TAMPA — Next month, $35 million worth of infrastructure and roadway construction will begin on the project that will transform downtown Tampa. Roads will be extended, sidewalks widened and more on-street parking will be added.
But the $2 billion real estate development, which was launched by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and has been in the planning stages for five-plus years, still lacks an essential ingredient.
Without that, people and news reports have resorted to calling it the "Jeff Vinik project." That has led to complaints that his name alone doesn't reflect the partnership behind the project: Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates' Cascade Investment firm, which have formed the project's developer Strategic Property Partners.
But branding experts say a name for the project would solve that problem and give it a greater sense of identity.
"How do you Google it? Without a name it means every and any bit of information related to the project is scattered. A name brings it all together," said Stephanie Darden, president at Prismatic in Orlando, a branding and marketing firm that specializes in real estate development. "A name is hyper-critical to everything and anything that's going to happen next."
Officials with Strategic Property Partners offered little insight into when they will announce a name.
"SPP believes that the project — what it is, the experiences that happen here, the community it creates — should dictate the brand, not the other way around," said Ali Glisson, vice president of marketing and communications at SPP.
She said that the name will come along as the rest of the project does and that SPP "wants to be thoughtful about the brand and identity of the project."
Vinik has referred to the project as the "Waterfront District" in the past. Renderings and early blueprints from December 2014 called the 40-acre site "The Waterfront." But neither name has ever been used to describe the project in a formal way. It probably won't be named after the neighboring Channel District. And Channelside's Bay Plaza, which Vinik also owns, will probably get a new name, too.
"We'll come up with a name for it," Vinik said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this week. "We've already had discussion with naming the district and it'll happen at the appropriate time. We've been slow on that, but let's get the experts' feel for the district before we jump in."
The thirst for a name for the project is nothing new. In January 2015, the Tampa Bay Times polled readers for suggestions on what to name Vinik's project. Among the suggestions were Waterside and SoDo (for South of Downtown).
"They're being very generic with how they refer to the project now, which means the media is driving the local vernacular for what it's called," Darden said.
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That has caused some confusion. SPP oversees the development of the entire 40 acres of Tampa's urban core. But there are a number of affiliate LLCs and holding corporations under the SPP umbrella.
While many news reports have referred to the downtown Tampa development as the Vinik project, "Vinik-Ville" was in style back in 2014, but was quickly snubbed because Vinik didn't like it. More recently it has been called the "Vinik-Cascade project," noting the two major owners involved. But officials with Cascade have never spoken publicly about the project and their offices are at the opposite end of the country in Seattle.
Other Tampa Bay developments have named their projects far earlier in the process.
Soho Capital developers announced plans to redevelop the 43-acre Armature Works waterfront property last month with a name, a logo and lots of images that helped give the property a sense of place even though work had yet to begin. The Heights is a mixed-use waterfront property just north of downtown Tampa near Water Works Park and Ulele. The project will begin construction on an apartment building and unique events and food hall inside the former trolley barn this summer.
Encore, a $425 million project of mixed public-private housing, had a name and entire theme for the 40-acre development before construction began in 2011. The main street is named Ray Charles Boulevard, one of many tributes to the long-standing African-American communities that once thrived there. It's where the Cotton Club once stood and jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performed in the 1940s.
After five years of talking about Vinik's big plans, it's no wonder residents are eager to know more.
"There's a certain level of uncomfortableness we have as consumers. We're ready for more details and a name now. But it's a very complex project that goes way beyond what the typical consumer can understand," said Nancy Walker with Tampa-based Walker Brands, a marketing agency that has developed brand strategies for companies such as Disney and Lennar. "The goal is to have some stickiness to it. It's more memorable if the developer can show how this name relates back to the whole vision of the project."
SPP is charged with turning Tampa's urban core into a walkable and sustainable downtown for residents to live, work and play. Certainly, developers are busy trying to lure a Fortune 500 company headquarters or major regional office. They're still trying to nail down the operator of a second 400-room hotel that will be built downtown to complement the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which Vinik already owns. And they want to land an urban supermarket, too. In between securing those pivotal tenants, SPP real estate developers will build condos, apartments, office space, parks, restaurants and storefronts.
"Our hotel endeavors are still intact. We still plan to put a hotel on the west lot as we've been talking about. We've been deliberate because we want to make good decisions," Vinik said. "But we're getting there. And on office tenants I would say the same thing. We have some very exciting prospects. We're talking to major companies here with major operations in Tampa, or to bring major operations to Tampa, and we think that'll play out real well over the coming months."
As those plans progress, there are a couple of reasons why SPP could be holding out on a name.
"They could be leveraging a potential sponsor for the name of the development like you see with partnerships on sporting arenas or sports districts," Darden said. "There are advantages to keeping it internal. That way they control the timeline of it and keep stakeholders appeased and engaged in the process before announcements are made. It just comes down to how much control they're willing to relinquish and how transparent they want to be."
But Darden says there is benefit to working with the community to come up with a name, too.
"It's a magical opportunity to engage the community early on and get them behind the project by asking their input," Darden said. "There's also value in releasing it early and building upon the sentiment of the people who want to be a part of this place. They will help build a brand for you."
Times arts and entertainment editor Stephanie Hayes contributed to this report. Contact Justine Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.