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Vinik seeks rezoning for Channel District hotel

Jeff Vinik is officially getting into the hotel business, or at least the hotel development business.

The owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and an increasingly active developer in the area, filed a rezoning request with the city of Tampa to build a 400-room hotel complex in the downtown Channel District.

The location is a spot commonly known as the “West Lot,” across Old Water Street from the Tampa Marriott Waterside and across Morgan Street from the Forum, the arena where Vinik’s hockey team plays.

“This is the first step in a long journey,” Lightning Chief Executive Officer Tod Leiweke said. “We have a lot of work to do, and this application is just the start.”

The architectural rendering filed with the city is merely a “massing” design to give city decision-makers and partners a sense of scale. The budget isn’t set in stone — or public — yet, but Leiweke said Vinik would not have moved forward with this step if he wasn’t confident the financial markets would give their support.

Even the 400-room figure is a starting point, and a hotel brand hasn’t been selected. However, Leiweke said Vinik is serious about the project.

“I think you’ve seen that since Jeff bought the team that he’s not a guy to let grass grow under his feet,” Leiweke said.

Such a move has been the buzz of real estate circles for months, particularly as developers in the area have been negotiating with various city, state and transportation officials for zoning and other changes to the property.

TrammellCrow Co., which developed the Tampa Marriott Waterside, is a partner with Vinik on the hotel proposal. On Thursday, TrammellCrow filed zoning maps, traffic studies and preliminary architectural renderings with the city for review and approval.

Though still just a zoning request, some of the documents contain details of the plan. The complex would contain 400 guest rooms, 50 residential units and 45,000 square feet of retail space. (Parking would likely be provided by the adjacent “South” garage also used by the Forum.)

Though preliminary, the plan fits into the overall vision Vinik has described for the Channel District, where he has been taking ownership stakes in property near the arena or partnering with other landowners in the area.

Vinik was also a one-time bidder on the still-struggling Channelside retail and restaurant complex owned by Port Tampa Bay, though he has taken a step back from that pursuit while other developers interested in the property litigate over the space.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others have long hoped Vinik or another developer would take charge and redevelop the neighborhood, potentially opening the way for a baseball stadium to court the Tampa Bay Rays from St. Petersburg. Asked about those stadium hopes, Leiweke said, “today is about focusing on this ‘West Lot’ ... but we are bullish not just on Tampa but the whole Tampa Bay area.”

Thursday, Buckhorn said a new hotel with several large ballrooms could take some of the pressure off space at the Tampa Convention Center, and he praised Vinik’s move. “Him moving forward with this decision really sends a great signal to the markets,” Buckhorn said. “We’re on the verge of creating an entire entertainment district there.”

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