than two million residents in North Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties have missed out on high-capacity transit access.

Now, many of those folks who’ve gone without are beginning to question why.

The AJC reports that leaders in Roswell, a city served by MARTA bus service, are hoping to push the state legislature to explore funding for a more comprehensive, high-capacity option to stretch north of Sandy Springs.

A resolution was passed by the Roswell City Council that highlighted the potential of northward MARTA expansion to mitigate congestion in not just Roswell, but “throughout the greater Atlanta metro region.” It even went so far as to say the economy and health and safety of the public were at risk if transit wasn’t explored as an option for the area.

* * *

Meanwhile, Gwinnett County also is making moves to explore high-capacity transit options to connect into the heart of Atlanta. According to the AJC, the county is preparing to embark on a transit plan to look at dedicated right-of-way transit service.

While the study isn’t tied to MARTA, the report will outline what options that county has, including heavy rail and bus rapid transit.

We understand that these are just studies and that a transit study is underway here.  The difference is that the areas noted above had a chance to join an existing real transit system, but have avoided it. (see, for instance, here)  It seems they are starting to see things differently.  We haven’t even started a real, regional transit system here.

Roundup 2-24-2017

February 24, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

— The Buck Stops Over There

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

— Conclusion

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

Downtown – Application Pulled

Downtown – More on the BK

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Tampa Heights – News on Food

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Rays/Tourism – Almost

The Other, Other Ferry

List of the Week

__________________________________________

Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

Last week, the Times had a good article entitled “A long way to go: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.”  It is a long article that is definitely worth a read.  We are just going to discuss some highlights:

Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage.

The other two ways, it ranks dead last.

The region is 17th in population.

Times reporters analyzed data on more than a dozen different transit metrics; interviewed key local officials, national experts and more than 40 bus riders; and studied similar-sized areas across America. Then they traced local elected officials’ decisions about the topic over three decades.

The newspaper found:

In interviews, the leaders of both Tampa Bay bus agencies acknowledged their systems’ deficiencies, pointing to statistics that show they are cost-efficient with the little money they have.

“It’s the difference between good and cheap,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Katharine Eagan said.

In other words, transit in this area is totally underfunded.

Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 buses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.

San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul are roughly the same size as Tampa Bay, but each had at least three times the ridership in 2015.

Spending per capita is half of San Antonio’s, a third of Denver’s and a quarter of Pittsburgh’s. At $57 per person, it’s comparable to Sheboygan, Wisc., and Macon, Ga.

This isn’t just because Tampa Bay is the only system without a rail line. Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes. Austin and Milwaukee each have a million fewer people and spend $10 million to $20 million more a year on bus service.

And it’s not that Hillsborough and Pinellas trail behind only because they’re two counties separated by a huge body of water. Each ranks poorly on its own.

Hillsborough spends $20 million less on buses than the transit agency for Cincinnati, Ohio, and $60 million less than the agency for Detroit, even though both serve similar populations. Pinellas’ agency serves twice as many people as New Orleans’, but both spend about the same amount of money.

Understand that none of this is really news, but the article lays it out more starkly. For some, like the Tea Party member of the HART Board, this situation appears to be a desirable outcome.

Transit critics say leaders are smart not to spend more because Tampa Bay is too big and too spread out for transit to ever be successful.

“We don’t have the density,” said Karen Jaroch, HART’s vice chair. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those sorts of investments here.”

Which is countered by this:

But a University of Utah study found that 11 other metro areas, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., all rank worse than Tampa Bay when combining density, land use and sprawl — and all have transit networks that rank above Tampa Bay’s.

But setting that aside for the moment, back to the Tea Party:

The question for many isn’t whether more money would improve transit service, but whether transit in Tampa Bay is worth investing in at all.

When the Hillsborough County Commission discussed raising the sales tax, it heard from angry constituents who opposed both light rail and higher taxes. HART’s own vice chair, Jaroch, doesn’t believe tax dollars should be spent on major transit projects such as rail and dedicated bus lanes.

Hillsborough County Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert said the county shouldn’t raise taxes to pay for something that many people won’t use.

“We spend a lot of money on transit,” Calvert said. “The overall percentage of the population that uses it is very small, so you have to look at the cost-benefit analysis.”

The fact is that across the country, and here, the Tea Party opposes transit – rail and otherwise.  Their opposition is philosophical (see for instance “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN”), which is their right.  But that does not mean we should follow them.

