By Jim Bleyer
An insurance executive opening a modest, independent agency would spend thousands of dollars on creative talent to devise an appropriate catchy name and logo. An owner of a new sandwich shop or dry cleaning establishment would make a similar investment.
Apparently the folks at Strategic Property Partners, specifically Jeff Vinik, didn’t get the memo. One would think a highly-touted transformative $3 billion, 53-acre real estate project in downtown Tampa deserves an ingenious, memorable, alluring name. A signature label would attract national and international media coverage propelling Tampa into the big show.
With “Water Street Tampa,” Vinik whiffed on an empty net.
Instead of emphasizing one of Tampa’s many cultural assets, the name connotes the area’s longtime unaddressed drainage problems. It doesn’t take a Hurricane Irma for nearby Bayshore Boulevard to flood. Steady rainstorms are sufficient to provide footage of stranded automobiles on the 5 o’clock news. Those images are viewed by tourists, conventioneers and occasionally on nationwide feeds.
Adding to the confusion is that Waters Avenue, a major east-west artery, lies 10 miles north of Water Street Tampa. Then there is Waterworks Park, a recreation area including part of the Riverwalk, located northwest of Vinik’s project in downtown.
“Water” doesn’t distinguish Tampa from the hundreds of Florida cities and towns rimming the peninsula.
Vinik’s biggest booster and recipient of his largesse, the Tampa Bay Times, questioned the appelation just days after it was unveiled. An unscientific poll found half of the responding Times readers disdained ‘Water Street Tampa.” As affirmation for the name trended downward, the Times pulled the poll.
The best adjective the Times business editor could come up with for “Water Street Tampa” was “sedate.” That’s like the opposite of pizzazz.
The worst part: the abjectly errant name is becoming more difficult to reverse. A bill has been filed with the Florida Legislature creating the “Water Street Improvement District.” That would give special privileges to Vinik whose announced “vision” and timetable don’t square with actual progress.
Of course, if Disney World were named Reedy Creek, the name of its improvement district, The Mouse would be playing to half a house. So, theoretically, a narrow timeframe exists for a (huge) branding upgrade.
Water Street Tampa will be a laughingstock only outside Tampa for two reasons: obsequious local leadership and the fact that Vinik has received $200 million+ in public funds for infrastructure and for the University of South Florida College of Medicine relocation. That’s the only announced “anchor” for the project that was unveiled more than three years ago with fanfare that would be reserved for a close encounter of the first kind.
In December the ever-amorphic vision projected a 500-room hotel, innovation hub, a condo, and “a lot of rooftops.” No kidding. Jettisoned was the framework for a health-oriented venture that promised, but never delivered—wait for it—a grocery store. The USF College of Medicine stays because that’s the only tangible Vinik can discuss.
Maybe the lack of commitment from heavy hitters is because there’s something in the “Water Street.”
Unquestionably, Vinik should have fired the responsible “creative” entity whose brain trust failed him so miserably. The big question is why someone so allegedly astute as Vinik accepted this train wreck of a moniker. Maybe he didn’t want to rain on the parade of the one person in his sphere that is the most difficult to show the door.