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Roundup 9-29-2017

September 29, 2017

Contents

Economic Development – Catch 22?

— Income

— Per Capita GDP

— Good Effort

— Conclusion

Transportation – Changes, Maybe

Politics – About those Hurricanes

Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

MacDill – More

Correction

____________________________________________


Economic Development – Catch 22?

This is the time of year that the Bureau of Economic Analysis puts out numbers about metro area economic performance.


— Income

First, the Times had a column about the latest information on incomes.

The good news is Tampa Bay’s median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

This is not a new predicament for Tampa Bay. I wrote about this frankly discouraging bottom-of-the-wealth-barrel last year when Tampa Bay also ranked 25th with median household income in 2015. The increase from 2015 to 2016 comes to about 3.5 percent. That’s commendable growth. But is it keeping up with Tampa Bay’s metro neighbors?

Here’s the challenge.

How does a metro area like Tampa Bay that wants to do Big Things — whether it’s host Super Bowls or strive to make a legitimate pitch to become the home of Amazon “HQ2” (its second headquarters) or simply sustain healthy fan bases for NFL, MLB and NHL (and maybe MLS) pro sports franchises — keep up with all those other competing metro areas that are, in many cases, simply full of richer households?

And how do you attract the best talent when you pay the lowest wages?  Sure, some people will get much higher incomes and relatively lower costs of living, which is an advantage, and some companies will be happy to save money on salaries, but, overall, will it be a real advantage especially for higher wage jobs?

Bottom line: Tampa Bay and Florida remain in an uphill struggle to make household income headway against their metro and state peers. A big X factor for Florida in the coming year is how much of an economic impact Hurricane Irma will have in the state.

Significant income change in Florida —if it occurs — will be measured in decades.

There is hope the projects such as Water Street could create a more attractive environment to attract those workers and jobs and help (though just help) elevate the region economically, but, as of yet, slow going on changing the economic DNA.


— Per Capita GDP

Which brings us to our annual look at Per Capita GDP to see how we are doing as a regional economy.  On the overall GDP numbers (not per capita) the Times told us:

Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay’s gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

And that is good.  Overall growth creates more economic weight and regional importance.  However, GDP growth can simply be the result of population growth, not necessarily making the area more productive or wealthy.

As we have said many time, per capita numbers give a far better picture of actual economic performance. We use the numbers from the BEA and as we have noted in past years, they often adjust the numbers for previous years. Nevertheless, we use their numbers for internal consistency.

First off is the per capita GDP of the top 30 metro areas:

For a larger version, click on chart

Here are the per capita GDP and growth rates for selected cities ranked by per capita GDP:

For a larger version, click on chart

The first thing to note is that some of the cities have changed places.  However, the Tampa Bay area has not.  It is still next to last in the Top 30 metro area list, though it is creeping up on others slowly.  It is also very low on the selected cities list, though, again, it is creeping up, with a decent growth rate this year. (It is important to remember that growth is relative to the base amount meaning that our growth has to be consistently larger than those ahead of us to make progress. Those with a higher base can have lower growth rates but increase as much or more.)  But the bottom line is that whether we are second, third or fourth from the bottom, we are very near the bottom. (And we are more than $10000 behind the nation as a whole).

While we may pass Jacksonville relatively soon, significant progress will be harder to come by, we would have to maintain a significantly better growth rate than other cities for a while to make a real impact. That can be done (and hopefully will be, though notably our growth rates are not very consistent, especially compared to the higher ranked cities on the selected cities list).  We are doing better, but there is a long way to go to even be a little below average.

And our low numbers have an impact in many ways.  Not only do low incomes make talent look for other places where they can have greater success, it shows up in many of the amenities we have – or, rather, don’t have. It limits our ability, or at least willingness, to invest in things we need relative to other areas. (Though it should be noted that good urban planning does not really take excessive funding.) That can be seen in things like schools, transportation, and other infrastructure.  (Look at HART’s shrinking budget and service profile.) Yet, it is investment in those things which will help make us more attractive to both local talent we want to stay and other talent we want to recruit.  And it is worth noting that other areas have overcome not being high on the list; our bigger issue over the years has been political will to do what is necessary to get where we say we want to be (and not settle).

That all goes to the constant economic development question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article on cities trying to attract Amazon:

In fact, as Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, notes in his 2012 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the opposite happened: The wealthiest cities have pulled further ahead while the laggards have fallen further behind. The divergence has grown since the last recession.

Mark Muro and Sifan Liu of the Brookings Institution noted in a March article that between 2010 and 2015, 14 of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas materially increased their share of the nation’s tech jobs. The three biggest share gainers—the San Francisco, San Jose and Austin areas—are already home to clusters of such jobs.

Mr. Moretti attributes this to the “network effects” of knowledge work: “Being around smart people makes us smarter and more innovative. … Once a city attracts some innovative workers and innovative companies, its economy changes in ways that make it even more attractive to other innovators.”

In other words, the rich get richer. It is a conundrum. So what is the solution when you are playing catch-up?  You could develop home-grown talent (which is what most of the usual suspects did), get lucky with a relocation,  buy up companies from elsewhere and move them.  Or you could, as Water Street hopes to do (though Water Street, as ambitious as it is, is not a panacea), create the amenities that will move you up the attractiveness scale rapidly. And, of course, other areas are not sitting idly by as we figure this out.

Which brings us to the Amazon HQ.


— Good Effort

As everyone knows by now Amazon is holding beauty contest for a “second HQ” in North America.  Early news reaction in Tampa was:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 13 for us,” says [Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO] Richard in his enthusiastic style. “We have read Amazon’s RFP (request for proposal) and it sounds like it was written for us.”

Though it does not really sound like that, we have previously said comment was fine because he is a salesman. However, more interesting is this:

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will join forces in an effort to convince Amazon to build a new world headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel told the Pinellas County Commission Tuesday that both counties will partner with the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa in what is admittedly a long-shot effort to lure one of the richest companies in the world.

“This has never happened before,” Meidel said about Amazon’s search. “They are staging a beauty contest, essentially. We will submit a single proposal for the Tampa Bay area. That is huge.”

And, yes, it is a very long shot, but we think completely support the joint effort idea.  While we are not sold on the benefits of being on the short-list that the article goes into elsewhere, even if a joint bid fails this time, it gives our area practice and breaks down barriers.  It gets people working regionally and, hopefully, will help foster a new mentality about how to help move us forward economically and with all the other issues we need to work out.  It is something we really need.

And, of course, you can’t win if you don’t get in the game.


— Conclusion

The bottom line is that our economic performance has improved (and last year seems to have been a good year), but we are still lagging behind our competitors. The real change in economic DNA has not happened yet.  We need a constant, sober focus on changing the model and doing what needs to be done to set the stage for future prosperity.


Transportation – Changes, Maybe

After the hurricane disruption, we are back to transportation news, this week involving TB(n)X – and there is potential change:

Florida Department of Transportation officials told about 50 people at a meeting Monday that the controversial express toll lanes previously planned north of downtown are not a part of most options for the I-275 and Interstate 4 interchange.

* * *

As part of the study, tolls are not guaranteed on express lanes from West Shore through downtown Tampa up north toward Bearss. Instead, those lanes would have limited entrance and exit ramps, meaning they would be intended for regional travel over longer distances.

Here are the four options the DOT presented Monday for the downtown interchange and the span of I-275 that goes north toward Bearss Avenue.

Tolls are under reconsideration with all four options. If the express lanes are not tolled, they would still have limited entrance and exit ramps spread out over longer distances.

With three of the options presented Monday, the express toll lane focus would shift to Interstate 75. Toll lanes were planned for I-75 under the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express plan, but would become the predominant north-south option in the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative.

While this descriptions (and maps below) do not provide dependable details and are subject to change (made more confusing by the language used: like why call free lanes “express lanes” when FDOT has already branded their variable rate toll lanes as “express lanes?”), it is some progress.  As a Times editorial said:

Florida continues to improve its plan for modernizing the interstate system in Tampa Bay. The Florida Department of Transportation has unveiled four new options for rebuilding I-275 near downtown Tampa, and some of them would ditch previous plans for toll lanes downtown while keeping express lanes for faster, pass-through traffic. The DOT also continues to work in good faith to incorporate public feedback into Tampa Bay Next, the larger, controversial project for remaking 90 miles of regional interstate. These developments indicate state transportation officials are listening and better balancing the region’s growth, economy and quality of life.

We’re not sure FDOT is doing all that, but they appear to be trying, and that is something.  On the other hand, 1) all the plans are road plans and 2) the old TBX plan is still in play – it is one of the four options.  Let’s look at the maps.

The (basically) old plan, which is still an option:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the northside:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the south side:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are not sure if they are completely accurate, but in the maps the “express lanes” appear to take up the entire median in all options (though at the western end, the express lanes terminate into the grassy median, which is unlikely).  (The options also do take up more right of way, though the new options do not take up as much right of way.)

Additionally, we understand the potential idea of “express lanes” that are not tolled – basically a flyover.  That is definitely better than variable rate tolled lanes. But, first, that is not guaranteed.  Second, do they continue beyond Boulevard/22nd – the maps seem to indicate they do.  Are they tolled then?  Do they eat up the whole median and, if so, how far?

And even if the “express lanes” are not tolled,

“What we’ve heard consistently is that neighborhood preservation is important,” said DOT consultant Danielle Moran. “These are the options for a smaller footprint.”

Indeed, but the neighborhood is more than just the area north of the interchange.  Bulldozing more of Ybor or Tampa Heights/West Tampa is not really a positive.  Just how much land are they talking about?  How will it negatively affect connections between neighborhoods to the north and south?

And the biggest issue we see is that this all appears to be uncoordinated with any transit issue and other transportation planning.  From the maps, the entire median is used for roads with no room for transit. Why is FDOT still working to use the median just for traffic without even considering real transit (not that we prefer real transit in the highway median, but that is an option that should not yet be foreclosed) And, as part of the new ideas not putting express lanes on 275 north of the interchange, what are the other options to help transportation north of the interchange? Which gets to the real question: How can we choose a road plan if we don’t even know if that plan is the best use of the rights of way and money (most of it probably isn’t), what the other transportation needs are, and how they all fit together? Is the process about roads or about transportation?

So, we will give FDOT credit for making a step in the right direction. We are not sure any of the options are particularly good, we don’t know why the entire process can’t be coordinated to create a real system including transit options, and, frankly, we are wondering why the old plan is not actually dead.  But at least there are some other options and some dialogue.  Whether it amounts to anything remains to be seen. And, remember, the TBX plan is still in play (if they are listening, why is it even an option?)


Politics – About those Hurricanes

Last week, we pointed out that we had been lucky and that this area had been remiss in planning for events such as hurricanes.  This week, we got a window into some of the problem.

Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

In Hillsborough County, that depends on whom you ask.

County Administrator Mike Merrill says he alone can call for an evacuation, and that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was out of line when he announced that some city residents needed to leave their homes two days before Hurricane Irma’s approach. Buckhorn disagrees.

The rift emerged at perhaps the worst possible moment: during the critical final days before Irma’s date with Tampa Bay.

Two weeks after the hurricane passed through Florida, the county and city remain at loggerheads over who can give the command. And experts say that’s a potentially deadly problem should another emergency arise.

Yea, it is potentially deadly, and, if anything bad were to happen in such a circumstance, there is no one to blame but the local officials.  So what happened?

At 1:15 p.m., Buckhorn called for a mandatory evacuation in Tampa of residents of Zone A. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.

The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters. One problem: Hillsborough hadn’t opened their general population shelters yet.

Buckhorn “ordered an evacuation before it was needed and before we were ready,” Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “Then you had confusion. That’s not good for a community.”

Then, on Sept. 10, Buckhorn called for a curfew in Tampa to take effect just as the storm approached. But in a briefing with reporters later that day, Merrill said “there never was” a curfew.

Those calls were not Buckhorn’s to make, Merrill contends. That power was given to Merrill on Sept. 6 by Hillsborough’s emergency policy group, a body that includes officials from the county and its cities, including Buckhorn.

The resolution, which Buckhorn voted for, gave the county administrator authority during the local state of emergency to “determine whether any specific areas or zones of the county are to be evacuated” and to “direct the sequence in which such evacuations shall be carried out, including the time any evacuations are to begin.”

* * *

Tampa city attorney Sal Territo acknowledged the city should have checked to make sure county shelters were ready before issuing an evacuation.

But Territo remained adamant that the city never relinquished its ability to mobilize Tampa residents. Tampa, he said, still has home-rule powers.

Good thing we were lucky in not getting a major hit because apparently petty arguments are more important than a unified, coordinated message to ensure public safety.

We get the County and City argue a lot (like this).  We also get there is a lot of factional bickering among various officials.  We get that such bickering holds us back in planning, transportation, and other issues that lead to being held back in economic development as well.  However, none of that excuses such silliness in times of emergency.

