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Roundup 8-4-2017

August 3, 2017

Due to a project taking a little longer than we anticipated, there will be no Roundup this week.

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Roundup 7-28-2017

July 28, 2017

Please note that the contents have links to the corresponding items.

Contents

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

Downtown – Water Street Stuff

Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

Transportation – Cycle Stories

Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

Economic Development – Employment

Transportation – Airport Audit

Port – Tax Cuts

Channel District – A Hotel

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

— Flags

List of the Week

_______________________________________________

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

The Times had a couple of articles in the last few weeks about transit board members and administrators and whether they sample their product.

While politicians hold the purse strings, it’s those on the transit agencies’ boards who dictate how the systems operate.

Board members for the two counties’ agencies — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority — are a mix of elected officials and community members.

None of them rely on the bus for work, errands or their personal life.

This isn’t unique to Tampa Bay, or transit. Many boards are composed of people who don’t use the service they help provide. But in a region roiled by transportation problems, it’s worth knowing who sits on these boards and what philosophies they bring to the conversation.

You can see who never rides the bus, who rides it sometimes, etc., here.

We would not expect them to use the bus to get to and from work.  First, some just need to be able to get to all manner of places quickly, which isn’t happening with the bus system.  Others can’t/won’t use the bus because our transit is so poor, goes too few places and/or takes too long.  It is not built by them for people like them – people with a choice.  It is only provided as a last resort for other people and is not efficient. (Yes, we know that the elected officials hold the purse strings, not the board specifically, though the boards have elected officials and are appointed by elected officials)

One thing though: As stated, we understand that for most board members it is not practical to ride the bus daily.  However, to never ride it is not really acceptable either.  It is not that hard to take a day every now and then and sample some routes to see what you are giving people.  You can say you know how bad it is, but do you really know until you ride it (or try and fail to actually get where you need to go)? (Just like local officials should try getting around by walking the sidewalks and riding in the bike lanes they provide to the public – not just a couple of photo ops, actually doing it routinely in various areas.) And then compare it to experiences in other cities.

Speaking of which, there was another Times article:

On a stifling Friday afternoon, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority stood, sweat-drenched, waiting for the bus.

When the Route 52 bus screeched into the station, Brad Miller, 47, squinted in the sunlight. The people around him reached for their bus tickets, while Miller tapped the PSTA app on his phone.

Welcome to day 16 of Miller’s monthlong experiment. He had abandoned his car to rely almost exclusively on his agency’s own buses.

He wanted to see for himself how the system he runs works on a daily basis.

“People tell me all the time, ‘Brad, it’s impossible to ride the buses,’ ” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not impossible.”

But it’s not easy, either. Already, Miller had learned how riders build their days around a transit system full of holes. The routes they rely on don’t get them near their destinations. The buses don’t come often enough. Too many layovers make them late to work or to pick up their kids.

This is an admirable effort, and you should read the article. (here)  However, in real terms, if it is not impossible to use the bus (at least HART), it is really quite hard and generally just not acceptable. That is not necessarily the fault of the CEO, but it still is the case.


Downtown – Water Street Stuff

It is pretty clear that the Water Street project is ramping up its media push, which is fine (they are in the business of selling or leasing their project after all).  As part of that there was a piece on HuffPost. While it basically rehashed what local coverage has already told us (and, in the headline, referred to “Tampa Bay” as a city), there were a few nuggets of interest:

SPP is also planning to implement the following smart technology into the development project.

We knew about some of that, but some is news. (We’ll have to see how that garage reservation idea works especially for someone spontaneously decides to come to the district.).

And this was also interesting:

Lastly, the project includes a great deal of resiliency planning, given the waterfront location. “Learning from the impacts of some of the recent natural disasters and understanding the effects of rising sea levels, we’re regrading the elevation of the land on many of the building sites as well placing the primary building systems infrastructure in protected areas of the new buildings,” Nozar said.

Most people would be surprised at how fast the land rises from the downtown waterfront (for instance, just north of the Amalie Arena, it is not even in evacuation zone A, unlike all of the nearby islands, and it rise up to zone C a couple of blocks later. see here).  However, especially where most of the Water Street project is, it is still low.  While we doubt they will raise it too high, it will be interesting to see just how high they try to raise it and if they integrate any elevation change into to plan (see Curtis Hixon Park).  Just get ready for the dirt trucks.

In addition to the HuffPost article, the Times had a profile of all the young people hired by the Lightning owner to do his project. It is an interesting read though more from a human interest standpoint than substantive about the project.


Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

USF released more renderings of the Med School that will start construction soon downtown.   As a reminder, this was the last rendering released:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which was pretty much what you expect from a contemporary office building.  This is the newest rendering:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which is a different angle and looks distinctly boxier to us (admittedly with a few pieces snipped off).  Then again, as we often note, renderings are notorious for making projects look more majestic/taller than they really are, so it is entirely possible that little has changed, aside from a bigger top, and maybe some slight changes in cladding.  (We are also curious about is what is to the left of the USF building in the new rendering.  It does not appear to be the medical office building, but it does not appear to be apartments, though you never know.  It could be a space filler drawing.  We’ll just have to wait and see.)

And, for fun, compare the ground floor views:

Old:

From USF – click on picture for article

New:

From USF – click on picture for article

Basically, it is fine. (Especially, the use of trees that might provide some shade instead of palm trees).  It will be new and we are sure there will be some nice spaces and some nice views. But what will make or break it as a building is the development around it and the ability of people to get to it efficiently.


Transportation – Cycle Stories

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted an item from Streetsblog regarding why Florida’s streets are so deadly for cyclists.   That item in turn referenced an FDOT sponsored study (that study is here)  that identified all sorts of things, like the conditions under which most accidents between cars and bikes occur, the demographics, and some particularly bad location around the state.

The first thing we wanted to point out was the accident distribution map:

FDOT Report pdf pg 70

Which is quite similar to this nighttime photo of Florida

From the National Park Service – click on picture for website

Showing us that, basically, anywhere there are people in the Florida, there are bike crashes.

We just wanted to point out a few things from the FDOT report.

From FDOT Report pdf pg 57

First, looking at the chart above, it is interesting to note that the fatality rate for accidents in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties is among the highest in the state.

Additionally, on pg 64 of the pdf, there is a list of characteristics of the crashes, including things like the average age of victims and that riding against traffic has a tendency to cause worse accidents.  It also had this:

Although bicyclists were frequently hit while cycling on the sidewalk, these crashes resulted in very few fatalities.

We could speculate about all the factors involved there, but clearly biking on a path somewhat separated from traffic and/or protected (unless you are on the numerous sidewalks in Hillsborough that are not separated at all) is useful.  And to make that point a little better, the report gives overhead shots of the highlighted trouble areas.  In Tampa, they highlight Nebraska and Busch (which is even bad driving).  They also highlight Floribraska and Nebraska (see a theme), with this shot indicating where the accidents were:

From FDOT Report pdf pg 111

You may notice that the road has been restriped for bike lanes.  You may also know that Nebraska was one of the first roads in Tampa put on a diet a number of years ago. In other words, what is often held out as a proper bike environment. You can also note that there are three accidents in the bike lanes, though the two fatalities occurred in other spots.

What is the point? The point is that just restriping a road (and even putting it on a diet) does not necessarily make for good bike infrastructure. (And just saying share the road definitely doesn’t)  Proper infrastructure, especially on major roads requires protected lanes, elevated lanes, or separate routes/trails. And having a built environment that creates an expectation that there may be pedestrians and cyclists around (which is not the case in the vast majority of the Tampa Bay area – but is much more likely in a place like Miami which actually has a lower fatality rate) is critical.

And that brings us to Jackson Street.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The project was awarded to a contractor in May, and a construction contract is now in place. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

From bikewalktampabay.org – click on picture for website

We will set aside the lingo and just say we are happy they are building a protected bike path.  We still have concerns about the west end of Jackson because it does not connect to the Riverwalk or a bridge and the only connection to those things, Ashley, is often not a particularly friendly road as people come off of the Kennedy Street Bridge.  And on the other end, Jackson ends at Meridian and does not continue into the Channel District or have a crossing, which makes it an odd choice for connector of the Channel District to the Riverwalk. We also have concerns about reduced street parking.  And we wonder if the plan predetermines any route the streetcar would take if it were extended north.

In any event,

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year. “We are planning to break ground in late October or early November,” says Johnston-Schultz. “We estimate 6-7 months of construction, and the cycle track should open next year in early summer.”

Aside from the concerns above, that’s all fine as long as FDOT doesn’t actually put all the street signs in the middle of the sidewalks as indicated in the renderings.

We’ll see what happens.


Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

The Mayor of Tampa made big news recently with his new budget proposing a tax increase in the City.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city’s property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges.

The Mayor has a number of reasons for proposing a tax increase, such as:

In the next few years, he expects the city to get squeezed by rising health care and pension costs, the burden of paying off tens of millions of dollars of city debt that was taken on in the mid-1990s but deferred until now and the prospect that voters next year will expand the homestead exemption.

The deferred debt includes a $6 million federal loan used to help develop Centro Ybor and nearly $24 million spent on the fire and police departments in 1996. Because the principal and interest payments on the public safety debt have been put off for 20 years, the city will soon begin making several years of debt payments of more than $13 million a year.

And because of the way that debt was structured, the bonds were not “callable,” Buckhorn said, meaning that they could not be refinanced at lower interest rates.

“If we had been able to refinance that debt, this would not be an issue,” he said.

Plus some stuff from Tallahassee.

Frankly, we are not going to get into the reasons specifically. We’ll just say some of them are solid, and some are possible but not necessarily now.  But at least trying to anticipate future challenges is good.  And you need to plan to pay for the things that you want.

However, something in the coverage did catch our eye:

The budget includes 3 percent raises negotiated with the unions for police, firefighters and general employees. It also would add 79 new positions to bring the city’s total payroll to 4,476 full-time positions.

Of those, 48 would go to Tampa Fire Rescue, which is looking to staff the new Fire Station 23 on Trout Creek Drive in New Tampa and provide emergency medical service under a contract with MacDill Air Force Base. Another 19 would go to staff new parks, mainly the $35.5 million Julian B. Lane Park now under construction on the western bank of the Hillsborough River.

And:

But with the additional funds from the tax increase, Buckhorn proposes to:

The cost of the list of park and road needs is $17.84 million.  When the Julian Lane ($35.5 million) project came up and kept growing we specifically said it would be better done in stages.  Setting aside that there are parts to the Julian Lane plan that we do not like, it is being done but, while we like getting projects over with, it did not all need to be done at once.  (And that does not even get into the well-known debt payments that still have to be made) When discussing the tax increase, even the Times editorialized that the spending on parks and the like is nice but should slow down.

We are not against raising taxes when needs require or the people decide to tax themselves for a specific purpose.  And there may be  good and unavoidable reasons for a tax increase.  However, we’re not sure that the City spending an inordinate sum at one time on one project while other parts of the City predictably do not have their relatively modest needs (that together cost half of the park cost) met is one of them.


Economic Development – Employment

There were new Florida employment numbers.

Unemployment in Florida hit a 10-year low in June, clocking in at 4.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent in May. The state added 19,400 jobs over the month, and saw growth in most industries. But there’s one glaring missing piece to the economic recovery puzzle: wage growth.

“Wage growth has been the Great Pumpkin of this economic recovery,” Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, said. “Like Linus, we keep waiting for it to show up, and it hasn’t really come in earnest.”

It’s the only factor standing in the way of full employment. All other indicators, however, show a healthy and recovering economy that outpaces national averages.

And, yes, the employment level is good (though there are better).  And, yes, the wages are still low.  In fact, the Times had a column about the numbers:

All good for Florida’s economy, so far. Let’s take a closer look at where Florida stands among its peer states. Here are five takeaways based on new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  1. Florida’s job market still has momentum. Florida was one of just 10 states with lower unemployment rates in June than in May. Two states saw their rates rise while jobless rates remained stable in 38 states and D.C.

  2. Compared to Florida, half of all states — 25 — have lower unemployment rates. That means this state hardly has a lock on a tight job market. Not even close. Colorado and North Dakota are tied with the lowest jobless rate of 2.3 percent in June.

  3. Florida, usually a leader in adding jobs month to month, did not quite make the cut in June. The largest increase in employment over the month versus May occurred in Texas (+40,200), followed by Georgia (+27,400) and New York (+26,000). Florida trailed with a still respectable gain of 19,400.

