Developer Jeff Vinik releases his mega ambitious plan to transform Tampa

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Developer and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik unveiled his much touted, billion-dollar plan to transform the Channelside area of downtown Tampa this morning. Scheduled to take sometime between 5-10 years to fully come to fruition, it will undoubtedly be the biggest mixed-use development ever  built in the Cigar City.

And certainly for a city that promotes Busch Gardens as a prime destination spot for tourists, it will provide loads of more interesting things to do, and arguably could be more interesting than other key tourist areas such as Ybor City. As Vinik says his wife has asked him in the past, “Where do people go in Tampa?” The answer should be the Channel District when it’s all said and done.

Today’s 90-minute news conference to unveil the plan took place at the Tampa Mariott Waterside Hotel, which happens to be part of the grand mosaic that Vinik and crew hope to transform. The developer purchased the hotel several months ago and plans to renovate the 717-room facility are among the extensive plans announced before an invited crowd of over 300 people.

“Achieving our vision will require the efforts of all people in our region,” Vinik said. “Our land, already anchored by the Amalie Arena, the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Convention Center and the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, affords us an unprecedented opportunity to create one of America’s great live, work and play urban neighborhoods, right here in our hometown.”

The Vinik group’s territory begins from the west at the Convention Center and moves all the way to the  Aquarium on the east side.

Vinik candidly told the audience that the rather generic name of his development Strategic Property Partners, or SPP – was deliberate, so that they could quietly buy up the acres of empty land that surrounded the Amalie Arena, which he purchased with the Lightning back in 2009.  He now outright owns 30 acres in the area and manages 10 more. He called it a “blank canvas to create an entire district to revitalize downtown…completing the plan that city planners envisioned years ago.”

Among SPP’s partners is Cascade Investment,LLC out of Seattle.”They saw the potential from day one, ” Vinik said, adding they wanted to be partners from “day one and a half.”

The project includes hotels, office buildings, apartment towers, restaurants, medical school facilities, retail promenades, parks and entertainment venues. Two weeks ago the USF Board of Trustees unanimously approved moving the USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and a medical office building to the area, where it will break ground in 2016.

Vinik spoke from a podium stage right throughout the hour and a half presentation. At various points of the program, an official from his own team or one of the partner organizations stood stage left to provide details.

“Tampa has more potential for an amazing innovation district than just about any city of similar size on the eastern seaboard,” said Paul Ostergaard with Urban Design Associates out of Pittsburgh. Ostergaard went over some of the infrastructure improvements that SPP will be working with the city on, including redesigning streets north of Channelside Drive, such as removing most of East Brorein Street connecting it instead to East Cumberland Avenue into the Channel District, and extending  Old Water Street to move north.  There will also be a 400-room hotel totaling 100,000 square feet to be built in the area.

We also learned that a Mexican themed restaurant called Hablo Taco will be moving into Channelside Plaza next month. The developers are working with the Tampa based architectural team Alfonso Architects on transforming that particular shopping complex in the months to come.

Two of Vinik’s more high-profile hires in the past couple of years also got a chance to speak at the mic.

Bob Abberger had worked in local real estate for over two decades until Vinik picked him off in September to join his real estate development team. He spoke about the improvements that will happen with the Marriott, while Jim Shimberg, a good friend of Mayor Bob Buckhorn who served as his City Attorney for the first two years of the administration, spoke further about infrastructure improvement, which include the very ambitious goal of taking a leadership role in expanding the Tampa Streetcar, which has been considered a financial boondoggle over the past decade. “You’ll hear more about the plans in the next few weeks and months,” he assured on that front, while adding that the streets wouldn’t be ripped open until the end of the Lightning season sometime in the middle of 2015.

Later Rob Canton, Executive VP Finance and Strategy for the Lightning, discussed the economic impact the development will bring. Working with global forecaster Oxford Economics, Canton said by the time the project is fully constructed and working, it will bring a total of $910 million in economic output for Hillsborough County. He said there will be 3,700 direct jobs created, and 3,000 more indirect jobs, with an average wage of $78,000. That’s predicated on the Vinik team bringing in a high profile corporation that they want to recruit to operate inside the district.

The parade of speakers climaxed with Vinik’s right-hand man Tod Leiweke, the former CEO of the Seattle Seahawks who was hired by Vinik in 2010. After an awkward exchange on how much they revered each other (Leiweke looked over at Vinik and said with sincerity, “Jeff, you are the greatest owner in sports.”), Leiweke then announced how the community can get directly involved with the plan, by announcing a crowdsourcing site called where local residents can make their suggestions about what type of food, retail or other forms of entertainment should be part of the “Tampa-Live” district that will also be an integral part of the entire mosaic.

So far since he’s owned the Lightning, Vinik has proven to be a benevolent owner, generously bestowing a $50,000 check to a non-profit charity at each of the hockey team’s 41 regular season games, a practice that began in 2011. That’s an important benchmark to note, because at times the syncophancy amongst some of our biggest leaders seems to go off the chart when talking about the former hedge fund manager.
After giving what he called a “Readers Digest” preview of his plan to the Board of County Commissioners in Tampa earlier in the day, Commissioners tripped over themselves in showing their appreciation for him and his plan.
“That’s awesome. Phenomenal presentation,” gushed board chair Sandy Merman. “We don’t want Tampa to be a second-tier city anymore.”
“I’m pumped,” Ken Hagan followed up. “Your vision will transform downtown and our entire region.”
“My creative juices are flowing,” added Victor Crist. “You are taking us to the next level.”
Vinik says “we hope that dirt is moving by next summer, (and) a year from now having cranes moving.”


Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at