Of course, this all came out after we got lucky, but next time we might not be lucky.  In other words, work it out.


Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

In what should be no surprise to people who regularly fly:

It was a repeat performance for TIA, which was named second in this survey last December. This time around, Tampa ranked second in the large airport category with a score of 795 behind John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, which had a score of 796. Dallas Love Field came in third with a score of 790.

The only surprise is that the Airport came in second (barely).  It is also notable that the “large” airport category was the second largest category:

The Orlando airport got the highest rating among the “mega” airports for overall satisfaction and scored tops for ease of getting to the airport and for facilities within the terminal. It didn’t do quite as well as the second-ranked airport, in Detroit, for checking baggage and security checks.

* * *

More precisely, Orlando International ranks at the top of airports with at least 32 million passengers annually, a category of mega airports that is new this year for the rankings.

Regardless, it is still good (and interestingly Orlando’s airport, at least the part in use now, is based on Tampa’s design anyway).  And then there is this:

According to RewardExpert, Tampa International Airport is the fifth least expensive domestic airport. Two other in-state airports are included in the top five: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) at No. 1 and Orlando International Airport coming in third. The report analyzed 45 of the nation’s busiest airports based on ten key indicators across four dimensions — transportation to and from the airport (21 points), plane tickets prices (50), amenities (15) and food (14).

It is not cheap as some other Florida airports, but at least we are a usual suspect on airport lists.


MacDill – More

MacDill is getting more refueling planes.

The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 16 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.

The 50th Airlift Squadron, with eight jets and some 250 personnel, is headed to MacDill from Little Rock Air Force Base, according to a news release from the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill’s host unit.

Which is on top of other, admittedly local, changes:

Later, another aviation unit will be moving operations to MacDill.

The base is building a new home over the next two years for A and F Companies of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment. Now located at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, the move will bring 23 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and about 150 personnel to MacDill.

Growth at MacDill is welcome.  However, this is still a concern:

A new generation of tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus, are being built to replace them but so far, none of the new planes have been assigned to MacDill.

Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis Air Force Base, California, were named by the Air Force in January as preferred locations.

That marked the second time MacDill failed to make the cut. Community leaders have been pushing hard to bring the new jets to MacDill because of the additional money, personnel and construction jobs they would bring. The jets would have also helped protect MacDill from any base reductions.

* * *

The Air Force declined earlier to say where MacDill fell short.

While the present planes should be around a while, getting the new ones would be much better.  We need to determine what the perceived deficiencies are and rectify them.  And to those how are more concerned with the politics of military bases, did we mention that we are the largest swing area in the largest swing state in the country?


Correction

Last week, in the “Parks and Taxation, Cont” segment () we attributed a Tribune editorial to the Times.  In fact, the editorial was written a few weeks before the Times bought the Tribune. We have corrected the segment.

 

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Roundup 9-22-2017

September 22, 2017

Contents

A Thought About Hurricanes and Planning

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Downtown – (Law)Suits

Tampa Heights – Moving Forward

– Some Money

— Food Halls

Parks and Taxation, Cont

Economic Development – What’s With the Schools?

Port – Dig

Rays/Tourism – Tourists, Taxes, and Talking

—  A Little More on Tourism

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Lists of the Week

______________________________________________


A Thought About Hurricanes and Planning

As everyone who lives here knows, we were very lucky with Hurricane Irma. And many people came together admirably to help others in the community (though why, in many areas, it is takes so long to even start collecting yard waste is a mystery.)  We usually are pretty lucky, and that is good for us.  Because we are lucky, the damage is not as bad as some other places.  One thing that bothers us is that, while much is done to fix what gets damaged, little seems to be done to limit the potential for damage in the first place.

As noted in a number of articles, including one in the Washington Post, that was sent to us by numerous people, the Tampa Bay area is incredibly vulnerable to hurricanes and other weather.  We don’t need to tell you that our rivers rise quite often; we have areas that seem to flood every year; in areas, our streets often flood, including in rain; and we seem to have an issue with sewers, as well.

We get that people want to live near the water and that is unlikely to change and we get that we will never hurricane-proof this area, but that does not mean things can’t be done. Here is a little from a recent article on Houston after Harvey:

The size of tropical storm Harvey – some experts estimate it has already dumped 12tn gallons of rain in Houston and south Texas – is unusual. But there is no single reason for the extent of the impact it has had at street level.

“It’s a combination of factors,” said Sam Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s a very low-lying coastal plain, with clay-based soils that do not drain very well. The city is subject to very heavy rainfall, as well as flooding from tidal events.

“You take that flood-risk landscape and you put 6 million people on top, with prolific amount of pavement and roadways and a lack of collective and regional thinking about what that does to the natural drainage of that landscape, and you end up with disasters.”

Brody – who himself has been trapped in his western Houston home for the past three days – said Houston’s rapid expansion is part of the problem. The city has added hundreds of square miles of pavement and vastly increased its housing stock, but the flooding infrastructure has, in some areas, not kept pace.

“Many neighborhoods are still using roadside ditches as drainage. It’s like the Middle Ages almost,” Brody said.

Aside from the clay soil, the same can basically be said for this area, especially the pave and build, sprawl-based policies and lack of regional thinking.  While we may have more natural drainage through our soil, excessive paving reduces that advantage – and it is limited anyway.  Otherwise, we are more vulnerable.

There are steps we can take such as limiting sprawl, building more and better drainage and flood mitigation systems (including buying up some vulnerable areas to get people out of them and leaving the land for drainage), and burying power lines where possible. We do not have a comprehensive list, but it does not seem like anyone is creating a comprehensive list, which is a problem. And we get that it will take time and money but that does not mean we should not start or make things worse. Because, regardless of Indian mounds (just note the last big hurricane here was after the mounds were already there), the reality is basically this:

“I have no doubt that we will get hit,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), who warned as Irma approached that his city was about to get punched in the face. “We’re not protected. We’re no more vulnerable than anyone else in the state of Florida. We’ve just had the good fortune of not having been hit, but there’s nothing we do or don’t do that’s going to stop that.”

And we are not going to get into climate change because we don’t need to.  With or without climate change, the rain and storms are still going to come, and we should be doing things differently to protect our area.  We will never be able to make it entirely secure, but that does not mean we have to make our natural vulnerability worse.

We got lucky again which is great, but no one can guarantee that will always be the case.  Quite the opposite. What are we going to do about it?


Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

While it has been under construction for a little while now (and documented with a previously mentioned webcam), officially:

Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida’s new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

From USF – click on picture for article

We hope it is a nice as it is held out to be. It is good to get something in Water Street project going.  We hope there is a lot mor of this kind of news soon.

Of course, you should note this:

The University of South Florida will ask lawmakers for an additional $21 million to complete funding for its downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute.

The state has already provided $91 million, including $12 million in construction funds in the current budget, for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute.

We assume they will get the money, but with the legislature, you never know.


Downtown – (Law)Suits

In the last few weeks there has been what we consider annoying news about the proposed Riverwalk Tower, which was supposed to reveal renderings by September, though we have seen nothing yet.

According to a lawsuit filed this month in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Riverwalk Tower Investment – Intown LLC was to handle the residential portion of the tower while Larry Feldman’s Feldman Equities was in charge of the office component. Intown said problems began when a potential lender hired broker Darren Hornig to evaluate the project.

“Hornig concluded in early 2017 that Riverwalk Tower needed more residential units and less office space in light of the lack of demand for office space in downtown Tampa,” the suit says. “That recommendation displeased Feldman.”

The suit claims that Feldman then took over the residential part of the project and told others that he would consult with Greg Minder, Intown’s manager, but would make the day-to-day and final decisions himself. As a result of Feldman’s efforts to “push out Minder,” the suit says, the firm chosen to market the tower, Smith & Associates, left or was terminated by Feldman.

Feldman has “no experience in residential development and without such experience, Riverwalk Tower will fail or at the very least be far less successful than if Intown was properly include in the project,” says the suit. It seeks damage and a declaration that Feldman Equities had no right to relieve Intown of day-to-day responsibilities for the residential component.

Feldman said Tuesday that litigation in large projects is not unusual. “This particular suit is not going to deter us from moving forward on the project,” he said. “The plaintiff and principal behind the suit, Greg Minder, owns nothing and invested nothing in the project, so this is a dispute over a letter of intent (to work together).” Minder, who developed Tampa’s Skypoint condo tower, could not be reached for comment.

As is to be expected, this week:

Feldman Equities LLC has moved to dismiss a residential developer’s lawsuit over a 53-story mixed-use tower proposed in downtown Tampa.

As is our practice, we are not going to comment about the merits of lawsuits, especially when we have no information regarding the facts.  However, as people who want to see Tampa grow and develop, we will say the whole thing is annoying.  We would like to get this project moving – or at least see what is actually proposed in some detail.  At least Water Street seems to be moving.


Tampa Heights – Moving Forward


– Some Money

There was news about the Heights, a project which is starting to take shape on the river:

The Tampa-based Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa. Proceeds from the bond issue are expected to used for new roads, sidewalks, the Tampa Riverwalk and parking garages and other infrastructure work associated with the 43-acre development.

Which is fine, though the parking garages in the plan risk being a little too prominent for our taste (though the Pearl’s concealing of its parking garage makes us a bit more optimistic.)

The center of project is the historic Armature Works building, which is being transformed into the Heights Public Market, event hall, and co-working space and is due to open in November.

We look forward to finally seeing it.  Also, it seems the Pearl should also be opening soon.


— Food Halls

Speaking of Tampa Heights,

The Hall on Franklin is open in Tampa Heights, offering everything from liege waffles to poke bowls under one roof.

Here’s their website. And it looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We have been to other food halls in other cities, and, while they tended to be bigger, this one is on the upper end of nice environments. (We’ll have to see about the true size and environment at Armature Works). We hope it is successful and really gets the redevelopment of the Franklin Corridor north of 275 going.  It is a great spot with some very nice older buildings and land for urban infill.  Check it out.


Parks and Taxation, Cont

This week, (which appears to be local tax increase season. see here , here, and here), the City Council rolled back the Mayor’s proposed tax increase a bit.

The City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to scale back Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed property tax increase for 2018.

Buckhorn originally proposed a tax rate that would have added $140 to the city tax bill of a homeowner who lives in a house with the average assessment of $166,579.

But that proved to be too much for most council members, who tend to support the mayor’s proposed spending.

As approved Monday night, the city’s tax rate would rise from the current $5.73 to about $6.33 in tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would add $105 to the tax bill of a homeowner with an average home.

Four Councilmembers voted for the revised tax because the City has to pay its bills.  Three voted against it.

But council members Harry Cohen, Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez voted against the proposal.

Cohen said he thought the city could scale back the proposed tax increase even further. Buckhorn’s original proposal is too much to ask of property owners who have seen the city raise stormwater improvement fees. Officials should consider cuts in spending, he said, starting with a proposed upgrade for the City Council chambers that he said isn’t needed.

Maniscalco said he was struggling because he had supported two separate increases in drainage improvement fees, plus using $15 million from the BP settlement to help pay for a $35 million makeover at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

But, he said, “never was it said, after we do all this, that we have to do a (property tax) increase.”

That is more along the line of the Chamber of Commerce’s stance:

“We recognize the challenges facing the city resulting from previous debts but feel a tax increase to pay for them sets a dangerous precedent,” Rohrlack said.

Thus, after “considerable review,” chamber chairman Mike Griffin said in a statement that “we do not agree that there is sufficient justification for the proposed tax increase on residents and businesses.”

“We hope that City Council and Mayor Buckhorn will use their upcoming deliberations to find a solution to our city’s debt challenges that does not raise taxes on residents and businesses and works to maintain our designation as one of the most affordable cities in not only the state but also the country,” he added.

We get both views and, given what has already happened with budgeting, we are not going to complain too loudly about this year.  However, this was all foreseeable.  First, the outstanding debt and repayment schedule should have been addressed early and in a straight-forward, transparent way.

Second, as we noted before, the park spending, especially Julian Lane Riverfront Park was not done in the best way.  Even the Times editorial board this week said so, sort of, in an editorial on the tax increase:

The city has no choice but to spend money to repay the outstanding debt. While it spent too much on the remake of Riverfront Park, at $35 million, that decision has been made. . .  

Of course, in 2016, while noting that the park project was pretty expensive and maybe the cost should be reduced (maybe), gave pretty solid support for the park project here. The Tribune had a more supportive editorial here which told us [ed.  We have made a correction here.  Originally, we thought the Tribune editorial was after the Tribune/Times merger and was a Times editorial and treated it as such.  We were off by a few weeks.  The editorial was a Tribune editorial and that has been made clear.  Our apologies]:

The mayor plans to use funds from the half-cent Community Investment Tax and $15 million of the $20 million the city received in BP settlement funds for lost business during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Councilman Charlie Miranda, ever cautious with tax dollars, doesn’t like the plan to bond CIT funds. Miranda would prefer to see the project proceed in stages, a reasonable approach.

