Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik is “seven figures” into cosmetic upgrades of Channelside Bay Plaza — and within months of finalizing a long-term plan for the beleaguered waterfront mall.
Vinik won the ground lease to the property on Aug. 19 and tapped commercial real estate firm Franklin Street and Tampa developer Anthony Everett to take the lead on renovating the plaza. Franklin Street CEO Andrew Wright said the group is working with Alfonso Architects in Tampa on a design for the property that could be finalized within 45 days.
Executives of Vinik’s real estate company, Strategic Property Partners, have said the plan is to connect the plaza to the waterfront and the billion-dollar mixed-use district he is planning on the land he owns between Amalie Arena and downtown Tampa. There’s talk of demolishing the southwest wing of the plaza, behind the recently opened Hablo Taco, and Wright said that would be a way to open the property up to the water.
If the property is successfully renovated and incorporated into the district, it could be a signature gathering place for Tampa and create a positive impression on tourists who depart the from the adjacent Port Tampa Bay Cruise Terminals.
The plan will have to win the approval of Port Tampa Bay, which owns the ground the mall is built on.
“We’re not planning on rebuilding the southwest wing — it would be converted into open, public-event type space,” Wright said. “Other successful entertainment venues offer a place for people to congregate and be outside.”
In the mean time, Wright said, Vinik has spent “over seven figures” stabilizing the property — pressure washing and painting the building, upgrading the public restrooms, hiring a full-time event planner as well as a full-time property manager, changing security companies for one with a more “customer-oriented” approach and adding a bike rack.
The team has also signed a new tenant, Mexican restaurant Hablo Taco, which opened in early February.
“You’ve gotta crawl before you can walk,” Wright said. “We have to make it a destination for the people already there, make it a place residents of Channelside, Harbour Island and downtown can come for lunch.”
There’s a palpable change in the atmosphere at the property since Vinik took over, the general manager of the Hooters restaurant there said.
“The vibe is coming back down there,” said Rob Fisher. “The important thing is the vibe is not only there on game days, but on off days when there isn’t anything going on at the arena.”
Fisher declined to share any numbers or percentages but said Hooters has “absolutely seen an increase in business and traffic” since Vinik took over the property.
“As soon as the deal was sealed, immediately, the positive ball started rolling,” Fisher said.