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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Hotel appears to be part of Vinik’s development plan

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s initial plans for developing his massive Channel District land holdings appear to include a new hotel next to the Forum, public documents show.

Meantime, other documents suggest the team owner is considering major roadwork a few blocks away in the Channel District to allow for more real estate development and better traffic flow.

Vinik and his Colorado partners have been buying up swaths of land surrounding the Forum for more than two years. Today they own at least 21 acres stretching from Florida Avenue in the west to Meridian Avenue in the east. Vinik also has shown an interest in buying the struggling Channelside Bay Plaza shopping center.

What he’ll do with his land has become the most talked-about topic in downtown Tampa real estate. That intrigue only grew in September, when Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan acknowledged asking Vinik to consider a Tampa Bay Rays stadium on the property.

So far, Vinik has acknowledged that he’s studying how to develop the area, but kept any plans secret.

Documents filed with two public agencies, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, give some clues into his thinking.

A diagram sent to HART shows a proposed hotel on three acres of land owned by one of Vinik’s entities, Lightning Properties Ltd., at the corner of Florida Avenue and Old Water Street. Now used for parking, the land is west of the Forum and just north of the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel.

On Monday, Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett told the Tribune Vinik and his partners are considering asking the city to rezone the Old Water Street land to allow for a taller building. However, he wouldn’t say what that building might be.

On Tuesday, Wickett said he couldn’t comment when told that the Tribune had a diagram showing a proposed hotel on the site.

A few blocks away, Vinik and his partners appear to be contemplating some roadwork that could open up the Channel District’s streets.

Vinik and his partners own several large pieces of land along Cumberland Avenue, which is a bit north of the Forum. The roads there are little used because they dead-end at some CSX railroad tracks that bring trains to and from a nearby ConAgra flour mill plant. Those train tracks and the flour mill for years have prevented good traffic flow in the area.

In a letter to the expressway authority, Bob Abberger of the development firm Trammell Crow Co. proposes building a new rail crossing and extending Cumberland Avenue all the way to Meridian Avenue. In his letter, Abberger says he is working with the Lightning on a real estate venture.

On Tuesday, Abberger acknowledged chatting with the expressway authority. Extending Cumberland to Meridian would improve traffic circulation in that part of downtown, he said, but he declined further comment.

Getting the OK to extend the road would require an amendment to the expressway authority’s contract with ConAgra, said expressway authority general counsel Patrick Maguire.

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