Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Jeff Vinik proposes office building north of Times Forum

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TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's vision for the Channel District is coming into focus, and it includes bringing in hundreds of white-collar workers along with tourists and sports fans.

The latest piece of his plan is a 202,000-square-foot office building that Vinik's companies propose to build north of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

And a rezoning application filed last week suggests a tenant for that building could be Syniverse, a fast-growing high-tech firm now based in New Tampa.

"Syniverse, I know, has been looking in downtown Tampa," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who met months ago with company executives. He said Syniverse also "has been mentioned" by Vinik's business team as a possibility for its new office building.

That said, Buckhorn said he didn't know whether the company has made a decision. Neither the Lightning nor Syniverse were talking Monday.

"We haven't made any statements definitively one way or the other," Syniverse spokesman Bobby Eagle said.

Still, a survey included with the rezoning application is suggestive, with "Syniverse office new zoning" in its electronic file name.

Syniverse is a mobile communications technology company with more than 1,500 clients in nearly 200 countries. It has more than 2,700 employees worldwide and offices in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Dubai and Luxembourg. During the first half of this year, its revenues grew by 18.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

The company's current headquarters is in nearly 199,000 square feet of leased space at the Highwoods Preserve Corporate Campus near Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Its lease there expires in 2016.

Vinik's proposed office building would go up on land he owns at the northeast corner of S Morgan Street and Channelside Drive.

Plans call for 195,000 square feet of offices, 4,000 square feet of restaurant space and 3,000 square feet of retail. The rezoning seeks approval for a building up to 160 feet tall. Sketches on file with the city variously show an 8- to 10-story structure.

The project site is about eight-tenths of an acre and is currently used as a parking lot. Tampa's development code requires the building to have 201 parking spaces. A letter from a design firm working on the project said parking would be in a garage immediately to the northeast.

Even if Syniverse decided not to go into Vinik's building, Buckhorn said, "I think the market's right for additional office space."

Vacancies are getting tighter, rents are going up and companies are "mentally starting to make the change," he said.

Companies like Syniverse are starting to see a competitive advantage in locating downtown, Buckhorn said, because young professionals they try to recruit want to live near their jobs, walk to work and not have a car. They like the waterfront and want to be close to options for eating out and having fun.

As a result, Buckhorn said, having corporate employers move downtown "fits perfectly" with Vinik's vision for the Channel District.

"The goal is to create an 18-hour-a-day environment," Buckhorn said. Vinik has amassed 24 acres next to or near the Times Forum, and indicated he wants to build a pedestrian-friendly waterfront entertainment district that goes from the Tampa Convention Center to the Florida Aquarium.

In May, Vinik and his partners filed a rezoning application to build a 400-room hotel just west of the Times Forum on a parking lot at the corner of S Florida Avenue and Old Water Street.

Last week, he closed on Channelside Bay Plaza, just east of the Times Forum. Vinik won a July auction for the property with a $7.1 million bid. He also has committed to spending $10 million or more upgrading the complex. His representatives said last month they'll seek public input on the master plan for Channelside and the surrounding area.

One thing Vinik doesn't seem to be talking about is a possible Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium.

Buckhorn, who has talked to Vinik about the idea, has expressed doubts that a new ballpark would make business sense for Vinik.

For one thing, bringing in the Rays could hurt the Lightning's suite sales, advertising and ticket sales. And while an L.A. Live-style entertainment district could boost the value of Vinik's property, baseball teams in mid-sized markets typically don't pay much rent to the owners of their stadiums.

So while the mayor does not necessarily expect a stadium, he is looking for Vinik to follow up with plans for entertainment uses, residential and possibly more hotels.

"I think this is the first of some pretty exciting developments that will occur as a result of Jeff's ability to acquire that much land down there," he said. "I'm excited by it."

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