— The Buck Stops Over There

Which brings us to local officials.

Current and former commissioners in both counties said they need to do more, but also criticized the plans before them — many of which they’d discussed for years and were written under their direction.

As we have noted many times, and the article notes, County Commissioners can shape the discussion (as can other local officials, though the Commissioners control the money).  It is interesting to review history (and note there was talk back in the mid 1980’s, too):

Consider the history in Hillsborough County.

In 1991, former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik proposed a multi-county commuter rail system. The plan died after the county couldn’t find a funding source for it.

In 1995, a county plan to build light rail and expand bus service qualified for federal money. The county commission later killed its own plan.

In 1999, a 99-person committee of residents and transportation experts put together a $1 billion plan to improve roads and expand bus service. The commission rejected it.

In 2005, the federal government got tired of waiting for Hillsborough to approve a plan and took the county out of contention for rail dollars.

In 2010, the commission took its biggest step toward expanding transit, asking voters to increase the sales tax by 1 penny to expand the bus system and build light rail. But voters shot down the referendum.

The most interesting thing on the list is all the lost opportunities, the wasted time and effort, and the failure to really do anything. We know, historically, referenda fail first time around (maybe even more than once), and that is not even getting into the major flaws with the substance of the 2010 referendum:

This isn’t unusual. Across the country, similar ballot initiatives often fail the first time they’re proposed, then pass on subsequent attempts. That’s what happened in Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City — all of which now have robust transit systems.

“Generally, we’ve seen that when transit agencies go to the ballot, they fail initially,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association. “Often times, they’ll go back again and the approval rating tends to be over 70 percent.”

Then there was Go Hillsborough:

But in 2016, Hillsborough County commissioners decided it was too risky to put the question on the ballot again. The initiative would have dedicated almost $1 billion to HART over 30 years, or about $30 million a year.

That vote was “premature,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of four county commissioners who voted no. “We didn’t want to do something that wasn’t going to address the need.”

Which is a salient point, though it is worth noting that the three year TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process included all the County Commissioners, as well as the Mayor of Tampa and others. In other words, why didn’t they come up with a better plan? Regarding, this is especially noteworthy:

Crist, who took part in three years of meetings to shape the plan, said he did not feel comfortable putting a plan before voters that he didn’t support. He said he didn’t know that HART’s budget was so far behind its peer cities until a Times reporter told him.

“It agitates me,” Crist said. “It aggravates me. How the hell did we get here?” 

Really? He was on the Commission that put the Tea Party activist on the HART Board. That member is now on a second term. She still does not want to have a developed transit system.  Nor is the Commission doing much to properly fund it.  Clearly, that Commission was not committed to properly funding HART.

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

And, we saw that in action this week in a separate Times article:

There is a relatively small amount of money, about $1 million, for transit projects in the 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners discussed Wednesday.

Yet transit dominated most of the two-hour conversation.

There are two transit-related items in the spending package: $750,000 for a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and $350,000 for a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops.

As for the rest of the money? About $276 million will go toward road maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as widening and building new roads and improving traffic flow.

For Commissioner Pat Kemp, the newest board member whose top issue during last year’s campaign was expanding transit, that’s too much for roads and not enough on other ways to move people around.

“Our Achilles’ heel is transit. It’s been transit for a long time,” said Kemp, speaking out at length from the dais for the first time. “It’s time for us to start committing our transit dollars. Just like we do for roads, put them on the same level of dignity and competition.”

Kemp noted that the county will spend $97 million during the next 10 years to widen 3.7 miles of Lithia Pinecrest Road. That’s equal to all of the budget for HART, the county’s bus operator. She proposed committing $100 million to HART over the next 10 years.

Setting aside that the Commission seems to keep coming up with more money for roads out of thin air (now up from $600 million to $817 million), what was the response from other Commissioners?

It’s “highly unlikely that’s financially feasible,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, unless the county makes significant cuts to public safety or kills off another transportation project.

The county could pass a tax increase of some kind, Hagan noted, alluding to the half-cent sales tax surcharge commissioners rejected last year. Hagan wanted to put a sales tax hike on the ballot for voters to decide, but a majority of commissioners did not.

That’s how we got here – choices.  Why is it “irresponsible” to fund transit by $10 million/year for ten years, but money for roads, sprawl, and subsidies seemingly multiplies likes the loaves and fishes? Maybe the Commission’s project list, their planning, and their subsidizing pet project is irresponsible.