The mayor says such bonding is customary for major capital projects, and the CIT revenue provides a reliable revenue stream and won’t put any extra burden on city residents.

Well . . .

So where are we?

However, there is only one more public hearing set for next Thursday before the council passes the budget. Under the city charter, the council could vote to reduce the millage increase next week.

At this point, decisions have been made about spending and the City has debts it has to pay so it have to get a way to pay them.   But, once again, the reality is that, with more planning, better communication, and more real oversight from both the City Council and the media, this could all have been avoided, but that is a major weakness of the Imperial Mayor form of government.  And, regardless of the outcome, none of this builds confidence. 


Economic Development – What’s With the Schools?

Which brings us to schools.  While curriculum and other such controversies are not in the scope this blog, economic development is, and, as we have noted before, schools are an integral part of economic development. We have noted that Hillsborough County does not seem to have enough money for routine maintenance of schools, such as air conditioning, which is a problem as schools.  This week, due to a very sad fire, we learned even more:

Lee Elementary School had a world studies magnet program and a century-old brick building topped with a graceful cupola. Inside and out, it was the pride of Tampa Heights.

But it didn’t have fire sprinklers. And it wasn’t alone.

The Hillsborough County Public Schools use fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, emergency lights and flashing strobes to protect children in case of a fire.

Safety inspections happen yearly and “fire drills are held every month school is in session,” Grayson Kamm, the district’s community relations and media officer, said Thursday. “All of our schools are up to fire code.”

In some cases, when an older school is undergoing multiple major renovations, a sprinkler system is added.

But that never happened at Lee. Nor do sprinklers exist at most district schools, according to a list provided by the district, which showed 87 out of more than 200 schools have them.

Interesting.  How do they explain that?

“Sprinklers really protect property and not people,” Kamm said, emphasizing that the other equipment and practices are far more important.

That’s a theory we’d rather not test. Sprinklers can put out or limit a fire in a building full of kids.  Yes, other things are also important, but that does not reduce the importance of sprinklers. (See Grenfell Tower and sprinklers. here and here)

It is all part of a bigger issue – lack of money. From the Times on August 30:

Unlike other large districts, Hillsborough is seeking to pay its bills without the help of a voter-approved sales tax. Eakins and board leaders, while not addressing the issue Tuesday, have said in the past that they want to restore confidence in the schools before they ask voters for more money.

But that’s easier said than done in a district that has been hit with one controversy after another since the era of open warfare between board members and the prior superintendent, MaryEllen Elia. Most recently, parents and teachers have complained about failing school air conditioners. At Tuesday’s meeting, there was also a litany of parent complaints about pedestrian safety, now that the district has cut busing near the schools to save $3.5 million a year.

The nation’s eighth-largest school district, Hillsborough boasts award-winning magnet schools and a growing number of students who distinguish themselves in International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and National Merit Scholar competitions.

But it also far exceeds all other Florida districts in the number of schools on a state list based on low elementary reading scores. And, like a lot of urban districts, it is losing many students to privately run charter schools.

Eakins, in addition to cost-cutting measures that will touch on energy use and employee insurance as the size of the workforce decreases, stressed the need to market the district-run schools.

That leads to this on September 5:

Hillsborough County school officials say they have little choice but to seek voter approval for a sales tax that would help rebuild a system plagued by broken air conditioners, leaking roofs and other problems caused by years of delayed maintenance.

But that won’t happen, they said, without a campaign that highlights the good they do and the importance of a strong school system.

* * *

Chris Farkas, the district’s chief operating officer, said “it’s hard to build confidence when you send your kid to school and there’s no AC in the school. It’s hard to build confidence in your employees when they don’t have AC in the classroom.”

While not committing to a referendum, Eakins said the time has come “to get creative,” and that district leaders need to be “talking to our community on a regular basis” over the next 12 to 18 months.

While there is some blame in the present school governance, we are not going to blame the present administration for all the issues that obviously began long before and were ignored by previous administrations.  And we agree, getting a tax increase may be difficult, especially with the politics presently around schools. (note that this week the School Board passed a budget for this year.)

In all honesty, this circumstance should not be surprising. What we have with schools, is a failure to deal with issues as they arose, deferring the problem until a crisis point which is what we have with transportation, planning, storm water, and a host of other issues. (And the money issue is also a failure of impact fees to truly reflect the cost of development. And there is the issue of state funding, but, if that is such an issue, where is the legislative delegation?  They can’t get money to fix fire hazards?)

It is quite a mess, especially if you are trying to attract a major business – say Amazon – here.


Port – Dig

There was news from the Port regarding the Big Bend Channel expansion project they have been working on.

Port Tampa Bay approved a public-private partnership agreement with four other entities to divvy up who will pay for a $60 million widening and extension of the Big Bend Channel.

The strategic partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Tampa Electric Co. and Mosaic Co., a global fertilizer company which is one of port’s largest tenants along with Tampa Electric. The port’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the participation agreement at a monthly meeting on Tuesday.

We are all for such deals if they bring more business at less public investment.  Hopefully, this will.

Separately, Port Tampa Bay on Tuesday also unanimously approved the use of a portion of $4.2 million in Florida Seaports Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTED) funds to improve two existing berths. The port will pay more than half of the reconstruction costs with the other portion coming from FSTED funds and state grants. The update to Berth 219 will cost $8.6 million and Berth 3 is estimated at $6.3 million.

Which is fine.  Now, we need ships to use the channel.  Regardless, it is good for the Port to be focused on acting as a port rather than a real estate development company.  We need much more of that.


Rays/Tourism – Tourists, Taxes, and Talking

There was some news about the Rays stadium issue.  First, despite the hurricane, Hillsborough is still likely to hit the numbers necessary to qualify for another percentage point on the tourist tax:

Between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9, county hotels actually saw a 10 percent increase in revenue over the same period last year, according to Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism promotion agency for Hillsborough.

And when the numbers are tallied, Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada doesn’t believe Irma’s pass through the bay area will have much of an impact on tourist development taxes collected on each night’s stay at a hotel.

* * *

Hillsborough County is chasing the elusive distinction of a Florida “high tourism impact” county, meaning it generated $600 million of revenue in a calendar year at hotels, motels and other short-term rentals. Counties that pass the threshold can increase the tourist development tax, often called the room or bed tax, from 5 cents on every dollar spent on hotel stays to 6 cents.

Some local officials have eyed the sixth cent as one potential way to pay for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Tampa. Those who want to use the room tax for a stadium are quick to point out it is primarily paid by tourists, unlike property or sales taxes. But the tax is off the table if the county doesn’t first pass the $600 million mark.

Whether the tourist tax gets increased or not, hitting the threshold number would be good anyway. Regarding a stadium, it is only relevant if the stadium is to be built in Hillsborough.  And about that, the former Rays manager, now free to speak his mind, has some thoughts, from the Times:

Though some of Maddon’s former Rays bosses were unhappy with how he left, opting out of the final year of his contract, he did some bidding for them Tuesday, coming out strong for the need for a new stadium, and on the Tampa side.

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important moving it forward,” he said.

“Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that. People would get upset with me because I said that. But it’s true. Those who argue against it, that’s just a bad argument.

“You need a better facility. You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get to where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.”

We saw his comments and he was a bit more emphatic about being in Tampa, to wit:

From the Twitter account of Ryan Bass of WTSP – click on quote for Twitter

Yes, he’s a baseball guy talking about getting something for baseball.  On the other hand, we think that is all pretty obvious, but it is good to have someone who really has to deal with it make the point. We shall see what happens.


—  A Little More on Tourism

Since we are talking tourism, this is a good place for this:

A record-breaking, 22.6 million people who visited Tampa and Hillsborough County in 2016 pumped nearly $6 billion into the economy, according to a study commissioned by Visit Tampa Bay. The visitors supported about 50,000 jobs and contributed $369 million in state and local taxes.

* * *

Almost 500,000 international visitors, the smallest portion of the sector, spend on average of $1,327 per person on their trips for a total of $640.8 million.

We are inherently skeptical of economic impact studies commissioned by organizations with a vested interest in showing big impacts.  Nevertheless, regardless of exact numbers tourism is definitely an important aspect of our economy.

Looking at the purported numbers in the study, one interesting number is that international visitors, accounting for roughly 2% of visitors according to the article, accounted for roughly 10.5% of the money.  (We realize that we are going off rough numbers in the article and that “spending” is not necessarily the same as “pump(ing)” money into the economy, but any reasonable ambiguity in the numbers would tend to mean the international visitors were responsible for a larger percentage.)  Regardless of the complete veracity of the numbers, international visitors’ impact is proportionately greater than other tourists. We know that not all of them come on flights to the airport, but it just shows another reason international flights are important.  More please.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

While our local transportation system is messy and its future unclear and Brightline is moving to connect Orlando and Miami there was other news:

The Hyperloop route proposed for Miami to Orlando — estimated to take just 26 minutes! — is among the 10 worldwide winners in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge.

It’s one of just four winning routes in the United States, joining Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh, Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo, and Dallas-Laredo-Houston.

Spread across three continents and five countries, these 11 connections were identified as the strongest Hyperloop routes in the world. Back in April, the Miami-to-Orlando route was announced as one of 11 finalists in the U.S. Now the route joins the others as experts closely follow each’s commercial viability.

* * *

The Hyperloop One Global Challenge began in May 2016 and, according to Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd, their goal is to implement “three full-scale systems operating by 2021.”

We have no idea if Hyperloop is even a viable technology, however, it is just another case of being on the outside looking in for potential transportation connections and planning in our state.


Lists of the Week

This week, we present tangentially connected lists that tell us a lot about lists.  First, we have Apartment List’s Top Metros for Millennials.

What U.S. metros are the best for millennials?

To answer that question, Apartment List graded 75 top U.S. metros in three categories — jobs, affordability and livability — and ranked them, based on their scores.

Many metros score high in one or two categories, but few metros offer the ideal mix of a strong job market, affordable rent and home prices and high livability scores. 

You can see more details on their methodology on the website. Here is their list: Pittsburgh, Provo, Madison, San Antonio, Columbus, Charleston (SC), Omaha, OKC, Houston, and Minneapolis.

Ok, standard enough.  But then we found Money’s Best Places to Live. This is much more broad-based with national lists, regional lists, and more, and seems to be weighted to small towns near big cities.  The really interesting thing is, even when you get to the regional lists, they only include one Florida city – St. Augustine.

We are not really buying into either list, but it is interesting how little respect Florida gets overall.

Roundup 9-15-2017

September 15, 2017

We hope everyone is fine after last weekend. While we wanted to do a full Roundup this week, Irma caused some serious issues in our utilities and ate up a lot of time.  In any event, we are going to post what we have.  

Contents

Icelandair Arrives

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Stuff

— 10 Water Street

— Wellness

— The Webcam

Economic Development – Can We Get Amazon?

Transportation

— The Regional Study Forums

— Selmon Connector

— Selmon Greenway

— PSTA Clearwater Thoughts

South Tampa – Condos Move West

Downtown – Settling In Action

List of the Week

___________________________________________________


Icelandair Arrives

From Icelandair – click on picture for website

In keeping with tradition, we start by celebrating new international service. Last week, Icelandair began its service to Tampa (yes, they got overshadowed by other news, but whatever). See a video from the Business Journal here.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not much else to say about that other than “Cool.” Keep the international (and other) flights coming.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Stuff


— 10 Water Street

The first real information for a specific building of the Water Street development was revealed this week.  No surprise, it was the hotel across the street from the Marriott Waterside which was first mooted long ago.

The massive convention hotel in Water Street Tampa will feature a rooftop lounge on the 26th story, a ground-floor restaurant and a restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating on the sixth floor.

The 500-room hotel, named 10 Water Street, will be built on Old Water Street, across from the Marriott Tampa Waterside Hotel & Marina. Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street Tampa, revealed design plans for the property on Wednesday.

That is a nice size hotel, though it is far from “massive” (from all indications the hyperbole is media, here the Business Journal, generated, not from the developer, which is odd because a sister publication gave us this list of much larger hotels – not to mention the one across the street – an hour away  and those are not even that high on this list).  In any event,

The new hotel will be connected to the existing Marriott, SPP said, and include 126,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The hotel will feature a 30,000-square-foot-ballroom, which SPP says is the largest in the Tampa Bay region.

