Jeff Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning who is investing billions of dollars to remake Tampa downtown waterfront, is one of four secret lenders to the Tampa Bay Times according to Patrick Manteiga, the publisher of La Gaceta.
Manteiga first identified Vinik as one of the secret lenders in his weekly “As We Heard It” column. He confirmed that he was making this assertion in a phone interview with SPB Wednesday.
“I have a very, very good source about this,” Manteiga said. “I also know who a couple of the other people are, but I don’t want to say who they are because that would give up my source.”
A week ago, Times CEO Paul Tash explained in a column that the media company has accepted a $12 million loan made in part by anonymous lenders as part of a larger refinancing by the newspaper company. Of the eight local lenders to The Tampa Bay Times, only four were named; Tash and his wife, Karyn, are among the named investors, along with three other philanthropists and business executives.
This has left many wondering who are the other four investors, described by Tash as all having “big investments in the Tampa Bay region.”
In a blog post, SPB questioned if the investors might be developer/philanthropist Bill Edwards or Vinik.
The Times’ Charlie Frago reported that Edwards insists he’s NOT one of the secret lenders to the newspaper company. “I was not approached and I am not an investor,” Edwards said in a statement.
So what about Vink?
It was the SPB blog post asking that which prompted Manteiga to out Vinik.
“We do know of one more investor, one of the secret ones. … Vinik is on the secret list.”
Like us, Manteiga believes Vinik being a secret investor to the Times could present several dilemmas.
“(T)he Times has taken itself out of being fair and balanced when writing about Vinik, his companies and the deals government is making with him,” Manteiga writes. ” It is also troubling that Times believes this disclosure is unnecessary.”
Echoing several Florida lawmakers who have taken to social media to cry hypocrisy about the Times’ secret dealings, Manteiga charges that “This is the kind of non-transparency the Times screams about when it comes to deals in Tallahassee.”
Tash insists the investors won’t have “a say in the Times’ news coverage or editorial commentary.” Manteiga points out that this is already not true. “(I)investing in the Times gives you the ability to demand that it does not use your name and forces management to keep Times reporters from the story.”
This capital infusion, regardless of whether it coms from Jeff Vinik or not, is good and welcome news for the hundreds of hard-working journalists and employees of Times Publishing Co. Tash’s column specifically commits to “making contributions” to the company’s pension plan.
But, as Manteiga rightly says, by keeping its lenders a secret the Times is compromised on many future stories and it appears it is willing to hide and minimize the conflict of interest.
Requests for comment from the Tampa Bay Times and Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners have not been returned.