— Conclusion

The fact is that as long as we can remember transit in this area has been treated the Tea Party treats it – as an agency that exists as a last resort for people who have no other choices.  As such, it is not necessary to make it work well or fund it properly.  The riders have no choice.  And, as such, it will not attract choice riders.  That is not the fault of the HART staff.  It is the fault of the decision-makers with power over money, planning, and other decisions.  Clearly, their priorities are elsewhere.

And in the last few months we have learned that, in addition to not knowing about transit funding, local officials have not known what was in the TBX plan, where the proposed ferry would dock (or how the Port would deal with it), and we have never seen a proposed alignment (even a general alignment or favored choices) for the theoretical City starter rail line.  And this is for the supposedly critical transportation issue.

As we discussed last week regarding regional planning and transit, it is not a matter of learning to walk before we can fly.  It is a matter of this area sitting on the couch while others move forward. As noted in the first article mentioned above, so many of the usual suspects have moved forward with transit.  They have also moved forward in other areas, while we have dithered.

It all goes back to the question we keep asking: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already have so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

There was a very odd article in the Times regarding Jackson House in downtown.  Just to remind you about Jackson House:

The Jackson House has stood for decades as a powerful symbol for Tampa’s black community, a monument to some of the 20th century’s great black performers and a sobering reminder of the Jim Crow South.

It housed the likes of Fitzgerald, singer James Brown and even baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, who were barred from the city’s white-only hotels when in Tampa to play and perform. Unlike nearby stores and restaurants, it survived the destruction of the Central Avenue business and nightclub district in the 1970s and was named to the National Register of Historic Places and Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.

But the house has since fallen into disrepair. It stopped taking guests in 1989 and multiple attempts to restore or develop the property have failed, in part because of its condition.

And don’t forget the City wanted it demolished before some benefactors stepped in to save it.

Anyway, the odd part this week:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist warned recently that local officials need to step in — and fast — to save the historic Jackson Rooming House.

* * *

Crist suggested the county should acquire the century-old Tampa landmark, which once housed black entertainers including Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald when they came to town, to salvage what it can of the aging building before it’s too late.

“This is a time matter,” Crist told commissioners at a meeting last week. “It’s being scheduled to be torn down rather soon.”

* * *

It was Crist’s intention to send in photographers and architects to capture the two-story building at 851 Zack St. in its current state. That way, after demolition, it could be recreated to look identical to its predecessor.

Crist hoped a new Jackson House, built with reclaimed and restored wood and fixtures from the original facility, could anchor his idea for a new venture to preserve and display Hillsborough’s black history. Crist said he’s been working with local black leaders on the idea.

We are all for photographing and memorializing the building, but moving it or building a replica somewhere else? Why change the location?  Who benefits?

Regardless, it gets stranger:

That’s news to the nonprofit that controls the Jackson House.

There are no plans to raze the building, said Carolyn Collins, the chairwoman of the Jackson House Foundation Inc. In fact, builders recently completed a stabilization project and the foundation will soon begin a fundraising campaign aimed at full restoration.

“It would’ve been nice if Victor Crist would’ve contacted us and talked to us rather than bring it up to the commission,” Collins said. “I’m curious why he would want to buy it after we stabilized it and are getting ready to go into restoration phase.”

* * *

Collins, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said Crist’s vision sounds in line with her own idea to turn the Jackson House into a museum celebrating the black entertainers who once graced its halls. But the building isn’t up for sale.

“They don’t have to buy the house,” Collins said. “Why not just put up some of the money for the foundation to restore it?”

Why not? We are just going to chalk this all up to a misunderstanding, which is possible.  The County should give money help save the building:

Even now, after stabilization, its physical ailments are readily visible. The building sags in spots, the siding is falling off, window panes don’t look long for this world and sunshine pokes through holes in the roof.

The Jackson House Foundation wants to raise $1.3 million to renovate and restore the building and keep it in its location.

We are not sure that will ever happen (as the building is not in East or South County), but it should.  Then again, it gets even odder:

Crist was not sure where a rebuilt Jackson House would end up if it did move to a new spot in Hillsborough County, but he said there were other advantages to acquiring the parcel it sits on.

“That piece of real estate is contiguous with other county buildings downtown,” Crist said, referring to the nearby George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. “So it wouldn’t be far-fetched for it to be a valuable piece of turf for us to have in our inventory.”