And all that is fine.  It will probably be a very nice hotel.  Here is the rendering released:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Moreover, elevations were filed with the city. (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay and Florida Future of Skycrapercity)

 

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

Before we get into the building itself, we will reiterate, we think it will probably be a very nice hotel.  We like the rooftop bar.  The restaurant space is fine.  The atrium seems nice. And, while basically a glass box, the building seems a nice glass box.  It is a bit nondescript but is nice enough.

We do have some potential issues, though.  First, aside from presumably the restaurants, there seems to be almost no street activity or retail, and there is a surface parking lot on the east end of the building (though we presume that will be developed soon enough).    And, while there are some elements that appear to be awnings, they seem to be broken up by vertical design elements so you can’t walk the relatively long distance along the street under cover.  That may not seem like a big deal for one building, but we are concerned that the designers realize that it rains and the sun is very hot here in Florida.  If they want people walking a lot, they need to provide real cover – not the kind of cover where you get soaked anyway.  Good designers design for the environment.

And that brings us to the skywalk. We get skywalks, and we get why the Lightning owner wants to connect his two hotels with skywalks.  We also get that skywalks inhibit street activity and tend towards designs the focus on keeping activity in the building. (See Bank of America building and how the retail is on the third floor where the skywalk connects with the garage.) We will be interested to see how they deal with that conundrum across the whole project.

Basically, while we are a little disappointed that it is not a truly striking design in the first announcement, the building seems fine, and we understand it.  (We hope they are working up to really excellent designs.) The biggest problem is that it contains many of the designs elements that have, when repeated over and over without mitigation, become problems for our urban areas.  (Some of the same problems that are supposed to be solved by Water Street)  However, it is nothing that cannot be addressed, and we hope that the Lightning owner’s team has the awareness to mitigate those issues and avoids those problems.


— Wellness

There was also news about the wellness aspect of the project.

A set of building standards for communities that cater to health and wellness — shaped by Strategic Property Partners’ $3 billion mixed-use district in downtown Tampa — will launch its pilot phase next week.

The International WELL Building Institute will debut the WELL Community Standard on Sept. 5.

You can read more here.

We are not overly interested with the whole wellness thing.  It’s nice, and people who want to indulge are free to do so.


— The Webcam

For those who are interested, USF has set up a construction webcam for the med school project with views like this still:

Click on picture for website

We are not sure if the webcam is fully working after Irma, but even if it isn’t, we assume it will get fixed. You can find the whole webpage here.   We are all for construction webcams and hope the Water Street project has many.


Economic Development – Can We Get Amazon?

As those who follow such things will know, Amazon said it is looking to build a second HQ (In addition to the very big one it is building in downtown Seattle.)

Amazon has announced plans to open a second headquarters in North America that will employ as many as 50,000 workers.

The company announced Thursday that it is searching for a city to host the new “HQ2” facility, which will cost at least $5 billion to construct and operate.

“We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”

Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) said it would prefer to open the headquarters in a suburban or urban area with more than 1 million people. It’s looking for a community that “thinks big” and a location that will attract technical talent.

We are not really clear why Amazon wants to do this, but  whatever.  What are they looking for?  As noted by a Marketwatch article:

First, Amazon asks for metropolitan areas with more than one million people.

* * *

Next up for Amazon is a “stable and business-friendly environment.”

* * *

Onto the next criteria: “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” To meet this Amazon requirement, a metro area had to meet one of two screens — either the largest percentage of professional, management and scientific jobs, or the largest percentage of workers in management, business, science and arts.

* * *

Finally, we have “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.” That’s a harder metric to screen for, but we’re going to read that as, mostly, Amazon looking for tax breaks.

And it produced this list of candidates:

And with that, you get our finalist list for Amazon’s second headquarters: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Bridgeport, Denver, New York, Provo, Raleigh, Tampa and Washington. 

Of course, that is complete speculation.  Other speculation drops Tampa very early, like here or completely ignores it, like here.

Gotta think big to get big. The good news is Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Craig Richard says Tampa Bay meets the key criteria of Amazon’s hunt for a second headquarters. Access to a good airport. A metro area topping a million people. Nearby universities of quality. And tech talent.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 13 for us,” says Richard in his enthusiastic style. “We have read Amazon’s RFP (request for proposal) and it sounds like it was written for us.”

He’s a salesman selling.  That is what he is supposed to do.

But in this extraordinary case, is a “13” effort enough? The desire of metros across this country (Canada, too) to seal this deal is palpable. Conversations similar to mine with Richard are taking place in dozens of major metros. What aspiring U.S. metro would not want to land Amazon HQ2 for one of the fastest growing, innovative companies on the planet that is run by one of the world’s richest billionaires?

Richard acknowledges the competition will be fierce; the odds long. “Many other metros will think this RFP was written for them,” he acknowledged. And that no doubt includes other metro areas in Florida.

Pretty much, though it really isn’t.  But we are all for trying.  We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

At first glance, the most obvious site in Tampa Bay to land Amazon’s second headquarters would be Water Street Tampa. At $3 billion (and counting) in an urban setting, the bold 50-plus acre development seems to radiate an aura of innovation that could appeal to the likes of Amazon. Besides, Strategic Property Partners, the firm behind the development, is a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the personal money arm of billionaire Bill Gates. And Gates, like Bezos, is based in Seattle.

Perhaps Bezos could appreciate what Gates apparently sees in the future of Tampa.

On the other hand, Amazon’s HQ2 wants space — lots of it — and may not find Water Street Tampa roomy enough, no matter how high an Amazon headquarters building could be built.

Plenty of other compelling places in this metro could also appeal to the likes of Amazon. But the formidable disrupter of retailing can afford to be picky, and will be. Metros that are truly serious will be throwing everything at the company, from beautiful land and innovative designs to promises of top tech talent.

Setting aside that there are not plenty of compelling places that would appeal to Amazon, the fact that Amazon can afford to be extremely picky is a the real problem.  It is at times like these that the decades of complacency, laziness, and selfishness in planning and transportation and all the settling become a real issue. (Not to mention the complacency in airline routes for many years, complacency in economic development focusing on back office jobs, and other various complacency) Amazon can go anywhere and probably get paid to do so.  They can go to fully developed urban areas with all the amenities they want and need – all the things we still talk about wanting. While we think their second HQ will probably be in the eastern half of the country, why specifically should they come here compared to all sorts of other places that are years ahead of us in such things?

It’s not that we don’t want this. We would love to have Amazon here, and they could come here. We are all for trying to get them, but the challenges are very large.  So, as usual, it all goes back to the same question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

This is when the perennial failure to address that question head for on really matters.


Transportation


— The Regional Study Forums

As most readers know, there is a regional transit study going on that is mostly just a review and discussion of the results of old studies.  As part of this transit study there is some public input which, so far, has been quite limited.  That input has taken the form of some recent public meetings (internet anyone?).  First the Hillsborough meeting:

More than 70 residents and business owners attending a public forum on rapid transit appeared to agree at least on one thing Thursday: They like light rail and dedicated bus lanes to move people through congested Hillsborough County.

70 is not very many for a county with 1.3 million people. Once again, internet anyone?

The two-hour forum at the Tampa History Center — one of three scheduled in the Tampa Bay region — is the first public step in a $1.5 million study by Jacobs Engineering that eventually will recommend three out of more than a dozen possible projects as the area’s first venture into mass rapid transit.

Many of the current proposals involve the possible purchase of about nine miles of CSX tracks at an estimated cost of $60 million to $100 million.

Then there is the cost of the transit system itself.

The shortest proposed route, connecting South Tampa to the downtown area, ranges from $110 million to $5 billion, depending on the type of transit.

We are not sure what CSX tracks they propose buying, but 9 miles is not much (probably USF to downtown and not much more).  And the divergence in costs is quite substantial and needs much more explanation.

Likewise, $5 billion to connect South Tampa to downtown seems a little out of whack, even for rail, especially if it runs on the CSX tracks.  That does not sound accurate, but we’ll set that aside for a moment.  (The other question is whether a South Tampa to downtown route – as opposed to the airport to downtown – is really where anything should start. We would say it isn’t.)

The study is focused on eight different types of transit, ranging from traditional commuter rail to water taxis.

Five corridors selected as most in need of better transportation options would provide connections among areas including northern Hillsborough County, the University of South Florida area, Brandon, downtown Tampa, Westshore and the airport, Clearwater and St. Petersburg

So far, the consultants see the best rapid transit solution as a “rubber tire” system — buses and automated vehicles traveling along dedicated lanes — connecting commuters from Wesley Chapel and St. Petersburg to points in between.

The next best solution would connect downtown Tampa and the USF area via rubber tire options or light rail.

Third on the possible project list is a steel wheel-based, light-rail system connecting points from northern Hillsborough County to St. Petersburg.

We doubt the “rubber tire” system is the Montréal metro. It sounds pretty much like buses, though it could be something like the airport people mover.  Frankly, the article and the website for the project do not provide any clarity.

Although opinions were scattered, the highest number of votes were for light rail systems throughout Hillsborough County. This contrasted sharply with another forum held earlier in the week in Pasco County, where many of the 25 attendees opted for rubber tire solutions.

25? (At least turnout levels a relatively consistent) You can read a little more on it in this Times article. But not much.

We are not sure exactly what this study is really doing.  Having three meetings for the entire bay area is not really getting public input.  There is also the factor of study/meeting fatigue. How many meetings on the same subject can we have over the course of decades without anything getting done?

Nevertheless, the study is what we have.  We just wish that it showed more interest in really studying what the current situation in the Tampa Bay area is.  And, once again, if you want public input, you may want to use the internet.


— Selmon Connector

There was news on the Selmon/Gandy Connector.

Evidence of the $230 million Selmon Extension that will give commuters a swift ride from the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge will be visible Thursday as crews begin preliminary work on the overpass.

Workers will be along the shoulder and in the median of Gandy Boulevard west of Bridge Street from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. for “geotechnical investigation” and boring to prepare for construction, according to a release.

It is not really construction yet (nor is it just an overpass), but that was quick.


— Selmon Greenway

There was also news about the Selmon Greenway project.  Right now there is a trail of sorts under the Selmon in downtown complete with some signage, but it is not really a very nice place (though it is often shaded). See here and here.  But,

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is moving forward with plans to improve a greenway under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway through downtown. The 1.7-mile stretch is undergoing a $2.5 million facelift aimed at increasing safety and adding “pocket parks” including outdoor art and shade structures.

THEA released conceptual renderings of the pocket park proposal this week. The renderings show several statues and outdoor art, but those concepts are likely to change throughout the planning process and are instead meant to give an idea of what space might look like with such additions.

Mind you, it is only conceptual and subject to change, but here are some of the renderings and plans:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We’ll give them a definitive “not bad,” especially when compared to what is there now.  Unfortunately, as we said, it is all subject to change so we will have to wait to see what really happens.


— PSTA Clearwater Thoughts

There was an article in the Business Journal about PSTA that began like this:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting its sights on regional connectivity heading into the 2018 political cycle. The agency is focusing less on lobbying the Florida Legislature for funding and more on getting in on Florida Department of Transportation funding to create a dedicated transit corridor connecting Clearwater Beach to Tampa International Airport along State Road 60.

And that sounded promising enough, though we wondered how they would deal with a dedicated lane on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.  But then:

As part of the overall effort to connect one of the region’s biggest tourism centers to the airport that funnels travelers into the area, PSTA also has its eye on a dedicated busway over the Clearwater Causeway that connects downtown Clearwater to Clearwater Beach. The existing bridge is often plagued by congestion.

The express lane over the bridge would cost between $12 million and $15 million, according to PSTA CEO Brad Miller who referenced a previous study of the corridor. It wouldn’t require any new bridge construction. The agency would restructure the existing median and repaint lanes rather than expanding the bridge’s overall footprint, which saves money.

And that is fine, too, but it is not a dedicated lane to the airport (or anywhere really near the airport).

Miller said the agency would likely partner with the private sector to run an airport connection.

“The private provider could lease smaller vehicles and then as the ridership grows the vehicles could change,” Miller said.

That’s the kind of flexibility difficult for public agencies that have to often rely on existing fleets.

That’s ok, too, but it is still not a dedicated lane to the airport.

It’s not that we are opposed to the Memorial Causeway concept in the article, and getting to the beach faster is good.  But the proposal is not what the article (and maybe PSTA, though that is not as clear) held it out to be.  Nevertheless, it would be really nice if there were a truly improved connection to the airport.


South Tampa – Condos Move West

As some may know, the defunct New Port Tampa Bay project had a number of condo projects (and even had some cranes up at one point, see here) on the west side of Interbay Peninsula, where density is lacking.  The new Westshore Marina District also has some condo proposals and now we have a better idea what they may be like, per URBN Tampa Bay:

New renderings, site plans and elevations for the tower portion of Westshore Marina District. This phase of the project is three 16 story towers with a total of 350 units and what appears to be some retail space. The towers top out at 201 feet tall.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

While we are not really into the Miami design style, they look fine to us.  And they do appear to attempt to have some street interaction, which is good (though we are not sure it will actually happen like that).  We also like the drawing showing relative elevation of the building, although 10’ is still pretty low.

