TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, are giving $2.5 million to renovate and expand a Boys and Girls Club recreation center in the Palm River area.
The couple are making the donation through the Vinik Family Foundation. It is the largest single gift in the 90-year history of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.
The money will go toward the Winston Park Recreation Center at 7605 Destin Drive, which is near Clair-Mel Elementary School. The finished facility will be renamed the Jeff and Penny Vinik Family Winston Park Boys and Girls Club.
"Kids are our best natural resources," Vinik said in a news conference Monday to announce the gift. "We supported the Boys and Girls Clubs up in Boston. We are right in line with the mission of this nationwide organization."
The existing facility has tennis and basketball courts. The expansion will add 3,000 square feet of space, included a covered roller hockey rink, a game room, a technology lab, a teen center, a theater and a kitchen with dining hall.
Vinik, who is involved in a major redevelopment near downtown Tampa's Channel District, wouldn't say whether the donation was the largest his foundation has made since he came here from Boston, where he is a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox.
"We actually discussed whether we wanted to donate or be involved with a new club up in Boston," Vinik said. "But we delayed so long and we said we don't want to do this in Boston, let's wait until we move to Tampa and let's do it for a club down there."
An audience of community leaders and neighbors applauded.
Tampa lawyer F. Dennis Alvarez, a former chief judge of Hillsborough and chairman of the foundation board of Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, thanked the Viniks.
"You are leading the way," Alvarez said, "not just in the downtown area, but in the rest of the community.
At one time, the Winston Park facility was among a number of places that were considered for closing due to budget cuts, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller. Neighbors attended a meeting, imploring commissioners to keep it open. With the help of the Boys and Girls Club, they did.
"Renovating this building, having programs in here run by the Boys and Girls Club … is going to be a transformation like they've never seen before," Miller said. "You're making a drastic difference for this neighborhood, and you're making a drastic difference for this county."
The commissioner and others repeatedly pointed to the Freddie Solomon Club at Nuccio Park as evidence of the impact of such facilities on neighborhoods.
"Overall crime has gone down 50 percent since we opened that facility," said Chris Letsos, president of Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.
Boys and Girls Club executives couldn't say when the renovations and expansions would be complete. The facility will be closed during construction. Children in programs there will temporarily move to other recreation centers until the renovated facility opens.
The new facility will share a campus with nearby Clair-Mel Elementary and Dowdell Middle Magnet School.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, established in 1926, will celebrate its 90th anniversary this year. It has 18 clubs in Hillsborough and Pasco counties that serve about 15,000 kids a year.
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.