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Part 1 of 2: Jeff Vinik, Cathie Wood on why they’re betting on Tampa Bay

Veronica Brezina

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ARK Invest founder and CEO Cathie Wood (centered left) and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik (centered right) and the ULI conference in Tampa. Photos: Joe Hamilton.

ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood and Tampa business mogul Jeff Vinik took a major gamble on Tampa Bay, betting millions of dollars to unlock the potential of the region and become an integral part of its success. 

“We looked at Charleston and Jacksonville, but we did not look at Miami or Palm Beach. We were looking for a city where ARK Invest could really make a difference and help shape the community and was open to convergences among technologies,” Wood said during the ULI Tampa Bay’s signature 2022 Trends in Real Estate Conference on Tuesday at Armature Works. 

ARK Invest is an investment management firm focused solely on disruptive innovation. Wood moved her New York-based firm to downtown St. Petersburg in 2021, into the 200 Central tower. 

The move sparked national attention. Wood explained her team saw the St. Pete community as becoming “the next Austin.” 

Wood has also purchased naming rights of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center that’s underdevelopment; the ARK Innovation Center will be the first tech incubator of its kind in Pinellas County. 

“Some people think I should be walking around with bodyguards,” Wood chuckled. “ARK has bet on this region and the visibility we have with only 45 people and sharing our research [like no other company], there’s been an outpouring of gratitude and it’s been unbelievable,” Wood said.

 Vinik commented she has received a “stamp of approval” as the Tampa Bay community welcomed her and her team with open arms. 

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik (left) and ARK Invest founder and CEO Cathie Wood have a fireside chat at the ULI conference in Tampa. 

Vinik is known as the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the developer and visionary behind Water Street Tampa, catapulting the region’s growth and business development. 

In 2010, Vinik purchased the Tampa Bay franchise Lightning franchise for $140 million. Since then, the Lightning has gone on to win the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cups.

“I’m not religious, but I think there was an element of faith [in investing in Tampa] – it was a big TV area and very beautiful …,” Vinik said. 

“I like to take risks. It was a gut feeling buying the Lightning, which was a losing franchise, and starting a $2 billion real estate development [prior to Bill Gates’ investment],” Vinik recalled about his own bet on the region. 

Vinik also commented on how Miami wasn’t ideal for his vision and although very dense, the population is decreasing slightly. 

“Here, the population is growing 1 to 2% a year, and that was huge when I bought the Lightning,” he said. 

At the time of purchasing the hockey team, Vinik was still running Fidelity Magellan Fund and had his employees from San Francisco, Miami move to Tampa and when the hedge fund closed, he said only two or three of those employees exited Tampa Bay.  

Through Water Street Tampa, Vinik has spearheaded more than $3.5 billion in real estate development. 

“It’s almost like we had a plan,” he laughed, giving credit to former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for providing the infrastructure for Water Street Tampa to take shape. 

However, the region is incredibly suffering from the lack of transit options that other metros offer. 

“We have the worst bus service in the country,” Vinik said, adding how the region needs to enact a transit surtax to funnel more funds into developing options for commuters. 

He also noted how wages are still fairly low and the region is facing a serious housing crisis amid labor shortages that are choking the supply chain. 

“I’m confident that is not going to be a long-term trend, supply is going to get caught up,” he said. 

This is part one of a two-part series. 

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    John Donovan

    March 1, 2022at4:37 pm

    A transit surtax? Nah. It’s disproportionately over-paid by non-bus transit users and underpaid by real estate developers. One idea: How about free buses that run across the bay and intra-city to major sporting events, paid by team owners? Everyone wins. Note: I’m a red blooded practical capitalist.

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