  4. Over the past year, though, Florida remained a top job generator even as it fell behind rival Texas. When this state outperforms Texas in sheer job growth, Florida Gov. Rick Scott loves to crow about it —and he has had ample opportunity to do so in recent years. Less so, now. In the past year ending in June, the largest job gains occurred in Texas (+319,300), California (+261,400) and Florida (+238,600). Keep in mind Texas and California are much bigger states in population. When measuring job growth by percentage, Florida’s annual gain rose 2.9 percent, beating Texas and California, and ranking third nationwide behind Nevada (+3.8 percent) and Utah (+3 percent).

  5. Hey, Florida isn’t Alaska or New Mexico, right? Alaska had June’s highest jobless rate, 6.8 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.4 percent. Even those “high” rates are hardly alarming, especially after the country’s last withering recession.

And the bottom line:

So what does this jobs snapshot mean for Florida? The state is doing well but could do better, based on the bulk of U.S. states with lower unemployment rates than here.

There remains the matter of boosting job pay and income. Florida paychecks still land close to the bottom third among states. To borrow the Guv’s phrase: Let’s get to work.

In other words, the same issue as always.


Transportation – Airport Audit

The audit of Tampa International’s construction project is apparently underway:

Airport CEO Joe Lopano confirmed Thursday that state audit is now underway.

“With respect to the senator, someone with his gravitas to say ‘corruption’ is unfortunate, but having an audit is not unfortunate, and I have no problem with that,” Lopano said on the WMNF 88.5 FM “MidPoint” program.

“We’re a very transparent group,” he added. “We try to do things right. We’re doing what we said we would do.”

It is still not clear why the audit is necessary, but as the director said, fine. As we said before, we just hope all sorts of other large FDOT projects around the state also get audited.


Port – Tax Cuts

There was interesting news from the Port:

Port officials said Tuesday that they plan to reduce the millage rate in fiscal year 2018 by more than 11 percent, according to a press release.

“This continues a trend and our goal is to eventually use no county taxpayer money at the port,” Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson said in a statement. “With strong growth in our lines of business and positive financial performance combined with our ongoing reduction in the millage rate, this will allow us to gradually reduce our ad valorem to zero.” 

That is a worthy goal.  It would be great if the Port was self-sustaining (at least operating costs). We also assume the Port administration would like to get away from the pressure of having them use taxpayer money (at least on operations).  And that is fine with us, as long as they focus on being and developing the port and not on real estate development.


Channel District – A Hotel

While it is not really a design we like (though it does have awnings, which is something a lot of other designs neglect):

Liberty Group’s proposal for a 10 story, 213 room Hampton Inn and Home2 hotel received approval from city staff yesterday. The project will likely go through the building permit process now and begin construction once that is complete.The project includes a 1,500 square foot Starbucks at the corner of Meridian and Kennedy.

Having a hotel is nice, but with the Lightning owner’s project, this building will look (and be) out of place.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We just wish it weren’t so bland but with both the developer and the City not particularly concerned with aesthetics, it is what it is.  Anyway, it will likely be built.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

We have discussed business incentives a number of times, and we have discussed Amazon warehouses a number of times.  This week, we go to an Orlando Sentinel editorial on the subject:

When Mayor Teresa Jacobs ruled out taxpayer-funded incentives from Orange County for a new Amazon warehouse near Orlando International Airport, she set an example worth following for other leaders across the region and throughout the state — especially the new head of Florida’s lead business recruiting agency.

“Listen, I like Amazon,” Jacobs recently told Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. “ … But we need to use tax incentives for high-wage jobs.”

Amazon confirmed last week that it would employ 1,500 workers at a new warehouse now under construction on Boggy Creek Road near Lake Nona. A developer, Seefried Industrial Properties, is building the warehouse; Amazon will have a 15-year lease on it.

While Amazon didn’t disclose the salaries workers at the warehouse will earn, most full-time employees at other company warehouses in the region reportedly make between $11 and $13 an hour. That’s a nice pay hike for someone earning minimum wage, and a lifeline for someone out of work, but it’s not a high-wage job. In fact, it falls far short of metro Orlando’s average wage, which was $20.70 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Low-wage workers often end up needing their own taxpayer subsidies for food, transportation, housing and health care.

Yet Amazon has been awarded more than $40 million in incentives for other warehouses in Florida, mostly from county and city governments. Nationwide, the company has reaped more than $1 billion this way.

Yup, and even more to the point:

State incentives in this case would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, and not just because the jobs aren’t high-wage. Amazon has built warehouses in other locations without incentives when the company calculates there’s sufficient demand for its products. Is there any reasonable doubt that metro Orlando meets that requirement?

Exactly.

We like Amazon, too (for the most part).  But they are building warehouses to get their goods to people as fast as possible.  And we have people (and are getting more).  The warehouse jobs are not the kind of jobs that limited taxpayer money should be spent on, and it definitely does not deserve hyperbole.  It is just the way business is changing.  (And Amazon was a good deal compared to Bass Pro Shops)

Orange County has it right. Hopefully, local officials are paying attention.

— Flags

A while back (and a while before that) we discussed city flags and how Tampa (and St. Pete’s) are a little a lacking.  Well, as things would have it, Orlando just approved a new flag.

From the Orlando Sentinel – click on picture for article

The flag appears to follow the rules that it should be simple, easy to identify, not have real writing on it, and all that.   But, to us it is just ok.  The thing in the middle is supposed to be the Lake Eola fountain but somehow keeps reminding us of a pineapple, which is not really Orlando.  Anyway, it is not worse than Tampa’s flag. (Though it is all better than Hillsborough County’s new logo featuring a silhouette of something that, while vaguely referencing Plant Hall or the old County Courthouse, is not a local historical landmark – as far as we can tell, it is actually the gazebo at Chillura Courthouse Square Park – rendered in pastels)

List of the Week

We haven’t done this in a while but this week we have Wallethub’s 2017 Most & Least Educated Cities. Here is the methodology.  Before we do the top 30, we’ll point out some major Florida metros: Brevard County (69th), Sarasota Bradenton (76th), Orlando (77th), Naples (82nd) Tampa Bay area (91st), Jacksonville (93rd), Miami-Ft Lauderdale (94th), so you get the idea.

Here is the top 30:

1 Ann Arbor, MI
2 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
3 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
4 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
5 Madison, WI
6 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
7 Provo-Orem, UT
8 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
9 Austin-Round Rock, TX
10 Tallahassee, FL
11 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
12 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
14 Lansing-East Lansing, MI
15 Raleigh, NC
16 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
17 Colorado Springs, CO
18 Trenton, NJ
19 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
20 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY
21 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA
22 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
23 Portland-South Portland, ME
24 Lexington-Fayette, KY
25 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
26 Eugene, OR
27 Huntsville, AL
28 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
29 New Haven-Milford, CT
30 Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA

As you can see, it is most of the usual suspects plus some college and/or research towns.  There are also some usual suspects floating around near the Florida cities.  And we are not saying that the list is dispositive of anything or completely accurate.  However, we think it is pretty clear that long-term economic success and educational attainment are most often related. And being 91st is not very good.

 

Roundup 7-21-2017

July 21, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Talking Trips

— One More Thing

Economic Development – VC

Is Selling Really the Goal?

Economic Development – Those Car Costs

Economic Development – Making Stuff

Transportation – SkyConnect Arrives

— Just a Little Historical Review

Economic Development – Tourist Tax

Port – Steel

Downtown – Larghissimo 

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

HART – In Search of Money

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________________

Transportation – Talking Trips

Over the decades, local officials and business people have been fond of going on fact-finding missions to other cities to see how they are doing things. Recently, the Lightning owner, and other business people, took a trip to Charlotte to look at transit.

Jeff Vinik said Friday that it’s local politicians, not the business community, who are holding Tampa Bay back when it comes to transit.

“Our business community is behind it,” said Vinik, a driving force in developing Tampa’s downtown, during a Friday meeting recapping a recent Charlotte visit to learn about transit. “The political community is mixed and not there yet.”

It’s up to the business community and the public to help politicians understand how critical an issue transit is for Tampa Bay, Vinik said.

We are sure the Lightning owner and other business people want transit. As for the last sentence, it is true.  Local officials tend to be followers not leaders.  But that raises the question of who they are (and who have they been) following and why.  In any event,

Vinik was one of about 20 business leaders who spent two days in Charlotte this week to learn how a similar-sized Southern city was able to build transit, including light rail, a streetcar and buses. Friday’s meeting focused on lessons learned and how to apply those tips here in Tampa Bay.

Rhea Law, chairwoman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which organized the Charlotte trip, said it’s essential that the partnership help politicians understand exactly what’s at stake when it comes to transit. That’s a lot easier to do, she said, when those politicians have the chance to experience rail or express buses or other transit themselves.

“Until you see it, until you touch it and ride it and understand what it is, it’s pretty hard to jump behind a concept that’s got a big dollar figure in front of it,” Law said.

That is also true to some degree, but many (probably most) people who live in this area (and certainly the vast majority of political officials) are from and/or have been to other cities where there is real transit.  And then the next sentence:

Local politicians have made similar trips to Charlotte and other cities over the past decade to evaluate those systems and how something similar can happen in Tampa Bay.

Politicians have seen it. They know what it is. Many probably even would like to have it.  But many just aren’t willing to push for it – or not willing to push enough.  Seeing it is not the issue.

Then there is the other factor – voters rejected proposals.  Part of that is on political officials, part of it is on the plans, and part of it is on the economy, political environment (including the media), and campaigns.

So what did the local officials say?  We heard from one Commissioner:

In response to Vinik’s comments, Crist told the Tampa Bay Times he didn’t think it was a fair assessment to say politicians are the ones who need to get on board for transit to move forward in Tampa Bay. Instead, he said, the business community needs to lead the effort to produce an actual plan — complete with engineering details, ridership projections, costs and revenue projections — before politicians sign off on it.

“Public officials have to answer to the taxpayer,” Crist said Friday. “I have to be able to look at the taxpayer and say, ‘I saw the plan and this is a reasonable expenditure for your tax dollar.’ A vision is not a plan.”  

Setting aside that the Commissioner is basically abdicating responsibility for transportation, yes and no.  We get why the Go Hillsborough concept went down, but that was on local officials for having a gutted plan and, even the part that had real transit (the City), there were no real details or even a clear vision.  And there was a lot of factional political stuff going on for the whole process, which had a lot to do with both the proposal and the collapse. That was also on officials.  They should have done better.  (Not to mention that they have the resources to develop a plan and that is their job.)

The part on the business community groups was to go along with Go Hillsborough (and basically every other plan) rather than push for something better. When you give the impression that you just want something, anything, rather than looking for a real, quality plan, then you are not providing any incentive for politicians to push themselves. Politicians tend to go toward the path of least resistance (and greatest reward).

Then, generally, there are decades of not planning better, not developing transit and transportation, and not delivering real solutions.  While much of that is on politicians, they have constituents and donors who tend to do business.

(And, as an aside, while we think the plan is really the responsibility of government, now that the “business community” has taken such a big piece of TBARTA, it can be argued that, indeed, it is up to them to bring the plan.)

Going back to the Lightning owner, there is this:

The group lauded Charlotte business and government leaders for their cohesion on creating a robust transit network and discussed strategies the Tampa Bay region could employ to establish better options here.

For example, Charlotte leaders used land use plans to encourage transit development, including building urban centers where transit is more successful and limits sprawl.

“When I look at it, I see transit having two purposes, equal purposes,” Vinik said. “One is land use planning and transit as a means of connecting people to jobs, people to the supermarket … people to the Tampa Bay Lightning Games — that was a joke,” he said.

We have long said that transportation and planning are intricately connected.  Not only does bad planning create bad transportation, good planning helps good transportation and draws investment, especially in growing areas. And we have no doubt the Lightning owner and some others want to do so (support for TBX notwithstanding).

So, we are all for the business community pushing for better standards of planning, better transportation, and overall better government.  But here’s the thing: you can’t speak of the business community as a singular thing. It is made of many parts and is quite amorphous.  Someone pushed the sprawl form of development.  And someone profited from it.  And someone focused office development and office leases in non-urban places with non-urban designs.  And without pointing out anyone in particular, many people other than local officials have profited mightily from the sprawl.  And local politics did not develop in a vacuum. Someone donated to (public records, by the way), voted for, and generally supported those same politicians who are being said to hold us back.

Let’s just say, while there are people who played basically no part, the mess was/is a group effort.  It will take a group effort to get out of it.

— One More Thing

Another thing that local politicians should note is the controversy in Charlotte over express lanes.  There was a large project planned.  Some of the work has been done, but there has been a large amount of opposition and now delays as it is reviewed.  For instance, there is even this claim:

DOT has created a new public comment link as part of the review, but North Mecklenburg residents have hardly been silent on the project. Their widespread objections contributed to the defeat in November of former Gov. Pat McCrory, who was Charlotte’s longtime mayor.

