Rachel Feinman, Florida-Israel Business Accelerator
As someone who recently transitioned to a career that is focused on shining a bright light on innovation with a goal of stimulating economic development, I can say that I was truly inspired and, frankly, a little surprised by the creative ingenuity fueling the current pace of economic development in our awesome town. It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, but creativity and a little chutzpah (look it up, people) are needed to stand out.
Tampa International Airport
We began Economic Development Day at Tampa International Airport or TPA (just never TIA or so we were told), and it was the perfect place to start. This particular Wednesday morning, the airport was bustling with all kinds of travelers. At a glance, it was clear there were tourists, business travelers, locals, tourists, foreigners, you name it, they were buzzing around TPA that morning.
We were shuttled through the airport hubbub and into the TPA conference room. We were welcomed by some of the airport’s executive team, Kenneth Strickland (Director of Air Service Development and Research) and Al Illustrato (Executive Vice President of Facilities and Administration).
Al began his remarks with a video produced by the airport back in the 1960s, which revealed that our airport has been innovative and thinking creatively about how to improve the traveler experience at the airport for the past 80 some odd years. Apparently, TPA was the first airport to implement the hub and spoke model and use the automatic people mover—both of which minimize the amount of time travelers need to walk with luggage and all from terminal to gate. Al also unveiled details of the airport’s Master Plan, which is currently beginning Phase 2- the gateway development area and curbside expansion. Phase 1 was the construction of the rental car center and updating the concessions within the terminal and airsides. The focus with concessions was to include local restaurateurs—what a great way to showcase the best and brightest of our emerging culinary superstars. Phase 3 will involve a new 16 gate airside that will accommodate the increasing amount of international travel to and from TPA.
As a Tampa native, I have always been impressed by how much better our airport is than EVERY other airport I have ever travelled to or through. There is no better indicator of this than the fact that 9 out of 10 times my checked luggage is looping around the conveyer belt before I even get to baggage claim. I was interested to learn that the baggage handlers are not TPA employees and are managed by the individual carriers rather than the airport. How do they achieve such consistency and results across all the different airlines? Well, a pizza party, of course! TPA management understands that it is their responsibility to create the overall experience for the travelers coming through the airport. For this reason, they motivate baggage handlers, TSA employees and other groups of individuals with awards, rewards and a healthy sense of competition. Creative AND effective.
For Ken Strickland, it is clearly all about Big Data. TPA is in lock step with many other industries in expanding its use of and reliance on data to achieve its goals. Again, super innovative in the way they leverage this data to identify and recruit additional flights out of TPA is really cool. I was particularly impressed to hear that we are successful in encouraging airlines to try new flights at TPA because our cost to operate for the carriers is much less expensive compared to other similarly situated airports.
We next went on a tour of TPA with a focus on the results of Phase 1 of the Master Plan—the Rental Car Center. The space was well-designed, wonderfully lit and full of beautiful public art. A key aspect of the Rental Car Center is the SkyConnect train, which can effectively transport passengers to and from the terminal. We saw behind the scenes and heard directly from the TPA and Mitsubishi team members how they service and maintain these vehicles. The airport is on the cutting edge of transportation in our market. They have the tracks and the plans waiting for integrated rail into the airport—it is just up to the rest of us to catch up!
Armature Works—The Heights
Sometimes innovation isn’t always about what is new and shiny. Sometimes, it is about seeing opportunity in the old. The team at Soho Capital quietly amassed a parcel of land approximately 50 acres along Hillsborough River for redevelopment. The cornerstone of this redevelopment is Armature Works, which long sat abandoned and was previously slated for demolition on more than one occasion. Thankfully for all of us, the Soho Capital team had the vision to reinvent this incredible space, tell the story of its history and reinvent it into something beautiful and useful. The first part of this project to open to the Tampa public is the Heights Public Market, where we were fortunate to have lunch sitting outside along the Hillsborough River on a breezy and sunny March day. It was one of those days that makes you feel almost guilty you get to live in such a beautiful place. We dined on our choice of ramen, sushi burritos, house made barbeque, artisan pizza, and more.
After lunch we wondered over to Beck to hear from some of the leaders in the redevelopment of the Hillsborough River. Speaking of creativity, the leaders of Beck were the true trailblazers in recognizing the potential of the Heights. Mark House and his team built their space long before there were food halls, collective eateries, waterfront parks, craft breweries and art fairs abounding.
Adam Harden, Principal of Soho Capital, spoke to us in more detail about the vision for the Heights project and some of the trials and tribulations of completing a project as ambitious as the renovation and reinvention of the Armature Works. His story about preserving the history was most impactful to me—it is important to keep in mind that sometimes development means honoring the past, not just building the new.
We were also fortunate to hear from Leroy Moore, Senior VP and COO for Tampa Housing Authority. Mr. Moore reminded us that the Heights area has long been home to most.
Bob McDonough, Economic opportunity Administrator, City of Tampa, spoke with us briefly about the Mayor’s continued vision to make the river the center of the city. The soon to open Julien B. Lane park is a true example of this vision and an amazing way to activate the other side of the river.
Hall on Franklin
It was a true pleasure to spend time at The Hall on Franklin for a coffee pick-me-up and an informal conversation with its ingenious founder, Jamal Wilson. Jamal’s self-effacing style was genuine, but he is clearly an up and coming powerhouse in the Tampa dining scene. Again, his combination of ingenuity and a new outlook resulted in what he claims is the first full service food hall in the country. It makes perfect sense—all of the dining options you would want with waiter service to boot! If only he can secure that pizza concept he claims is still missing from the Hall. It will be a pleasure to watch his success as the concept undoubtedly expands to other regions.
Tampa Bay Rays 2020
We ended the day back at the Chamber offices for an engaging presentation by Ron Christaldi, Partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP. He, together with Chuck Sykes, President and CEO of Sykes Enterprises, is taking the lead on engaging the private business community in an effort to secure funding and support for the new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. Acknowledging the Tampa community’s limited tolerance for spending public dollars on the stadium development, the leaders of the Rays 2020 initiative are using innovative techniques to galvanize community support and build funds. The Rays stadium will be transformative for the Ybor City neighborhood, and the design will be iconic and groundbreaking.
While it is true that we are still a town focused on economic development of the real estate variety, it was encouraging to see that an innovative spirit and risk-taking approach pervades this town’s most recent flurry of economic development. I see big things for the future of Tampa Bay!