December 17th, this Wednesday, is a big day for Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke and a wide cast of characters that aren't in the spotlight very often (if at all). It's not going to be Sportscenter-worthy stuff, it's not going to be totally sexy in a day-to-day Tampa Bay sports fans life, but it's a very big day.
You've seen the articles by now, haven't you? I'm pretty sure you caught the Channelside Bay Plaza drama over the summer, or maybe you've seen those little articles that popped up over the last few years about Vinik and real estate partners snatching up land in Tampa's Channel District - the neighborhood surrounding Amalie Arena. You know what that property is at the moment: barren lots that you've parked on when attending games or concerts or other major events, and derelict buildings that were once Newk's and other notable-yet-failed establishments. The imposing Marriott Waterside Hotel that looms along the Garrison Channel across the street from the Amalie - that belongs to Vinik now too. Ultimately approximately 29 acres of urban property are now under his control.
Wednesday we get substance instead of speculative musing from the media. Wednesday we get something tangible and not something wishful dreamed of.
At this point, I must ask you to ditch the Tampa Bay Rays from the narrative. It's (a lot more than likely) not a baseball stadium that's part of the plan.
Jeff Vinik has spoiled Tampa and Tampa Bay in a lot of ways; he's been very philanthropic through his hockey team's charitable foundation as well as privately. He's spent his own money renovating and upgrading the home venue of his hockey team instead of begging county commissioners and city council members for cash like most other sports owners do when they need as little as a light bulb changed at their publicly financed sports venue. Then there's the Lightning itself and its transformation since Vinik took over in March 2010: A franchise on the verge of financial collapse with thanks to previous-owners crassness. The club is now built for long-term success and has the standard of being the most competitive pro-sports team in Tampa Bay, if not Florida in general.
The Lightning are his baby now, and Vinik's intentions are to make his baby a key part of this community. Vinik's intentions are not to be a sports panacea for the region, though; he's in this for his own interests first and those interests likely start with his personal life, his bank account and getting value from his holdings.
His holdings do not include the holdings of Stuart Sterberg.
There's a lot of drama I don't want to get into with the Tampa Bay Rays, like how Tropicana Field got built to begin with and the struggles to replace the venue that was obsolete the day it opened in general and specifically for its purpose of hosting Major League Baseball. If you do want back story, I highly recommend Bob Andelman's out-of-print book (available in PDF format for your eReader) "Stadium for Rent". If you want politics and debate on a new stadium at current, that's Draysbay's territory and I don't want to trample on it more than I have to.
What I have to say on the matter is no. I don't say this as an anti-baseball position nor do I say it because I'd want the Rays to relocate outside Tampa Bay. I'm saying it from an urban design standpoint and from the basic notion that Jeff Vinik didn't assemble nearly 30 acres of prime downtown real estate at great costs to prop up the business ledger of Stu Sternberg. Vinik's development ideas would not draw in investment from Bill Gates (you know the guy, you hate his software but are influenced by it daily in one fashion or another) if it was just a baseball stadium in the plans.
How does a ballpark bring profit to a hockey franchise?
That's the thing, folks, this is on-the-record intentions with this development. Tod Leiweke opened up to business reporters back in late September and stated as much - luring business, education, entertainment and boosting the Lightning's bottom line is part of the plan. How does a baseball team in such close proximity, owned by someone else, boost the Lightning?
It doesn't. There may be a bromance in social media and appearances through traditional media channels, but the Rays and the Lightning are two competing businesses that try to draw advertising money and fan investment in a market with limited disposable income. Helping the Rays helps Tampa Bay in general but doesn't directly aid the Lightning with their own bottom line.
There's also the little logistics problem of size - while 30 acres is a lot of property, building a ballpark on it basically erases everything that's been acquired (and talked about by Leiweke). Vinik's already in agreement to donate some of that property to the University of South Florida to construct a new medical school.
Vinik and Co's holdings are around 1.2 million square feet of land. By comparison, Tropicana Field's footprint is 1.1 million square feet. Miller Park in Milwaukee (a sought-after retractable roof stadium design) is 1.2 million square feet, though the relatively new Marlins Park in Miami is under a million square feet.
Another relatively simple logistics issue is retail; local residents living in Channelside or on Harbor Island and elsewhere downtown, they want shopping options that a stadium doesn't provide. Have you ever heard of a stadium with a grocery store?
Vinik's filed plans fix the street grid while a ballpark erases the street grid entirely. That should give you an idea of intent here.
Then there's the finances of giving the Rays a stake in income from the building and parking receipts and la-de-da and all the political stuff that gets washed away by the overly-simple solution to a complex problem (Rays need a new stadium in a better location, Rays need property, Vinik has prime property, score!) It's never that simple.
This rant has already run longer than I intended so I'll just cut it short and ask people to wash away the mused-on location of a stadium in Channelside. It's not Vinik's intent. He hasn't invested as much time and money in plans if baseball was the intent.That's going to be solved elsewhere in the Bay area, not in Vinikville. That's Lightning property.