File Under "Out of Nowhere": FL group planning $400m SSS
You sitting down? Good because there seems to be serious, on-the-downlow SSS talk in Florida. And in Tampa of all places.
According to a quasi-hidden website, "VSI Flames, Inc. (VSI Tampa Bay Flames) recently entered in to a formal agreement with its funding partner PRI Development Partners LLC for the purpose of providing the Tampa Bay region with a first class and purpose built soccer stadium along with a separate 20+ training field and Academy complex."
And not just any old stadium but "a new purpose built 28,888 seat soccer stadium that will have a retractable roof and the ability to increase the capacity to 40,000." Apparently not content to simply fight Raymond James Stadium for the occasional USMNT matches, "the parties are committed to securing an MLS soccer franchise" for Tampa.
Crazy, right? Read on, it's gets better.
Check out some of the names of investors in VSI: Shaun Wright Phillips, Mikel Jon Obi, Mark Hughes, and Ian Wright. Safe to say this group has more than a few real soccer heads. Oh and not incidentally, VSI will run a USL Pro club in 2013 that will play in an Empire Fields-esque temporary modular stadium built by Nussli.
In addition to big names and financial backing, VSI seems to have every civic duck in a nice, neat row; the project's listed partners include Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the City of Tampa, Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Economic Development Corporation.
Names, cash, connections and ambitions aren't enough though. To build a club and a stadium you need land. Take it for what it is but my man in Tampa --Florida soccer's Huggy Bear if you will-- says that the location VSI are focused on "in the heart of Tampa" is downtown near the Ice Palace and belongs to Jeff Vinik, Liverpool FC board member and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. If you want another Lightning-soccer connection, their CEO is former Sounders CEO Tod Leiweke, brother of AEG's Tim.
Would a Tampa MLS club & stadium be a collaboration between Vinik and VSI? I can't say and, again, take that info for what it is. But if you want more answers, try to score yourself an invite to VSI's event at The Tampa Club on December 11. According to the invite, VSI and PRI are "bringing a breathtaking center pitch to Tampa Bay on 3.30.16" at a cost of $400m.
Yeah, they've set a date. Call it confident or call it crazy. Either way the whole damn thing is intriguing as hell. Wonder if this is why The Don was high on Florida but not particularly talkative on perpetual also-rans Orlando & Miami in his recent State of the League address?
God, I love expansion gossip.