By JOE SULLIVAN
Major changes are in store for downtown Tampa if Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lighting, has anything to do with it. He possesses approximately 50 acres surrounding Amalie Arena on the southern edge of downtown Tampa. With support from Cascade Investment, chaired by billionaire Bill Gates, Vinik is devoting more than two billion dollars into the area.
Channelside Bay Plaza, which Mr. Vinik owns, has struggled financially for years. The plaza is a 30-minute walk or a 7-minute drive from campus, and currently houses a few restaurants and businesses such as Hooters, a cigar lounge, and Coldstone Creamery. Vinik’s plans call for it to be demolished, with a park, office, retail and residential units to go in its place. His proposal has more shops, restaurants, and businesses to be constructed across from Amalie Arena, where Ferg’s Live Bar and parking lots are located. His pitch does not yet include which tenants will be invited to these new buildings.
The theme behind Vinik’s plan is creating a downtown area that allows Tampa residents to live, work and play all in the same neighborhood. Vinik wants downtown to be a walkable neighborhood where people will be able to live without depending on a car. Tampa City Council also approved spending on electric shuttles in April connecting all parts of downtown, including UT’s campus.
Downtowner, the shuttle service, is an app-based service, similar to Uber and Lyft, with each shuttle accommodating up to five passengers. The service is expected to be free, and will operate seven days a week. Still, for many young adults, downtown Tampa is too expensive to live in.
Leah Bellio, a recent UT graduate, said she would definitely move to downtown Tampa if it were less expensive. Bellio, who currently works for the Lightning in their retail store, spends a lot of her time downtown. After working a long day, she frequently dines and spends time with friends in the area.
“I think making downtown more fun with new restaurants and places to hang out is such a good idea,” Bellio said. “It’s going to bring more people downtown and make business boom.”
James McNelis, a senior economics major, plans to stay in Tampa following his graduation in May 2017.
“The biggest problem is there is no way for UT and the rest of the Tampa Bay to communicate to Vinik exactly what we want to see built,” McNelis said. “Mr. Vinik has tremendous ideas, but many Spartans and I will be the ones spending our free time at this new district in years to come, so I want to make sure what he builds is something I will use.”
Vinik’s plan calls for hundreds of residential units, so students hope he will build inexpensive apartments to accommodate young working adults and UT students looking to live off campus. By making his district walkable, it will allows residents to take advantage of the entertainment, dining, and shopping options to come.