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'New urbanism' advocate Jeff Speck joining Jeff Vinik's redevelopment team

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has added a big-time name to his team — but not to boost his hockey franchise's playoff fortunes.

Jeff Speck is a city planner, author, TED talker and one of the nation's leading proponents of "new urbanism," the movement to build walkable urban neighborhoods for people to live and work in.

He's also the newest member of the group Vinik has assembled to design and build his $1 billion redevelopment of downtown Tampa's waterfront.

"This is a way to accelerate the plan and make sure we have an absolute thought leader to help us deliver the best waterfront district possible," said Bob Abberger, the managing director of Vinik's real estate arm Strategic Property Partners.

Speck will join Team Vinik as a consultant and is expected to start work in Tampa on Monday.

Abberger dropped Speck's name at the Tampa Downtown Partnership's annual development forum on Friday morning.

"There were a few people in the audience who spontaneously applauded when his name was announced," said Brian Willis, who founded the Hillsborough County transit advocate Connect Tampa Bay. "He's a bit of a rock star in the world of urban planning."

When Speck's not working as a city planner, he advocates against suburban sprawl and for "smart and sustainable growth" in articles, books and lectures.

His influential book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time came out in 2012 and he later gave a TED talk on it.

Speck said via email that he'll talk more about the Vinik project next week, adding: "I will say that I am VERY excited to work on this important site."

Vinik read Speck's book over the holidays and liked it so much that he bought copies for his entire team and handed it out as a homework assignment.

Abberger spent 18 years running commercial real estate firm Trammell Crow Co. before joining Vinik's SPP last year. But he said he learned a lot from reading Speck's book.

"I'm good at going vertical, I'm good at going underground," Abberger said. "But what goes on the ground floor is hard.

"I think it helped me better understand how to put concepts into practice. It's easy to say you should have bike lanes everywhere and street parking everywhere and pedestrian setbacks everywhere, but guess what? You can't do it everywhere.

"It's a balancing act. You also have to have available parcels to do it on a districtwide basis and create great public spaces."

Vinik has said that's exactly his goal: to create a vibrant, walkable public space amid the 3 million square feet of new condos, hotels, restaurants and offices he wants to build along the urban waterfront.

Speck tweeted to the Tampa Bay Times that Vinik contacted him and that he visited the redevelopment site over the holidays and "fell in love with the site."

Staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

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