Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is emerging from a complex financial drama as the only qualified bidder for the Channelside Bay Plaza.
Several parties had put in bids to take over the mortgage and renovate the complex. At one point, there were at least three major groups in the competition: Vinik, a group led by St. Petersburg BayWalk shopping center owner Bill Edwards, and a group led by Centro Ybor property manager M&J Wilkow of Chicago.
Wilkow and Edwards ultimately combined their bids to better compete against Vinik.
Now officials involved in the deal confirmed that the Irish bank holding the plaza's mortgage chose Vinik's bid as the only one it will send to officials with the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the ground beneath the complex.
"We've been asked to move forward and make a presentation to the Port," said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett. As for when that would be, Wickett said no decision had been made. He declined to elaborate on plans for Channelside, though Vinik already controls land in the area that could become part of the development.
Port officials have long wanted a well-financed, local buyer to renovate the property and the neighborhood nearby.
Ken Jones, who was helping to lead the Edwards bid, said, "I have a lot of respect and admiration for Vinik's group and we hope to be helpful in any way. I'm excited to see a guy with his level of commitment and dedication to be involved in this."
The fate of the complex has been in limbo for years as the property entered foreclosure, major spaces remained vacant, and the bank involved was taken over by the Irish government.
Port officials have veto power over the bank's selection of a bidder. Port attorney Charles Klug said they received an informal message from the bank that a decision was coming, though he added that the Port is under no obligation to accept any bidder's project.
"Even if there's only one bidder, we'll still take a look at their background and their plan," Klug said. "We'll probably be able to make a presentation to the board by June 15."