Overall, we are fine with the idea.  We like getting Tampa to be denser and more city-like. (And there are more apartments going in this project, though we are not sure if they will be decent designs or the typical quick/cheap-build-and-sell projects we get in Tampa )  There are other areas that can be dense and walkable than downtown, and we are glad that development seems to be moving in that direction with this development (assuming no other crash happens).

The one thing is that there still seem to be absolutely no plans to deal with increased traffic from large developments south of Gandy. We cannot understand why there is such an apparent oversight, but it sure looks like there is.  And, sadly, while it does not make sense, it is not surprising.


Downtown – Settling In Action

Last week, we got a good lesson in how Tampa has worked over the years.

Love the money, hate the thatched roof.

That was the message Thursday from the Tampa City Council to Four Green Fields about the pub’s planned new location next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“God-awful,” council member Mike Suarez said of the design, which seeks to top what is now a plain parks department building with a partial thatched roof like the one at Four Green Fields’ original location on W Platt Street.

“It is damned ugly,” council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin said. “Thatched roofs are just not part of Florida.”

This sort of talk is not new. A different lineup of City Council members had similar misgivings in 1992 when the pub came in for its initial rezoning. Then the roof was seen as being out of context architecturally and therefore inappropriate. Since then, it’s become a sales point for the pub, which boasts that it’s “America’s only thatched roof pub.”

Yea, it looks questionable at best, but:

Despite its grousing, the council unanimously approved a 10-year lease with Four Green Fields with the rent paid to the city starting at about $90,000 a year and increasing 2 percent annually. Four Green Fields also will pay the city an additional 6 percent of gross sales of more than $3.4 million a year.

Over 10 years, the base rent is projected to pay the city about $500,000 more than the next-best offer from the other six bidders, said Rob Rosner, Tampa’s urban development manager for downtown.

That was good enough for the council, which heard that the new restaurant could open in about four months.

“Ugliness is in the eye of beholder,” council member Charlie Miranda said. “I love every style in the world that creates money.”

At least he’s honest.  It’s not like they couldn’t have worked with Four Green Fields to make it a little more palatable.  Now, they have no leverage.  (And remember we like Four Green Fields and we don’t mind the look of the building on Platt at all.)

The City is presently making no money from the building so any money they make is a bonus.  Why choose a design they admit they do not like?  Because, it seems, they don’t really care.  That is the very definition of settling.

We know that this is a small project that will not make much difference (and will probably get some bemused comments in travel writing), but when you take that attitude over a number of years and over the whole area, it shows.


List of the Week

We ran across an interesting list this week: SmartAsset’s States with the Worst Drivers – 2017 Edition. This is their methodology, which is a little questionable:

In order to find the states with the worst drivers, SmartAsset looked at factors like the percentage of drivers who have auto insurance, the DUI rate, the number of people killed per 100 million vehicle miles and how often people search the term “parking tickets” on Google. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together.

Setting aside some of the questions, this is their Top Ten, starting with the worst:

Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, California, Alabama, and Georgia.

Even with the odd methodology, we can’t really say we are surprised.

Roundup 9-8-2017

September 7, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.  We fully intended to write one and even started, but we got distracted by Irma.  Just be safe.

Roundup 9-1-2017

August 31, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 8-25-2017

August 24, 2017

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street Renderings

Transportation – Goings On

— Why?

— Highways, the Editorial

— Vision Zero

Downtown – Encore Retail

Downtown – TECO

Rays – What We Knew

Parks and Taxation

Transportation – Airport News

____________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street Renderings

The Water Street team has released more information regarding the project.  First, there is a graphic telling us what design teams are working on which lots:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The drawing isn’t really informative as to the buildings themselves, but it definitely gives a nice impression, including the two large buildings (offices) north of the Selmon.  Also interesting is the addition to the Amalie arena making it actually related to Water Street.

The team also produced a nice little video:

Once again, this gives more layout and massing, and towards the end (at about :56) it provides an indication of the distribution of uses throughout the project.  We thought it might be useful to have screenshots of that distribution for reference:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for video

 

It also seems to indicate an awful lot of good usage on rooftops, which is was a priority and is a very nice feature of the plan.

As for the list of architects, there are some good names, but we are more concerned with what they design for Tampa than what they have done before (see Arquitectonica and the Tribune site).

All in all, still positive.  We look forward to seeing the actual designs and seeing them built.


Transportation – Goings On

Of course, there was transportation news.


— Why?

While this area needs transit and improvements to its highway network, including an east-west road in Pasco, the Selmon Connector, really fixing the Howard Frankland bottleneck and Malfunction Junction, it does not really need to have the Suncoast Parkway extended north (at least not now).  Well,

Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as “Suncoast 2” is expected to start in early 2018.

The 13-mile, four-lane extension of the Suncoast Parkway has been dubbed by critics as “the road to nowhere” because it ends in the middle of Citrus County. It doesn’t bend west toward U.S. 19, or east toward Interstate 75, and there are no firm plans to extend it.

The Suncoast Parkway currently ends amid undeveloped land north of U.S. 98 at the northern edge of Hernando County. The Suncoast 2 would extend the tollroad halfway through Citrus County, to State Road 44.

We are not going to wade into the environmental argument (which you can read in the article from which the quote above comes) or the issue of inflated traffic predictions because it is not necessary to do so. There is a practical argument against, namely, the road is not needed right now.  Even with the possibly inflated projections, there just isn’t the demand to require it – especially with other local needs.  It’s not like the Suncoast Parkway, which is already underused, will draw that much more traffic from adding a connection to Citrus County. And a far bigger priority for the area is connecting the Veterans/Suncoast to I-75/275.

That does not foreclose it in the future, but why spend that money now, when there are other needs in the Tampa Bay area (like the aforementioned east-west road and the Howard Frankland bottleneck that needs a full fix).  Even if you want to help support the road builders, have them build the roads we need.


— Highways, the Editorial

The Times had an editorial celebrating the Selmon Connector and FDOT’s partial fix to the Howard Frankland bottleneck.   (Both are positive, though incomplete.)  You can read the whole thing, but this is of interest:

The DOT would add a third lane in both directions, which also would improve southbound traffic to St. Petersburg. It also has signaled a change of heart, proposing to fast-track the new lanes rather than weave the project into a larger take-it-or-leave-it proposal known as Tampa Bay Next, a controversial regional highway expansion plan. The lanes could open by 2021.

* * *

The region will not continue to grow and improve its quality of life without adding new bus and rail options as part of a modern transportation system. But it is no small achievement to make major improvements to the gateways of two of the three bridges connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough, and to bring those improvements on line at roughly the same time. This testifies to the hard work by local advocates and to the focus on local priorities by the DOT and expressway authority.

That is basically true for the Selmon, but is a bit (though not all) revisionist regarding the bottleneck.  As the Times itself reported, most local officials were fine with TBX, taking a free lane and putting tolls on it, and everything else (if they ever were paying attention), as were a number of organization in the business community.  That was part of the TBX package deal including partially fixing the bottleneck.  Local officials were not pushing for fixing the bottleneck separate from TBX.   But the fix should have been done years ago, when the Pinellas side was fixed. (That it was not pushed then is also questionable)

The people most responsible for FDOT’s change of heart now were the people who really questioned TBX – the citizen activists that would not accept the flawed TBX plan and pushed for a reexamination. (Yes, they were concerned about other elements but their activity is what opened the door to reexamine what had been presented as a take-it-or-leave-it package deal which most local officials did not question prior to public opposition)

The fact is that holding the bottleneck fix hostage to TBX never had a sound basis and should never have been allowed by local officials (including the legislative delegation).  Sometimes it seems like local officials need to be reminded that we are a major metro area in this state (and the biggest swing area in the biggest swing state in this county).  We should not have to settle.

We hope that, in the future, local officials are more active in pushing for this area’s needs.  They can start by pushing FDOT to fully fix the bottleneck.


— Vision Zero

Everyone who cares (or walks or bikes) knows that the Tampa Bay area is a dangerous place for walking or biking (and not so great for driving).

What would it take to eliminate all traffic deaths in the county that has the most of them?

Local planners think a combination of repainting roads, narrowing lanes, expanding data-driven policing and installing new lighting will help ensure that Hillsborough loses the dubious distinction it holds among the nation’s large counties.

They presented an action plan Tuesday at the Tampa Theatre during the fourth local workshop of the Vision Zero Coalition — a national campaign to eliminate deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization spearheaded the plan and established the coalition, which includes officials working in local city and county transportation, public safety, health and education, as well as business partnerships and hospitals.

“Hillsborough County is one of the worst counties in the state, which is one of the worst states in the United States,” said Ken Sides, a transportation engineer at Sam Schwartz Engineering.

Actually, the worst, according to research for the local coalition: Hillsborough County records more traffic deaths per resident than any other large county in the country.

It is the worst because local government made (and continues to make) planning choices that make it so. In any event, what are the ideas?

The new action plan outlines four campaigns to make the county’s streets safe:

Most of the actions in the plan are slated to start by the end of the year and wind up in 2019. The group is also planning an event Oct. 6, second anniversary of the death of 17-year-old Alexis Miranda, a Chamberlain High School student who was hit by a car and killed near school.

We are not going to fault people for trying to reduce traffic deaths and maybe it will make a difference, but there are two gaping holes in this idea: the built environment and lack of alternatives to driving.  Even with all the changes, the fact remains that people will be forced to drive to their destinations, which are almost all built in a sprawling model that not only discourages walking and biking but also discourages drivers from intuitively considering the presence of walkers and cyclists. (Not to mention we routinely see people driving into bike lanes no matter how nicely painted they are.  We need separated bike lanes and urban trails.)  Not only that, it is entirely possible that this limited plan will create more congestion and frustration. Consider a target road:

One of the areas the coalition is highlighting is Brandon Boulevard between Falkenburg Road and Dover Road. This stretch of roadway recorded the highest number of severe crashes per mile from 2012-2016, the group found.

In that time, 180 severe crashes killed 11 people and caused 169 incapacitating injuries, according to a report by the group. Among the reasons: Gaps in the sidewalks, inadequate crosswalks and poor lighting.

Here is a map. Here is a zoom in the middle of that stretch. Here is the intersection with Kings  and here is Falkenburg (complete with pedestrian).    The road is already congested much of the day.  Narrowing the lanes and slowing down traffic may help a little but it is still inherently unwalkable (even if the sidewalks were not a mess) and, even so, has crosswalks for people willing to wait for the lights.  But it will piss off drivers who still will not naturally think of people walking or biking.

The article lists a number of other troubled roads. (Here is a Times article laying out the 20 worst, though not necessarily just for walking/biking, stretches of road. )  A few, like Kennedy and Meridian could benefit right away – but they are built differently.  But most are already sprawling messes.  Without any sign that the County and City are taking real moves to change how buildings are built and providing alternatives to driving so people do not have to drive everywhere getting frustrated by bad traffic while focusing on speeding to their destination, we are not sure anything will really change.  And just look at the South County, which is being built with basically the same failed model and just will become a problem in the future. (And that is not the fault of the people involved here – it is elected officials who have the final word).

And note that the “Future is not the Past” section does not seem to address actually building walkable areas, with walkable buildings, or alternatives to driving at all.

Like we said, we are all for trying to save lives and we applaud the concern and the effort, but the reality is that this plan is treating the symptoms, not the disease, which is the poor built environment, the mentality it engenders, and the unwillingness of local government to take real steps to change.  We hope it helps, but to really address the problem much more needs to be done.


Downtown – Encore Retail

The concept of the Encore project is to build a mixed use, urban neighborhood.  Setting aside the contractor issues, so far, it has basically been a residential project.

The agency expects to enter into a contract in the next 30 days for the sale of a 1-acre parcel to a developer for the construction of a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority chief operating officer.

* * *

Moore declined to name the new grocer but said it is a recognizable name.

With a new Publix so close by, Encore’s grocer is likely to be a store aimed at lower-income shoppers, predicted Paul Rutledge, first vice president at CBRE Inc., a commercial real estate services firm.

“Let’s say Publix captures all the high-income buyers, then you are limited to another tier of grocers,” Rutledge said. “Maybe it’s an Aldi, a Lidl or a neighborhood Walmart.”

A grocery store is a good development, especially if it does not have a big surface parking lot, like proposed by Walmart.  Frankly, an Aldi or Lidl would be a good addition to downtown overall.  We think it would be nicer if a grocery was integrated into one of the residential buildings rather than freestanding, but we’ll have to see what actually emerges.

