Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning at center of "first ever" announcement at Clinton Global Initiative

October 1, 2015

Many business executives these days are talking about corporate social responsibility. Generally few of them are actually doing much about it. That, however, is not the case with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. In an announcement at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, Vinik said that 40 acres around the NHL team’s home at Amalie Arena will be redeveloped into the first health- and wellness-focused neighborhood anywhere in the world. The project is aimed at satisfying the wellbeing-related needs of people—residents, visitors, professionals, and students—in the area. It is a new phase of the former hedge fund manager’s plan to help grow downtown Tampa over the coming several years.
One phase of the plan to re-imagine the city is scheduled to break ground next year, with an eye towards completion within five years. It includes relocating the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and its new heart institute to a parcel of land donated by Vinik, construction of a medical office tower and parking garage, a 400- to 500-room hotel, a 650,000 square foot office tower, and 200,000 square feet of retail, restaurant, and entertainment space. The three-phase project, if all goes according to plan, will cover about 6 million square feet and $2 billion of capital through Vinik’s partnership with Cascade Investment, a firm controlled by Microsoft co-founder and Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates. The concept of a health- and wellness-focused district is a significant development in its own right. But the vision for it and its potential impact come into sharper view considering that the announcement follows one earlier this month about the Lightning’s “Build the Thunder” program. That five-year, $6 million venture is a partnership between the Lightning, NHL, and NHL Players Association, with sponsorship by JPMorgan Chase. The program has one main objective: to expand youth hockey in the Tampa Bay area. The goal of “Build the Thunder” is to reach more than 100,000 children across the region by coordinating outreach efforts with local schools. To accomplish that, one part of the program will put street hockey sticks and balls in the hands of third through fifth graders. Another part will offer 10,000 hours of training and development for players and coaches. Other parts will seek to increase registration of local 7-to-13 year-olds with USA Hockey, activate Lightning players and franchise personnel as mentors to work with 100 at-risk children from diverse backgrounds, and build on the franchise’s current management of the local high school hockey league.
The program is a means for taking on the equipment, ice time, and travel costs associated with playing organized youth hockey, which, at easily running into the thousands of thousands of dollars per player per year, can be a deterrent to getting youth involved in the sport. Still, its scope is much larger. In effect, it is making youth sports, which have become a multi-billion dollar industry, more community-oriented than business-oriented.
Almost since the moment he purchased the Lightning in 2010, Vinik has set out to transform the organization, and its status in and value to the community. First, he bolstered team operations by hiring Hall of Fame member and four-time Stanley Cup winner Steve Yzerman as vice president and general manager. Then, he hired Tod Leiweke as chief executive. Not long thereafter came the emergence of a new logo and uniforms, which were followed by a $60-million, privately-funded renovation of the arena. Vinik has since continued to invest in growing and diversifying the franchise, using it as a central mechanism for changing the makeup of the city and its people. Research shows that people living in walkable, connected neighborhoods like the one envisioned for Tampa tend to live healthier lives and decrease the risk factors for chronic diseases. At the same time, Americans’ commutes to-and-from work are having serious effects on their health while a recent study indicates adults today are having trouble maintaining their waistlines relative to those 20 and 30 years ago, even with the same amount of food consumption and exercise. Striking a balance between that and more is the spirit behind what Vinik and his business partners, along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Paul Scialla of healthy-building developer Delos, are focused on achieving. There are a great deal of organizations these days that intend to be socially responsible. Executives talk about “doing well by doing good.” What is taking shape in Tampa, with Lightning hockey as the centerpiece, ought to be a signal to many that it’s past time to stop talking and start doing.