Analysts at Morningstar, the mutual fund consulting firm in Chicago, are so dazzled by Jeff Vinik that they call him ''Amazin' Jeff.'' At 32 years of age, Mr. Vinik has a limited track record. Yet his performance to date is undeniably stellar. — New York Times, 1991.
The low-key guy once known as "Amazin' Jeff" Vinik bristles when people call his new and as-yet unbranded $1 billion redo of much of downtown Tampa's Channelside district ''Vinikville.''
"What should we call it?"
When Vinik briefs audiences, he already urges them to suggest a compelling brand to identify the project — lest the informal "Vinik" name take hold.
This mega-deal isn't about Vinik, he insists. It's about pole-vaulting a major, contiguous piece of the city's downtown and waterfront into a cutting-edge urban "live, work, play and stay" neighborhood worthy of national attention. It is about putting Tampa, at last, and to some extent the Tampa Bay area, on the radar of Corporate America.
But to do that, a self-effacing Vinik will need to dust off that high-powered image of 20-plus years ago when "Amazin' Jeff" so successfully ran the huge Fidelity Magellan Fund, then the flagship mutual fund of Boston's huge Fidelity Investments.
It is that respected Vinik track record, the unique size and breadth of the Channelside vision, and the rising trend of people seeking quality downtown living experiences that convinced Cascade Investment, the investing arm for Bill Gates' money, to back this project.
Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning for nearly five years and now one of this area's most vocal fans, on Wednesday unveiled his plan to transform a 40-acre stew of waterfront land, surface parking lots and tourist sites surrounding the Amalie Arena (where the Lightning plays) into a carefully crafted, mixed-use urban neighborhood.
In the process, Vinik and his team are working hand in hand with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and area economic developers to lift the image of downtown Tampa, and the entire Tampa Bay area.
Look for Vinik, 55, to travel extensively to Boston, New York and other cities in search of a name corporation willing to relocate its headquarters to anchor his project and trigger the construction of one of several corporate towers in the heart of the project. Will a health care company relocate so that its executives are adjacent to a new medical school complex? USF's Morsani College of Medicine and its Health Heart Institute are expected to relocate from USF's main campus.
Or perhaps Vinik will leverage his Wall Street connections to lure a financial firm headquarters? The project estimates wages from the jobs created will average a hefty $78,000, so clearly Vinik is aiming high.
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"I have lots of connections," Vinik says, but cautions "there will be ups and downs" with any project of this magnitude. "We may need to talk to 20 companies before we get one."
"I am excited," he told one economic development group Thursday. "I've gotten good feedback." Now his goal is to start pushing the project beyond the regional media and pitch it as a national story, one businesses everywhere can consider.
So far, national attention to Vinik's announcement has been modest. CNNMoney reported on Vinik's latest plans with the headline The rock star manager who reinvents himself and this first sentence: "Jeff Vinik is a hard person to describe in one line." No kidding.
But by Friday, neither the Wall Street Journal nor the New York Times had yet to mention Vinik's project.
Why, one local business leader asked Vinik, is landing the "first" headquarters so important? Getting the first will be a "game changer" on the same level as landing the relocation of the USF's medical school, he said.
Vinik will work closely with Gray Swoope, CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state's job-recruiting arm, as well as the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
"Our sole mission is selling Florida from a business perspective," Swoope said at Wednesday's unveiling of the Vinik project. "This gives us another competitive product to talk about to a headquarters company."
EDC CEO Rick Homans calls the first headquarters to commit to Vinik's project a "unique sales opportunity." That relocation will come with a "certain package of incentives and branding" that subsequent headquarters relocations will not get, he said.
Bottom line? First come, first served.
In the end it may be Vinik's "nice guy" personality that wins the day for this Tampa project. People like him. Smart people gravitate to him.
It's been documented before, as it was in this 1995 New York Times article:
"In an industry where self-effacement is virtually unknown and brashness is coveted, Mr. Vinik is an anomaly," said (CEO Don) Phillips of Morningstar. "I think of him as the Tom Hanks of money management," he said. "He displays a willingness to help investors, and he's genuinely a nice guy."
Twenty years later, let's see what Amazin' Jeff can deliver.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.