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Jeff Vinik plans to clear the rooftops of his Tampa development by going underground

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment plan $2 billion worth of projects on 40 acres in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment plan $2 billion worth of projects on 40 acres in Tampa.
Published Jul. 14, 2016

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wants to have bars, restaurants and dog parks on rooftops in downtown Tampa.

The first steps to achieve that will happen underground.

Tampa's City Council will discuss at its regular meeting today whether to approve an agreement with Strategic Property Partners to lay pipes under downtown roads and begin constructing a chilled water distribution plant. The central cooling plant will be used to provide air conditioning to dozens of buildings that will come online as part of a $2 billion overhaul of 40 acres in Tampa's urban core.

SPP, the real estate company owned by Vinik and capital investment firm Cascade Investments LLC, will begin $35 million worth of road work construction next month that tentatively includes the chilled water plant, a key part of Vinik's vision for a walkable, sustainable urban district designed to make those who live and work there more healthy.

"It is the wise choice to provide AC to any large area being developed at once, because it saves energy, is more sustainable and frees up building roofs for other uses," said Jeff Speck, a city planner and acclaimed "new urbanism" advocate who helped design the plans for Tampa's redevelopment.

This central cooling plant will house 20 to 25 water chillers at a distribution center that will be built at the northwest corner of E Cumberland and S Nebraska avenues. Cold water will run to buildings including the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a new hotel and Amalie Arena, through a series of underground pipes and will be used to control temperatures inside.

"Our goal is use this distribution center to cool the entire project, including USF and Amalie, which we do not own," said Courtland Corbino, vice president of development for SPP. "The underground piping will allow us to connect to existing downtown buildings and new ones we develop at any time once we lay this framework."

This system frees up the rooftops, which are usually obstructed by traditional air conditioning units. That means rooftop spaces could become parking garages with solar panels on top, or parks, or even restaurants, Corbino said.

SPP will construct, maintain and operate the chilled water plant. The city is considering a 30-year agreement that would require SPP to pay a fee based on how much pipe it lays. If SPP decides to sell chilled water services to other developments, the city will get a cut of the revenues.

The new cooling system will be installed by Tampa Bay Trane, a local air conditioning company that has installed other plants in the area. The cooling plant design is in line with Vinik's vision for a health- and wellness-centric district for Tampa. The central cooling plant will use 30 to 40 percent less energy and water than more typical units used to cool buildings. Because it's more efficient, it will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Chilled plants cool water to 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and then pump it throughout a building that is connected to air handlers.

Florida has more than 30 cooling plants in operation, including a few in the Tampa Bay area. A $14 million chilled water plant was built in Clearwater in 2014, which was billed as saving Pinellas County $4 million in operating costs and repairs on traditional air conditioning units. Another one in Ybor City provides water to Hillsborough Community College and Ybor Square.

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SPP announced a partnership with Delos, a New York-based real estate company that develops health and wellness strategies into its projects, in September. Vinik said an estimated $20 million in public and private funds will be invested in health- and wellness-focused design for the district. Earlier this summer, the Tampa Marriott Waterside unveiled a new "Stay Well" program, which dedicated an entire floor of rooms to include Delos amenities such as air purifiers, "circadian rhythm" lighting, aromatherapy and showers with Vitamin C in the water.

Vinik's plan also calls for a new 400- to 500-room luxury hotel, a 650,000-square-foot office tower and more than 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will be built in downtown Tampa, as will an adjacent office building to house health-related businesses.

The roadway construction, headed by Tampa-based Kimmins Contracting Corp., is the first step of many to come in Vinik's plans to transform Tampa's downtown into a walkable community. A formal name for the project hasn't been announced yet.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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