And there’s more:

The negotiations for two new hotels on the southwest part of Encore come after the Housing Authority last year terminated a $7.4 million contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings. Officials said Pinnacle was given two years but failed to close on a deal to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block.

Pinnacle fired back in February by suing the Housing Authority to release records it states would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

Moore said the two hotels now being proposed are different brands under the same parent company but declined to name the firm.

That would also be welcome (though it would be nice to have a nicely designed building).  The more activity in the area the better.

Faedo’s, a restaurant with Latin cuisine, and a barbershop are expected to be the first businesses to open at Encore in the next few months, using retail spaces on the ground floor of the community’s residential towers.

But a planned Westshore Pizza location will not happen now because of a change in ownership, Moore said.

Which is fine. The neighborhood will have to figure out what retail works.


Downtown – TECO

Those who were around for TECO’s installation of really large power poles in people’s front yards know that sometimes TECO is not really overly concerned with aesthetics.  With that in mind, we noticed this from URBN Tampa Bay:

According to documents filed with the city, TECO is looking to expand their electric sub-station in Downtown. The block bound by Pierce, Jackson, Jefferson and Washington is currently half surface parking and half electric sub station. TECO’s plans would convert the parking into electric sub-station.

While this is likely due to increased power demand in Downtown especially with Water Street Tampa looming, we wish it wasn’t taking up a perfectly good Downtown block like this.

For those interested the address is 708 E Washington St. We, too, wish it did not take up a whole block.  However, given the increased electric needs once the lightning owner’s project get going, it is understandable.  On the other hand, even though it may be needed infrastructure, it would be nice if TECO would not just surround the facility with a relatively low wall which allows everyone to see the facility (which has been done elsewhere and, from Accela, appears to be what they are planning on this lot).  It is possible to actually build something mildly aesthetically pleasing.

That’s not really the way things are done in this area, but one can always hope.


Rays – What We Knew

While anyone taking an interest in the Rays stadium search knew that the most likely Hillsborough location was around the Tampa Bay Park apartments, this week we got basically confirmation of that.

Officials trying to lure the Tampa Bay Rays across the water are aggressively working to secure a site for a ballpark in the Channel District-Ybor City area, and hope to make an announcement soon.

Hillsborough County and its lawyers have had dozens of conversations this year with the Rays, its financing team at Goldman Sachs and Populous, the architect for the new ballpark, according to legal records. They’ve discussed financing options, reviewed sites and compared economic development proposals.

More recently, they have spoken with land owners about assembling a package of parcels that can fit a ballpark, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan confirmed recently. And they’re looking to the Atlanta Braves for ideas on how to pay for it.

So where exactly?

The officials are narrowing in on the Channel District-Ybor City area and have approached landowners about an option agreement that would secure the rights to those parcels if the Rays chose to move.

There are still moving pieces, Hagan cautioned, but “that fits perfectly in our belief that the ballpark needs to be in an urban environment. It also aligns with many of the Ray’s guiding principles for their next ballpark.”

* * *

The area south and east of a roundabout off Nuccio Parkway not far from the gates of Ybor City “has received a lot of attention,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “and I think it’s appropriate.” He wouldn’t say it was the leading site, adding there were “other potential parcels,” but said it’s walkability to downtown, space for parking and access to the TECO streetcar line are an advantage.

“Far better,” Buckhorn said, than the area in Ybor east of the revamped 22nd Street, another rumored site.

An investor group led by BluePearl Veterinary Services CEO Darryl Shaw has bought quite a few sizable parcels off Nuccio Parkway and the surrounding area in recent years, with the largest flurry of activity coming in the past 18 months. TECO and a couple of investment firms out of New York own some land there as well.

Shaw did not respond to a request for comment. Asked in April whether he spoke with the Rays brass about a particular parcel, the former gasification plant called Gas Worx, Shaw said, “they don’t believe a ballpark can fit on that site.”

But Buckhorn pointed out it could become a parking lot or support development.

Hagan said he also regularly meets with S. Kay Andrews, the publisher of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and the leader of the nonprofit that owns the Tampa Park Apartments. The housing complex, just west of Shaw’s land near Ybor, is often mentioned as a potential future home for the Rays.

The Tampa Bay Times recently reportedly that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development put the owners of Tampa Park Apartments on notice that they could lose their Section 8 rent subsidies after a substandard inspection.

The Rays have not publicly weighed in on potential Tampa locations for a ballpark, though Sternberg said in July that team leaders “have sites in mind.” County Attorney Chip Fletcher said, “We’ve gotten some mixed messages on what the Rays think about our site options.”

First, a surface parking lot on the Gas Worx lot would be an odd way to create an urban connection, but there are other things that can be done.  The Tampa Bay Park Apartments would be better for the actual stadium but it remains to be seen if a deal can be done.

In any event,

Hagan could not give a timeline on when the county might announce a potential site.

He anticipates, however, that the Rays don’t want to be accused of influencing the St. Petersburg mayoral race and therefore won’t weigh in on where they’re going until it’s over. The team is also in the middle of a competitive baseball season and negotiations over the rights to a new television contract.

* * *

The county may not wait until the Rays are ready to announce a site, Hagan said.

One area of near certainty is how the county would like to pay for a ballpark. Officials are hoping to mimic the pact between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, Ga., that led to the new SunTrust Park.

Cobb County borrowed $397 million to finance the stadium and the team contributed $230 million.

The public-private partnership relied on the potential growth in taxes collected on development and entertainment around the stadium. The new ballpark is just a piece of a massive development and entertainment district around the new Braves home for fans and a growing community.

In other words,

“It really is the model for future ballparks and the important thing is the paradigm for stadium financing continues to include increased team participation,” Hagan said. “The days of 100 percent taxpayer funded stadiums are long gone.”

We can’t wait for the discussion on how much public money goes into it.

Anyway, things have moved a bit, but are still quite uncertain and likely will not become more certain until after the St. Pete Mayor election.   And even after a site is chosen, there will be a lot of work to do selling the plan.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

And though stopping short of an ultimatum, Manfred got closer to one, stating that pressure from owners tired of subsidizing the Rays through revenue sharing could soon force MLB to consider options such as moving the team.

Aside from St. Pete’s refusal to let the Rays look around for years, it seems to us that local officials have been working on it.  And it should be noted that it is not just up to local officials to develop a plan.  The Rays have a role, too.


Parks and Taxation

A few weeks ago, we touched on the Tampa budget, a proposed tax increase, and the cost of Julian Lane riverfront Park. (see “Of Taxes, Parks, and Things” ) We noted that the City has some good reasons (and some not so good reasons) to consider a tax increase. We also noted, as we have done before, that the cost of that park seems a bit high, and while, setting aside some issues we have with the plan that are not relevant here, we are all for nice parks, maybe it should have been done in stages to allow for other needs.

Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a $35.5 million price tag with something for everyone, including a rowers’ boathouse, a sheltered cove for beginning paddlers, an event lawn, a community center with sweeping views of downtown and all kinds of athletic courts — even pickleball! — when it opens next spring.

But a majority of City Council members say the park might have turned out differently if they had known when they voted on it last year what they know now.

And that is, starting next year, the city will have to pay off two long-deferred debts from the mid 1990s. The smaller one amounts to about $6 million to be paid next year. The bigger one will mean making several years of $13.6 million debt payments starting in 2019.

To meet those commitments, Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes to raise property taxes. His proposed tax rate would be 15.7 percent higher than this year’s rate. It would be nearly 22.6 percent higher than if the city accounted for the growth of property values by rolling the rate back to a point where it would generate the same amount of revenue as this year.

Council members said they weren’t told about the 1990s debt until they got budget briefings with Buckhorn’s staff a month or so before he formally presented it on July 20.

Had they known, several said, they might have cut features out of the park when they voted on it in May 2016. Or they might have phased construction. And they likely would have pushed to spend less of the city’s $20 million BP oil spill settlement on the park.

Not knowing about such large obligations seems odd.  What is the story about the obligations?

At the time of the partial refinancing in 2015, Buckhorn said his staff told the council that the problem wasn’t solved entirely. And he said the deferred debt has been a part of budget briefings for the council the last couple of years. So they should not be surprised now.

“We told them that we had a looming problem out there as a result of the previous bond deal that was done and that we were working to try and find a solution,” Buckhorn said, though he also said the discussions didn’t delve into all the details of the bond issue. “It was part of the discussion over the refinancing.”

No, council members say, it wasn’t.

“He better have it in writing,” Capin said, “because it didn’t happen.”

He doesn’t. Asked whether there were emails, memos or briefing papers shared with the council, Buckhorn said, “There was no paper trail.”

We do not know who knew what when (you can draw your own conclusions).  We do know this all seems a bit sloppy, but not necessarily unusual for Tampa.  So what is the Mayor’s view on the spending priorities (and needs in other parts of the city):

On Riverfront Park, Buckhorn said he felt the BP oil settlement money should be spent on something that would benefit the city for decades to come.

“We made a decision that Julian B. Lane was in the best long-term interest of the community,” he says. “We knew that it was going to be expensive … but we also recognized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would have generational impact.

“You really don’t want to use one-time revenues to pay off recurring debts,” Buckhorn said. The BP money could have retired about 1 ½ years of what he expects to be a five-year obligation, but “when you weigh the long-term impact of (the park), it was a worthwhile investment. I think, over time, people won’t remember who did it, but they’ll be thankful.”

Setting aside the proclivity of elected officials for putting up signs on projects built during their tenure, there is a certain logic to that, though, since there is a tax increase involved and there were other ways to do it, there are questions.  (And there are other one time needs in other parts of the City that we discussed previously.)

Of course, it is done now.  The bigger issue is that the Imperial Mayor form of government in Tampa lends itself to such things happening and that there are ongoing communication issues in the Tampa government (not just this administration) that need to be fixed now and for future administrations.


Transportation – Airport News

There are number of tidbits about the airport.  First, UPS is moving from St. Pete-Clearwater to Tampa:

United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

* * *

The location handles next-day and second-day air packages. Tampa’s facility, Mayer said, is about six times larger than its current space at St. Pete-Clearwater, allowing UPS to move some sorting indoors.

* * *

The company is also shifting a postal handling facility that was not previously located in an airport to Tampa International.

Operations in Tampa will begin Oct. 16.  

We are not sure if the new incentives for cargo are playing a role, but developing cargo operations is definitely a positive.  Hopefully, the bigger facility allows them to grow their business which is good for the area generally (though it would be even nicer if it was completely new business in the area).

The UPS move will be boon for TIA, where air cargo and mail has been on the rise. Between 2011 and 2016, air mail has grown 32 percent while cargo has increased approximately 21 percent during that same five-year period. Much of that cargo increase at TIA is a result of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) the Seattle-based online retail giant.

“Cargo has been a growing business line for us,” said Janet Zink, assistant vice president for media and government relations at TIA. “Our cargo volume grew by 50 percent from July 2015 to July 2017.” She noted that TIA is the second fastest growing cargo volume in the country, behind Cincinnati, based on numbers from 2016.

And that growth is nothing to sneeze at, even if it started from a relatively low level.

Next, amid audits and odd comments, there was news from the airport:

A major ratings agency has affirmed its strong ratings on revenue bonds issued by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority for Tampa International Airport.

Moody’s Investors Service has affirmed the Aa3 rating on the authority’s general airport revenue bonds and the A1 subordinate revenue bonds. The ratings agency also said the outlook is stable, reflecting “the expectation that there will be no major deterioration of the rental car market, transaction days will remain at current levels, and debt service coverage ratios will continue to meet the projected levels.”

Which is good.  On the other hand:

A $32 million legal battle has erupted over two major, ongoing construction projects at Tampa International Airport.

Archer Western Construction, a subcontractor who did concrete work on the automated people mover and the consolidated rental car facility projects now in progress at TIA, alleges that the main contractor, Austin Commercial Inc., owes the subcontractor nearly $32.2 million in payments.

We are not going to get into details on this, but it is noteworthy that the suit does not involve the airport itself.  Whether it messes up any of the construction schedule will remain to be seen.

Back to the good news a SleepinginAIrports survey featured on HuffPost ranked the five best airports for layovers. Listed first, and the only US airport, was Tampa International.

A streamlined travel experience puts Tampa International Airport at the top of the best airports for layover list in the U.S. The airport boasts a simplistic, hub-and-spoke layout that helps ensure you couldn’t get lost even if you wanted to. Friendly staff, pay-per-use lounges, free Wi-Fi, and 24-hour food options keep this airport ranking high.

