New Vinik plan gives downtown Tampa a walkable urban hub, like most cities already have

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The room, a ballroom at the Marriott Waterside in downtown Tampa, was packed with the city's elite; so crowded it was hard to move once Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hit the stage on Wednesday.

Buckhorn was introducing Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, whose recent purchase of roughly 24 acres in the area surrounding the Amalie Arena — where his team plays — set off a chain reaction of speculation as to what he might be up to. Vinik was about to unveil his plan for the area.

"This is a city that's on the move," Buckhorn said. "This is a city that believes in itself. This is a city that has the capacity to do amazing things if we recognize that we are all in this together... we are on the precipice of something absolutely amazing that is about to occur."

Contrary to past speculation, Vinik's plan didn't include a baseball stadium for the Rays. ("This is bigger than baseball," Buckhorn said.)

Instead, what Vinik unveiled was a billion-dollar, mixed-use mega-development aimed at attracting millennials and active Baby Boomers.
"What we're talking about, we believe, will be a game-changer for the city of Tampa and for the entire Tampa Bay region," Vinik said.

The "vision plan" Vinik and others in his company, Strategic Property Partners, LLC described as a "world-class, mixed-use, waterfront district downtown," included a broad range of types of developments.

Key aspects of the plan, though little is set in stone, are hotels (Vinik bought the Marriott Waterside earlier this year), over a million square feet of office space, about 600,000 square feet of residential space, retail, dining and nightlife. The amount of parking spots will double from 5,000 to 10,000, Vinik said, primarily through parking garages.

The Channelside Bay Plaza will likely stay mostly intact, though the complex's southwest wall would likely be demolished to give more access to the Hillsborough River waterfront, something the developers said was a focal point for the project.

While many renderings and site maps were on display, little about the development is as-yet set in stone, other than Vinik's plan to build a 400-room hotel and a parking garage. University of South Florida Medical School has said it will also build a new facility within the district.

"Forgive us if we don't have everything nailed down yet, but we want to be flexible and we want to listen," Vinik said.

One thing Vinik and his colleagues did want to get into specifics on was their calculations of the development's economic impact. They said the project would create 3,700 jobs in Hillsborough County with an average salary of $78,000. All of the new residences and businesses would also generate some $32 million in annual tax revenue, they estimated.

He said the project could come to life within "five to seven, maybe ten years," and could break ground by next summer. 

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