(See here and here).  There is even the possibility (though given how government works, probably not) of converting some of the express lanes that have been built to free lanes.

It would behoove FDOT, local politicians, and the business community to avoid the mess and have FDOT really follow through on its pledge to have real input on transportation in this area.

Economic Development – VC

Time to check in with the VC reports.

Nationally, investors deployed $21.78 billion to 1,958 venture-backed companies during the second quarter, marking a significant uptick from the first quarter in capital invested. The number of companies receiving investments held steady.

Eight Tampa Bay companies, including Teewinot, received a total of $24.04 million in venture funding in 2Q 2017, the Pitchbook-NVCA report said.

The number of deals and the total value of deals for Tampa Bay firms was down significantly from the first quarter of 2017, when 12 companies got $45 million in venture backing, but Tarhuni said fluctuations from quarter to quarter are expected.

That is .11% of the nationwide VC.  The Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metro area is approximately .9% of the US population.  And, just playing with the numbers, if you average the size of the deals, you get $11 million or so. 

Is Selling Really the Goal?

Speaking of VC and growing companies, in the last few weeks, there have been a number of local companies bought by companies from outside our area. Most prominent among them were Tribridge, and, of course, HSN (plus some other targets and Beef O’Bradys getting bought by private equity firm ).  Those deal were surely good for shareholders.  It remains to be seen if they hold any benefit for our area.  We assume that those events prompted a column in the Times:

Imagine a Florida startup that recorded an impressive $26 million in sales during its first full year in business in 2011, logged more than $900 million in sales by 2016, and this year expects to increase revenues to nearly $2 billion with 5,000 employees.

Oh yeah, this Florida startup last month was sold for $3.3 billion — that’s “billion” with a B — making it one of the biggest-ever deals in the Florida world of entrepreneurs.

That’s even bigger than last week’s deal by TV shopping retailer QVC to buy HSN of St. Petersburg.

The company that hit the jackpot is called Chewy, based in Dania Beach, just south of Fort Lauderdale. The buyer: Petsmart, the pet and pet food giant retailer that ranks roughly 50th among the country’s largest privately owned businesses.

Their growth was definitely impressive, and so is the deal.

There’s no reason that type of bonanza deal cannot happen one day in the Tampa Bay startup community.

Startups here just need to keep pushing —growing, raising theirs profile and showing solid results as young companies capable of raising money, building a customer base and boosting sales.

The column is entitled “One day, the Tampa Bay area will land its Chewy.”  We get that startup founders want to cash in on their work and that is it good to be able to show that this area can produce valuable companies that are desired elsewhere.  But, in all honesty, our hope is that the Tampa Bay area will be known more as the home the companies with the money to buy disruptors or home to the disruptors growing themselves to dominate a field.

Economic Development – Those Car Costs

A few weeks ago, we discussed the affordability of this area.  Well,

Hillsborough County ranks fourth for the most expensive car insurance premiums in Florida.

A new study from InsuranceQuotes.com shows Florida as the sixth most expensive state for insurance. Floridians are paying an average of $1,546 a year and depending on where you are, that could be higher or lower.

And the lower incomes, horrible transit, and little walkability does not help affordability. Speaking of which, URBN Tampa Bay had this:

A new report from Bankrate.com highlights an issue we bring attention to often, transportation affordability. We know the bay area has one of the worst ratios in America for income to transportation costs as whole. This report puts a finer point on that by comparing the average cost to buy a new car and insure it, versus the prevailing wage in the country’s 25 most populous metros. Tampa ranks 3rd worst, with Miami the worst and Orlando 4th worst.

The Bankrate article is here.

Economic Development – Making Stuff

And then there was this:

Florida’s manufacturing grades remained the same except for productivity and innovation, according to the latest report on manufacturing and logistics from Ball State University.

The state’s grades for productivity and innovation rose from “D+” to “C.” Remaining the same as last year were manufacturing “D,” logistics “C,” human capital “C,” benefits costs “B,” global positioning “D,” tax climate “A,” diversification “B” and expected fiscal liability gap “B.”

The full report is here. Let’s just say that the D is not a good score.  Sure, business taxes are low and workers don’t get a lot of benefits, but there is more to business success than low costs. (You may want to consider this Economist article about Germany.)  Of course, that does not mean we can’t have some manufacturing developments – see a few items below.

Transportation – SkyConnect Arrives

The new people mover cars for the airport have arrived.

Twelve train cars, which cost $1.9 million each, make up the SkyConnect people-mover shuttle system currently being built as part of the $1 billion phase one renovation at Tampa International Airport. The tram cars arrived at Port Tampa Bay from Mitsubishi’s plant in Japan Monday morning aboard an auto liner ship.

The cars were rolled off the ship and will be installed at the airport by its manufacturer, Mitsubishi, this week. The people-mover shuttle system will connect a new rental car facility and the economy parking garage to the main terminal and will be operational early next year, eliminating the need for passengers to catch a bus.

They were quickly taken to the airport and put on the tracks/guideway.

From Tampa International Airport – click on picture for Facebook page

(You can see a video here). We will be interested to see them go and whether they will eventually be extended to some multi-modal facility in Westshore (and theoretically beyond).

And there was news of new service:

Howard Diamond, general counsel for Frontier Airlines, announced 11 new destinations out of TIA on Tuesday, to bring the total number of routes to 18.

Those cities are:    Buffalo, Colorado Springs, Columbus, Indianapolis, Islip (NY), Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, Providence, and St. Louis.  That will set up an interesting competition with Southwest.

— Just a Little Historical Review

Finally, going back to the SkyConnect article in the Times, we just had to point this out:

The first phase one of the airport’s master plan renovation, which has been three years in the making, is coming to a close with the arrival of the SkyConnect train cars this year. It was the first major renovation to the airport since the terminal was built in 1971. The improvements — which include adding a slew of new retailers and restaurants to the terminals, building a new rental car facility that’s double in size and adding the new shuttle system — will help the airport accommodate 35 million passengers a year, or double the annual amount recorded in 2013. The project has been slightly delayed through the year, but remains under budget. TIA issued bonds, used passenger facility fee collections and $194 million from Florida Department of Transportation to finance the project.

Depending on what you define as a renovation and what you define as new construction, the present renovation is arguably the biggest in airport history, and its successful completion will be quite an accomplishment. But we are not sure that rebuilding/rearranging all the airsides (though done over time) was not a major renovation.  Plus there was adding short-term parking levels, the long-term garage, the economy garages, redoing the landside terminal interior before (not to mention that the Marriott was not actually built when the new airport opened).

One major reason the airport maintains its high rankings is that, while the original concept was very good, it has constantly been maintained, modernized, renovated, and upgraded.  The present administration is admirably following a long tradition there.

Economic Development – Tourist Tax

Time to check in with the tourist tax numbers.

Nonprofit tourism organization Visit Tampa Bay collected $23.75 million in tourist development tax revenues since Oct. 1, a Thursday release said. The sum exceeds the entirety of such taxes collected during all of the 2014 fiscal year, the Tampa-Hillsborough agency said.

Seven out of nine months for this fiscal reporting period set records for the organization’s bed-tax revenues, Visit Tampa Bay reported.

That’s good, though the 2014 number is a bit arbitrary.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Visit Tampa Bay reported a record $29.6 million in bed taxes. The destination marketing association is closing out its strongest ever calendar year and preparing for new out-of-state and international marketing campaigns to launch in January 2017.

The magic number for the extra percentage point being $30 million.  Doing some quick extrapolation on trends, there is a good chance this year will be over the $30 million mark.

Port – Steel

Checking back in with manufacturing, there was news from the Port:

Last month, Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors approved a 25-year lease with a South Florida company called Steelco Florida for a 35-acre site located at Port Redwing, a port property in southern Hillsborough County near Gibsonton. For the next two years or so, Steelco will be building a brand new facility on the parcel, where the company will import, export and manufacture steel products.

The timing seems right, said Wade Elliot, vice president of marketing and business development at Port Tampa Bay. Just this week, the port was awarded the title of 2017 American Metal Market’s Logistics/Transportation Provider of the Year at the American Metal Market Awards for Steel Excellence ceremony in New York City.

Port Tampa Bay is the state’s largest port for handling steel products, Elliott said. The port has been the host of the Tampa Steel Conference, which draws hundreds of industry professionals, for the past 28 years.

“Steel is our core business. We’ve been at it forever,” he said. “Steelco fits nicely into how we’re trying to develop the south county Redwing area, which is an important element in our strategic master plan.”

And that is cool.  You have to maintain the niches you have while you are trying to expand and diversify.

Steelco will import raw steel materials like scrap, do production at its own facility at the port and export those goods. The bulk of the business will be selling the steel products locally and exporting them, Rodriguez said.

“When you think of the steel industry, you think of big steel mills in Pittsburgh, in Ohio and Michigan. We’re going to be a ‘mini mill’ on a smaller scale,” he said.

Steelco will employ up to 1,000 during the construction of its facility in Tampa and will have up to several hundred employees working at the facility once it opens around 2020.

And manufacturing in the Port is good.  Welcome.

Downtown – Larghissimo 

There was news about Tempo.

Low-income families and renters should already be calling the Tempo at Encore home.

Instead, the troubled $26.5 million apartment tower scheduled to open last fall is still a construction site. And now it’s embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over unpaid work, missing workers and who is to blame for damage from water intrusion.

The dispute turned even uglier last week when the insurance company recently fired from the project asked a federal judge to award it $9.3 million for unpaid work and other expenses. Berkley Surety also filed a $1.6 million lien on the property, which is being developed by the Tampa Housing Authority along with Banc of America Community Development Corp., the development arm of Bank of America.

In its complaint, Berkley says that its construction firm was locked out of the project for five months while storms caused water damage inside the residential tower. It is accusing the developers of deliberately withholding payments and delaying the project, which Berkley says drove up its costs.

So let’s review:

Tempo is part of Encore, a $450 million mixed-income housing development and urban renewal project on the edge of downtown Tampa.

Problems first became apparent in June 2016 when Siltek was fired. At the time, the project was about three-quarters complete.

The building was behind schedule and there was concern about shoddy workmanship and poor management, Housing Authority officials said at the time. Another worry: Siltek founder Rene Sierra was working as project manager even after he had pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving affordable housing in South Florida.

The problems around the project only got more bizarre.

As underwriter, Berkley had the option to complete the project with its own contractor.

That turned out to be Tron Construction, a company established by Siltek owner Ana Silveira-Sierra less than one month after Siltek was terminated from the Tempo project and which operates out of the same Plantation office. Silveira-Sierra declined to comment.

Six months later, Housing Authority and Banc of America officials terminated their contract with Berkley, effectively firing Tron, too. The company had only 30 workers on-site when there should have been about 300, Housing Authority officials said at the time.

We are not going to get into the merits or lack thereof of the lawsuit.  However, this entire building has turned into a complete mess and someone needs to figure out why and how to make sure it does not happen on the North Boulevard Homes rebuild.  This continuing sore, as well as no clear analysis of the chain of events and decisions that led to the problem, do not help build confidence.  But this is one building. North Boulevard Homes is a much more substantial project.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

The first steps to setting the stage for construction of the Riverwalk Tower are beginning:

CapTrust Advisors, whose name adorns the CapTrust building at 102 W. Whiting St., has signed a lease for 10,500 square feet in Park Tower.

The ownership of CapTrust building and Park Tower have a mutual partner: Feldman Equities LLC, which owns a stake in both properties.

Feldman Equities is planning the 53-story, mixed-use Riverwalk Tower on the site of the CapTrust building and adjacent vacant lot. In late 2016, Feldman partnered with City Office REIT to buy Park Tower, Tampa’s first skyscraper, and has since unveiled a glitzy, multimillion-dollar renovation plan.

Relocating tenants out of CapTrust building is another sign that Riverwalk Tower — a highly anticipated, first-of-its-kind-in-Tampa project that will transform the city’s skyline — is moving forward.

Hyperbole aside, we are glad that it seems this project is moving forward for now.  We look forward to the promised renderings in a few months.

HART – In Search of Money

The board of the perennially cash-starved HART is taking some very preliminary steps to thinking about maybe raising the millage rate:

After dozens of studies, public meetings, forums, plans and votes, Hillsborough’s transit leaders still don’t know how they’ll raise money for the county’s struggling bus system.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board held a special meeting Monday to consider raising the millage rate that pays for the county’s bus system — something it hasn’t done since 2012. HART’s charter caps the millage rate at .5 mills, where it currently stands.

