Once upon a time in Boston, there was Jeff Vinik and then there was every other money manager.
Vinik was probably the most famous mutual fund manager in the world when he ran Fidelity Magellan in the 1990s, the largest fund anywhere at the time. Later, he moved down the street from Fidelity to start his own big, widely followed hedge fund. It was known for the aggressive trading style of its manager.
And then he left. For Tampa. Yes, Tampa, Fla.
Vinik, a guy who lived and breathed the stock market his entire adult life, turned off the lights in his Boston office and became the owner of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010. But that’s only the beginning of the story, which is about a lot more than hockey.
Economists will tell you the recession was over by 2010, but we all know better. Vinik said there may have been as many as 10 NHL teams available for purchase when he bought the Lightning. Another kind of asset that was available and priced to move: Florida real estate.
Vinik soon began acquiring property surrounding Amalie Arena, where his hockey team plays. The area, once industrial, is mostly a collection of parking lots now. But it’s all downtown waterfront property, and Vinik has big plans for a 30-acre block he assembled piece by piece. (He actually controls about 40 acres.)
A few weeks ago, Vinik formally presented his billion-dollar ambition for the area: a corporate headquarters, hotels, an entertainment complex, retail space, a medical school, and residences. He calls it an “18-7” community, which means a place that goes 18 hours a day, seven days a week. All together, it’s about 3 million square feet and could easily take a decade to build out.
“The entire business and political leadership of Tampa Bay crammed into a big event room to see and hear him unveil his vision for the downtown of Tampa,” said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.
That included Tampa’s very enthusiastic mayor, Bob Buckhorn.
“Jeff really has a landscape to work with that is unlike any other development project in the East,” he said. “A guy like Jeff, with his credibility and commitment, can be a catalyst for an amazing amount of change.”
This is a major deal in a city that hasn’t built an office tower in 22 years. It’s no understatement to say Jeff Vinik has become the toast of Tampa.
Vinik, 55, will tell you that all of this started about six years ago. He was talking with a friend one day about the future and how he didn’t see himself spending his days playing golf. The idea of buying a hockey team jelled. Vinik can’t even skate, but he has been a passionate hockey fan since his days growing up in New Jersey and New York City. His mind was made up.
“It was a very hard decision, and I really do miss the markets,” Vinik said. “But I had the opportunity to reinvent myself and become a sports team owner. That has evolved into buying a lot of land and now becoming a real estate developer. I had no idea I was going to move in this direction, but the last five years has been the most fun in my life.”
Vinik bought the Lightning for a reported $110 million and said he spent another $60 million to improve the arena. He moved to Florida and, in his first marketing challenge, persuaded his wife to leave Massachusetts.
Real estate opportunities around the arena quickly appeared. “I recognized that this was a historic opportunity to accumulate downtown property at reasonable valuations, less than half of what they had been priced at in the previous boom,” he said.
The thought at the time: The land would be worth a lot more in the future and, perhaps, parcels could be assembled and developed into something special.
Besides the raw land, Vinik also bought the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, next to the arena, for $150 million. He bid more than $7 million in a bankruptcy auction to take over the troubled Channelside Bay Plaza, which he hopes to restore as a food and entertainment destination in the style of the giant L.A. Live near the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Vinik has also offered to give an acre of his property to the University of South Florida so it can move its medical school into a new building. (Another donor has pledged $20 million help construct it.)
But a key element of the plan depends on Vinik convincing a company — ideally a Fortune 500 company — that it should relocate its headquarters to the area. He has plenty of land for a build-to-suit corporate campus, and he’s ready to deal.
Mention this part of the plan and Vinik will launch into his pitch about business-friendly Florida and the great quality of life in Tampa. “It’s not fully appreciated by others,” he said. “I’m going to spend a lot of my 2015 trying to spread that message.”
Vinik still maintains a few connections to his old life. He continues to trade his own investment account, he said, but only a little. He has held onto his limited-partnership interest in the Red Sox.
But otherwise, Jeff Vinik is a reinvented man with a new life. He’s the toast of Tampa. And he has a real estate deal to tell you about.