The Hockey News - Money & Power

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

JEFF VINIK

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CITIES BUILD STATUES for citizens like Jeff Vinik.

In the eight years that Vinik has owned the Tampa Bay Lightning, his name has become synonymous not only with the hockey franchise he owns, but for what the 59-year-old is doing for the community he now calls home.

Since purchasing the Lightning in 2010, Vinik has enriched the entire Tampa Bay area with endeavors that transcend the hockey community in town. Business leaders, political leaders, charity organizati­ons and, yes, hockey fans, all tend to brighten up when the name Jeff Vinik is mentioned.

It started back in the summer of 2010, just a few months after Vinik assumed control of the team. The former Fidelity Magellan hedge-fund manager, who later ventured out on his own with a greater rate of return, announced immediate plans to invest $40 million of his own money to renovate what is now Amalie Arena, which the Lightning have called home since 1996. With the term “world class” being bandied about regarding everything Vinik wanted to bring in to the organizati­on, immediate upgrades were implemente­d that included new padded covers for every seat in the building, cup holders at every seat location, a new grand pipe organ that requires its own stage (and knocked out two complete seating sections) and the electrifyi­ng Tesla coils that hang from the rafters and fire up every time the Lightning score a goal.

Ever since, Vinik has been a pillar in the community. “Everything Vinik does is done with class,” said Jay Re- cher, the afternoon radio host on Tampa’s 620-WDAE. “Vinik hires the right people and allows them the liberty to perform their jobs, and that starts at the top and trickles right on down throughout the organizati­on and spills over to everything he involves himself with.”

While the hockey team is a passion for Vinik – he has attended nearly every home game since purchasing the franchise and frequents many of the road games via his private jet, as the Lightning have turned into a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse – the community is a close second.

During his first season as owner, Vinik, along with his wife, Penny, implemente­d a Community Hero program that awards $50,000 during each home game to a member of the community nominated for their charitable work that goes toward a selected charity. The program, which began in 2011, has awarded more than $16 million to date to more than 400 different non-profit organizati­ons, with a commitment to donate an additional $10 million over the next five years.

Vinik also donated $1.5 million to help build the Jewish Community Center in Tampa and recently opened the Jeff and Penny Vinik Boys and Girls Club. “We have built an organizati­on here where people come first,” said Lightning CEO Steve Griggs. “How Jeff treats all of us, that’s how we treat our customers, and it has just resonated throughout the entire organizati­on, throughout our fan base and throughout our community.”

But his legacy will be tied to the $3-billion downtown project called Water Street Tampa that will transform the entire region around Amalie Arena. The plan is to revitalize the area into a vibrant destinatio­n filled with hotels, shopping and entertainm­ent along with urban housing, an area that will be anchored by the new University of South Florida medical school scheduled to open in early 2019. The project is also backed by Cascade Investment, which is operated by Bill Gates.

Vinik is changing the face of Tampa, starting from the arena that houses his hockey team right out to the farthest reaches of the entire Tampa Bay area. “He’s the nicest guy you are ever going to meet,” Griggs said. “You have the most benevolent owner in pro sports doing all the right things. People sometimes don’t trust owners, but there is so much trust in Jeff. He’s genuine and kind, and this community is blessed to have Jeff Vinik.”

Words that could fit on the plaque at the base of a statue to honor those who serve their community in the manner in which Vinik continues to do in all aspects. – ERIK ERLENDSSON

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