TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's Channel District empire continues to grow.
Partnerships tied to the Tampa Bay Lightning owner recently paid $10 million to buy 3 acres of empty downtown real estate across the street from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the home of Vinik's hockey team.
Last year, Vinik tried to add to his holdings by purchasing the lease to the Channelside Bay Plaza retail center — but backed off due to legal complications. That left his plans for the rest of his Channel District land holdings in doubt.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that after this latest purchase, there can be no doubt:
"I think Jeff is all in," the mayor said. "I think he's going to be a huge player in the development of downtown in the next 10 to 15 years."
The deed for the three parcels was filed Friday. The 3 acres are sandwiched between Morgan Street on the west and Jefferson Street on the east. The land is bordered on the north by the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and on the south by Channelside Drive.
A spokesman for Vinik confirmed Monday that the Lightning owner has a stake in the purchase but declined to comment further about Vinik's plans for the 3 acres or any of his Channel District properties.
After this latest purchase, Vinik now owns 20.5 acres of the Channel District area around the Times Forum, though the parcels are not all connected.
Much of Vinik's property happens to be Buckhorn's ideal site for a downtown Tampa baseball stadium.
"Whether or not baseball occurs, he's smart to do this," the mayor said of Vinik. "It's absolutely the right thing for him to do."
The recent purchase puts the Lightning owner in firm control of the future development of the Channel District. If Vinik wants to build a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants, condos and hotels near the Times Forum, then the 3 acres he recently purchased would certainly further that goal.
"I think it's exactly what he should do to protect and enhance the front door of the Forum," Buckhorn said. "To make sure whatever he puts there complements whatever his plans are around the Forum."
Vinik also could take another shot at buying the Channelside lease. The Tampa Port Authority has signed a deal to buy the failing retail center for $5.75 million, but it won't go through until a federal bankruptcy court signs off on it.
Once the sale is done, the port will start taking bids for the Channelside lease again. Would Vinik consider another run at Channelside?
Vinik's spokesman would not comment on that, either. Buckhorn said he doesn't know what Vinik will do in regards to Channelside. But he said of the Channelside sale: "We're close."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.