Tampa hockey team owner emerges as leading developer

Jeffrey Vinik and the investment firm of Bill Gates allied to redevelop 50 acres of downtown Tampa

Jeffrey Vinik
Jeffrey Vinik

Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lighting professional hockey team, also has emerged as a leading Tampa developer as he pursues a $3 billion real estate project with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The downtown waterfront redevelopment project would produce the first new downtown office towers in almost 25 years and 3,500 residential units for sale or rent, almost doubling the number of residences in downtown Tampa.

A former executive of the Tampa Bay Lighting served as a go-between who helped Vinik connect with  Gates’ investment firm, Cascade Investments, LLC. Now, they’re in a joint venture called Strategic Property Partners (SPP) to build a mixed-use, multi-phase redevelopment called Water Street Tampa on 50 acres of the city’s downtown waterfront.

Vinik was a successful hedge fund manager before he became an National Hockey League owner. A lifetime hockey fan, Vinik seriously considered buying at least 10 NHL teams, including the Florida Panthers, which plays in an isolated arena near the Everglades. Vinik was drawn to the Tampa Bay Lightning because of their publicly owned downtown arena close to the city’s waterfront.

Along with the team, Vinik bought two parking lots on either side of the arena, a total of 5.5 acres. He subsequently spent almost $600 million to assemble another 40 acres nearby, mostly contiguous parcels.

The Lightning owner then decided to find a partner to develop his property into an integrated mix of waterfront developments. So, he turned to Tod Leiweke, a former CEO of the Tampa Bay Lighting who now serves as chief operating officer of the National Football League (NFL).

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The career path of Leiweke passed through the Seattle area, the home of Microsoft’s headquarters. He had been CEO of the NFL football team in Seattle, the Seahawks, and became acquainted with several Microsoft executives, among them Michael Larson, a Cascade manager who gets credit for building Gates’ personal net worth.

Vinik recalled from meeting Larson that Cascade Investments wanted to increase its investment in real estate.

Their meeting led to the formation of SPP. The joint venture of Vinik and Cascade is now pursuing the development of 40 acres around the hockey arena plus other property, including the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. SPP paid $150 million for the hotel and plans to renovate the 719-room property at a waterfront location between the hockey arena and the Tampa Convention Center.

SPP also has acquired Channelside Bay Plaza a 230,000-square-foot waterfront shopping mall near the hockey arena that Vinik-Cascade venture plans to rip down and replace as part of its waterfront master plan.

The first phase of vertical construction at the Water Street Tampa site is expected to start in fall and finish in 2020. The entire, multi-phase project includes more than four million square feet of office, residential, hospitality, retail and cultural space and would be done by 2027.

In addition, SPP donated an acre of the Water Street Tampa property to the University of South Florida for construction of a 380,000-square-foot facility for the university’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. Construction is scheduled to start in August and to conclude in the fall of 2019. [Politico.com] Mike Seemuth