After last week’s meeting, Commissioner Sandy Murman addressed Crist’s idea with skepticism.

“That is a city property,” Murman told him, “And they need to take care of that property.”

First, that property is both within the City and within the County. In fact, it may surprise that Commissioner mentioning the City to learn that, based on the County website, Jackson House is actually in her district.

Moreover, according to the property appraiser website, the property is owned by the Foundation. Based on a quick search of public records, the Foundation does not appear to be owned by the City of Tampa.  What’s even more interesting is that a large local parking/land banking company owns all the land around it – not the County, not the City.

Given that it is not a City property, that it is owned by the Foundation, and is plainly historic, why can’t the County do something about it? (We mean, it would probably only cost one fast food restaurant subsidization.)

Let’s just hope there is actual good will to preserve actual history while we have it rather than let it fall apart and then honor it with a plaque.  We’ve had far too much of that already.  The County should definitely help support 1) the restoration of the building and 2) the creation of a museum and/or putting it in some affiliation with the History Center.

Downtown – Application Pulled

A proposal in downtown Tampa next to the Times building had its application withdrawn.

A Dallas developer has backed away from plans to build an apartment-and-retail project on the northern fringe of downtown Tampa.

Really, it was an apartment building with one relatively small retail space, but anyway:

Mill Creek Residential Trust has withdrawn a variance request that, if approved, would have paved the way for 275 residential units with ground-level retail space on a 2.2-acre surface parking lot sandwiched between the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay Times building at 1000 N. Ashley Drive.

Todd Bleakley, who oversees the North Florida region for Mill Creek, wouldn’t say why the request was withdrawn.

We can’t say we are overly concerned or disappointed that the proposal was withdrawn.  It was tolerable, but no more than that.  And it could have been much better.  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – More on the BK

As we discussed last week, the City Council inexplicably (unless you have observed Tampa land use for a while) ignored their own staff and approved a stand-alone Burger King near the Encore project.  URBN Tampa Bay posted some more renderings this week:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And, bizarrely, unless you note the surfeit of cars in the previous renderings, a driver’s view.  It does not get much better than that.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So, thanks to the City Council, you could get the Encore to the east, the Lightning owner’s plans in the south, the Heights to the northwest, and a car choked BK seen through the driver’s view in the north.

Anyway, the folks at URBN Tampa Bay decided to file a formal objection, which can be found here.  And they are right.  It is absurd to approve this.

Strangely, one side effect if TBX get built is that this land likely will be bought by the state and this BK will not get built. If TBX is going to take the land, there is no point in granting the special use.  If it isn’t going to use the land, even with the odd shape of the lot, something better and in line with the rules for downtown can be done.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Anyone who has been on the Riverwalk recently knew this was basically underway, but:

An excavator has begun tearing down the Tampa Tribune building, the first step in removing the riverfront property that housed the 123-year-old newspaper, which closed after it was purchased by the Tampa Bay Times in May 2016.

The waterfront property, located on the west side of the Hillsborough River just south of the University of Tampa, was sold to Miami-based Related Group in 2015. The company intends to erect an eight-story, 400-unit apartment complex in its place. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment this morning.

The demo is fine with us.  The property is far too valuable for a blank-walled newspaper building. Though the newspaper building was better than the previous power station that was there way-back when (We can’t resist these pictures):

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

You can see the location at the top of this picture.

The only thing we wish was that the project that is going to be built was better – not even necessarily taller, just better, especially on the street side.  First, the retail, which, according to Related’s own development manager, does not seem actually planned for success:

The property has been approved for a restaurant or sandwich shop, but Peña said it’s unlikely the property will have enough foot traffic or parking spaces to accommodate that kind of business.

“It would need to be a destination and the access might be challenging,” he said.

But even more is the garage, which is that oddness on the left side of this rendering (it’s the squat building at the bottom):

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

When the garage, which is poorly screened (probably like PierHouse) and just dropped in the neighborhood with no regard for street activity, is the most prominent thing in a project from most angles, the project can be done much better.

