Tampa Bay Times, September 29, 2015
By Richard Danielson
To Jeff Vinik’s list of big ambitions for what he now describes as a $2 billion project near downtown Tampa, add this: To create the world’s first city district designed to make those who live and work there more healthy.
Vinik on Tuesday unveiled a partnership to do that with Delos, a New York-based real estate company that tries to build health and wellness strategies into its projects.
The Tampa Bay Lightning owner wants not only to show that city design can be healthy. He also thinks a good-for-you focus can be a “major selling point” for the 40 acres he’s developing near Amalie Arena with the backing of Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ personal investment fund Cascade Investment. So far, Vinik said that whenever the idea has come up in discussions with prospective tenants, “it has, if nothing else, piqued their interest.”
“When you’re an employer, what’s more important than attracting the best employees and retaining the best employees?” he said. “Health and wellness is a major item people are focusing on and care about.”
As part of the initiative, Vinik’s real estate company, Strategic Property Partners, estimates there will be $20 million in public and private funds invested on health- and wellness-focused technologies and design strategies.
The announcement came during the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where former President Bill Clinton said he hoped other cities follow the pilot project’s example.
“Inaccessible sidewalks contribute to inactivity, which leads to poor health outcomes, including increased obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” Clinton said, citing information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vision outlined Tuesday goes beyond creating a place where it’s easy and nice to walk around — something that already was the focus of Jeff Speck and David Dixon, two prominent “new urbanism” planners Vinik has hired.
Picture also, Vinik’s team said, lots of green space, including maybe communal gardens, low-pollen trees, sound barriers to facilitate “acoustic comfort” and access to healthy foods. Air quality will be monitored on a daily basis. The type, color and intensity of light inside buildings might be adjusted depending on whether people are trying to work or sleep.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said any city investment would be for infrastructure that provides a public benefit, like bike paths and wider sidewalks.
The healthy design goals reflect what Vinik has said about how the district’s amenities will be critically important. He wants University of South Florida medical students to be able to take water taxis to Tampa General Hospital. He envisions morning yoga at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.
That should make Tampa “far more competitive” at attracting “bright young people who can choose to live anywhere in the world that they want to live,” Buckhorn said.
“This gives us a significant leg up in terms of what that generation is looking for,” he said. “They’re looking for a place where they can walk to work.”
The SPP-Delos team pointed to what it described as a growing body of evidence showing not only that where people live affects how long they live, but that communities can be designed to be healthy — walkable, compact and connected. Air pollution has been linked to heart disease.
In 2012, Delos publicly committed to creating a health and wellness standard for buildings at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting. Tuesday’s meeting highlighted Delos’ follow-up, along with other projects aimed at addressing pressing world problems.
The WELL certification is similar to the LEED certification for buildings that use environmentally sustainable materials and techniques.
The difference is that the WELL standards focus on things like air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
“Any built environment has an immediate impact on one’s cardiovascular health, respiratory health, sleep health, immune health, emotional health, what have you,” Delos founder and CEO Paul Scialla said.
Since 2012, tens of millions of square feet of building projects have worked to incorporate the WELL standards into projects in 12 countries.
Discussions between Strategic Property Partners and Delos began about six months ago after a mutual acquaintance introduced Vinik and Scialla.
Not only will all buildings in the SPP project be designed in an effort to receive the WELL certification, but the new partnership aims to secure the designation for the district itself.
Tuesday’s announcement also revealed that the sheer scope of Vinik’s vision has expanded as SPP has worked on the master plan.
Previously, SPP generally had talked of the project as a $1 billion venture.
But now Vinik says that’s just the first phase, expected to take three to four years. It will include USF’s new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute, a 400- to 500-room hotel planned next to Amalie Arena, at least one office building, about 1,000 residences, 200,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and entertainment, plus the renovation of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina and the Channelside Bay Plaza shopping center.
In the long run, the project could encompass up to 6 million square feet of commercial, residential, and retail space.
“Following phase one, if things are going well,” Vinik said, “we see an opportunity for up to another billion dollars of development.”