Feb 8, 2021 - News
Jeff Vinik has completely transformed downtown Tampa
Illustration of a construction crane with palm tree leaves on top of it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In the last half-decade, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has built, essentially, another downtown Tampa. And it's being unveiled, piece by piece, as Tampa takes the national stage.

Why it matters: Not since V.M. Ybor turned 40 acres of scrub pine into a booming cigar industry in the 1880s and Henry Plant opened his Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891 has a private developer done more to reshape Tampa's downtown skyline.

Driving the news: The Tampa Bay Bucs playing at home in Super Bowl LV and the recent Stanley Cup win for Vinik's hockey team have dovetailed with the opening of major portions of his $3.5 billion Water Street development, giving Vinik a chance to showcase the breadth of the project.

  • He talked to Axios about the potential he saw in early trips to Tampa, why he chose to make a home here, and why Tampa is on the cusp of remarkable growth.
  • "I’m a little part of it, but there's so much more to it than one guy," Vinik said.

The 56-acre development, from Vinik's Strategic Property Partners with Cascade Investment, boasts: 

  • 1 million square feet of new office space, including the city’s first office towers in over 25 years.
  • 1 million square feet of new retail and cultural spaces.
  • 3,500 new rental and for-sale residences.
  • 692 new and 727 renovated hotel rooms, including the city’s first five-star hotel, The Tampa EDITION.
  • Sparkman Wharf, a waterfront destination with dining, event lawn, retail and offices.
  • The University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a 330,000-square-foot facility on land donated by SPP.

Vinik, 61, remembers flying into Tampa a few times years ago — for a round of golf, for instance, and to watch Super Bowl XXV in 1991 — but it wasn't until the man who made his fortune in investment management started looking to buy a hockey team in 2009 that he discovered Tampa's potential.

  • "It's where I could see myself living," he said, citing the great weather, natural beauty, and welcoming business community.
  • He was not planning a massive real-estate development when he bought the Lightning, but noticed the potential of contiguous vacant land around Amalie Arena and its connection to the waterfront.
  • He and his partners designed the development with pedestrianism in mind. Water Street is heavy on public spaces, wide sidewalks, and amenities like water bottle filling stations.

But, but, but: He said the major challenge Tampa faces is a better public transportation system.

  • "A big-league city needs public transportation. We have to do a better job of moving people around."
  • He added that Tampa Bay needs to bolster its entrepreneurial workforce and rebrand the region.
  • "And I think with the population increasing, we have a tremendous tailwind for strong economic growth," he said.

What they're saying: "No single private sector individual has had the impact that Jeff has," former Mayor Bob Buckhorn tells Axios.

  • "And unlike publicly owned facilities ... his project throws off millions of dollars in property tax revenue that can then be reinvested in other projects downtown."

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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