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Lightning owner Jeff Vinik pays $150 million for Tampa Marriott Waterside

Jeff Vinik has closed on a deal to buy the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The price was $150 million. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times
]
Published Oct. 3, 2014

TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's ownership group is paying $150 million to buy the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, making it the most expensive acquisition yet in his downtown real estate empire.

The price for the 719-room waterfront hotel is more than the $110 million that Vinik is believed to have paid for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the lease to the Amalie Arena in 2010.

Vinik's group closed the deal to buy the hotel Wednesday night. The paperwork detailing the price was filed Thursday.

That was also the day that another piece of Vinik's vision to remake the downtown waterfront fell into place: The Tampa City Council on Thursday unanimously approved his rezoning request to build a 400-room hotel across the street from the Marriott.

Vinik already controls much of the neighborhood: the arena, 24 empty acres and the Channelside Bay Plaza outdoor mall. But now, by owning the Marriott and a hotel to be named later, Vinik will also control more than 1,100 hotel rooms in the area.

It's all a part of the master plan that Team Vinik said will be unveiled by year's end.

"I think Jeff feels very, very good about it," Jac Sperling, one of Vinik's top advisers, said about the purchase. "He wouldn't do it if it wasn't a good business deal. But it's more than just a business deal. It's a key asset for the whole project."

Sperling is the financial adviser who helped Vinik buy the Lightning four years ago and has played a key role in helping Vinik assemble his downtown real estate portfolio.

He said Vinik has been trying to acquire the hotel for more than a year. That's long before billionaire Bill Gates' personal investment fund signed on last week to fund Vinik's vision to remake downtown. Gates' fund, Cascade Investment LLC, helped fund the purchase of the Marriott at 700 S Florida Ave. from HMC Hotel Development Corp.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn welcomed Vinik's pursuit of the Marriott from the start.

"For a lot of reasons, it makes sense for Jeff and for the city to have this happen," Buckhorn said.

The new hotel Vinik wants to build is expected to be about 25 stories tall. It would go up at the corner of S Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, on a 2.8-acre parking lot that Vinik owns just west of Amalie Arena.

The rezoning was needed to raise the height from the city's limit of 120 feet in the central business district to the 325 feet that Vinik and his development partners proposed. By comparison, the Marriott has 27 floors.

The Marriott opened in 2000 and has 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms. The new hotel could include 170,000 square feet of meeting space. Vinik's team plans to use that additional meeting space to fill both hotels.

"All the hotels downtown have been relying completely on the convention center for their space," Sperling said. "This building will add substantially to the amount of meeting space that will bring events that might not otherwise have been attracted to Tampa. That's a huge benefit."

Buckhorn said that with two big, high-end hotels side-by-side, "you can do joint marketing, you can do joint booking of events, you can book bigger events."

Sperling said Marriott will continue to run the waterfront hotel, but that Vinik's team is planning to make unspecified improvements to the hotel. He said they'll also look at trying to leverage events at the arena into more hotel bookings.

"Maybe when we're selling tickets to Tom Petty," Sperling said, "we should be also selling hotel rooms."

With tourism booming and revenues from the hotel bed tax setting records, Buckhorn said Wednesday that downtown Tampa is ready for Vinik's new hotel.

"It's needed. I think it will be successful," Buckhorn said. "I think the demand is there, and clearly this will be of benefit to the convention center."

Now that the hotel rezoning has been approved, Vinik's team can start negotiating with hotel brands. The mayor has made no secret of his desire to see his downtown land the bay area's first luxury five-star hotel, like a Ritz-Carlton. Vinik's hotel project has the living space that could attract such a high-end hotel brand: 50 penthouse apartments or condos.

At the request of Vinik's development team, the City Council waived several requirements to give hotel developers the flexibility they would need to shape the project to their brands. No "flag" has signed on yet, but groundbreaking could take place in 2016.

But hotels are just one part of Vinik's bid to transform downtown. There will also be room to live, work and play. It will all be part of a grander mosaic, Sperling said.

"We're not developing an office building," he said. "We're developing a district and it's really going to add a vitality to downtown, a vitality to Tampa.

"And it's going to be something the rest of the country is going to stand up and take note of, and perhaps attract people and businesses that would not otherwise have come here."

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji. Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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