TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik plans a major new office building downtown, revealing yet one more piece of a larger vision for remaking the area around the Forum with new buildings, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Last week, a company controlled by Vinik filed a rezoning request with the City of Tampa to build a new office complex at 406 S. Morgan Street, directly across the street from the Forum where Vinik’s hockey team plays. The documents don’t spell out when a company might move into the building and they are not evidence of a done deal.
Adding some intrigue to the mix, when logged into the city records systems, the documents were titled “Morgan St. Syniverse Office.” Syniverse’s global headquarters now is at 8125 Highwoods Palm Way in New Tampa, where it employs 800 people. However, Syniverse company executives late Tuesday said they have no plans to move headquarters.
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Meanwhile, big changes are afoot at Syniverse. On the same day Vinik’s company filed the paperwork, Jeffrey S. Gordon resigned from his position as president and chief executive officer of Syniverse Holdings Inc. Gordon also resigned from his post on the board of directors and from any subsidiary, according to documents the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Syniverse had just signed a new employment contract with Gordon in June.
A current board member, Stephen C. Gray of Iowa, stepped in as interim president and chief executive officer until a replacement for Gordon is named, according to the company. The document does not spell out a reason for the change. Syniverse officials declined to elaborate on the filing.
Though little known outside the telecom world, Syniverse is a major player in wireless networks that encircle the globe. Among its businesses, Syniverse acts as a neutral middle ground for text messages between carriers so if a caller on Verizon sends a message or photo to a friend on AT&T, it may well go through Syniverse computers in Tampa.
Also, the company acts as a clearing house for charges when a caller is “roaming” on another carrier’s network.
Given media reports Tuesday about the project, Syniverse chief financial officer David Hitchcock issued a statement reiterating that Syniverse has a lease on its global headquarters in New Tampa through October 2016. And while the company has a lease on the 30th floor of the Suntrust building through 2024, “We do not have any plans to enter into any arrangements for a new headquarters building in downtown, and we remain committed to the Tampa Bay area.”
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An architectural rendering of the proposed building shows a building of about 10 stories, depending how the first few floors are configured. Vinik’s lead executive on expansion in the area Jac Sperling, signed the re-zoning request.
If built, the new structure would rank as one of the largest new office projects downtown, with 202,000 square feet of space and a parking garage to the northeast with at least 200 parking spaces. The plans include retail and restaurant space, as is common in office building lobbies. Vinik’s representatives declined to speak on the matter.
“I think this is the beginning of what I hope to be a massive and transformative development in the Channelside area,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The downtown area has a very low vacancy rate with so-called Class A office space, “And equally important, we need more contiguous floors to be available to large users who want to come downtown.”
CBRE commercial real estate broker Anne-Marie Ayers said the Class A vacancy rate in downtown is hovering at only 6 to 7 percent. “I think we’re reaching an inflection point,” she said.
Years ago, Syniverse had offices downtown, but they moved operations to a new, large technical center north of Tampa.
All sorts of companies, she said, are asking, “Where can we get and retain the best talent?” The answer increasingly is not the suburbs, but downtown, where more young people are gathering to be part of an artistic vibe, and more mid-career executives and retirees are looking as well. “People want to live down here.”
The downtown Tampa business real estate market rebounded this year from a sluggish start, and has seen several large lease renewals, according to CBRE data, including a 50,000-square-foot space in the Rivergage Tower by law firm Butler Pappas, and a 40,000-square-foot space in the Bank of America building by law firm Trenam Kemper. The downtown vacancy rate now stands at 14.5 percent, with rent rates rising again, and second only to the Westshore business district.
The city has about 30 days to review Vinik’s plans and return comments to the developer. Barring any major hang-ups, the plans could go before City Council in December.
Vinik is already a major real estate player downtown.
Most recently, his companies won control of Channelside Bay Plaza to the east of the Forum after a lengthy legal fight. His companies also have bought the bulk of the land between the Forum and the Crosstown expressway that’s used for surface parking, and he recently filed paperwork to rezone a property at the base of Florida Avenue for a luxury hotel/condo project.