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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Vinik mum on plans for Channel District



He's in talks to take over Channelside Bay Plaza. Companies with which he has ties are buying land near it and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where his Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team plays home games.

He has big bucks and a demonstrated willingness to part with some of them. Oh, and by the way, community discussion about a future home for the Tampa Bay Rays just happens to be heating up at the same time, and some people think the Channel District would be a swell location for a new pro baseball stadium.

Despite all that, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik would say very little about his designs for the Channel District, or his interest in pro baseball, as he faced the news media scrum Tuesday.

"We’re basically brainstorming right now," Vinik said. "We’re trying to think of all kinds of possibilities. The most important thing is how much we want a vibrant area down there. What exactly ends up happening with Channelside and the parking lots on either side of the arena, etcetera, I don’t know on this day. Hopefully we can have some good growth down there for all this region."

Vinik was actually in Clearwater, handing out his first $50,000 donation this season as part of Lightning Foundation and Lightning Community Heroes program, through which he has pledged to give out $10 million in five years to community do-gooders. Tuesday's award went to Bruce Fyfe, board chair of the Homeless Emergency Project, which provides shelter to returning veterans grappling with physical and pschological challenges after serving overseas. The donation date corresponded to what was supposed to be the home opener for the Lightning, cancelled due to a labor lockout.

News reporters mostly asked him about some of the other activity involving Lightning ownership of late, and Vinik politely ducked most of the questions.

Does he have interest in acquiring property now housing a ConAgra Food Inc. flour mill, which is in the heart of the district and stands out now in an area that has morphed into more of a residential and entertainment hub? "No. we have no thoughts at all about purchasing the ConAgra building. We’ve had no discussions at all about the ConAgra property...We care about everything that goes on in our neighborhood, from the (Florida) Aquarium to all the way over to the Convention Center to all the way north into the big buildings in downtown Tampa. It’s our neighborhood. We want a vibrant downtown T ampa . And we want a vibrant bunch of blocks around our facility."

What are his plans for Channelside, should he prevail in a bid to acquire the property? "We are interested in Channelside. We care greatly about what happens there. We want it to be a vibrant entertainment district. We want it to be a great attraction for both people from T ampa  Bay as well as visitors coming to our region. Having said that, it may be us who has the opportunity to really turn that into a jewel. Or it may not be. We’ll see how that plays out."

Upon saying he wantd to see the area develop into something world class, he is asked what he means by that. "Something the region is really proud of," he responded. "A place where people want to go, where, frankly, people want to spend money, where people want to be entertained. And something, in terms of the Lightning, doing it all with great value and in the right manner.

Finally, of course, he is asked whether a baseball stadium for the Rays might fit into the mix. And he provided a variation of an answer he has been quoted as saying previously. "No we haven’t thought about that. Frankly this is the Rays' business. I think the world of Stu Sternberg and the management over there. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect them by interfering with their processes."




[Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 5:34pm]


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