1. Lightning

Citigroup looking at major Hillsborough expansion, including maybe at Vinik-Cascade site

Published Jan. 29, 2016

It looks like Citigroup, which already has 5,500 employees in Hillsborough County, is looking for a possible corporate campus of up to 1 million square feet, and that the 40 downtown acres by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment fund is in the running.

The New York-based banking giant is well into discussions with more than one local developer. The possibilities include creating a larger campus at a new location or keeping Citigroup's existing operation at Sabal Park near Interstate 75 and finding additional space elsewhere. A decision is expected in the next couple of weeks. All the finalists are in Hillsborough County.

For now, however, neither Citigroup nor Vinik are talking.

"We are always evaluating opportunities to ensure our real estate footprint reflects the needs of our business," Citi spokesman Kamran Mumtaz said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

"I'm not commenting on individual potential tenants," Vinik said Thursday. "It's just not productive to do so."

Asked if he and his partners at Cascade could handle a tenant looking for a million square feet of space, Vinik said, "we have a lot of flexibility to meet any tenant's potential needs — big ones, small ones."

At build-out, the Vinik-Cascade venture, known as Strategic Property Partners, expects to have done $2 billion worth of residential, office and retail development. The first phase, which is expected to take four or five years, will be about $1 billion worth of development and is planned to include a new University of South Florida medical school building, a 500-room hotel, office buildings, parking garages and about 1,000 residential units.

As he has said several times in recent weeks, Vinik repeated again Thursday that Strategic Property Partners is "making very good progress" on bringing a major office tenant to its project.

"There are all kinds of possibilities," he said about the size of the office buildings the company could build. "We have potential designs for different sizes. It depends on the needs."

Still, word of a big corporate project has made the rounds in Tampa commercial real estate circles.

Claire Calzon, managing director of office services for Colliers International in Tampa, said she had heard talk that someone was looking for 1 million square feet of space.

"That was floating about," she said, "but we didn't know who it was."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he has talked to Citigroup executives about a possible expansion in Tampa.

"We have been working with Citigroup for probably three or four years as they look at their needs in the Tampa Bay area," Buckhorn said. "They had acknowledged a year ago they were looking at possibly moving some jobs down here."

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In early 2015, Hillsborough County commissioners approved $3.4 million in local incentives — part of a bigger jobs package with the state's Enterprise Florida program — in the hope of persuading Citigroup to expand its local presence. The plan called for adding up to 1,163 jobs averaging a $75,000 a year in areas such accounting, legal, human resources and operational support.

"We are hopeful, extremely hopeful" that Citigroup would pick Tampa as the site of additional expansion, he said. Buckhorn said his sense is that Citigroup likes it here, particularly when they consider their real estate needs "in higher tax states and more expensive cities."

Jobs in areas including technology and finance are "exactly the types of jobs we hope to attract," he said.

Asked if in past meetings with Citigroup executives he had talked specifically about the Vinik-Cascade site, Buckhorn said no.

"That really is not my role. I can't pick amongst my children, if you will," he said. "I let the property owners negotiate with them. My job is to get them here."


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