After their dramatic unveiling of their billion-dollar project to redevelop 40 acres of real estate in the Channelside District last December, Jeffrey Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners group has been relatively quiet in terms of news about what will actually be housed there.
In recent months there has been discussion about the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) moving from its current North Tampa location across the street from USF to “Vinikville.” Though Hillsborough County officials have expressed excitement about the possibility, not everyone is in love with the concept, considering how much real estate the facility currently occupies off of Fowler Avenue vs. moving it into the downtown area.
At a Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting at Ferguson Law Center on Friday, Vinik backed away from the notion that it’s a done deal.
“I am not going to move MOSI downtown,” he said. “We are going to have discussions with the board of directors of MOSI. We’re about to do a feasibility study. (If) they think it makes sense, maybe it will, maybe it won’t (happen). “
He said if the facility were to move to the Channelside area, “we sure better have that transportation working well to bring the people from North Tampa, North Hillsborough County to downtown.” He said that he believes that a downtown location could double or triple its current attendance numbers, but if it doesn’t look like that might happen, “then we’ve got to think twice about it.”
Transportation came up frequently during Vinik’s hour-long address before the Club, which saw one of its biggest crowds gather for its monthly meeting in years, not only with new guests but members from the press, where representatives from at least six different media organizations were in attendance.
Vinik showed that he was seriously invested in the Tampa Bay Lightning shortly after purchasing the local NHL franchise in 2010. The former Boston-based mutual fund manager poured $35 million into renovating the now Amalie Arena with a new theatre organ, 11,000-square-foot party deck and a new digital video board above center ice.
He then demonstrated his investment in the community at large by creating (with his wife) a program that donates $50,000 to a nonprofit group at every single home game, which after four seasons now amounts to over $9 million. The team itself has prospered as well under the leadership of coach Jon Cooper and General Manager Steve Yzerman, making it to within two games of winning the Stanley Cup this spring.
But it was a bold announcement last December when he unveiled his $1 billion plan to redevelop the Channelside District surrounding the Amalie Arena that made him one of the biggest players in all of Tampa Bay.
“I believe we have transportation challenges in this area,” he said to applause when asked about the controversial Tampa Bay Express (TBX) toll lanes project. “I’m talking to a lot of companies, and number one on their mind is how do we move our employees around this area.”
Vinik is on record as hoping to land a Fortune 500 company to become one of the signature companies to locate inside his development. But on Friday he said that while that remains a top goal, his company also wants to bring in companies that will bring high-paying jobs to the area, and if that means a company’s regional headquarters as opposed to a corporate headquarters, he’s fine with that.
On three separate occasions the Lightning owner was asked his opinion about the TBX, a Florida Department of Transportation- backed project that would add toll lanes on I-275 inside of Tampa. The proposal has engendered great opposition from members of the Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights community, which fear it will decimate those areas that have taken years to develop.
Activist Leila Abdelaziz criticized him for his initial responses, saying they didn’t address the concerns of low-income residents and people of color who are concerned that the project and his development plans may force them to live outside the city.
Vinik responded by saying that he was doing his part by creating a development that could lead to economic benefits to all regions of the city, and also asked her if she thought it made any sense for him to be more of a political player,
“My wife and I are very philanthropic,” he said. “We try to do our best. But if we were to wade into this discussion too deeply, we’d have people who would love us, people who would hate us, but it would take the focus off of what we’re trying to do, which is to lift the tide for everybody in this region,” resulting in cheers from the audience.
A few moments later, Vinik responded succinctly when another audience member who previously lived in Dallas discussed how it took the involvement of the local business community putting some of their own skin (and money) into the game that helped pass a transportation tax plan.
Would he consider it?
“Maybe,” Vinik responded deadplan, to another round of cheers.