HART board chair and county commissioner Les Miller asked the board’s attorney to explain what steps would have to be taken place to raise the cap.

“I don’t want anyone falling out of your chairs or passing out,” Miller told the board, which includes at least three of its 13 members who have voted or spoken publicly against raising taxes for transit.

Any additional increase would have to be approved first by the HART board. Then the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa and Temple Terrace city councils would have to approve it. Only then would it go on the ballot as a county-wide referendum.

Unlikely to happen, but there is nothing wrong with looking at it.  One interesting item was from the Tea Party member of the board:

Commissioner and vice-chair Karen Jaroch asked HART staff to research whether individual cities can have individual millage rates that generate dedicated pots of money within HART. Staff is researching whether Lakeland or other municipalities do something similar.

“It’s so polarized,” Jaroch said. “You have people who really want transit, and you have the other side who, they’re not going to benefit from it and they’re not going to likely to want to see their taxes increased. That could be a solution to maybe meet everybody’s needs.”

Has the Tea Party adopted the City Tax?  Is that dedicated pot of money just going to run buses inside the City limits? Would that actually accomplish HART’s mission, anyway?  As we have pointed out, there are parts of the County much closer to the heart of Tampa than many parts of the City, which much more density than parts of the City (so much so, you probably do not know you are not in the City anymore).  What is HART going to do for them?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We noticed this interesting little graphic about “crane counts” in different metro areas as a (very) rough way to see what is booming.  It is exactly what  says it is – counting the number of tower cranes in a city.

From Curbed.com – click on map for article

We’re not sure what the deal is with Miami.  We would have assumed there were more cranes there.  For a while, we have a steady stream of cranes at a relatively low number (and Tampa and St. Pete are probably not counted as the same place). Of course, if we 18-20 cranes in the Lightning owner’s project next year (or so) we’ll be climbing up that list.

 

Roundup 7-14-2017

July 14, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

— The Study

— The Bridge

— And the Land

— Conclusion

— One More Thing

West Tampa – End of the Homes

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

— Show Us the Money

Downtown – AER lives

Downtown – Delay

Downtown – Why?

Downtown – Yes and No

— One More Thing

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

___________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

As always, there was transportation news this week.

— The Study

There was an article in the Times on TB(n)X this week.  There was not much new, but it had a few noteworthy points.

In 2014, the state announced an ambitious road project called Tampa Bay Express. Known as TBX, the Florida Department of Transportation planned to add toll lanes to 90 miles of interstates.

That all changed in 2016 when public outcry forced the state to scrap its plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge, put the rest of the $6 billion plan in reset mode and come back with a new project name: Tampa Bay Next.

In January, officials opened a federal study that will re-evaluate parts of the project, including a controversial segment around downtown Tampa and its urban neighborhoods. The supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS, is expected to be completed in 2019.

According to federal regulations (In this case 23 CFR 771.130), this is when you do an SEIS:

(a) A draft EIS, final EIS, or supplemental EIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS shall be supplemented whenever the Administration determines that:

(1) Changes to the proposed action would result in significant environmental impacts that were not evaluated in the EIS; or

(2) New information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts would result in significant environmental impacts not evaluated in the EIS.

That does not sound like a reevaluation of the transportation plan based on the community’s desires looking at all options in a comprehensive way.  In fact, we are a bit unclear about how FDOT can do an environmental study on a yet to be decided plan. But we’ll just go with the explanation that is the bureaucratic way to say they might be looking at something new.

So, let’s look at the map of old TBX:

From the Times – click on map for article

Note the yellow part, which is Gateway Express:

Gateway

$545 million, construction begins late 2017

The Gateway Expressway will create two elevated roadways from Bayside Bridge and U.S. 19 to Interstate 275. This is the first place Tampa Bay drivers will see toll lanes, with construction starting later this year.

Setting aside that of all the segments of TBX we are least concerned with the Gateway Express part (aside from the express lane part), those two things (doing a study until 2019 and starting construction in 2017) seem contradictory, but, apparently, the SEIS has nothing to do with Pinellas which does not fit the idea of looking at all options for a comprehensive solutions for the region’s transportation.

And this about the main part through Tampa:

West Shore and downtown Tampa

$2.835 billion for all four segments, final design awaiting results of federal study

A big part of the former TBX plan is being reconsidered under a new federal study.

Four segments — the West Shore and downtown Tampa interchanges and spans of I-275 from West Shore through downtown north up to Bearrs [sic] Ave. — are part of the study, which is expected to wrap-up in 2019. That study will determine whether toll lanes will run through each of these parts or if the state will go with another option, such as light rail or reconstructing I-275 at street level. The study might also recommend a combination of these options.

This, or at least parts of it, is where the SEIS is apparently being done, per the TB(n)X website. Of course, if you read the explanation of the SEIS on that website, it is all about interstate:

FDOT is currently working with the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to determine the preferred alternative for improving our interstate system. In its planning phase, this process serves as a community conversation and planning effort on the future of our region’s interstate system and how it integrates with multimodal choices under development across our region.

But:

The SEIS will focus on the Downtown and Westshore Area interchanges and the section of I-275 between those areas.

Which is not the same thing as the already limited purpose of how the interstate system integrates with multimodal transportation and transit.  In fact, that is extremely narrow in focus – and does not include  the Howard Frankland, I-4 or anything in Pinellas – and it does not include Seminole Heights (and even parts of Tampa Heights).  That does not seem like a fresh look at the whole project.

— The Bridge

As if to emphasize the point about studies, input, looking at all options, and all that, the Times had this late this week:

A few years ago, local leaders had approved the state’s plan for a new bridge that would include toll lanes. But what many of those leaders didn’t know was that those toll lanes would replace existing lanes. So, drivers who didn’t want to pay would lose a free lane.

Those willing to pay to get across the bridge — the price would change price based on traffic — could use the fourth lane.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the lost free lane in September. More than a dozen elected officials told the Times they did not know that DOT’s plan included reducing the number of free lanes.

Setting aside that the Times actually reported it (maybe a little vaguely) in 2014 (as we noted at the time “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away”) and local officials could have known then (some did and did not really care), what about all the discussions and studies?  Nevermind.  Here is what the Times tells us:

A new, six-lane bridge will be built to the north of the existing bridges. It will carry traffic south, from Tampa to St. Petersburg. Two of those lanes will be tolled (one in each direction). A concrete barrier will separate them from each other and regular traffic.

Looks like this:

Present Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

New Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not only that but:

The state plans to start construction in 2020, and expects the entire process, including tearing down the old bridge, to take about five years.

Aside from the whole express lane concept (and the mess that will ensue if there is a crash somewhere in the walled off lanes – do you get a refund of your exorbitant fee if you get stuck?), at least keeping the four free lanes in each direction is better than the original plan.  However, it does leave an open question: what about transit, and not just express buses?  What about the whole regional transit study and integrating it with all transportation planning?  Is the bridge going to be built for transit?  (Not to mention: what about the bottleneck on the Tampa side which isn’t the whole problem but is a big problem?)  What about outreach for what people in this area actually want?

In sum, what is actually going on here?

— And the Land

And then there is this:

. . . the Florida Department of Transportation continues to buy land intended for the toll lanes and other aspects of the expansion that are supposed to be on hold.

Critics say those property buys make it hard to believe the state has any intention of considering alternatives to easing the interstate bottleneck from Ybor City through downtown Tampa and into the West Shore business district.

“You can’t in one moment tell us the project is in reset and that all other options are now on the table and in the next moment tell us you’re still acquiring properties secondary to the original plan,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “Those two things put together simply don’t make any intellectual sense to me.”

So why are they doing it?

Officials are considering everything from the previously proposed toll lanes to light rail to a relatively new concept known as a boulevard. That option involves tearing down I-275 north of downtown Tampa and rebuilding it at street level with more options for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians. Examples around the country include Canal Street in New Orleans and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, DOT officials say something still needs to be done to fix that part of the highway.

“The interchanges, no matter what option we choose, they need to be reconstructed,” Jones said. “We want to be in the best position possible to actually implement whatever option we choose, because Tampa Bay needs a solution as soon as we come to consensus.”

Which has some logic to it, but:

But that explanation doesn’t sit well with some of community members who have seen properties DOT already bought in historic neighborhoods become worn-down and grungy.

“You end up with a house or business that is boarded up and goes derelict in a relatively short period of time, and it winds up being a weight on the neighborhood,” Fernandez said. “There’s absolutely no telling how long that situation will continue. Until there’s a plan, we continue having FDOT-created blight.”

Without an identified footprint, Fernandez said, it doesn’t make sense to further damage neighborhoods. And he said it certainly doesn’t build trust with a community that has been skeptical of the DOT since the project was rolled out.

Which also is logical.  We get that with pretty much any plan, some land is going to be needed, but since we do not know (and FDOT says it does not know) what the plan might be and exactly what land might be needed (are they buying land for possible rail lines?) and buying up this land is hurting a neighborhood as opposed to just like buying some parking lots fronting strip malls, it makes one wonder.

It does so especially in the light of this FDOT document dated January 2017 (the URL implies it was posted in February) about the time there was supposed to be a TBX reset.  What is really interesting is section 6, stating at pg 46 of the pdf concerning public outreach, which is not about getting ideas, it is about selling ideas.  For instance, look at their audience section 6.1.1:

6.1.1 Audiences

The Draft Tampa Bay Express Master Plan defines key audiences for the initial planning phases. The initial outreach focused on elected  officials,  regional  leaders,  transportation  agencies  and  professionals, transportation  supporters,  and  the  media.  Following this initial outreach, outreach should include neighborhood groups, business associations, political, social and religious organizations and underrepresented communities.

As  the  projects move towards  implementation,  continued  outreach to  these  individuals  and  groups is  needed.    Additionally, outreach shall occur to identify and publicize success stories to the general public, as well as to understand and mitigate any consumer concerns with the TBX EL network. 

In sum, after everything is planned, then talk to the affected people.

Remember, this is Jan/Feb 2017 – after the reset. We don’t know if FDOT really open to changing the plan or just implementing the previous plan more slickly.

— Conclusion

The problem is that nothing is clear.  Information does not flow smoothly and clearly from FDOT and local oversight has not been very good.  The whole process is marked by confusion, which is a shame.  There could be a logical explanation of how this all fits together, but such an explanation is never forth-coming.

FDOT has the opportunity to really start doing things in a new, better way.  We still hope that is what they are trying to do, but it really is not clear.  And that does not create confidence.

— One More Thing

One final bit of FDOT news:

David Gwynn will take over District 7, which comprises Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, according to an email FDOT Secretary Mike Dew sent to employees. Gwynn currently serves as the director of transportation operations in District 1, which is based in Bartow.

We have no opinion about that other than we hope he gets that his new district has very different needs than his old one and that we hope he actually follows through with FDOT’s promised new approach.

West Tampa – End of the Homes

There was news about the “West River” project in West Tampa.

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

First, a start/finish:

Change was in the air.

Tampa’s oldest public housing complex is about to undergo a major change.

On Thursday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn kicked off the process by partially bulldozing one of the buildings at North Boulevard Homes. Residents actually started moving out two years ago. The project is a multi-million dollar community.

That has been a long time in coming.  So long, in fact, that what seems to be the first really public discussion (at least as far as we can tell) of what was in the dirt was a bit surprising:

But clearing away concrete may be easier than dealing with a mess that lies below the surface: a sludgy plume of toxic groundwater that has been spreading for decades, according to state records.

Located about 10 to 30 feet below ground, the water contains unsafe levels of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen known to increase the risk of cancer, especially in the liver. Pollutants leached into the ground from a long-closed chemical supply firm.

Tampa Housing Authority leaders remain confident that West River can still proceed. The agency is in talks with state environmental officials about how to work around the spill. But there is concern whether they will be able to build proposed residential towers or retention ponds directly above the plume.

Kind of odd that this issue was not really worked out (and publicly discussed) with the years of public discussion and master planning.  It should have been.

Housing Authority officials were not aware how far the pollution had spread until a 2014 study found pollutants in monitoring wells dug close to North Boulevard Homes and recommended a full site assessment be conducted. That report, published in March, shows the plume has spread northeast and lies beneath a sizable portion of the public housing complex.

The above paragraph seems to say the information was sat on for around 3 years, which is a bit odd.

In any event:

Buckhorn said the city often has to deal with contamination left behind from abandoned industrial sites. The city will look for grants and other funding if required to clean up the site, he said.

“We’ll collectively find a way to fix it,” he said. “It’s not insurmountable.”

