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Jeff Vinik bought the Lightning. Then his influence spread over Tampa Bay.

Vinik and his family have left a mark on development, transportation, and tech, among other things.
Left to right, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson and Strategic Property Partners CEO James Nozar break ground on the new JW Marriott Hotel at Water Street in Tampa, FL Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Left to right, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson and Strategic Property Partners CEO James Nozar break ground on the new JW Marriott Hotel at Water Street in Tampa, FL Tuesday, April 24, 2018. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2018) ]
Published Dec. 29, 2019

Editor’s note: This story is part of “A Decade Defined By,” a series that examines how Tampa Bay has changed in the past decade. We will publish one story a day until Dec. 31. Read the whole package here.

Since buying the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Vinik has put his money into a vision for Tampa on a scale that’s been realized by only a few people in the city’s history.

Henry B. Plant brought his railroad and raised the minarets of the Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa). Vicente Martinez-Ybor moved his cigar factory here, launching the city’s signature industry. Sam Gibbons envisioned a Tampa that was bigger, and through the founding of the University of South Florida, smarter.

Vinik, 60, started by spending an estimated $110 million to buy the Lightning in 2010. He came to the owner’s box with a couple of ideas based on his own wide-ranging research and his observations of pro franchises in Boston, where he was a mutual fund and hedge fund manager.

One, good ownership makes a difference in team success.

Two, owners should be part of the community fabric.

So Vinik has given to everything from education to the arts to youth sports. But his biggest imprints arguably can be found in the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, his support for the All for Transportation sales tax in Hillsborough County and his investment in the bay area’s tech innovation and startup scene.

A Tampa Bay Times reporter once asked Vinik if he expected to be as involved as he’s become in local business, philanthropy and public policy.

“No, no, and no,” he said. “But it’s all evolved that way, and I think the common theme would be that my wife (Penny) and I and our family love it down here. We think there is tremendous potential for this region, and everything we’re trying to get involved with is what we think is really important to help achieve that.”

Jeff and Penny Vinik pictured in the hallway of their home along with one of their favorite pieces of art at their home in the Palma Ceia neighborhood of Tampa.
Jeff and Penny Vinik pictured in the hallway of their home along with one of their favorite pieces of art at their home in the Palma Ceia neighborhood of Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2017) ]

Five places where Jeff Vinik has left his mark, 2010-2019

Sports and entertainment

In addition to owning the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vinik’s companies manage Amalie Arena and the Yuengling Center, formerly the University of South Florida Sun Dome.

Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos is presented a commemorative Silver Stick, in recognition of his becoming the all-time franchise goals leader. Presenting the stick is Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and former Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, whose record of 383 goals was eclipsed by Stamkos, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos is presented a commemorative Silver Stick, in recognition of his becoming the all-time franchise goals leader. Presenting the stick is Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and former Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, whose record of 383 goals was eclipsed by Stamkos, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Saturday, March 30, 2019. [ DIRK SHADD | TIMES ]

Real estate development

In partnership with Cascade Investment, the private wealth fund of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Vinik is developing Water Street Tampa on 56 acres around Amalie Arena, including the site of the ConAgra flour mill. The 9 million-square-foot project includes a new building for USF’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, 3,500 residences, two new office towers, three hotels and about 13 acres of parks. When complete, Water Street is meant to be the home, workplace or leisure destination for 23,000 people a day.

Tech entrepreneurship

Vinik has himself invested $10 million to launch Embarc Collective, an innovation hub for startups north of Amalie Arena, and $12 million in DreamIt, an early stage venture capital fund. And he’s supported programs and events through Synapse Florida, Tampa Bay Wave and Florida Funders.

Transportation

Vinik and his companies contributed $785,000 to support the All for Transportation sales tax that Hillsborough voters passed last November and that is now being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court by opponents.

Philanthropy

With his wife Penny, Vinik has brought the Beach Tampa to Amalie Arena, the Art of the Brick to Tampa, and Yayoi Kusama’s Love is Calling to the Tampa Museum of Art. The Lightning’s Community Heroes program makes $50,000 grants to nonprofits at each of the team’s 41 home games. USF’s Muma College of Business named its sport and entertainment management program for the Viniks in recognition of their $5 million-plus in support. Vinik also is a member of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Children jump into the massive ball pit at Amalie Arena. The Beach Tampa was paid for by the Vinik Family Foundation.
Children jump into the massive ball pit at Amalie Arena. The Beach Tampa was paid for by the Vinik Family Foundation. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2016) ]