Tampa Heights – News on Food

It is well known that Armature Works, when it opens, will have a “market hall” concept and some other restaurants.  A while back we discussed how there is another project for a “restaurant collective” (looks like a fancy food court to us, but if they want the branding, that’s cool) project on Franklin street.  There was news about that this week:

Wilson, who sold off his mortgage company Leverage Financial in 2013, is seeking to recreate the kind of food hall experience that’s become ubiquitous in other cities as a place to showcase the local culinary scene. Typical construction delays have kept the Hall on Franklin a bit behind schedule — it was originally slated to open by the end of 2016 — but Wilson and his team have been working to evolve the vision for Hall on Franklin, an 8,000-square-foot space at 1701 N. Franklin St.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You can read the rest of the Business Journal article for details on the offerings.  Potentially exciting times for Tampa Heights (aside from TBX taking out a bunch of it and hurting its connections to downtown).

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Last week we discussed Cuba trade and said we could not understand why it was ok to have flights and cruises to Cuba but bad to have actual cargo come and go through our ports.  This week, the Times told us this:

Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between the two nations.

* * *

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018 are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

We get the argument that the cruise lines are private companies doing their own business.  On the other hand, they use public facilities, and the cruises (directly or indirectly) give money to the Cuban government as well as benefitting public entities in Florida.

In any event, if having the private middle man is the requirement, then the Port should just have agreements with companies to transport cargo to and from Cuba to use their facilities without signing any agreement with the Cuban officials. (See here) Problem solved.

Rays/Tourism – Almost

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the tourism in Hillsborough County.

Despite a sixth straight record-breaking year for Florida tourism, Hillsborough County has reason for a bittersweet celebration. The county has missed its bid to snag an extra $6 million in estimated tourism taxes this year, money that could have been used to lure the Tampa Bay Rays away from St. Petersburg.

* * *

Florida drew nearly 113 million visitors in 2016, up from about 107 million in 2015.

* * *

Hillsborough collected $29.9 million in tourism bed taxes during the 2016 calendar year, falling just shy of the $30 million threshold needed in order to be considered a “high tourism impact” county. That designation would have given county commissioners the option of raising the bed tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, resulting in additional tax revenue which county commissioners said was a key component in their attempt to bring the Rays across the bay.

First, that is very good for tourism. Second, unless trends are way off, this year the threshold will be crossed.  And you have to add this money to the pot, though there may be corresponding decreases elsewhere.

In December, the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office reached an agreement with Airbnb to collect bed taxes and sales taxies on rooms booked through the website. That deal went into effect on Feb. 1 and is projected to generate about $250,000 in tax revenues this year.

Pinellas, with the beaches, is already there:

Pinellas County collected $52 million worth of bed taxes in 2016. It qualified as a “high tourism impact” county in 2013, but county commissioners did not vote to raise the tax to 6 percent until 2015.

They raised their tax in 2017.

As we said, unless something major happens, we expect Hillsborough will cross the threshold this year.  It should not really have an effect on the Rays issue.

The Other, Other Ferry

The ferry saga in the immediate Bay area is complicated with the MacDill proposal taking years (see last week) and the Cross Bay Ferry test having a high price and limited hours, so much so that an article in the Times detailing some trips on the ferry two out of three trips end in using Uber to get back.  Nonetheless, there are other ferry proposals nearby – arguably in the Tampa Bay area:

The Sarasota City Commission voted 5-0 on Tuesday to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach.

Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

▪ The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and

▪ Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

* * *

The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50 with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze. 

A few things of note:  First, it is not finalized, but there is a deadline to finalize it.  Second is the prices are more reasonable than the Cross Bay Ferry.  Third, if you go the article here, you can see the proposed schedule, which is quite extensive.

We don’t know what will come of this, but at least it looks like it should not drag on interminably.

List of the Week

One of the main factors in attracting business and talent is the quality of local schools. And from a recent report on AP tests, at the top, Florida seems to be doing well. Yet, as described by the Times, Hillsborough County Schools have some financial issues that were apparently ignored under the previous school administration.

In light of that, it is interesting that the Business Journal had a list of the best 25 elementary schools in the area by Niche.   As to the methodology:

In addition to the usual metrics based on test scores, the ranking takes into account student and parent assessments, student life data, teacher ratings and various ratings of a school’s culture and diversity.  

We are not going to list them all.  You can see the list here.  But there are a few interesting things to note.  First, the top 16 schools are all in Sarasota County.  The highest ranked school in Hillsborough is 17th, and Hillsborough only has four on the list.  Pinellas’s highest is 20th and it has four schools on the list as well. No other counties are on the list.

And, as for High Schools, Sarasota County has the number one school on these (see here and here) two rankings.

Maybe someone needs to take a field trip to Sarasota County to see what is going on.