No, it is not, but if there is a clean-up, it will cost money.  Will it be public money or private money (like from the chosen developers) or a little bit of both?  And there is this:

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials said the plume poses no health risk. The contamination is not in the soil. Homes and businesses in the area use city water.

Still, the Housing Authority may be required to sign a covenant with the environmental agency that it will not disturb the plume. Even retention ponds may be prohibited above the plume.

“Until we know what their redevelopment plan involves, such as where they plan to have green space versus roads, buildings, ponds, etc., we would not be able to determine which restrictions would apply to their construction project,” said Shannon Herbon, a DEP spokewoman.

That last part is interesting in that it points out something important – DEP apparently does not know the actual plan.  We know visions.  We know things have changed a bit.  But the actual plan to be built is still a bit vague.  It’s not that we don’t like the basic vision.  We do (with some caveats), but it would be nice to know what actually is going to happen.  And it would be useful to know, in light of the fact that how much the whole thing will cost is contingent on it and there is public money involved.  And it would be nice if all the facts were just put out there now, so there are no more surprises.

— Show Us the Money

And, speaking of public money, there is more complication:

Now, the Tampa Housing Authority and a developer backed by the Hillsborough County Commission are in direct competition for a similar award, a situation that strained relations between the two government agencies.

The Housing Authority won the award for the Boulevard at West River, a $50 million apartment complex that would create 200 affordable housing units as part of its West Tampa revitalization project.

But Blue Sky Communities, the developer backed by the county, is asking an administrative judge to disqualify the Housing Authority because of “errors” in its application. It wants the tax credits for a $25 million, 144-unit affordable housing complex it planned for Williams Road in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

If the challenge is successful, it would likely delay construction of the Boulevard for at least a year, said Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority’s chief operating officer.

A year delay is not a huge thing in the greater scheme of things.  But this is important:

The Boulevard, planned for the northwest corner of Main Street and Willow Avenue, was the choice of both the Housing Authority and the city of Tampa.

Records show that the county also planned to support it with the understanding that the Williams Road project, which would be built just north of Broadway Avenue, would get the recommendation the following year.

But at a December meeting where commissioners were scheduled to approve that decision, Assistant County Administrator Eric Johnson told commissioners to ignore the recommendation in front of them. Instead, he urged them to make the Preserve at Sabal Park the county’s recommendation.

When questioned by commissioners, Johnson said there was concern that the Housing Authority was already facing a legal challenge over the choice of the Boulevard, and that the Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommended the county support a project outside the city of Tampa.

Either project would benefit the county, he said during the meeting.

Actually, the redeveloping North Boulevard Homes and West Tampa would benefit the entire area much more, but we’ll set that aside for now.  What is the legal challenge?

Blue Sky’s legal challenge against the Housing Authority states that it failed on its application to list all of the development officers from its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp. It also overstated how much experience Banc of America development officer Eileen Pope has with affordable housing development, the complaint states.

Officials from Blue Sky did not return a phone call seeking comment.

A hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled on Tuesday in Tallahassee. The judge is likely to then issue an order on the case in the next 60 days.

So the legal challenge is by the developer that stands to benefit from the County choice, which is based on the legal challenge.  Let’s just say, on its face, that seems like odd reasoning.

Downtown – AER lives

After quite a bit of inaction, there was news about the AER project next to the Straz:

Miami-based American Land Ventures has submitted its design plans for a residential tower near the David J. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts to the city of Tampa. That approval will ensure the tower — named AER in the Arts District — complies with city guidelines on items like the proposed elevations, green space and setbacks.

AER was originally proposed in January 2013. One reason for the project’s delay is that roadwork construction must be scheduled around the Straz’s Broadway series, giving it a narrow window in which to break ground.

Those design plans detail a 33-story tower with 271 residential units and 7,335 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, fronting West Tyler Street and a portion of Doyle Carlton Drive. A 5,335-square-foot amenities lounge will also be on the ground floor.

It’s difficult to peg exactly when construction will begin. The site for the tower where the tower will be built does not yet exist — Cass and Tyler streets must be reconfigured to create the 1-acre footprint for the building.

Let’s just say we are not going to hold our breath for this project.  More interesting than the news that nothing is happening soon is the rendering dump:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Given its location, this building will be prominent for a while (like decades) so where to start?  We like the basic art deco idea.  We think the overall size is fine, as is the height.  We never have liked the revision that had the odd shape that looks like a shorter, boxy building was stuck onto side (and back) of the larger one.  We are also not fond of the bland back (east side) and parking garage.  Yes, we know you need a garage and we understand why it is in the back, but the bland back of the building and parking garage will be very visible (the garage screens will probably be ok but the tower is very bland in back) – including from the interstate.

Other than that, here is a first floor plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While we would have liked more retail frontage, there are real uses along the part facing the river and the Straz.  As URBN Tampa Bay noted, with other developments along Tyler, it could make it a nice little activity center.

So, right now we give it an “ok.” In any event, according to the Business Journal, not even the road realignment is finalized, so there likely will be more changes (though probably not anything substantial).  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – Delay

There is a new delay in the City’s attempt to sell off land next to City Hall.

The New Orleans developer selected by the city to develop a publicly owned vacant lot in downtown Tampa needs more time before it can close on the site.

Tampa City Council on Thursday will consider an amendment to the sales agreement between the city and HRI Investments, which was entered into in December 2016, extending the close date until Dec. 29, 2017.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we are not fans of this deal (See “Downtown – Block Letter Project” and “Downtown – Mixed Feelings”), especially with all the other buildings proposed for downtown, what is the problem?

The environmental inspection period is taking longer than expected, according to the proposed amendment. The sales agreement has already been extended once, from May 17 to July 20.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official, said Monday that HRI isn’t able to complete the inspection because a portion of the lot is being used as a staging area for materials in the renovation of old city hall.

A spokeswoman for HRI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The lot was previously how to two gas stations, and inspections so far have turned up six underground gas tanks, McDonaugh said.

How did no one know about that?

Downtown – Why?

In more City oddness, from URBN Tampa Bay:

We’re upset to learn that the city is insisting on $3 million fee on the developer of 220 Madison in Downtown Tampa due to the fact the micro-apartment project would not include on-site parking, and would lease units touting this as a feature, not a shortcoming. The developer still plans to close on the purchase of the land and appeal to the Tampa City Council, but this approach from the city is upsetting nonetheless. We think there’s a problem with the city telling residents who don’t want a car, too bad, every residence in Tampa comes with parking, or pays as if it did anyways.  

If the city insists on the parking fee, the developer plans to keep the building as office space.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

If the City is truly insisting on the $3 million, it is unfortunate and ill-considered (whatever the validity of the reasoning – which we do not know – it looks more like a cash-grab and/or backward thinking).  We find it hard to see the logic of making a building that has been there for decades without dedicated parking pay for parking now.  (And, if the City insists, we totally get why the new owners would just sit on the building until the administration changes). And if people want to live downtown in that building it without parking, let them. Why punish the idea?

Downtown – Yes and No

The City announced the winner of the RFP for a restaurant in the little building in Curtis Hixon Park.

City officials announced Wednesday that Four Green Fields has won the bid to build a restaurant in Curtis Hixon.

With its thatched roof, white-washed walls and Irish memorabilia, the pub on W Platt Street has long been a popular watering hole for downtown drinkers.

A rendering of the proposed new pub shows an equally Gaelic looking venue. It will include a raw bar with inside and outside seating and will cost an estimated $680,000 to build. Construction is scheduled to start in mid August and is expected to take just 16 weeks.

Here is a rendering of the exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And here is one reason (there are other possibilities we won’t get into) for the City’s choice:

City Hall received seven proposals in response to its invitation to put a restaurant next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and the company it picked — Irish pub Four Green Fields — offered the most money.

* * *

“I’m happy with the selection we got at Curtis Hixon,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had indicated before this week’s announcement that price would probably drive the city’s choice. “They were creative. Some financially were better for the city than others. … There were some legitimate, credible and serious folks who bid.”

Setting aside that it would be nice for the City to consider aesthetics in its signature park, we said earlier that putting a restaurant in this space was not a major issue for us.  The park is fine without it. It will be ok with it.  That being said, Four Green Fields is a fine establishment.  We are not sure about the Irish Pub cum Raw Bar concept, but that is a private investment.  We’re sure people will drink in the park (there needs to be a little planning for that if people will be drinking all the time instead of special events) and a bunch of them probably would like a raw bar.

The one thing we don’t like is the exterior.  We get what they are trying to do.  And we have no problem with the Irish-theme pub interior – you see that by choice.  However, the rustic Ireland exterior motif does not go with anything in or around the park (we like diverse looks but even with that, it does not really go).  Maybe it will be ok, but there are questions.  (The other proposals that have been revealed are not really much better in our view, but still.)

— One More Thing

There was also this:

The Tampa Convention Center awarded Smuggler’s Enterprises Inc., with its Harpoon Harry’s Crab House concept, the contract for the Tampa Bay Convention Center retail space.

The Punta Gorda company is investing $3.6 million to convert a 10,000-square-foot storage space into a family friendly restaurant that will open in six to eight months.

We don’t know anything about the restaurant, but fine with us.  It is good to fill that retail space, and we’ll find out if it is any good in a few months.

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

When NoHo Flats and its surface parking was approved, we said this:

In other words, this project is not urban and it has no shops. (So much for the ULI and changing DNA.) It is a suburban apartment complex with some urban veneer.  Once that surface parking lot goes in, it will be decades, if ever, before it disappears.  Once the grid is disturbed, it likely will not come back in your lifetime.  However, the developer tossed out the usual warning – to which the City, to its discredit, usually caves:

“It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking,” he said.

We can wait. It should be developed properly, but it appears that the City does not care.

(See “Tampa – the Same DNA” ) It is worth noting that a project with a parking garage is across the street from NoHo Flats.

The NoHo Flats developer was wrong about market conditions, which we knew then. What is more annoying is this, from URBN Tampa Bay:

NoHo Flats, which is already a suburban-style development in what should be an urban neighborhood, wants to make itself even worse. The owner has put in a substantial change determination request to demolish the project’s dog park in order to put in more surface parking.

It is worth noting that the owner of the complex is not the same as the developer.  The project was sold in 2014, probably for quite a nice profit.

Looking at the documents on the City’s swell Accela database, the request says it should be granted because a building was previously proposed for the dog park location.  It appears that it was, but so what?  A building built along the street and a dog park are potentially urban (and desirable) uses.  10 parking spaces facing the street is not.

The City Council should not compound its original settling by allowing NoHo Flats to get rid of the dog park in favor of more surface parking, even though it is a small amount.  It is on the street and has a good use now.  This is a test on whether the City Council will maintain even the lowest standards of sort of urban design that it claims it wants or just cave like Councils of the past.

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Just a little airport update:

Tampa International Airport had a busy Fourth of July holiday with the number of passengers increasing by 5.2 percent over the same period last year.

A total of 378,457 travelers passed through the airport for the Independence Day weekend, up from 359,723 in 2016. The passenger rate for the holiday was up 15 percent from 2014 when 328,768 visitors came through TIA. There were 356,368 passengers for the holiday in 2015.

It is a small snapshot, but it is good snapshot.

Also worth noting that the airport came in third for domestic airports in a Travel & Leisure ranking. For whatever reason, it still comes behind Portland and Indianapolis.

And, just as a reminder that the competition never ends, read this and this.

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

Pinellas is making a stronger play to be the beach associated with Orlando:

For years, Florida’s east coast has been known as Orlando’s beach.

With the shorelines of New Smyrna, Cocoa and Daytona all one-to-two hours away from the nation’s theme park capital, it makes sense. But tourism officials in Pinellas County are making a targeted push to snag the title.

For the second year in a row, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is funneling more marketing dollars into the Orlando area this summer to try to entice travelers who visit Disney World and Universal Studios to head West — not East — for a few days at the beach. It plans to spend $1 million this summer alone on a marketing pitch that also includes Jacksonville and Miami, as well as the Greater Tampa Bay market.

“We’ve always been marketing in Orlando, but we’ve noticed lately that there’s a higher volume of people coming to our beaches than we thought previously,” said David Downing, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County’s tourism marketing agency. “Travelers always looked east of Orlando for the beach. We want to convince them to look west, where we have two of America’s best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater) according to TripAdvisor.”

* * *

Television, radio and print advertisements are circling through the Orlando metro market this summer and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater staff bought the website BeachesOfOrlando.com, which automatically takes users back to VisitStPeteClearwater.com for more information about visiting Pinellas County. In addition to year-round television/digital marketing, the local tourism group also is launching its first-ever summer/fall/winter specific campaigns in the Orlando area.