And for those interested in route development, you may want to check out this video on the airport Facebook page:

Roundup 8-18-2017

August 18, 2017

Contents

Transportation – The Wheel Keeps Turning

 – The Bottleneck

— The Right of Way

— The Study

— Selmon/ Gandy Connector

USF – Stadium Dreams

Hyde Park – Illogical

Downtown/Hyde Park – There’s More Than the River

South Tampa – South Westshore Movement

Downtown/Channel District – Happenings

— Downtowner Bolts

— Arena

— Channelside, the Complex

— D is for Cookie

Economic Development – Expansion

Port – Better Late Than Never

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State/Country

— The Competition Never Ends

— Time to Check Out Ft. Worth

— Seattle

— Redoing Suburbs

____________________________________________


Transportation – The Wheel Keeps Turning


 – The Bottleneck

For a long time we have been wondering why, instead of insisting on the whole TBX project, FDOT did not fix the obvious problem with the interstate.  A major one of those problems is the bottleneck at the east end of the Howard Frankland Bridge where the highway goes from 4 lanes on the bridge to 2 lanes under an overpass (there is another overpass but it is wide enough for more lanes).  That used to be the case on the west end but years ago FDOT fixed it.   Why not just fix the east end?

Well.

Motorists heading north on the Howard Frankland Bridge are all-too familiar with one of the worst bottlenecks in Tampa Bay: Interstate 275 splits in half before the Westshore interchange, leaving traffic backed up for miles on the bridge.

But now state officials say they have a solution.

The Florida Department of Transportation wants to add a third lane to both directions of I-275 approaching the bridge on the Tampa side, District 7 secretary David Gwynn told the Tampa Bay Times Friday.

“Our models are showing that would provide significant relief in that area,” Gwynn said.

Expanding that part of the interstate was part of the Tampa Bay Next project, formerly known as Tampa Bay Express. The old TBX plan called for adding 90 miles of toll roads to interstates 4, 75 and 275, but opposition led state officials to re-brand and re-think the $6 billion project.

But traffic entering Tampa from the Howard Frankland is so bad that the state plans to fast-track those improvements while the rest of Tampa Bay Next remains under review. Adding an extra lane to southbound I-275 will also help commuters taking the bridge to St. Petersburg. And neither of the new lanes will be tolled.

We are not going to get into the truthfulness of some of those descriptions (traffic was bad when they were insisting on TBX as the only fix).  We are just happy that they are adding a lane (which was part of TBX), though they should add two lanes.  (Just completely remove the bottleneck and be done with it.)  Anyway,

The new plan is in the preliminary stages and could cost at least $25 million — a relatively small number for a state agency with an annual $10 billion budget. Until now, fixing the chokepoint in the Westshore area was bundled together with all of the other projects previously planned for TBX.

The department wouldn’t move forward with one project until local leaders were willing to approve all of them.

“We had everything packaged up with TBX,” agency spokeswoman Kris Carson said. “Now that we’re taking a step back with the reset, it’s helped us work through some of this and find an interim solution.”

In other words, FDOT (or whoever) was holding fixing this obvious problem hostage to a larger, unpopular project (and, more specifically, the express lanes) – and local officials just went along with it.  Although,

The extra northbound lane into Tampa would likely continue all the way to N Dale Mabry Highway. Those short-term improvements, however, would not replace plans to consider completely rebuilding the Westshore Area Interchange. Instead, the third lane would be an intermediate step until the region can decide on a more robust plan.

We are not sure exactly what that means.  The third lane disappears at the SR-60/Kennedy exit and reappears at SR60. (The fourth lane disappears at the same place and returns at Westshore.) At Dale Mabry, I-275 north has more than three lanes already.

Regardless, while it is not a full fix, we are happy that FDOT is doing something about this obvious problem and not holding it hostage to TBX/express lanes anymore.  It shows that concerted pressure can achieve a positive result.  Unfortunately, we have wasted a lot of time because local officials were not willing to push for logical solutions and changes and relied on the public to organize and make some noise.  But at least something positive has happened.

And one more thing.

The expedited plan is welcome news to cross-bay commuters, particularly the business community, which has been clamoring for improvements to the Westshore interchange for years. The impetus behind this move is Gwynn, who was appointed to lead DOT’s local office in June.

“Whenever congestion and backups can be reduced… that’s reason to celebrate,” Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans said. “It’s a positive step, and I like the pragmatism and the fact that (Gwynn)’s stepping in and finding a quick win that’s meaningful to the community.”

Setting aside the odd reference to the amorphous “business community,” a while back the Partnership President said this regarding his support for turning a free Howard Frankland lane into an express lane:

Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Since in his opinion, even with one lane through the bottleneck fixes the congestion, logically, there is absolutely no reason to have express lanes on the bridge. Now, he can focus on putting real transit in the space those lanes would have taken.

We still think all local officials, and the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, as well as the community at large, including the business community, should be pushing FDOT to fully remove the bottleneck and keep the four lanes going from the bridge throughout the Westshore area.


– The Right of Way

In other news,

But the new district secretary didn’t stop there. Gwynn also announced Friday that the department will stop acquiring properties in the footprint of the old TBX plan, including those from willing sellers.

Opponents of the interstate project have asked DOT repeatedly to stop buying land, especially around the downtown Tampa interchange, until a new plan is approved. The department wasn’t taking land through eminent domain, but had previously refused to stop purchasing property from willing sellers — until Gwynn’s decision halted those acquisitions.

Which is also a good thing.  It shows that FDOT may actually be reconsidering TBX.


– The Study

There was also news about the transit study of studies:

Jacobs Engineering is launching the next step in its regional feasibility plan for the Tampa Bay region to help identify projects that could jump-start the area’s woeful public transit system.

The team is hosting a series of public meetings this month to present current findings, as part of the ongoing study to lay out priority corridors in the region. They will also gather input from residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties about what type of transit they think will work best along those corridors.

The corridors identified as prime spots for transit include routes connecting Westshore to Brandon, downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida, Wesley Chapel to USF and St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg to Clearwater via the Gateway business district and South Tampa to downtown Tampa.

That is all well and good, though it really does not present anything new or interesting (nor, in fact, was it intended to do so).

The meetings are Aug. 22 at the Residence Inn Tampa Suncoast Parkway in Lutz; Aug. 24 at the Tampa Bay History Center; and Aug. 29 at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Which is not particularly convenient for the vast majority of people in the area, but at least it is something (do they have a website for comments?).  However, one should remember that the study is not studying how to make a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system:

The feasibility plan was funded through the Florida Department of Transportation during the controversial Tampa Bay Express (TBX) plan discussions that were ultimately reset earlier this year. The department is calling its future transportation planning process Tampa Bay Next, but that is now separate from the feasibility plan.

We find this whole process far less interesting than an actual study of present conditions and what would serve best in them.  But, it is what it is, and it is all we have right now, though we really need much better.


– Selmon/ Gandy Connector

There was also news about the Selmon Connector:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Board of Directors on Monday approved a design-build contract worth $230 million to begin work on a two-mile toll lane running between Dale Mabry Boulevard to the Gandy Bridge along Gandy Boulevard.

* * *

Construction of the Selmon West Extension is expected to begin early next year with the extension opening in late 2020.

We have been all for the building of the Selmon/Gandy Connector (apparently officially the Selmon West Extension), though we would have preferred it be four lanes rather than what is essentially a very long exit ramp.  URBN Tampa Bay summarized all the issues with the present plan here.

Setting aside all the problems with the plan identified by URBN Tampa Bay and speaking just about the road connection (not the price, exposure), we think, in this case, something is better than nothing and the improvements to Gandy on the Pinellas side should be completed from the bridge to I-275.  But we wish it would be done right from the outset.

It’s also worth noting that the connector cost over $100 million per mile without an exit at Westshore and with limited capacity.  Keep that in mind when people talk about the cost of transit.


USF – Stadium Dreams

As some may know, when USF was founded, the lack of a football team was official policy, as, apparently, was making the campus sprawling and detached from the surrounding area.  Over time, both those ideas have been rethought.  Though USF is making progress on the sprawl/detachment issue, it obviously has come farther on the football team issue.  But one thing has always been lacking, an on-campus stadium.

We did not get to it last week, but a committee has conducted a study of possible stadium locations that was released last week. You can see the study here.

The University of South Florida is considering building an on-campus football stadium. School officials acknowledged they are still in the early stages of planning, but a preliminary feasibility study released Tuesday shows a stadium would set the school back about $200 million and hold 40,000 to 50,000 fans.

Several sites are up for consideration including the spot where the Museum of Science and Industry is currently located. That site is ideal in terms of size and location, but the land is owned by the county, which could pose a challenge. MOSI is expected to move to a location in Water Street Tampa in downtown by 2022.

In our opinion the MOSI site is not optimal.  It is not actually on campus, and it can used for other development like research, offices, residential that is connected to, but not directly part of, USF.  Notably, the report did not really focus on it.

Another possible spot is also along Fowler Avenue in the practice fields across from the Sun Dome. There’s also potential space at the corner of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler as well as near the USF Botanical Gardens on the west side of campus.

Those are the locations actually discussed in the report.

Both zones have unique characteristics; positives and negatives should be considered for optimum site selection.

Zone 1 has advantages in several categories. It offers the best connection to the heart of the campus and presents an opportunity to provide a memorable game day experience and tradition, utilizing the natural resources unique to the USF campus. Visibility and branding potential is strong, but not overwhelming. This zone also has access to the greatest number of existing parking spaces within a 15-minute walk. Connectivity to Bruce B. Downs and Fletcher from a variety of access points will help with game day congestion.

A portion of the proposed site resides on land that is currently delineated as USF Research Park. In addition to redefining the boundaries of the existing research park, the land use and zoning will need to be modified to allow construction of a stadium. Additionally, there are two occupied buildings on site that will need to be demolished and potentially relocated, both with substantial remaining lease terms. This site also impacts significant utilities serving the campus that must be rerouted. This infrastructure work can be seen in a positive light which will breathe new life into the southwest corner of the campus and serve as a catalyst for development of a higher density research park.

Zone 2 has a number of positive traits worth considering. This site offers great connection to the already established athletic zone on the main campus. It is possible that new improvements such as parking, road improvements, and public plazas could be utilized for games and events at the Sun Dome. The adjacency to the athletic infrastructure encourages an athletics village with practice facilities, gym, and athletic support offices all within a fairly compact footprint.

The visibility and branding opportunities for Zone 2 are significant, but also could dominate the street presence of the campus. The Zone 2 site is much smaller than Zone 1, resulting in less flexibility for building location, service, and public access. Significant campus utilities exist under the proposed site boundary and will likely need to be rerouted, but not to the same extent as Zone 1.

Pg 2 of the pdf

Here are a couple of conceptual renderings (we doubt a stadium would look like this or have seating so far from the field).

Zone 1

From USF – click on picture for report

Zone 2

From USF – click on picture for report

We think the above summary from the report is quite good.  The Zone 1 idea is an easier fit, though it would require more infrastructure.  The Zone 2 idea follows the campus lay out better by putting the stadium in the athletic area.  It would also share parking with the Sun Dome.  However, the site is smaller, which creates its own challenges.

It is still early in the process, but, if it can be done, we like Zone 2 more.  And we would definitely like USF to have their own stadium, like the other major state schools in Florida and most other major schools.  Of course, there is always the question of money:

The USF Board of Trustees will discuss the 41-page report during its meeting next week. That discussion is expected to address how the school would fund a new stadium. The school said no education or general state funds would be used, but student fees are still on the table.

We’ll see what happens.


Hyde Park – Illogical

There was news regarding the 9-story assisted living facility proposed for Hyde Park Avenue.

The Tampa City Council voted 4-2 late Thursday night to deny a rezoning for a 175-bed assisted living facility that developer Grady Pridgen proposed in Hyde Park near the bridge to Davis Islands.

During a lengthy public hearing, residents contended that the 9-story building at 509 S Hyde Park Ave., was out of scale with the neighborhood, would exacerbate an existing parking problem and could create traffic hazards on a route leading to Tampa General Hospital.

Can you say pretense?

Pridgen’s development team, however, said the project met all city codes, had more parking than the city required and — with no residents having cars of their own — would generate fewer traffic trips to and from the 1.2-acre site than the office building that’s there now.

In an effort to address neighborhood concerns, Pridgen offered to reduce the number of beds from the 215 he first requested to 175 and agreed to make a dozen changes to the plan to ease the project’s impact on the neighborhood.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Assisted living facilities are not huge traffic creators and Hyde Park Avenue is not particularly congested. (Nor is it full of single family homes)  And, as noted, the proposal has more parking than the City requires (which is already probably too much).  But let’s get to the point:

But that was still too much for opponents.

“A very huge building creating a barrier” within Hyde Park, said attorney Jim Porter, who represented two neighbors next to the proposed project, which is at the northwest corner of S Hyde Park and W De Leon Street.

In making the motion for denial, council member Mike Suarez cited several city land use policies requiring the need for new projects to be in context with the rest of the community, to encourage small- to medium-scale development and to be of a scale that’s compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

Voting along with Suarez against the rezoning were Harry Cohen, Guido Maniscalco and Charlie Miranda. Frank Reddick and Luis Viera voted in favor, and Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent.

