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Judge dismisses Liberty Group complaint in Channelside case

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Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2014 at 08:24 PM

TAMPA — A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Delaware on Wednesday dismissed a complaint by an investor group that wanted to purchase the lease for Channelside Bay Plaza, potentially opening the way for Port Tampa Bay to work with the bankruptcy court to guide Channelside into the hands of a qualified developer, port officials said.

Other legal issues remain unresolved, and the specific outcome of Wednesday’s decision leaves many avenues for the future of the beleagured food, retail and entertainment complex unclear. Judge Christopher Sontchi’s decision followed arguments on motions he heard last week to dismiss the adversarial complaint the Liberty Channelside LLC investor group filed related to the Channelside retail center.

On Wednesday, Sontchi dismissed Liberty’s complaint in a ruling on motions filed by Port Tampa Bay, which owns the land on which the complex was built, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., which had foreclosed on a mortgage to the buildings, port authority attorney Charles Klug said.

The judge dismissed the four counts in the Liberty group’s complaint, which Klug said Liberty tried to use to assert it had control over the retail, entertainment and dining complex lease.

The judge dismissed three of the four counts with prejudice, which means Liberty Channelside, LLC cannot refile or amend its complaint on these matters, Klug said.

That “brings finality” to Liberty’s attempt to claim an interest in the lease, the port authority’s attorney said.

The judge dismissed a fourth count not related to control of the lease case without prejudice, which means Liberty could sue the port for monetary damages.

“Last year, the Liberty group failed in its bid to take control of the Channelside property, and since then Liberty has been attempting to hinder the redevelopment of the property into a first-class specialty retail center,” Klug said in an email.

“Port Tampa Bay believes the Court’s ruling today is the first step in returning Channelside as a jewel of downtown Tampa. We are eager to move forward in our efforts to bring about the full potential of Channelside for the benefit and enjoyment of all the people of Tampa Bay.”

A partner for the Liberty group could not be reached for comment.

Liberty Channelside had said in a legal filing last year that the port authority’s goal was to leave itself “the only game in town” and the only entity that could acquire the lease on terms and conditions it would dictate.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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