Make us your home page
Instagram

Liberty group sues Tampa port over scuttled Channelside deal

TAMPA — There's a dramatic new subplot in the Channelside Bay Plaza soap opera: The old suitor, Liberty Channelside LLC, is suing the new suitor, the Tampa Port Authority, once again clouding the future of the downtown waterfront complex.

Liberty accuses the port of sabotaging and scuttling its deal to purchase Channelside so that the Tampa Port Authority could swoop in and strike its own deal to buy it instead. The lawsuit threatens to yet again delay the port's bid to buy Channelside.

"The Port has been dishonest about it(s) intentions," Liberty attorney John Anthony wrote in a statement released Thursday.

The port authority did not return requests for comment.

The day before, Wednesday, turned out be a big step forward — and then a big step back — in the roller-coaster saga.

That's when Liberty filed the lawsuit in federal court in Delaware — on the same day a bankruptcy judge there issued a ruling that could finally get the port's stalled deal to buy Channelside from the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. moving again.

Liberty's principals, local real estate investors Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah, want the Tampa Port Authority to pay them actual damages, punitive damages and legal fees. But a statement from their attorney said they have not yet given up on the idea of buying the retail and entertainment complex — even though their deal with the bank expired and the port already rejected their bid.

"Liberty seeks the benefit of the bargain that it lost when the Port interfered with its efforts . . . ," read the lawsuit. "Liberty is seeking . . . to be made whole by the Port for the lost opportunity involving Channelside; however, Liberty's ultimate goal is to transform Channelside into a premier facility consistent with the plans the Port initially greeted with such enthusiasm."

The bank owns the Channelside building, but the port authority owns the land beneath it. Both sides couldn't agree on picking a new operator to turn around the nearly empty downtown icon. So in September, the port signed a deal to buy the building from the bank for $5.75 million. Once the sale is approved, the port can select its own Channelside savior.

But the same port governing board that voted to buy Channelside was also the same board that, months earlier, had voted to kill Liberty's own deal to buy it.

Liberty signed a deal to buy the Channelside building from the bank in January, then began negotiating with the port. The port's land ownership gives it final say over any deal.

Months of negotiations turned hostile in May. Negotiations stalled over millions in escrow demands. Govindaraju and Shah attended the May 21 port board meeting, apologized and pledged to get the deal done.

The board then took an unscheduled vote to kill the Liberty deal.

The lawsuit accuses port officials of encouraging Liberty to buy Channelside, then putting up barriers to the sale, killing the deal, and using Liberty's efforts to set up the port's deal.

The IBRC foreclosed on Channelside in 2010 after the former operator defaulted on a $27 million mortgage used to buy the building.

The Liberty lawsuit says the group negotiated the Irish bank down to a $5.5 million price. The port, the lawsuit contends, then used those negotiations to set its own price of $5.75 million.

It was not known how much in damages Liberty will seek, but the lawyer's statement does point to port officials valuing the complex for far more than the sale price: $18 million to $26 million.

The IBRC was also named in the lawsuit but does not comment on Channelside matters.

The main questions facing Channelside, however, are: What effect could the lawsuit have on the sale? Could it scuttle the deal? Or delay it how much longer?

The Channelside sale was held up as the IBRC sought Chapter 15 protection for its U.S. assets in federal bankruptcy court. But the judge approved that Wednesday. Creditors can now challenge the sale before it goes through, though the port insists no one has standing to do so.

Once the sale is approved by the federal judge, then it has to be approved by a Hillsborough County circuit judge as part of the port's legal settlement of its lawsuit against the bank.

The Delaware bankruptcy judge could separate the Channelside sale from Liberty's claims for damages and decide each case separately. Liberty doesn't appear to be a creditor in the bankruptcy court, so it may not have standing to challenge the sale. It's also unlikely the court would force the port and bank to revive Liberty's failed bid.

But just dealing with the lawsuit alone could likely delay the Channelside sale.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter@jthalji.

Liberty group sues Tampa port over scuttled Channelside deal 12/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.