We especially like the domain name purchase (though they needs some SEO work), but to be honest, the article is a bit vague on whether the target is tourists or people living in Orlando, or both. (Both are worthy but they are different targets and have different needs)  Of course:

Despite an infusion of marketing dollars from Visit-St. Pete Clearwater, it won’t be easy to upend the longstanding relationship with Florida’s east coast. Brevard County’s tourism office has pushed the link between Orlando and its beaches for years.

Still, Downing says he doesn’t see this as a competition.

“If anything we compliment each other. We see this as our next evolution in Orlando,” Downing said. “We want to continue to build our relationship there.”

No, it is a competition, and for more than just one night stays.  And it all means that we need better connections to Disney to cut the time between the beaches and the theme parks (and, frankly, from the beaches to Tampa).

Speaking of beaches, it’s Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches for 2017:

  1. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

  2. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

  3. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina

  4. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida panhandle

  5. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

  6. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

  7. Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

  8. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii

  9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

  10. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina

That is two in the Top 10 in our general area, plus the all of our other beaches.

Roundup 7-7-2017

July 6, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 6-30-2017

June 30, 2017

We were going to take the week off but then a number of things happened. So read on and enjoy the 4th.

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street

— The Project

— Now, About the Name

Transportation – Let’s See It

Economic Development – Housing and Affordability

— One More Thing

Downtown – Something Made Better

Channel District – Still Pretty Much the Same

Downtown – Still Not Good

Temple Terrace – Still Waiting

Westshore – Not Really Sure

________________________________________

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street

There were a number of articles about the Lightning owner’s project.

— The Project

Much of it was about the name – Water Street Tampa (a little on that later), but we will focus first on the more substantive parts. (As you would expect, they have a website and even some electronic billboard ads.)

The first vertical construction in Water Street Tampa will be the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, which includes a Heart Health Institute, which is slated to break ground in August. A central cooling facility, which frees up rooftops in the district for things like terraces, restaurants and dog parks, will break ground in fall 2017.

By early 2018, more than 20 cranes will dot the Tampa skyline as work begins on the majority of vertical construction in the first phase of the district. Ten architectural firms are currently designing 18 buildings, including office and residential towers with ground-floor retail space. A grocer and a fitness facility are targeted anchors, Nozar said.

The first phase of development totals 4 million square feet across 10 blocks and is slated to wrap up by 2020 — just in time for Super Bowl LV, which Tampa hosts in 2021.

SPP did not reveal the exact placement of buildings in the first phase. A spokeswoman said details on individual buildings will be rolled out in the coming months. (See site plan embedded below.)

It includes a major hospitality investment:

And

Water Street will become the “main spine” of the new neighborhood, Nozar said, and will be the center of retail and cultural activity. SPP is planning to build a linear park along Water Street that will be flanked with a double layer of trees to create a canopy-like setting for pedestrians. While SPP did not reveal more details about retailers, restaurants or office tenants that are slated to come to the new district, Nozar said that the firm will break ground this summer on many of the buildings in the first phase of the ongoing development.

Setting aside a bit of vagueness in those timelines, Water Street will basically be Old Water Street extended to the north where it now intersects with Channelside. This is the site plan, though if you look closely you notice it is probably just the street level uses and not just the first phase:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Since we do not have details on any of these specific buildings, it is hard to say much other than the overall, it looks good.  (We especially like the apparent addition of retail around Amalie arena, especially facing the park.  Without it, Water Street would be pretty dead there.  We are also curious about the buildings on the north side of the Selmon, but we assume those are a later phase.)  That being said, twenty cranes at one time would certainly be an impressive sight.  Still, it would be nice to know just where the first phase is going (and where is MOSI going? Orange rectangle at the north end of Water St?) and who might be there:

SPP declined to disclose any potential flags on the new hotels.

Nozar said the group has engaged a brokerage team to officially market the office space in the district, though those efforts won’t formally begin until the fall. SPP is in “preleasing discussions” with tenants on both the office and retail space, Nozar said.

“We have a good roster of tenants we’re talking to,” he said, “and interest has been very strong.”

We hope so.  The biggest question right now is if there is demand to sustain something on this scale. (We think there will be over time, but we do not know their internal business considerations.)

One of the cooler things in the information dump was a before and after skyline shot:

Before:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website and a bigger version

After:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website and a bigger version

While it is always nice to have a new tallest (there are other projects that could do that), saying we would be happy if it builds out as represented in the picture would be an understatement.  And we like the idea that the buildings seem (at least at this preliminary point) to not all look the same.  And we like that there should be so much attention to the street level.

However, the rendering does raise another issue.  If we really have a downtown on a peninsula that is that built up and that dense, the incredibly limited transit and transportation options we have will create a mess.  No matter how walkable it is or nice it is, people are going to live elsewhere and have to get in and out over limited roads (especially if Tampa Street and Florida get diets). Regardless of if the interstate can get them to downtown, getting around downtown itself will be a problematic.  We think the Lightning owner gets it, but if construction is going to start soon, it needs to be addressed relatively quickly.

— Now, About the Name

As we said, the name is Water Street Tampa.  Much of the coverage was taken up with explaining the name – a/k/a branding.  It can all be basically summarized by this:

“The goal of the project is to be grounded in what makes Tampa, Tampa,” said James Nozar, CEO of SPP, in an interview on Monday. “We’ve been dealing with pretty much a clean slate, with surface parking lots that don’t have a lot of history. One of the key attributes that we picked up was Water Street, which has always been part of downtown, even though it’s changed names over the years.”

And

“When you come to Tampa or downtown Tampa, we want you to think of Water Street Tampa,” said Nozar. “It’s a memorable street, like Newbury in Boston or Broadway in New York City.”

That last part seems to be the big theme, as it was repeated in numerous articles.

It’s definitely historical, named for Old Water Street. That’s the street that runs through what will be the retail core of the project, right in front of the Tampa Marriott Waterside and the Tampa History Museum. That is the key street Strategic Property Partners (the Vinik-Cascade joint venture heading the project) wants to transform into what it calls “the new heart” of downtown Tampa, connecting people from the current downtown to the waterfront.

As the SPP folks envision it, given enough time, marketing money and (most of all) some compelling place-building, the ambition of Water Street Tampa is to evoke the same connection of Old Water Street to downtown Tampa as other great streets are celebrated in other great cities.

Think Broadway in New York, Michigan Avenue in Chicago or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

(We’re not sure why they skipped Brickell, which is probably way closer than Bourbon both in terms of history and likely flavor of development – we doubt that the Lightning owner wants his development to really be like Bourbon Street, but you never know)  Though that line is sort of contradicted by this in a Times column:

Water Street Tampa clearly lands in that camp, tipping its hat to local history and offering a name, it should be noted, that smartly includes the reinforcing word “Tampa.”

With a destination name now in hand, a tougher task begins: Branding those three little words to the rest of the world.

To be honest, we think the name is pretty bland (and the historical aspect is a reach), but it does not really matter if the name is exciting now or not.  What really matters is what gets built and how the area develops. If it gets developed as advertised (which we have always liked) and is successful, the name will be good because people will associate it with a place they want to be.  If not, it won’t.

And, finally, as with the other famous roads mentioned, you will know that the street or district really is famous when people know where it is without a city name attached to it.  Hopefully, we will get there.

Transportation – Let’s See It

It seems FDOT is starting to roll out some ideas for TB(n)X.

The Florida Department of Transportation met with about 20 community members, politicians and planners Wednesday morning for an update on Tampa Bay Next, a $6 billion project that would add toll lanes to 90 miles of the region’s interstates. The meeting was the first public glimpse of what other options might look like.

Do tell.

DOT officials presented seven alternatives to the downtown Tampa interchange and Interstate 275 north to Bearss Ave. during Wednesday’s meeting. None of them included toll lanes on that span of I-275 and they all had some sort of transit, such as light rail or express bus.

Some of the options, which were displayed on long vertical blueprints in a DOT boardroom, had the same footprint as the former TBX plan. Building those alternatives would take just as much property in Tampa Heights, Ybor City and other urban neighborhoods, a key criticism of the old plan.

Others called for less right of way and could be built with a smaller impact, DOT consultant Brad Flom said.

Ok.  What does that mean in practice?  Where can the public see them?

Those documents will be online at some point, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said. They will also be shown to a variety of community working groups over the next several months.

At some point does not really seem good enough.  Why not put them on the website before the meeting?

Anyway:

Those concepts are versions of just one of the alternatives being considered. DOT consultant George Walton said the department also is looking at a beltway, turning the downtown interchange into a street-level boulevard or using reversible, elevated or sunken lanes.

“Those are the types of things we’re going to begin to roll out collectively at these community working groups,” Walton said. “What we’re doing today is showing a little more transparency about how this all gets developed.”

The Times article also says that  “[t]he draft concepts and public meeting notices are available at www.tampabaynext.com.” If you go to the website you find that it lists the following options other than express lanes without elaborating:

In addition to Express Lanes, we are considering:

Looking at a number of ideas is commendable (even if some are completely unworkable or would cause many of the same problems as TBX).

Earlier this week FDOT did have this pdf of a meeting PowerPoint linked in a comment on their Facebook page, but it does not include the options discussion.   The Tampa Bay Next Facebook page also had a video of a presentation, but you could not see any of the slides.

(You can’t see any slides in this video either)

We also have to wonder a bit the live community outreach.  From their website, this is how they define communities in this area for their “working groups”:

From FDOT’s Tampa Bay Next website – click on map for website

Let’s just say that most of those areas seem a bit large.  And the community meetings are often quite far from a large number of people in the “community” live. (And remember, transportation in this area is bad.  Making people drive half way across Hillsborough County to go to a meeting at rush hour is problematic.)

One of the reasons FDOT got into this mess in the first place was they tried to control the conversation. They have taken steps to fix that (really), but the efforts are still clunky. We suggest they the information on the website, clearly and before meetings, and make the website more intuitive. Let everyone see it. And have more meetings in convenient places.

FDOT has it within its power and within the elements of the process to make it a real community discussion so it becomes a real community decision.  Whether that happens or not is still to be determined.

Economic Development – Housing and Affordability

A big part of the sales pitch for the Tampa Bay area (and all of Florida, really) is that the cost of living is low.  The average prices are still low, relative to other major areas, even with this:

The median value of a bay area home jumped to $184,900 for an 11 percent gain, tying with Dallas for the second biggest increase among the nation’s 35 largest metro areas. Seattle was No. 1 as home values there shot up 13 percent to a median of $440,100.

But houses have to be available.

According to Zillow, the number of U.S. single-family homes for sale is dropping at the fastest pace in four years as an increase in home rentals takes away a chunk of sellable inventory.

* * *

In May, the Tampa Bay area had 17.6 percent fewer houses for sale than it did a year ago while the percentage of houses for rent has soared 110 percent since 2000. 

That is one issue.

But there is another, bigger, aspect – cost relative to income.  (Not to mention other expenses.) URBN Tampa Bay pointed to a good discussion on the relative cost of housing and transportation here.

In virtually every major urban real estate market, a major determinant of rent and housing prices is accessibility.  If you live in a dense, walkable urban neighborhood, you might manage to live quite comfortably not owning a car, or having just one car for a two-worker family.  If you live on the exurban edge, in a low density subdivision, you might need to own multiple cars just to manage the daily chores of school, shopping and play, as well as commuting to work. It turns out that the value of accessibility gets priced in to the walkable, well-located housing; and conversely, rental and for sale housing that’s located at a distance from everything is priced at a discount to the market.

What this means as a practical matter that you can’t judge whether an individual household’s living situation is affordable just by looking at whether they spend less than 30 percent of their income directly on housing. Consider this example: two otherwise identical households.  One lives in a suburb, owns two cars, and drives most places. They spend 30 percent of their income on housing and 20 percent of their income on transportation.  The second household lives in a city and owns one car.  Their house is more expensive than the suburban one, so they spend 40 percent of their income on housing, and just 10 percent on transportation. Is it really accurate to describe the second (city) household as any more “cost-burdened” than its suburban peer?

This is the essential insight behind the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s “H+T” Housing and Transportation Index, which quantifies the approximate costs associated with housing and transportation in different neighborhoods. They’ve used census data on income and housing costs, and estimates of commuting patterns, transit available and car ownership to estimate what fraction of a household’s income gets spent on housing and transportation in different locations. They show that some neighborhoods with high housing costs are actually more affordable than lower rent areas, once you add in the savings in transportation costs.

