Monday, December 11, 2017
Business

New hints emerge for Tampa Bay Lightning owner's plans for downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Some of the ideas Jeff Vinik is considering for the Channel District are old ideas that might see new life if his plans come to fruition one day.

Representatives of Vinik and his partners are contemplating building a hotel and "possible residential" space of an unknown size on a parking lot at the corner of S Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, records show.

The site sits between the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the venue's parking garage and the 27-story Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. It's one of the parcels Vinik acquired when he bought the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and Times Forum lease in 2010.

It's an old idea for that corner of downtown, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and a good one for an empty lot so close to the Tampa Convention Center.

"I think it's probably logical to assume that it's forthcoming," Buckhorn said, "and that's a great location for an additional hotel. It might also help us in terms of additional meeting room space to complement the convention center."

Vinik's representatives also approached the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority about extending Cumberland Avenue east to Meridian Avenue and turning it into a four-way intersection.

Cumberland and Meridian are separated by the CSX rail line that serves the nearby ConAgra flour mill. Developers first pitched linking the two roads in 2007, but it never happened because their project never happened.

"We didn't see any problems with it then," said Pat Maguire, the expressway authority's general counsel, "and we don't see any problems with it now."

However, Cumberland runs through 13 contiguous acres of empty land that Vinik and his partners own between the Times Forum on the south and the ConAgra plant on the north. They're being used as parking lots for hockey fans, but in Buckhorn's mind that's also the ideal spot for a baseball stadium — assuming ideal funding is ever found.

Vinik and his partners own 21 acres around the Times Forum. A spokesman declined to comment Wednesday about Vinik's plans for his Channel District holdings.

The records that offer hints at Vinik's plans don't appear to be a sign that he's about to execute any grand plan for the Channel District. Instead, the records appear to show that Vinik's people are meeting with public officials to explore the possibilities for those areas.

Though Vinik controls a great swath of the Channel District, there's one important piece he has no control over: Channelside Bay Plaza, the failing retail center whose sale has been held up in federal bankruptcy court.

The Tampa Port Authority owns the land under Channelside, but it signed a deal to buy the building from the Irish Resolute Bank Corp. Once the deal has been blessed by federal and state judges, the port can find a new operator for the complex.

Vinik was once the frontrunner to do just that, and planned to unify the center with the Times Forum.

But his ownership group bowed out in 2012 due to legal complications. There has been no indication from his representatives whether Vinik wants another shot at it.

However, the port's governing board has said in the past that Vinik is still its ideal choice.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.

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