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Jeff and Penny Vinik join Fairgrounds founder Liz Dimmitt as investors and partners

Bill DeYoung

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Liz Dimmitt. Photo by Bill DeYoung

With a large investment from philanthropists Jeff and Penny Vinik, Fairgrounds – the “immersive art experience” proposed for the Warehouse Arts District – took a giant stride towards build-out and eventual completion.

It had been baby steps up to that point, says Liz Dimmitt, founder and CEO of the project, which will be part of The Factory, a 90,000 square foot multi-use arts and cultural hub.

Last July, Dimmitt was seeking $1 million in investments.

On Friday, she announced that $3.7 million had been invested in Fairgrounds – “most of it,” she says, from the Viniks. Jeff Vinik owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and is a key player in the $3 billion downtown Tampa Water Street project.

Since that first capital raise announcement, “It was a reality check of cost and budget,” Dimmitt explains. “I learned how much things cost.

“Over the last year, we really worked on our design, and our plans and our budget. And understanding how to build out a 12,000-square-foot exhibition, plus we have office space and other things.”

Jeff and Penny Vinik. Photo: Vinik Family Foundation

Several of Dimmitt’s previous art events and projects have been produced in conjunction with Jeff and Penny Vinik, including The Beach Tampa (an immersive family experience at Amalie Arena) and Love is Calling, an “infinity room” by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Fairgrounds will focus on works of all sorts by Florida artists. It is, Dimmit says, an interactive, “totally artist-made environment” with different “adventures” to be taken. She has described it as “part playground, part art world, part theme park.”

The South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area Commercial Revitalization Program gave Fairgrounds a $100,000 kick-start grant in spring 2019.

The Viniks, Dimmitt explains, were never far from her thoughts.

“As the idea for Fairgrounds gestated in my mind, I kept them in the loop about it. And conversations became more serious in 2019. As I made formal moves and hired staff, and added real plans, I kept talking to them about it.”

At the tail end of last year, they began to discuss a partnership.

“It wasn’t an easy pitch,” Dimmitt explains, “because I really respect them, and they’re incredibly smart. And they know art in immersive experiences. I didn’t want to take it to them until I had something that I was really proud of. I worked really hard to get it to a level that I thought would be of interest, and was worthy of their review.”

In a press release, the investors shared their thoughts about Dimmitt’s vision for Fairgrounds, now penciled in for an early 2021 opening.

“We’ve worked with Liz for several years and have great confidence in her and her team to produce an engaging, innovative and fun new arts experience for Tampa Bay to enjoy,” Penny Vinik said.

Added Jeff Vinik: “Fairgrounds is gathering a diverse team of artists, technologists, entrepreneurs and community leaders to build something very unique in St. Pete. I look forward to supporting their efforts and contributing to the enrichment and innovation of Tampa Bay culture.”

Dimmitt says the Viniks will be “actively involved” with Fairgrounds planning and operation. “Mrs. Vinik – Penny – in particular is an astute both business and art connoisseur,” she explained. “The arts passion really comes from her side. And she is someone that has taught me a lot since I’ve been working with her.

“Their guidance is something that we’ll look to going forward. They do have a seat on the board, so they’ll be guiding from the board level as well.”

WATCH: Liz Dimmitt on The Catalyst Sessions (April 22, 2020)

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