A day after Tampa developer Jeff Vinik dazzled hundreds of observers with a slick 90-minute presentation of his $1 billion construction project along the waterfront in downtown Tampa, a handful of protesters descended in front of the Tampa Convention Center, protesting what they said was the growing “racist gentrification” happening in the city.
“This is clearly high-end development, high-end condos, high-end restaurants, and that will create a rent gap and push out poor people. It’s an old story, but it’s happening in Tampa,” said USF grad school student Samantha Bowden, 26, who led the small protest during the middle of Thursday. “It’s just sad that a hedge fund manager can ‘adopt’ our city as his hometown and just create it in his own image for wealthy, white people. If you look at the schematics for the downtown redevelopment, you can even see the people on the streets are wealthy white people. I mean if that’s not racist gentrification I don’t know what would be.”
Vinik hails from Boston, where he ran Fidelity’s flagship Magellan fund, the biggest mutual fund in the world in the 1990s. He then went on to start a hedge fund that amassed roughly $6 billion in assets. In 2010 he moved to Tampa to purchase the NHL Lightning franchise and the Amalie Arena. But over the past few years his development company has been purchasing the surrounding acres around the hockey arena, developing what some are calling “Vinikville” along the Channel District.
The activists marched in front of the Convention Center on Thursday to try to gain the attention of the more than 800 guests invited to attend the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting. Mayor Bob Buckhorn, County Commission Chair Sandy Murman, and a host of elected officials and members of the business community flocked to the event, bypassing the activists who held signs that said things like, “Jeff Vinik is King of the 1%!”
“We won’t be able to afford those condos that they’re building,” said activist Danielle Lipo, a former USF student. “We won’t be able to afford the hotels and restaurants that they’re building,” she complained, referring to parts of the redevelopment package that Vinik laid out on Wednesday, which will include a mixture of what officials describe as “luxury condos.”
Until this week, the only sizable concern about relocating lower-income people in the city has surfaced in West Tampa, where the InVision plan supported by Mayor Buckhorn includes demolishing the venerable North Boulevard Homes, the oldest public housing complex in the county. Buckhorn wants to turn the property into a mix of housing and shops with the river as a backdrop. It’s all part of his design to make the river the centerpiece of Tampa’s downtown. The Tampa Housing Authority is responsible for relocating all of those residents.
One reason that Vinik’s proposal has been greeted with delight by the mayor and City Council members is that there is a lot of empty space in the Channelside area right now collecting no property taxes. The Vinik plan calls for another hotel to be built in the area, a USF medical facility, and plenty of new housing and entertainment possibilities. The activists acknowledge that there aren’t anybody in the area per se that will be pushed out. But they say that it’s the people who still live inside the city’s urban core who will soon be priced out.
“I think that the people who live just outside of eyeshot right here are poor black and brown people, and that’s just going to drive them out,” said Bowden. “They’re going to be dispersing poor communities into building this supposed rich utopian paradise that they’d like to build, but there’ s no affordable housing. Median income in Tampa is $36,000, people can’t afford what they’re building, so why are they continuing to try to build it?”
Actually, according to the Tampa Bay Partnership, the 2013 estimated median household income in the Tampa Bay area was $41,404. And based on Census figures for 2014, the Tampa Bay Times reported in September that the Tampa region ranked dead last in median household income in Florida.
Bowden says she’s not against building new housing, but wants it to be affordable housing.
A 25-year-old activist called Bleu held up a sign that said, “Rent is too high, wages are too low.” A fast-food worker who has been active in fast-food strikes calling for a $15 living wage, Bleu said such low wages meant that people like himself couldn’t afford to live in a “high-end apartment,” adding, “We are the people that they’re moving out of these places.”
As far as protesting in front of the Convention Center during the Chamber’s lunch, Danielle Lipo said, “We’re not the ones benefitting from all the economic progress that the Tampa Chamber of Commerce is claiming. All the people who are attending, they’re the ones benefitting, but they don’t represent the general population. $36,000 is the median income for in Tampa, but the people walking in there do not make $36,000. They don’t make $50,000.”