Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: See a problem, bulldoze it

One of the many ways the rich are different from you and me is that when you're worth a bajillion-cajillion-gazillion dollars you get to blow stuff up — just because.

How else to explain Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who could buy Switzerland if he wanted to, plunking down $4.25 million for an elegant estate on St. Armand's Key only to tear it down?

What? He didn't like the wallpaper?

Apparently the 6,000-square-foot waterfront mansion did not quite meet the needs of the former hedge fund manager. Perhaps there was a burned-out light bulb in a closet. Or maybe there wasn't just the right light to illuminate his dogs-playing-poker artwork. Or it could be the loo's bathtub was too small to accommodate the rubber ducky collection.

Who knows? But once all the rubble gets cleared away, Vinik and his wife will undoubtedly rebuild something more to their liking. The Palace of Viniksailles, perhaps?

It's his money and the hockey baron is certainly free to do whatever he wants with his hard-earned cash. I just wish he would give some of it to me. After all, I'm getting creaky enough to warrant Vinik's seeming interest in ruins.

In looking at the St. Armand's teardown I had an epiphany. There it was — the answer to all of our problems — staring right back at us in plain sight all along. Jeff Vinik — The Raze-O-Nator.

Quick. What is the biggest issue vexing the city of St. Petersburg at the moment? And no, wondering when City Council member Wengay Newton will show up for a meeting on time doesn't count.

It is what to do about the Tampa Bay Rays, who want to move away from their Siberia of a stadium, Tropicana Field, a place so desolate it is any wonder the players bother to show up for games.

The dilemma is if the Rays were to move across Tampa Bay to new digs, what would St. Petersburg do with the Trop? You had to ask?

Sell it to Vinik and before you can say Mayor Bill Foster bobble-head doll — BOOM — gone. Dresden on the Gulf. Done. Finis. Ba-bye.

How long has it been that various factions in St. Petersburg have been hectoring at each other over what to do with the inverted pyramid, an edifice with the old-world charm of a Soviet-era apartment complex?

Fret not. Sell the fenced off Pier to Vinik, and before the sun sets over a Yacht Club yardarm, it will be "Fire in The Hole!" time. Ka-Bluey! Mission accomplished. Well played. What's next?

Ah, but there's a problem. Conventional wisdom suggests the footprint for any new Rays stadium will be the Channelside area of Tampa where a ConAgra flour mill sits. But not for long. The flour mill would obviously have to be relocated. Enter the Guy Fawkes of Florida.

Just imagine an incredible mushroom cloud of flour dust once Vinik buys the property and lights the first match. A thing of beauty is what it will be. Signed, sealed and imploded. Happy to be of service. His work is done here.

Well, not quite.

For many years, civic activists have been trying to preserve a long-closed expanse of the old Gandy Bridge as a pedestrian walkway. It's been redubbed the Friendship Trail Bridge, which is really nothing more than a warm, fuzzy way of saying it's a dump.

The Friendship Trail Bridge has no historical significance. It's crumbling. It's unsafe. And it really does need to go away. The Hillsborough County Commission has given the pro-bridge types ample time to come up with a private sector funding source to assume responsibility for the bridge and there seem to be few takers.

As a public service — and just for the fun of it — Vinik might buy the expanse and put the Friendship Trail Bridge out of its misery. Drum roll, please. Nice knowing you. Au revoir. Nothing to see here — anymore.

In short order, Jeff Vinik, a man and his detonator, could change the face of Tampa Bay. Years of testy and acrimonious debates — done. Years of indecisive political inertia — a thing of the past. Years of wishy-washy fits and starts — all but a vague memory.

They build statues to people like this — visionaries who came and saw and hired a bulldozer.

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