Art Of The Deal

So, Janet Echelman, a Bay Area native, is on board with the new location for her St. Petersburg signature aerial-banner art. For $2.8 million, of course she’s on board. No matter that aerial art looks so much better from a distance–where it doesn’t seem like a marketing banner for some weekend festival. But no home-town discount?

Walled-Off No More

The dominoes keep falling.

For too long, the Hillsborough River was a neglected, seemingly disdained, asset. Think barges and waterfront wharves, warehouses and surface parking lots. What minarets? In the 1980s NCNB agreed to bring its state headquarters here if it could have a riverfront parcel near the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge. Deal. Then came the Performing Arts Center—and the belated acknowledgment that if you are fortunate enough to be a city with a river running through it, you should feel compelled to take advantage of it. Hell, look what San Antonio did with a creek.

It wasn’t easy, and it isn’t finished. But a lot of attitudinal and developmental-priority dominoes were starting to tumble. Now there are water taxis, paddle boats and dinner cruises instead of industrial barges—an apt metaphor for forward movement. A high-profile Riverwalk connects the urban-vibe bookends of the Tampa History Center area and the multi-faceted, repurposed Heights development. It’s a multi-mayor vision being realized. And with Julian Lane Park, the west bank is becoming more than the University of Tampa and an aesthetics-challenged Blake High School.

Now another domino, a more contemporary one, has fallen along the waterfront: Channelside Bay Plaza. Originally heralded and marketed as within walking distance of the arena, aquarium and convention center, it struggled from the day it opened in 2001. Rearranging commercial deck chairs never helped. The orientation was off: Much of the waterfront was walled off.

Until now. Strategic Property Partners, the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment development company, is morphing CBP into Sparkman Wharf. Its charge: to undo what was ignored in 2001. While there will be office lofts and retail, the visitor-magnet centerpiece will be a recreational lawn with shade trees that will be literally open to the waterfront. We’re talking dining garden, biergarten and a stage and LED screen that will carry, yes, Lightning games.

But, no, you can’t go to the movies there anymore. Anymore than you can go back to a time when the Hillsborough River was an unappreciated, neglected natural asset—not an urban destination.

Rays Reality

While we ponder the formidable variables involved in an Ybor stadium for the Rays, the ultimate reality hasn’t changed.

When you have a bay-dividing region that is absent serious mass transit, has few corporate headquarters, features roof-requiring weather, has plenty of summer diversions besides baseball and is home to lots of people with other baseball allegiances, you have quite the challenge. If your stadium location and design aren’t spot on, you have no chance of preventing a franchise relocation to another market. MLB knows it. The Rays know it. Montreal knows it. Hell, Ray Naimoli knows it.

An urban core, synergy-exuding Tampa-Ybor stadium just makes sense. Tampa is the hub of the 18th largest metro market in the U.S. The downtown/ Water Street Tampa/Ybor City revitalization has more in store.

The facility will have to be built for more than serious baseball fans, because there aren’t enough. We’re talking millennials and families. Those who need interactive social media enclaves and kiss cams and those who need interactive entertainment for kids. Baseball in a coolly-designed, next-generation stadium is the requisite vehicle.

The facility will also have to be ready for repurposing when baseball isn’t on the calendar. It has to be a community—in the broadest sense—destination. From kitchens that offer culinary classes and a fitness center to yoga classes and Wi-Fi work spaces.

To the Rays’ credit, their plans are open to all of the above.

What they don’t include in the $892 million project, however, is how it will all be paid for. We don’t know how much—beyond $150 million—the Rays will actually ante up. We don’t know all the details about public money sources—from resort taxes to tax increment financing to a federal economic opportunity zone. And most importantly, we don’t know how the business community will do at crunch time. That includes Pinellas County—most notably Tech Data and Jabil. It also means Mosaic, WellCare and Bloomin’ Brands. That means serious season-ticket commitments and serious money for naming rights.

It would also be beyond helpful if the streetcar becomes more transit than amenity and if Jeff Vinik decides to buy in.

Some metro areas, such as New York and Los Angeles can—and have—lost professional sports franchises. They didn’t miss a beat. Tampa Bay is not New York or Los Angeles.

Back To School: 2018

Remember when “back to school” references were mainly about new teachers, new challenges, new classmates, old friends and back-to-school-supplies sales?

