Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Vinik starts master-planning a master plan for Channelside

TAMPA — Jeff Vinik does not have a secret plan.

The Tampa Bay Lightning owner doesn't have new designs ready to go for his latest downtown acquisition, Channelside Bay Plaza. He doesn't have a grand plan to tie Channelside and his 24 acres of undeveloped land together with his crown jewel, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, into one massive development in the Channel District.

But he soon will.

"We're still master planning our master plan," Vinik spokesman Bill Wickett said.

What Vinik decides to do there will reshape downtown Tampa, and his top lieutenants said Friday that they'll seek public input for that master plan.

In the next few weeks, Vinik's team will set up a website so the public can submit ideas and comments regarding Channelside and the massive development that the Lightning owner is planning to build across from the Times Forum.

Team Vinik will also start reaching out to public stakeholders, such as the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Port Authority. Those plans will also take into account the Channel District master plan commissioned by the port.

But Vinik's team stressed on Friday that although they've spent the past few years doing their homework, that's all they've done. There is no grand design that's about to be unveiled.

"I think there's a misconception out there that there's this great master plan to put in front of people right now," Wickett said. "It's going to take time to roll out the plan for Channelside Bay Plaza and the plan for the other properties."

"It would be wrong to assume we're just going to put out a development in front of people and say 'This is what we're going to do' without talking to anybody."

The details have yet to be worked out, but his team does have a vision sketched out: They want to create a walkable and liveable waterfront entertainment district stretching from the Tampa Convention Center to the Times Forum to Channelside to the Florida Aquarium.

To complement the existing development there, Vinik will develop the barren land he owns across from the Times Forum and Channelside, on the north side of Channelside Drive. It will be a massive development of residential units, retail stores, restaurants and office space. Vinik added an acre to that Wednesday when he finalized a $1.7 million purchase.

Vinik has also filed plans to build a 400-room hotel and condo tower next to the Times Forum. And his team is interested in developing the final piece of the Channel District puzzle: Channelside's parking lot. That 5-acre, $11.7 million piece of waterfront land is owned by the port. It's also one of the most coveted parcels in downtown.

All that development, old and new, will be geared to support Vinik's arena and hockey team.

"We think the Times Forum is obviously the key centerpiece," said Jim Shimberg, executive vice president and general counsel for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, the Vinik company that owns the Lightning. "We have a unique opportunity to drive demand in from different directions."

But there's plenty to do in the meantime. The yearlong legal battle for Channelside kept Vinik's team from closely examining the property. That court fight was settled Monday, and Vinik could close on the $7.1 million deal Aug. 1. Now, his team will be able to figure out what to do with Channelside and how to fit it into their larger plans.

Vinik's people did not rule out making structural changes to the 234,520-square-foot complex, which was built in 2001. They'll also be looking to somehow open up Channelside's waterfront view, which has been hampered by security for the cruise ship dock next to it.

But that's the long-term plan. In the short-term, the plan is to fix Channelside, which has been falling apart since it was foreclosed on in 2010.

Vinik hired the Franklin Street real estate firm to run Channelside, bring it back up to code and deal with the few tenants that stuck it out. The plan is to get Channelside ready for hockey season, which starts in October.

Franklin Street CEO Andrew Wright said there's been plenty of interest from prospective tenants already, but no new leases will be signed until Vinik's team knows the long-term plan.

"It's going to take time to plan it," Wright said, "and get it right."

This week, prominent Tampa hotel developer Lou Plasencia told a conference of local hospitality executives that Vinik's plans will be the biggest thing to happen to Tampa since railroad baron Henry B. Plant laid down the tracks that built the city in 1884.

"A lot of what you're about to see in downtown Tampa is driven by Mr. Vinik," he said, "and it's going to be spectacular."

Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

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