There is a very good interactive website (here) that allows you to compare the relative affordability of housing and transportation in various areas.  When you plug in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, you see that the average housing & transportation cost is 60% of income.  That is broad, so we can narrow it. In Hillsborough County it is 61%, and in Tampa it is 59%.  So how do some other metro areas compare?  We looked at a few of the usual suspects.  And, as indicated in the last paragraph above, understanding that living in the main city rather than the suburb (though Tampa is not much) might be less expensive, we have include the municipalities in parentheses:

Denver 49% (Denver city 43%)

Raleigh 49% (Raleigh city 45%)

Salt Lake City 50% (SLC city 44%)

Seattle 50% (Seattle city 46%)

Dallas 51% (Dallas 45%)

Portland, OR 53% (Portland city 49%)

Atlanta 54% (Atlanta city 50%)

Austin 51% (Austin city 48%)

Charlotte 54% (Charlotte city 53%)

Nashville 55% (Nashville-Davidson 50%)

San Diego 58% (San Diego city 56%)

Orlando 61% (Orlando city 54%)

As you can see, most of these areas have lower relative costs than we do.  The difference might not seem great (though Denver the city is a 16% difference to Tampa), but it is not small, especially when you consider their average incomes are usually larger than ours so each percentage point is more money than a percentage point in this area.  And living in the cities makes even more of a difference in other areas, but not really here.

There are a few lessons one can quickly draw.  First, our housing/transportation costs are not that competitive given our low salaries.  (Just note this serendipitous USA Today article this week regarding car affordability – or in our case, lack thereof. .)  And, given the small difference between the city, county and area, our planning both in the cities and in the suburbs need to improve significantly to give people more and better living and transportation options.

Poor planning and poor investment in infrastructure is not just an image problem for relocations.  They have practical costs to our residents, our productivity, and to attracting the best talent.

— One More Thing

Which leads us to another item from realtor.com noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

Younger and older generations alike are gravitating toward smaller dwellings in more urban, walkable suburbs and cities, with restaurants and coffee shops around the corner. It’s leading to a real estate traffic jam: Increasingly, boomers are getting stuck, because most can’t buy the home of their dreams until they unload their current ones. And many millennials have neither the desire nor the means to help them out.

Notice they do not say just cities.  The article acknowledges that Millennials are buying in the suburbs, but a certain kind of suburb – a walkable one with more urban amenities.  We don’t really have too many of those around here, but they exist in other places where metro areas starting absorbing small towns.

For one thing, many younger Americans are reluctant to give up the excitement of urban life to settle down and start having kids. About 45% of millennials who plan to buy a home in the future are waiting because they aren’t ready to settle down yet, according to a survey of 24,000 millennial renters by the rental website Apartment List. (Other top reasons were not being able to afford to become homeowners and preferring to wait until marriage.)

So when they do make that move to the suburbs, millennials often seek more walkable towns that have many of the urban amenities they’re used to, like bike lanes, social events, and lots of shops and restaurants.

“What’s really attracting millennials are the communities that are bringing the urban flavor out to nonurban towns,” Palacios says. “They don’t want the traditional massive homes and big yards. They want smaller homes and cool things to do.”

And those places are often connected to the main city by transit, another thing this area is not providing (just go to Google maps and look at South Hillsborough or Wesley Chapel)

So, yes, there is growth here, both in the urban areas and elsewhere.  We doubt it will stop.  But how much is good, well-planned growth and how much of it the kind of growth that pads stats but will just increase costs to the taxpayer in the future (see Hillsborough transportation, school, fire station, etc., needs) without really making us more competitive or a better place to live? While definitely not all, there is still far too much in the latter category.

Downtown – Something Made Better

A few months ago a Mill Creek project for northern downtown, next to the Times building was proposed, unimpressive, and withdrawn.  Now they are back with a new proposal, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Mill Creek has returned with new plans for the Tampa Bay Times lot in Downtown Tampa. The project is improved, and now features more sides of retail frontage. The project includes 300 units in an 8 story building along with a pretty significant amount of retail space and a sort of pedestrian plaza area. The project is called Modera Tampa.

Site Plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

URBN Tampa Bay took this position:

While we would like to see some site plan tweaks, such as more retail on the north and western side of the project and flanking the pedestrian plaza with retail a bit better as opposed to garage, we can support a project like this.

We agree.  While it could be tweaked, this is much better than the first iteration (and the other apartments under construction nearby).  We’ll be interested to see what the Straz says, especially about another parking lot being developed.

Channel District – Still Pretty Much the Same

There are some updated renderings of the hotel project proposed for Meridian.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Just like before, the project is pretty bland and the parking garage is too prominent.  However, we will give them credit for actually having an awning running the length of the building.  It is a good idea that should be more widespread – like in the Lightning owner’s project.

Downtown – Still Not Good

There are now renderings for the proposed townhouses between Franklin and Tampa on Fortune. Here is the Tampa Street portion:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see more at URBN Tampa Bay.  Like we said last week, in another location, this would be fine.  Looking at it here, it could be worse, but it still does not fit.  (Maybe they have not noticed that Tampa Street is basically downtown’s Main Street.)  Tampa deserves better.

Temple Terrace – Still Waiting

The story of Temple Terrace’s non-downtown just won’t end.

A company that wants to build a bank, retail building and two restaurants in the Downtown Temple Terrace redevelopment area received the highest ranking by a committee reviewing bids to buy city-owned property there.

A hospital’s bid to put a stand-alone emergency department on the same southeast corner of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street ranked second, and another bank plan ranked third.

But the City Council this week seemed inclined to accept none of the bids and ask its real estate broker, Cushman & Wakefield, to see what it can put together, possibly with some of the seven companies that submitted a bid along with others that did not. Council members sitting as the city’s community redevelopment agency will discuss the matter further at a special meeting Tuesday (June 27).

The last paragraph is the most heartening thing we have heard about this story in a while.  Why?  Because you can see all the bids here. We have no idea why the two listed ranked highly.  They are both just the sprawling poor use of land with large parking lots. (bank here and hospital here)  Most of the bids were like that with parking facing the street (the Hospital put the doctors reserved parking lot on 56th Street. Huh?)

A couple of the proposals began looking promising – with talk of multi-use and showing urban looking apartments. (here and here) But when you dig further, one had site plans of a building surrounded by parking (page 24 here).  This is the only bid that seemed to really get it at all, though it has a lot of parking.

We are not sure why Temple Terrace is having such a hard time getting this done.  (Maybe they need to change their RFP.)  But they should keep trying until they get it right.  There is no reason to settle.

Westshore – Not Really Sure

There was news of an odd project at the corner of Cypress and Lois (sort of).  Highwoods Properties wants to build basically a parking garage with a little retail out front.  As URBN Tampa Bay described it:

The project features 22,500 square feet of retail and office space, built under a parking garage. Our question is, if you’re going to go through the effort of designing something proper on the ground floor, why not build up and put some units on top?

The only design complaint we have is putting the curb cut for ingress/egress on Cypress. It should be on one of the sides of the building that doesn’t have retail and won’t see as much pedestrian traffic instead.

There is that, but there is also the question of what is the point?  This is what the project looks like:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Three floors of parking from 22,000 sq ft of space?  Is the parking for the office buildings across the street?  IF not, what is it for?

In any event, we are ok with the street retail.  And while we don’t really get it and URBN Tampa Bay makes good points, it is not the most awful thing, unless you live across the street from the garage and have to stare into it every day.

Roundup 6-23-2017

June 23, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Go West Some More

Downtown/Channel District – Tear It Down

— Speaking of Which

Downtown/Hyde Park – Build It Up

Transportation – The Gandy Link

Downtown – Underwhelming

Built Environment – About Walking

Tampa Heights – Good Idea,  But . . .

— One More Thing

Bicycles – Paint for Numbers

— One Last Thing

International Trade – Digging Cash

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

____________________________________________________

Transportation – Go West Some More

The airport announced another flight to another target city – this time San Diego.  Cue cool graphic:

From the Tampa International Airport – click on picture for Facebook page

Southwest Airlines will offer new nonstop service from Tampa International Airport to San Diego International Airport beginning Jan. 8, 2018.

By our count, on the West Coast, that leaves a flight to Portland and increasing frequency across the board. (And there is also a few new seasonal flights on Spirit to Hartford and Pittsburgh)

Once again, good job to the airport.  It is just another example of them methodically executing their good plan.

Downtown/Channel District – Tear It Down

The Lightning owner’s group asked the Port for permission to tear down a chunk of the Channelside complex:

The southwest portion of Channelside Bay Plaza will be razed to make way for a heavily programmed park featuring art, festivals and pop-up bars and restaurants.

The Port Tampa Bay board of directors on Tuesday voted unanimously to grant Strategic Property Partners permission to demolish a portion of the plaza and allow for tenants other than retailers and restaurants in the space. SPP is the real estate development company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC.

And:

The demolition of the building that houses the Hablo Taco and Thai Thani restaurants will begin this summer, said Bryan Moll, an executive with SPP who lead a presentation at the port meeting. SPP is working with Hablo Taco and Thai Thani owners about relocating the restaurants to another wing of Channelside, though their long-term future there is uncertain.

SPP wants to replace the building with a waterfront park, which will have a stage for music and outdoor film screenings. In addition, SPP wants to lease out temporary, pop up “kiosks” to local chefs and retailers to create an outdoor market-like setting. A communal dining space and pedestrian trails are also part of the plan.

This is how it looks now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And this has the new open space in blue:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are fine with this.  From the beginning, we never understood why the Channelside design was inward facing (even before the waterfront/wharf was closed off).  This would correct that, but only for a short time because this is probably just the first step to tearing down and rebuilding the whole complex:

In September, SPP CEO James Nozar revealed long-term renovation plans for Channelside Bay Plaza to the Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors. The multi-million-dollar plans, which include new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park, would demolish the entire existing Bay Plaza structure. The project has not yet been approved by port commissioners.

The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve any renovation. If approved, the demolition, part of SPP’s $3 billion plan to reinvent the 53-acre area around Amalie Arena, could occur by 2018.

Port officials said that CBP Development LLC, an entity owned and operated by SPP, has been negotiating “in good faith” with the port to sign a long-term lease agreement for the future of Channelside Bay Plaza and an adjoining surface parking lot. The current ground lease restricts SPP’s ability to add new uses to the retail center, which is why this amendment is being considered before the approval of SPP’s long-term renovation plans for the plaza.

When the board of directors approved the amendment, it extended SPP’s lease of the facility by 18 months. 

Remember this rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is highly unlikely the Port will get in the way of a deal.  Nor are we opposed to starting over on that land to build in a denser, more urban, and more inviting way.  If only it had been done properly the first time.

— Speaking of Which

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s project, there was an article on Politico by the Times’ Tampa government reporter about downtown.  It paints a favorable portrait, which is fine (though it omits some facts).  Nevertheless, the part about the Lightning owner’s project is good, though, including some nuggets like this:

For context, Nozar and SPP director of development Bryan Moll, another JBG alum, have looked at Tampa’s older neighborhoods, including Ybor City, the city’s historic Latin quarter and the home of its cigar-making industry about three-quarters of a mile from downtown. To enhance the pedestrian experience, they’ve focused on the ground floors of their buildings—their scale, how they interact with the public space as well as the pedestrian’s need for a variety of experience and—crucial in Florida—shade. The new project will include new parks, and one main street will have a double row of mature trees along one side, a single row along the other. SPP is building a centralized air-conditioning plant for the entire district, which is expected to help drive energy efficiency, something that’s rare in commercial developments, though more common in large campus projects like universities and healthcare facilities. For SPP, it makes sense because of the project’s single ownership and long-term focus. It also frees rooftops for dog parks, swimming pools, restaurants and green space. One 300-foot-tall office building will have planted terraces or ledges on every floor, plus a green roof. An apartment building will be topped with 10 feet of soil on its roof so mature trees can grow there.

Along with a name, one thing that Vinik and Cascade have not announced is a tenant list. But Vinik says the company has a long list of prospective tenants. Because they are self-financing, Vinik and Cascade do not have to worry as much about an economic downturn, about repaying construction loans or about building quickly, leasing up and selling out.

“There is no intention of flipping here,” Vinik says. “We’re looking very long term. We believe the real value creation in the district occurs over five to 10 years as it becomes one of the best places to live, work and play in, hopefully, the Southeast.”

And the nice thing is that, so far, he has done nothing to make us not believe him.  We recommend the article for that information.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Build It Up

Last week, a number of developers spoke to the Downtown Partnership.  Of course, being good business people, they were pushing their projects, which is fine.  And there was stuff like this:

The third speaker, Arturo Pena of the Related Group, said the river was a major factor in his company’s decision to buy the riverfront site of the former Tampa Tribune and build a 400-unit apartment complex there. Related is also the lead developer on Tampa’s massive revitalization of its West River area.

