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Developers sue port over rejection of Channelside bid

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Published:   |   Updated: December 20, 2013 at 07:33 AM

TAMPA — A pair of developers who saw their hotel plans for Channelside rejected aren’t going away quietly.

Instead, the Liberty Channelside pair of Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah have intervened in the Port of Tampa’s attempt to fully take over the mostly empty retail and shopping complex along the water downtown.

In a lawsuit, the developers criticize the port’s board of governors and administrators and claim they effectively conspired to make the port “the only game in town” instead of accepting the Liberty Channelside bid.

Now, according to the lawsuit, “The Port’s objectives are exposed.”

The challenge wasn’t altogether unexpected; the Liberty Channelside group protested in public after spending more than a year trying to negotiate with the port to assume the lease of the current tenant — a then-bankrupt Irish-bank that had been taken over by the Irish government.

The Liberty Channelside group had pledged to update Channelside and add a hotel, but it never came to final financial terms with the port. The port had requested that the group fully commit several million dollars in cash before it would allow a transfer of the lease and some of its control over the site, which is adjacent to the main loading and unloading site for millions of cruise ship passengers each year.

Meantime, most tenants have moved out of Channelside, including all but one restaurant on the top floor. The movie theater is closed, as are the second-floor nightclubs.

After the port’s board of governors voted to reject the Liberty Channelside bid, the board ended up putting in its own offer of $5.75 million in cash to the Irish bank to resolve the case and fully take over Channelside for future use.

The Liberty Channelside group claims a vast range of injustices with that, detailed in a 19-page lawsuit that is mostly a timeline of failed negotiations with the port — all filed in a Delaware bankruptcy court that’s handling the overall Channelside case.

They specifically call out ultimately unsuccessful meetings with leaders including board of governors members William “Hoe” Brown, who has since resigned from the board, as well as Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“Because of the tortious, unconstitutional, and therefore unlawful, actions of the Port Authority in gaining this advantage,” the suit claims the port “should not be allowed” to acquire control of the Channelside complex, and they’re asking the bankruptcy judge in charge to intervene on their behalf and make a declaration that Liberty Channelside’s claims prevail on their behalf.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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