Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik unveiled his dreams for a multimillion-dollar remake of Channelside Bay Plaza on Monday, and Port Tampa Bay leaders endorsed his plans.
Though still in the development phase, Vinik’s plans envision a redeveloped Channelside, but also new connections to the overall neighborhood to create a much wider entertainment, shopping and hotel neighborhood next door to the Forum where his team plays.
“Tampa deserves better,” than the current state of Channelside Bay Plaza, said Tod Leiweke, chief executive officer of the Lighting, and the top executive in charge of Vinik’s plans for the neighborhood. “Why aren’t people coming out of events at the Forum and going to Channelside in droves? This could be a place with high energy.”
Vinik’s representatives on Monday walked through a presentation with Port Tampa Bay officials, who still hold veto power over any major changes at Channelside. Though a complicated bankruptcy process still tangles Channelside’s fate, Vinik may now have an inside track with port officials, many of whom have long complimented Vinik’s community contributions and overtly hoped he would remake the neighborhood.
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Leiweke gave much of the presentation Monday, flanked by national sports operative Jac Sperling, who initially helped guide Vinik through the process of acquiring the Lightning and is named as the top executive at CBP Development LLC, the company controlled by Vinik making the bid.
Though preliminary, Vinik’s “Channelside Live” presentation listed his commitment to Tampa, a vision of a wider entertainment district around the Forum, and prominently showed the hotel that he already plans at the base of Florida Avenue, just a few hundred yards from the arena.
One artist’s rendering shows a major remake of the Channelside complex, with a multistory cornice filled with skylights shining upward. Another slide shows huge towers of opaque, back-lit glass scaffolding, glass-enclosed bridges from parking garages, several giant media screens and possibly a band shell facing a wide open-air shopping plaza that’s covered by an arena-style sunscreen.
“We are extremely excited to be able to move forward with Channelside and work with a developer that will breathe new life into the complex and connect it to the other world-class attractions in the Channel District,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO. “The community and its citizens deserve a top-notch entertainment venue for many, many years to come.”
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The port’s action Monday doesn’t mean a green light to construction right away, as Channelside remains tangled in bankruptcy court, but the port’s pre-approval could show the court that the port has a friendly relationship with Vinik. The court is expected to hold an auction of Channelside on Wednesday.
Vinik’s plans heartened some long-time Channelside shop owners, including Pia Scott, co-owner of the Surf Down Under shop along Channelside drive. “I’m just so thrilled,” Scott said. “He’s the only person who has the vision and resources to pull this off, and he’s already shown he can.”
To move forward, Vinik has made an initial bid of $7.1 million in a complicated bankruptcy case entangling Channelside.
Port Tampa Bay owns the land but rents the site to operators, in this case a retail and restaurant center. However, the operator of Channelside years ago vacated the site and a bank holding the mortgage on the structure fell into bankruptcy. Now the federal bankruptcy court in Delaware is disposing of that bank’s assets.
So far, court records show three parties taking interest.
First, Port Tampa Bay, which submitted a preliminary bid for Wednesday’s auction (price undisclosed) after the port’s governing board expressed interest in taking direct control of the site.
Second, a pair of Tampa developers that formed a company called Liberty Channelside LLC and saw their bid rejected by the port amid acrimonious negotiations last year. That pair filed suit to try and take control of Channelside, yet also submitted an initial bid. Price undisclosed.
Third, Vinik who hopes to revitalize the neighborhood around the Forum, where his hockey team plays. Vinik submitted the highest preliminary bid, including a $7.1 million starting offer.
Because Vinik made the highest bid, so far, lawyers managing the auction will make his the so-called “floor” bid to begin the auction.
The port’s action Monday signaled to the public and the bankruptcy court that they favor Vinik’s plans, which could be significant because the highest price alone won’t win the day at auction. Bankruptcy courts also take into consideration the “best” offer for an asset, and whether the buyer has a plan sufficient to help the asset prosper and avoid returning to bankruptcy.
Attorneys involved in the auction say the bidders will know each other’s identities and bids, so there’s little chance that the Port would end up in a bidding war with Vinik, if they’ve already agreed to his plans for the property. Auction managers envision a July 15 court hearing to review the results with the bankruptcy judge.
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Monday’s event was billed as a chance for any potential bidder for Channelside to make their presence known, and several times, port board Chair Stephen W. Swindal asked if anyone from Liberty/Channelside was in the room and wanted to speak up. None did. Reached later by email, executives with that company declined to comment.
Several port board members had questions for Vinik’s group about parking in the area, on plans for some vacant land next door and whether Vinik’s group would “cure” the existing maintenance problems in the site and other issues. Sperling said they were eager to talk with the Port on many of those issues, and he committed on the record that the roughly $8 million in built-up problems would be just a start.
Asked about Vinik’s overall budget, Sperling demurred, noting that there is still an auction to go through, but he pointed to Vinik’s roughly $50 million renovation of the publicly owned Forum as a sign of his commitment and resources.
At the end of Monday’s meeting the Port voted on whether they would approve Vinik taking over the lease to Channelside, if he prevailed at auction. The vote was unanimously yes.