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Can Jeff Vinik the hockey owner also become Tampa's rainmaker?

An artist's rendering shows what the southern end of downtown Tampa will look like once Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's new project is complete, bringing 3 million square feet of new development around Amalie Arena. [Strategic Property Partners LLC]
An artist's rendering shows what the southern end of downtown Tampa will look like once Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's new project is complete, bringing 3 million square feet of new development around Amalie Arena. [Strategic Property Partners LLC]
Published Dec. 26, 2014

TAMPA — If the man with a $1 billion "vision plan" for Tampa's downtown Channelside district —Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik — can deliver on his "world class" and newly dubbed "Waterfront District," then all the hype at Wednesday's project unveiling can be forgiven — and may prove well deserved.

Nearly 40 contiguous acres are slated to be transformed by a Vinik-led team in a mega-redevelopment surrounding the Amelie Arena (home to the Lightning) and stretching along the waterfront from the Tampa Convention Center in the west to the soon-to-be-renovated Channelside Bay Plaza shopping center to the east.

"This is the day people will look back and say, "This is when it started,'" a beaming Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said from a Marriott Waterside podium. He then introduced Vinik, who received a standing ovation from 400-plus invited business and political leaders.

Deadpanned Vinik: "The project's off. What are you standing for?"

It was a feel-good moment on a feel-great day for downtown Tampa and the broader Tampa Bay region.

But this is a bold and complex project whose success depends on many hard-to-predict factors. Here are five takeaways gleaned from Vinik's morning presentation and an afternoon sit-down Wednesday with Vinik and Buckhorn.

1. Vinik is not just another real estate developer. The guy's worth about half a billion bucks, money earned running the famous Fidelity Magellan Fund in Boston and, later, his own hedge fund. His Lightning hockey team is well run, keen to compete for another Stanley Cup. His reputation in town is he's a smart, conservative investor who does his homework. Just as important, Vinik's now a cheerleader for Tampa who personally plans to sell a new Channelside to CEOs in cold, expensive cities as a better spot for their headquarters.

2. Vinik's got a powerful team behind him. Among the big talent lavishly praised by Vinik on this massive redevelopment are Lightning CEO Tod Lieweke, business advisor Jac Sperling, designer Paul Ostergaard of Urban Design Associates and Andrew Wright of Tampa's Franklin Street real estate firm who is charged with rejuvenating the Channelside Bay Plaza shops.

3. Billionaire Bill Gates' money, via his Cascade Investments firm, is a major backer of the Vinik project. That platinum Good Housekeeping seal of approval helps insure the redevelopment plan is unlikely to lack funding in the years ahead.

4. Vinik's project would elevate the Channelside district from a hodge-podge mix of parking lots, failed retail shopping and an undersized convention center to a powerfully branded and walkable urban destination for Millennials, empty nesters and a sophisticated workforce from a relocated USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. Vinik says he seeks to create "vibrancy" from an "18/7" (as opposed to 24/7, he wants people to get six hours sleep) urban neighborhood.

5. Playing the social media card, Vinik wants his project to be influenced by community input captured on an exclusive "crowdsourcing" website. Go to www.tampawaterfront2020.com to offer project ideas.

Can Vinik make it all happen? Says the Lightning owner: "I am an analyst by training, so I like not to drink the Kool-Aid."

Truth is, we are years away from an answer to that question. Look for Channelside dirt to start moving next summer and cranes to appear in a year.

Few players in this market can boast the vision, drive and muscle to pull this off. Vinik's clearly one of them.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay,

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