Now add this: The countdown to the new school year also includes active shooter training. It involves school resource officers, teachers and faculty members. And it also involves a county SWAT team, bomb squad and police dogs.

“Back to school”: the new normal.

Sign Of Change?

It was the student-led, anti-gun violence “March for our Lives” gathering in St. Petersburg. It was only a few hundred people, and it was only a few dozen signs. But one of those signs spoke volumes for what it will take politically to get beyond the dysfunction, divisiveness and sheer anger we are now living.

“We are diverse. We are truthful. We are compassionate. We are informed. We vote.”

If only that one sign were to truly resonate. Because that must be the realistic, idealistic and pragmatic message going forward for all those desperate to make a difference as they fear where this country is going under this Administration.

In short, remember that you still represent the majority in this country: from demographics to values. But that, as we lamentably saw in 2016, is not nearly enough, even though volume and vitriol don’t define majority. And it’s not nearly enough if caring, diverse people are not informed enough on the issues and not motivated enough to vote for America’s self-interest.

And that includes Democratic millennial socialists and Bernie die-hards who can’t muster enthusiasm for “establishment” Democratic candidates, including the ultimate, non-socialist Democrat at the top of the ballot in a presidential year. It also includes minorities, even if the presidential ticket is all white.

The focus has to be more than post-Pelosi and encouraging electoral signs from Queens to Little Havana. The focus must also prioritize Trump-Pence and all its dire implications. How can the possibility of that reprise not rally everyone who truly cares about America and truly fears its current caretakers?

The 2018 mid-terms are about political leverage, human values and societal priorities. The 2020 presidential election will be all of that plus where America fits in the world, what’s really in our national-security and economic self-interest and who we still are as a people.

Being angry is understandable and appropriate. In-your-face confrontation with the usual sell-out suspects shows attitude and can be a visceral rush. But ultimately this is about group therapy. This is about being collectively caring, informed and motivated to vote for all the right, not just righteous, reasons. It’s also about having the guts to be undaunted by vile and volume.

And this is about Making America Grateful that enough of its citizens are moving to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground of the Oval Office and remove a cult figure lionized by societal haters and political harlots.

Artless Choice

As St. Petersburg has evolved from parochial to hip, there has been a world-class constant: The downtown waterfront. Refreshingly, aesthetically, open and green. Natural beauty protected and preserved. It rivals the best waterfront vistas in the, yes, world.

Now the city is well on its way to putting up a massive (more than 300-feet long), $3 million art piece–a Janet Echelman net sculpture–on the St. Petersburg waterfront. Thin line between colorful, signature art and sacrilegious, tacky clutter. Very thin.

Unsolicited advice: Don’t do it. That waterfront is uniquely special. For more than a century, St. Pete has made it a sacrosanct priority–no matter how many developers salivated over it. Now snob appeal–or public art cachet–has it primed for an out of scale sculpture to highlight and help market the new Pier District.

St. Pete and Mayor Rick Kriseman: You have a priceless asset in your uncompromised, peerless waterfront. Keep it that way.

Mayoral Pragmatism

If you’re a true-blue, liberal Democrat, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is not a soul mate. If you’re a Republican, he’s on the other team,  even if he has attended some GOP-candidate fundraisers involving friends. If you’re a Tampa-first sort, Buckhorn is (with the exception of relations with Cuba) your pragmatic guy. So talk of Democrats being wary of Buckhorn’s cordial–hardly “bromantic”–relationship with Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott seems exaggerated.

Recall that Buckhorn didn’t like what Scott did with Obama Administration high-speed rail money, and he wasn’t pleased with Scott not being helpful when it came to trying to create a gun-free zone around the GOP Convention in 2012. He hasn’t forgotten, but he hasn’t lost his focus. He and his city still needed Scott’s help going forward.

Scott helped with TIA expansion. He wants to be a credit-taking catalyst in a better-late-than-never private-sector, Orlando-to-Tampa, high-speed rail scenario. He’s been involved in state money allocated for the street car system and placing that (Rays stadium-designated) Ybor site on the state’s list for a federal tax break. Sure, it’s self-serving, I-4 Corridor-anchor strategy in an senatorial election year–but it’s no less helpful to Tampa.

As usual, the sound-bite-smitten mayor had a vintage response to the “bromance” skeptics. “Ultimately, my job as the mayor is to work with everybody who is willing to work with me,” said Buckhorn. “Democratic, Republican or vegan.”