As his vision for downtown Tampa unfolds, developer Jeff Vinik hires lobbyist Brian Ballard

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As developer Jeff Vinik continues to play an expensive game of Monopoly, acquiring and buying up swaths of the Channelside District and other parts of downtown Tampa, he may be turning to Florida lawmakers for help with realizing his vision for the area.

Three of Vinik’s business entities — Strategic Property Partners, LLC, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, LLC — have retained Ballard Partners, the governmental affairs firm headed by one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists, Brian Ballard. On Monday, lobbying registration forms indicating Ballard would be representing Vinik’s interests before the legislative branch were filed with the state. The forms also list Ballard Partners’ Greg Turbeville as a representative for the Vinik companies.

Over the last month vinik and his representatives have begun to reveal some of their plans for the struggling Channelside District.

Strategic Property Partners’ most recent major downtown Tampa acquisition was the purchase of the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina in Channelside.

“SPP is excited to acquire this centerpiece downtown property, further advancing our plans for the development of America’s next great urban waterfront district, right here in Tampa,” Vinik said in a statement after the closing.

As a cornerstone for the Channelside District, Marriott Waterside is beneficially located between the Tampa Convention Center and the newly christened Amalie Arena – formerly known as the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Amalie Arena is home of the Vinik-owned Tampa Bay Lightning.

With 50,000 square feet of total meeting space, 719 guestrooms and two ballrooms, the Marriott Waterside is a valuable regional attraction, appealing to business and leisure alike, and represents an important economic driver for the entire downtown Tampa sector.

News of the Marriott purchase came just one week after Vinik signed a deal with Cascade Investment LLC, a firm controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The Cascade partnership is a significant step in the realization of Vinik’s master plan for Channelside, which features a mix of residential, hospitality and commercial assets designed to draw people – and revenue – to the area.

Vinik has been very busy strategically buying up parcels of Channelside; he now controls more than 24 acres there. His long-term vision for the region includes a series of office towers, hotels, residential and retail space and entertainment venues to join the Amalie Arena.

Ballard Partners is one of the largest lobbying firms in the state, representing more than 150 clients before the legislature and executive branch. It is one of just three firms on track this year to earn more than $10 million in compensation. Among its most prominent clients is Resorts World Miami, otherwise known as Genting, the gambling company with an eye on expanding its presence in Florida.

Ballard Partners also represents several other sports teams, including the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Ballard Partners also represents the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land under and has certain rights to Channelside Bay Plaza.

Channelside Bay Plaza’s was recently acquired by, you guessed it, Jeff Vinik.

A source familiar with Vinik’s plans say Ballard is expected to play a role in helping to persuade the Legislature to fund the relocation of USF’s medical school to downtown Tampa.

In addition to Ballard Partners, Vinik’s companies also recently hired Tallahassee lawyer Mark Logan.

Longtime Tampa Bay Lightning lobbyist Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting will continue to play a vital role in the team’s lobbying outreach efforts. This is the second client Pierce and Ballard will share as both lobbyist’s firms represent the Port of Tampa.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.