Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Downtown and the media

I thought today's coordinated articles in Trib and the Times on the downtown apartment building boom was quite interesting on a couple of levels.

I guess there was news of another apartment building going up in downtown Tampa, in the Channelside area.  From the Trib:

Trib's photo rendering of new apartments at Channelside
The tower boom is definitely back in Tampa.
After years with almost no new residential construction, developers on Monday filed plans with the city of Tampa for yet another new downtown tower, this one called SkyHouse Channelside.

Added together, various projects in Tampa could bring more than 2,100 units to the market in the next couple of years, almost all of them rental apartments geared to the Generation Y demographic, which developers say wants to remain as mobile as possible.
And the Times:

The Times photo.. is different than the Trib's photo.
The building boom du jour is apartments, and developers are unveiling them at breakneck speed, with more than 3,500 rentals in the works for Tampa and St. Petersburg's downtowns.

From a 36-story riverfront skyscraper to a newly announced luxury high-rise, more than a dozen planned projects could within months add new lights to local skylines.

"There's an electricity about downtown that hasn't existed in decades," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "It's everything we've worked for over the last few years, to create the momentum, to create the demand, to create the environment where people want to live downtown."
Independent reporting?  Media as a PR outlet?  Coincidence?  I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Sounds like progress, of course, and we at The Eye are pro economic growth, driven by the private sector.  We've not done enough analysis to understand the business case, or if there are incentives (tax breaks?!) at work here.  But if there's demand from the crowd Gen Y (formerly known as "yuppies" in my day), then they can pay for the rent.  Good.

Well, some of the rent they stated was definitely much higher than in my day, up to $1600/mo quoted in the times.  That's more than a mortgage these days on $200,000, 2000 square foot home out in the unworthy suburbs.  And I have easy access to Publix and other nearby shopping.  By car.  To each his own.  Maybe Publix will come downtown when there are enough residence.  That's a good thing, business going where the demand is.

The long term driver needs to be real economic growth.  Building a bunch of apartments and condos -- more of the Florida big industry around real estate development -- is not a long term economic growth plan.  Without other innovative, new businesses starting or moving into the areas, we won't have the growth these developers are hoping for, enough tenants to fill out the buildings or attract new business, nor will we be able to afford the "livability" the downtown crowd pines for.  So what's the real plan?  Is there a big idea? Or are we planning on more development again?

The future challenge with some of these developments is the further densificiation of downtown.  I know a lot of urban planners believe in densification, and more shared parks and greenways.  Densification has the side effect of making things more dense... or congested.  So, of course, they want transit.  They don't want cars.  It's had to park.  And it's not free.  So they want the rest us to cover at least some more of the cost of them getting around.

But they forget the rest of us.  It's not just about downtown.  There is "livability" and convenience outside of downtown, and real business too.  And opportunities for investment and economic growth.  We need to be thinking about the entire Tampa Bay area, not just the Gen Y downtowners.

 Life is not bad out in the suburbs either.  It may be cheaper too.  But to each their own.

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