Lightning owner Jeff Vinik tied to several property purchases around Channelside district

TAMPA - He presented a check for $50,000 to the Homeless Emergency Project in Clearwater Tuesday morning, but Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has helped write a lot of checks lately.

Over the last year or so, groups with ties to Vinik have purchased several vacant properties around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the most recent just a few weeks ago.

"It's our neighborhood and we want a vibrant downtown Tampa," Vinik said. "We care about everything that goes on in our neighborhood."

Admittedly, though, Vinik wants to protect his investments: the home of the Lightning and his bid to redevelop Channelside.

According to Port Authority insiders, that bid is closer than ever to striking a deal, one that might finalize by year's end with plans released to the public this fall.
 
"He's got a great team together," explained Port Authority Board Chairman Hoe Brown. "They've acquired a lot of different land around the area on it. They're very serious about it."

Serious enough that Vinik wants final say over any development nearby, including the land that borders a large ConAgra flour plant, just blocks from the Forum.

That plant, however, stands in the way of space needed for any plans that might include a baseball stadium, which has some wondering whether the Tampa Bay Rays will be Vinik's next target.
 
"This situation about putting them on the waterfront is just not a do-able deal," Brown said. "That would not work."

ConAgra is open to moving.

"ConAgra Mills is open to talking to city officials and others about the possibility of relocating our mill to another location in the Tampa area," said Communications Director Becky Niiya. "Regardless of where we're located in the Tampa community, we will continue doing business in the area to provide our customers with high quality whole grains and flour for many years to come."

When asked, Vinik told reporters Tuesday that he has no plans for any negotiations with ConAgra or the Rays.

"And frankly, this is the Rays business.  I think the world of Stu Sternberg and all the management over there," he said.  "The last thing I want to do is interfere with their process."

Vinik would only divulge that he aims to turn Channelside, and all of his new vacant properties, into a "world class facility."

Though, he vaguely defined what that means.

"A place where people want to go, where people want to spend money," Vinik said. "Best way to describe it is something we're all proud of."
 
Vinik cautioned that bay area residents shouldn't take their silence and seemingly slow movement as a sign of disinterest. In fact, quite the opposite.

"To do things in a world class manner takes time," he said. "Every transaction is more complicated."

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