Asked why Miami-based Related chose to come to Tampa, Pena had a quick reply:

“In a nutshell, jobs and the waterfront.”  

If he says so, but we were sure it was quick profits on the sale of relatively cheap (by Related standards) projects.

More interesting, though not really providing that much new information:

Riverwalk Place, a 53-story tower planned for downtown Tampa, will have four restaurants, “many, many” outdoor tables and a rooftop bar atop the garage.

* * *

“I don’t want to hear any more, ‘Why can’t downtown Tampa be like downtown St. Pete?’ ” Feldman said Thursday in reference to the bounty of restaurants and cafes along St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive. “I hope (Riverwalk Place) will set an example for everybody else in town.”

Well, Tampa is not going to be the same as St. Pete, but that’s ok.  St. Pete’s downtown has some really nice aspects, but there are many models for a thriving urban area.  More interestingly,

Expected to start construction next year on the site of the doomed Trump Tower Tampa project, Riverwalk Place would be the tallest building on Florida’s West Coast. Its design will be a nod to what Feldman called the “sardine-ization of America” — the tendency of companies to save costs by squeezing more employees into less space.

For that reason, Riverwalk Place will have balconies on every office floor so employees can step outside, get some fresh air and network.

The tower also will cater to millennials, who make up a good part of downtown Tampa’s workforce, by including “chill zones” with cappuccino machines and the type of fitness center where even “gym jockeys will feel really comfortable,” Feldman said.

* * *

Feldman says he expects to open a sales office and release more detailed plans for the tower in September. Although it has generated the most attention, the tower on S Ashley Drive is just one of several projects that will benefit from proximity to the Riverwalk.

We like the concept of balconies for office floors.  We have seen it in other cities, and it can work well. And a rooftop bar, even if just on the garage, could be very nice.

There are rumors of designs floating around already.  We are not sure why they would not be revealed until September, but so be it.  This building has the potential to be a really nice addition to downtown, especially if and when the Lightning owner’s project gets built.

Transportation – The Gandy Link

There was news about the very short freeway segment of Gandy being built in Pinellas:

After missing a spring completion date, engineers working on the Gandy Boulevard construction project pushed the completion date to this summer.

Now they say it won’t be done until the fall.

The $83 million, 2.5-mile project started 3 ½ years ago with the goal of clearing up heavy traffic congestion in northeast St. Petersburg by adding six elevated lanes to Gandy Boulevard.

Drivers are already using some of the overpasses: Two westbound elevated lanes were opened over the weekend , and two eastbound elevated lanes are scheduled to open Friday. But that also depends on the weather.

The Florida Department of Transportation originally predicted that Gandy construction would finish ahead of schedule, but senior project engineer Marty Sanchez said recent heavy rains have delayed construction workers.

Setting aside that, given such delays, the project should be audited,

The DOT estimates that more than 57,000 people take Gandy Boulevard east of Interstate 275, and that many of them cross through crowded intersections as they do so, slowing movement.

The Gandy expansion project was aimed at solving that problem by carrying traffic over crowded intersections via elevated lanes instead of through them.

And we have no problem with the project as far as it goes, but it never went far enough.  It should have at least gotten to 275 and really should have connected to the bridge.  Maybe when Hillsborough finally builds the Gandy Connector, Pinellas will finish the task.

Downtown – Underwhelming

URBN Tampa Bay first reported on a proposal on the north end of downtown:

There’s a new proposal from Ariel Homes for 14 townhomes at 1211 North Tampa Street. The project sits on roughly half an acre of land along Franklin St., Tampa St. and Fortune St. The site plan and an outline map with the location of the project is attached.

This is a suburban-style development in Downtown and we oppose it. There’s simply not enough units for how much land there is, it lacks ground floor retail or any mix of uses and the driveway cuts up the lot’s sidewalks too much.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Built somewhere else, this project could be fine (assuming the details were ok).  However, given this is in downtown (not even north of the Interstate), it is probably out of place (even though there are a few townhouses just to the south on Franklin, we still think it is probably out of place) And we totally agree with URBN Tampa Bay about the driveways.  (And note, it touches Tampa Street, though it does not face it.  Rather, it just puts has walls and an alley.  We do not think that really is what Tampa Street downtown should be)

While we are dubious, we reserve final judgment until we see the whole thing. However, it would be better to just rework it into a truly urban proposal and be done with it.

Built Environment – About Walking

There was news about pedestrian safety.

Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets.

But transportation planners warn not to read too much into the drop. The county is still the deadliest in the region. Bicyclist deaths are up from the past few years. And in Pinellas County, pedestrian fatalities have increased 18 percent in the past five years.

Well, even if not great, that is something, unless you’re biking or in Pinellas. So maybe it is not that much. (As we have noted before, it also would be nice to also have stats about people who get hurt.  That would fill in some of the picture of what is going on. And people should not have to die for government to notice there is a problem and take action.)

For one thing, the 2015 spike was unusually high, with 51 pedestrian deaths. The 39 fatalities in 2016 still is more than any other year since 2010.

As previously discussed, there is a move to have some safety measures installed.

Increasing the frequency of those signalized crosswalks is a big help, though. Transportation officials and local governments are making more of an effort to install mid-block crosswalks, where a light flashes for traffic to stop when people push a button to cross. The Florida Department of Transportation has plans to build four of these in Hillsborough in 2017 and two in Pinellas, and are studying locations for others.

It’s something Pinellas County has focused on for years, especially on the beaches and along Gulf Boulevard, said Pinellas MPO executive director Whit Blanton. And drivers are becoming more accustomed to the flashing signals and driving slower on those roads just in case.

Which is something, but the real change needs to be in planning and design in general.  More grids.  Fewer huge stretches of road lined with strip malls and few real crossroads. More logical and intuitive crossing points.  More of an environment that naturally makes drivers at least consider that someone might be walking or biking nearby (and also people not just crossing in the middle of the road).

There’s a tension in transportation planning between mobility — how quickly and easily we get around — and safety. Often, planning prioritizes mobility, sometimes at the expense of safety, especially for pedestrians.

“We’ve had a mentality of making sure we don’t have traffic signals put too close together because it slows down traffic,” Blanton said. “If you have too many signals per mile, that creates a congestion problem, but it also leave a sort of barren wasteland for pedestrians to cross.”

Regardless of crosswalks and education initiatives, wide, fast roads remain dangerous for pedestrians throughout Tampa Bay. That’s especially true for Pinellas, which is a tight, concentrated, urban community, Blanton said. And those types of roads are at odds with ongoing redevelopment in places like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which make areas a more attractive place to walk.

Actually there is a tension between mobility in the completely car-centric built environment that has been allowed to be created and mobility. (Even Pinellas is mostly built with the characteristics of sprawl.) That is a matter of choices and bad planning. It can be changed. While some stretches of road are probably beyond redemption, but it is never too late to start trying to do it right.

Tampa Heights – Good Idea,  But . . .

Having said that, we like (most aspects of) the Heights project.  It looks to be a good, urban project that will enhance the area and create a favorable walking, biking, and, maybe, transit environment. This week, as featured on the Heights Facebook page:

Sorry for the inconvenience, Palm Ave will be closed for a little while. We are taking it from 4 lanes down to 2 with parking and 🚴 paths! 🙌🏻👌🏻 #roads #bikepaths #city

With a photo featuring a nice 1970’s look:

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

We have discussed this before.  We are not opposed generally to what they are doing regarding biking and walking, and we are all for bike and pedestrian safety.  However, as a practical matter, doing this work before any buildings in the area are done (or any of the “West River” development that will also probably add traffic) and before the streetcar and transit studies, which both may relate directly to the streets in that area (and if Palm is the best place for a bike lane), are complete seems a little premature (especially if there will be budgetary pressure).

It may be that what they are doing now is the best thing to do, and we really don’t want to delay enhancing the bike infrastructure.  However, we do not want to have to go back and redo the roads again, and we do not want to foreclose transit and mobility possibilities in that corridor right now. It would have been better to work it all out first.  But, of course, it really would have been better if the studies should have been completed years ago.

— One More Thing

A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned the lower rise parts of the Pearl that will shield the neighborhood from the parking garage.  The Heights Facebook page posted a nice shot of what we were talking about though they still have a way to go before finishing:

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

Looks good to us.

Bicycles – Paint for Numbers

URBN Tampa Bay  highlighted a Citylab.com article on bicycle infrastructure.    The article discusses a study on “bike sharrows”:

From Citylab.com – click on picture for article

You’ve seen a sharrow painted on city streets: it’s that image of a cyclist below two arrows in the middle of a lane that—you guessed it—is meant to be shared by bikes and cars. The Federal Highway Administration gave sharrows its official blessing in 2009, and the symbol is now ubiquitous across urban America. It’s also arguably the least-loved nod to cycling, a low-cost way for cities to say they’re doing something about safety and street design without really doing much at all.

That sounds familiar.  And, apparently, they are not better than nothing (as we often say, doing something is not necessarily better than doing nothing):

From the Atlantic – click on chart for article

You can read all the details here. It also reminds of those bike lanes on Dale Mabry which, except the most intrepid long distance riders, are completely ignored by in favor of the sidewalks (bad as they are).  It’s not that we don’t want more and better bike infrastructure.  We do.  We just want it to be safe, useful, and actually better, which brings us to a Guardian (UK) article about Denmark’s infrastructure:

Connie Hedegaard, former Danish EU commissioner for climate action, puts it this way: “One might say that Europe faces a choice. Do we want to pursue an American-style approach where kids depend on their parents to take them to school for many years? Or do we want a Nordic-style approach in which mobility considerations are integrated into urban planning, and where the necessary infrastructure is provided so kids can bike to school by themselves? I know which I prefer.”

The secret behind this Nordic approach is simple: segregated, curbed bicycle lanes, where the layout of every inch has been taken into consideration – such as covering intersections with traffic lights, integrating retracted stop lines for cars and having pre-green lights for cyclists. Give-way lines (“shark teeth”) where smaller roads join bigger ones mean that everyone – including other cyclists – must make a full stop before they move on to a main road. In most places, pavements and bicycle tracks run down smaller side streets as well, illustrating how we give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

We doubt the US will ever get to the level of biking they have in Denmark.  And that is fine.  It does not change the fact that if you want to really develop a bike infrastructure and create real mobility solutions, you have to do it right. (Like protected bike lanes or urban trails that actually go somewhere.)  And to do it right, you should study from the experts.

— One Last Thing

Which brings us to another article, this one from Mobility Lab.   The main thrust of the article is a plan to build bike infrastructure based on paths that have lower biking stress levels.  Anyone actually interested in building a proper bike infrastructure should read the article. (here)

International Trade – Digging Cash

There was news about the Big Bend channel:

Port Tampa Bay is moving forward with plans to widen and deepen the Big Bend Channel after securing instrumental state and federal funding for the project.

The port was awarded a $5.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, which will be used toward the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel. The port’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the allocation at a board meeting on Tuesday.

* * *

The port will receive $9 million from the Army Corp., this year. FDOT will be allocating funds over the next two fiscal years, which will require the port to match that amount. Mosaic Company and Tampa Electric, two of Port Tampa Bay’s largest tenants, will also contribute to funding the project. Those amounts were not disclosed.

* * *

The Big Bend Channel connects to the Tampa Harbor main channel and will be deepened from 34 feet to 43 feet and widened from 200 to 250 feet to accommodate larger ships. Anderson also noted that the port “has already invested $30 million in infrastructure for the growing Port Redwing maritime complex that will be served by the Big Bend Channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel will cost $55.2 million.

As we said before, we are all for improving the facilities, including the channels.  Hopefully, it will bring more business.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

In Miami,

The Maersk Shanghai slipped into Government Cut before dawn Wednesday and headed to its berth at PortMiami, becoming the largest container ship to ever call at a Florida port.

The 1,063-foot-long, 159-foot-wide megaship is almost the length of three football fields. Before PortMiami underwent a widening and dredging of its shipping channel from 44 feet to a depth of 50-52 feet, the Maersk Shanghai wouldn’t have been able to dock in Miami. The ship’s gross tonnage is 115,000 tons.

* * *

It took most of the day to unload the10,081-TEU (the equivalent of a standard 20-foot container) vessel, which arrived at PortMiami at 4 a.m. It was scheduled to leave the port at 11 p.m.

To put that in perspective, according to the Port website, Port Tampa Bay handled 49,716 TEU’s in fiscal year 2016 (and 56,742 in FY 2015).