Vinik Tap Dances Around MOSI Relocation

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By Jim Bleyer

The relocation of the financially struggling Museum of Science and Industry to Jeff Vinik’s projected downtown Tampa mega development appears no closer to reality than it was seven months ago when the possibility first surfaced.

Vinik, a retired hedge fund manager and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey franchise, told Floridiocy, through an intermediary, that moving MOSI from East Fowler Avenue is “still very early in the exploratory phase.” Vinik’s three-sentence response to several specific questions was terse, evasive and didn’t reflect the optimism exuded by his minions earlier this year. It was e-mailed more than eight days after an interview request.

In April, Vinik spokesman Bill Wickett stated, “We believe MOSI would make an excellent addition to the district, although it’s too premature to discuss any detail of how or where it would specifically fit the footprint.”

Tod Leiweke, former CEO of Vinik’s development company, Strategic Property Partners, was quoted as saying, “Great districts feature great institutions. “We’ve got two of those now in the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center, and folks outside our group have said that it would be fantastic if you can make something like (MOSI) happen.”

Vinik himself met with the MOSI board on at least one occasion and the museum’s controversial CEO Molly Demeulenaere on another. But that transpired before MOSI’s severe financial shortfalls became public.

The Hillsborough County Commission in early October appropriated $585,000 to MOSI through Sept. 30, 2017. Two weeks later the commission agreed to loan the museum $400,000 but its directors refused the interest-free infusion because of the conditions attached. MOSI has been the recipient of millions in public funding over the years.

MOSI’s financial crunch has reverberated in Sarasota where Demeuelenaere exited G.WIZ, a children’s museum there, eerily just prior to its closing due to financial mismanagement. The museum’s directors said they were kept in the dark about G.WIZ’s fiscal precipice.

Columnist Tom Lyons wrote last week in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that “even after it should have become evident that Demeulenaere left a sinking ship, she still landed the big promotion to the top job at MOSI. The difference between what is happening at MOSI and what happened at G. WIZ includes, I hope, enough early public awareness of the financial problems in time to save the museum. But this is no thanks to Demeulenaere, who seems still prone to adamantly underplay them and keep spending as usual.”

Lyons went on to note that unlike G.WIZ directors, MOSI’s board is “on very public notice about their director.”

Here is Vinik’s complete response to Floridiocy:

“Strategic Property Partners has had preliminary discussions with MOSI about a potential relocation to the district. Your questions assume the move is imminent when in reality, it is still very early in the exploratory phase. Again, I would refer you back to MOSI and Hillsborough County to discuss MOSI’s governance and existing funding structures as that is not something we can speak to.”

10/26/15

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