Actually, that’s not the point.  It doesn’t create a barrier and fits in with the area as you can tell from a map.  You can see one here. Looking at it, you notice the lot is surrounded by businesses (with some multi-family) and multi-story buildings cutting off Bayshore from the neighborhood. (And, seriously, 345 Bayshore condos are a block away.  It is not small.) This building just lines up with the road.

The fact is that we don’t really care if this particular building is built. We do care that the City is so eager to not build things in built up, mixed-use areas.


Downtown/Hyde Park – There’s More Than the River

The Related project on the old Tribune site has two cranes and a name:

It’s official — Manor Riverwalk will be the name of Related Group’s apartment project on the former site of the Tampa Tribune.

Ground-breaking for the eight-story, 400 unit project is slated for Aug. 23. Miami-based Related bought the riverfront site two years ago for $17.75 million.

We’re not exactly sure why the project on Harbour Island was the Manor but now is not (it’s Icon) and this one was not the Manor but now is.  But regardless, looking at this rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The only thing that sticks out to us is that the parking garage on the left side is the tallest and biggest feature of the project and the street is dead except for that little plaza entrance next to the strangely flat highway. (We assume so that residents can theoretically walk downtown though presumably they would exit at the east end near the river.)  The river side may be nice (we’ll have to see) but the neighborhood side is really lacking.

It is truly disappointing.


South Tampa – South Westshore Movement

Continuing with the Related news,

Related Development LLC, a Miami-based company, was approved for a $52 million loan to build a luxury apartment tower in the Westshore Marina District.

That is on land south of Gandy on the waterfront.  It is a decent sized loan.  Whether it is luxury or not remains to be determined.  As for “tower,”

The building will be four stories and 396 units. Among the amenities are fitness studios, saunas and concierge services. It is one of four projects Related is building in the area.

Not so much. (You can see it here.)

Much more interesting and more tower-like, though not about Related, was this:

BTI Partners, master developer of the $600 million district, has started an “interest list” of potential buyers in the 16-story Marina Pointe tower overlooking Tampa Bay.

Prices for the seven townhomes and 112 condos in the boomerang-shaped tower will range from the $600,000s to more than $1.5 million. Among the features: a two-level lobby with concierge service; a Residents’ Pointe Club with bar; a massage, yoga and exercise studio; and locker rooms with steam rooms and showers. An elevated amenity deck is to include a pool, fireplace, bocce ball court and summer kitchen.  

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can’t really tell much from that rendering except how many floors it is, but it is more interesting.  As is this:

Daniel said “another large sale” is expected to close next month for an apartment project but he did not disclose the name of the prospective buyer.

“Beyond that we are going to develop everything ourselves,” he said. The marina district eventually could include a grocery, restaurants, shops, hotel and a 1.5 mile waterfront park.

It should be noted that this is part of the planned developments on Westshore south of Gandy that the Selmon Connector as planned will not help, nor are there any other clear plans to deal with.  We are all for development of this area (though we would like better development than this), but, if it is going to happen, the City should be planning to deal with it. 


Downtown/Channel District – Happenings

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of things happening downtown, none of which is huge but they deserve some mention.


– Downtowner Bolts

The Downtowner free shuttle service starting running their Chevy Bolts.

The Downtowner hit the 100,000-rider mark less than seven months after launching last October, and currently about 500 people a day use the service.

Wait times average 26 minutes, with the heaviest demand coming during morning and evening rush hours and at lunch. One of the program’s most popular pickup and drop-off locations is the Marion Transit Center, and a good portion of the demand is driven by commuters looking to cover the first and last miles of their trips between home and work.

The numbers are good but point to a use more out of need than choice.  Then again, you have to start somewhere.

And, regardless, they needed more vehicles and the Bolts have some advantages:

The addition of the Bolts is expected to reduce wait times, support the growth in demand and — blissfully — provide some air-conditioned rides. The Downtowner’s original vehicles, a five-passenger mini-shuttle known as a GEM, have their own charm, but their lack of air conditioning means that they often roll through downtown with windows open.

Another key difference between the Bolts and GEMs is the Bolts can go more than 200 miles on a single charge, allowing them to stay on the road all day.

In contrast, the 12 GEMs in the Downtowner’s fleet are limited to around 60 miles per charge, meaning that half of them are on the road and half are on a power cord at any one time.

How local officials paid for a service that lacks air-conditioned vehicles is beyond us, but the Bolts have air conditioning.  The range issue is self-evident.

On the other hand, while we were intrigued by the idea, we saw Bolts driving around and, frankly, if they had a/c like they should have, we’d rather get picked up by the taller, bigger doored old shuttles, especially when it is raining, than the short, small doored, cramped (see here) Bolts.

Since you are not travelling at high speed anyway, comfort and ease are the most important thing.  Both options on offer right now are lacking.


– Arena

Speaking of Bolts,

Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa is ranked among the top venues worldwide for concert, event and family show ticket sales through the first half of 2017.

Pollstar, a trade publication that covers the concert industry, has ranked the top 200 venues worldwide by ticket sales through June 30. At 322,828 tickets sold, Amalie Arena ranks No. 15 on the global list.

It is definitely good, especially in light of the other venues here and in Orlando against which it competes.  A busy arena can do nothing but help the Water Street project.


– Channelside, the Complex

And speaking of the Lightning owner’s holdings involving public land,

Restaurants in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza are shuttering as Strategic Property Partners preps to demolish that portion of the beleaguered waterfront mall.

Hablo Taco, a Tex-Mex restaurant by Guy Revelle that opened with great fanfare in early 2015, will close at the end of August. Thai Tani closed at the end of July.

Kimmins Contracting Corp. has filed for a demolition permit for the southwest wing of the plaza, a spokeswoman for SPP said Monday. Demolition is scheduled for mid-September.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is part of the recently announced rethinking of the Channelside complex to make it work with the Water Street project,

“Demolishing the southwest wing allows us to open Channelside up to the waterfront and create a new active plaza for the community so we’re eager to get work underway,” Ali Glisson, a spokeswoman for SPP, wrote in an email.

A waterfront park with programming will create a destination within the district before the majority of its buildings break ground (more than a dozen buildings are slated to begin vertical construction in early 2018).

We like the opening of the waterfront, which was a problem with the complex from the beginning.  We also like that we are starting to see real movement with the Lightning owner’s project, even if nothing is actually getting built yet.


– D is for Cookie

One of the great things about a blog is that sometimes you can just do a plug for something you like.  We like Metropolitan Ministries and we like Inside the Box, so we like this too:

. . .a new Metropolitan Ministries enterprise called Dough Nation (Get it? All proceeds from your purchases go directly to feed the hungry in Tampa Bay). This is the brainchild of Cliff Barsi, who is also the mastermind behind Inside the Box Cafe, which recently announced it would open another location in the lobby of the Tampa Bay Times building in Tampa.

The Dough Nation concept will debut in September in downtown Tampa, and will be set up like a scoop shop with flavors including dark chocolate, s’mores and even a vegan option (coconut macaroon). Dough Nation will serve as a training platform for the students of the Metropolitan Ministries culinary program transitioning out of homelessness.

Eating cookie dough for a good cause.  What could be better?  So have a treat and help those in need.


Economic Development – Expansion

USAA, which already has a substantial presence in the area, is expanding again:

USAA is expanding its campus in suburban Tampa, planning a new office building that’s nearly a quarter-million square feet.

The financial services giant said Wednesday that it is building a 240,000-square-foot new office building at Crosstown Center. The new building means room for up to 1,000 additional employees, bringing USAA’s capacity in Tampa to nearly 4,500 employees, the company said.

Crosstown Center in near the Brandon end of the Selmon.

While we may complain about subsidies or hype, we are not going to complain about getting more jobs.  As for the complex itself, it is a basic suburban office complex.


Port – Better Late Than Never

Last week, we discussed some interesting reports about spending at the port, including for golf club memberships.

Following fallout from media reports of excessive spending by its executives, Port Tampa Bay has revised its employee expense policies.

The changes to policies pertaining to expenses associated with employee travel, promotion and business development and the use of purchasing cards represent the latest chapter in the controversy surrounding spending by port executives.

Well, that’s good.

The revised policy, which went into effect Tuesday, forces port officials to forgo renewing golf memberships or Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets and will require detailed documentation of all business and travel-related expenses. Port employees will be required to attend a training session about the new policies and to fill out a new form to document every expense.

The Business Journal had a more detailed list here.

We said last week that we get the Port has to do some entertaining for business, and we do. But it should not take media reports to have reasonable controls on that spending.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State/Country


— The Competition Never Ends

In more examples of competition for international flights (which also sometimes shows how big the market really is), Orlando is getting more international service to Amsterdam on Delta and Brazil on Azul.

In addition, going outside Florida, Nashville is getting a British Airways flight to Heathrow, with all its connections (and more business travel reputation). We still only have Gatwick, which lacks the British Airway connections.

And, while we won’t get into the detail, the LA Times had a very interesting article on the growing numbers of flights to Mexico.


– Time to Check Out Ft. Worth

As we keep saying about theoretical transit using the CSX lines (especially in Hillsborough County), the use should not be “commuter rail” which is basically morning and evening service with little in between.  It should be regular local transit service.  We also keep saying that the best technology to use right now, assuming there is no electrification, would be DMUs.

Stadler has completed the first Flirt multiple-unit to be assembled in the USA at its plant at North Salt Lake in Utah. The DMU for the TEX Rail project will be officially unveiled at the ATPA Expo in Atlanta in October.

This Ft. Worth line will open in 2018.

Of course, we saw this technology in this area decades ago as a demonstration,

From HART – click on picture for Facebook page

From HART – click on picture for Facebook page

But, as with most things transit, nothing happened (though you may find this Business Journal editorial from the time an interesting window into why not much happened. ) 


– Seattle

Last week, we wrote extensively about road removals or burying.  One of the examples we discussed was the replacement of the Alaskan Way in Seattle with a tunnel.  Just to keep up to date,

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is in the process of laying out the plan, and are seeking public input through an online open house on issues like noise and demolition methods.

Through that open house, we’ve learned a few things about what’s to come for the aging viaduct—or at least, what’s left of it. (A mile of the viaduct was already demolished in 2011.)

The short answer: Right now, WSDOT is anticipating beginning demolition in early 2019, and the whole structure to be demolished by that fall.

Also, quite interesting, in light of discussion of the proposed boulevard to replace I-275 and other transportation, Seattle is a growing city.  The numbers of personal vehicles is growing at about the same rate as the popluation, while transit ridership is growing at the same rate or more (it is not entirely clear because some transit services aren’t counted).

Crunching census data from between 2010 and 2015, Balk found that Seattle’s population grew by 12 percent, the same increase as the number of personal vehicles owned by Seattle residents.

* * *

Still, as car ownership is rising, household car ownership is not. During that same time period, the rate of car ownership among city households fell 1 percent. It’s not a huge drop, but it’s a far cry from a 12 percent increase.

* * *

That’s growing at around the same rate, too. King County Metro ridership grew at about the same rate between 2010 and 2015: just over 11 percent for that agency alone, not including Sound Transit. (Sound Transit ridership has grown much faster, but that’s more likely because of an increase in options, like Link Light Rail.)

According to Commute Seattle data, solo car commutes downtown have fallen by 5 percent since 2010, and only make up 5 percent of new commutes during that time—looking at that side-by-side would imply that not many of those new cars are being used for downtown commutes.

That all implies that some people have cars for the weekend or to use when they feel like it.  It also indicates that in a growing area, we need a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-modal transportation system.


– Redoing Suburbs

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post  regarding how office parks are trying to reinvent themselves in a market where people want shorter commutes, more options, and some urbanism.

From the Washington and New York suburbs to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, traditional corporate campuses that have struggled since the Great Recession are trying to transform from sterile worksites into vibrant mini-towns. In addition to housing, they’re adding restaurants, grocery stores, playgrounds and outdoor concert spaces — anything to draw people in and make them want to stay.  

You can read it here for details.  We will say that the retrofits described are nowhere near as good as actually building properly planned developments and that some of the references to housing seem a tad high-priced.  On the other hand, the examples also point to some fixes that can happen to make office parks far better than they are now.

And, even more interesting, is what can happen to suburbs in growing areas than are properly connected by real transit.

While malls across the country struggle to attract customers who’ve been lured away by the convenience of online shopping, Perimeter Mall could soon find itself the heart of a bustling, urban-scaled community.

The Dunwoody City Council has given its stamp of approval to “Nexus Perimeter”—a two-tower development set to rise in the parking lot of the mall, adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA Station.

You can read the article here for details.  The point is that, with vision (and desire), things can change.