A group headed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik on Monday unveiled its glitzy vision for resurrecting the long-ailing Channelside Bay Plaza in downtown Tampa and tying it into a waterfront entertainment district.
Unifying the district — paving the way for Lightning fans to easily go from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to Channelside restaurants after a game — is a vision Vinik and his partners have had since arriving in Tampa four years ago.
"It was always contemplated that all of this would be connected somehow. It just hasn't happened, and we're intent on making that happen," Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke said. "This could be something cool. This city deserves something better."
"We can make it America's next great waterfront," added Jac Sperling, a sports financial adviser who helped facilitate Vinik's purchase of the Lightning and is CEO of the CBP Development, the Vinik-controlled investment vehicle making the Channelside bid.
The governing board of Port Tampa Bay loved what it heard so much, it unanimously pre-approved negotiating a lease with Vinik's group for the site. The port owns the land beneath Channelside and has long asserted a right to approve any sale.
But before negotiating with the port, CBP Development must first win control of the property out of federal bankruptcy court in Delaware.
CBP is bidding $7.1 million to buy Channelside, the opening high bid in a bankruptcy auction slated for Wednesday.
Liberty Channelside LLC, a group under the control of bay area real estate investors Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah, said in court documents that it will place an opening bid of $7 million for the property.
But Liberty, which specializes in reviving distressed real estate, was a no-show for Monday's scheduled presentation, apparently preferring to take its chances in court. Liberty had tried to buy Channelside last year until the port killed the deal.
Prior to the meeting, Govindaraju said in email response to questions from the Times that he could not comment because of ongoing litigation. Asked later if that was the specific reason for not attending Monday's presentation, he said, "it is all tied together."
The port itself is a third and final bidder in the bankruptcy auction, placing an opening bid of $5.75 million. The board Monday authorized a maximum bid of $15 million.
But it's making those preparations as a fail-safe to keep control. Port leaders have said they do not want to spend the millions needed to fix Channelside but want a say in picking the developer who will.
They made that choice Monday.
Pat Allman, secretary/treasurer of the port board, said CBP hit all the buttons during its presentation: It promised to take care of Channelside's existing tenants who have suffered during the outdoor mall's prolonged funk; it is willing to pledge millions of dollars to fix it up; and it has a vision to make things better.
"This thing has failed since its inception. They have the best chance at revitalizing it," Allman said.
Vinik, who bought the Lightning and the Tampa Bay Times Forum lease in 2010, has previously assembled 23 acres of empty Channel District property that could tie into its plans.
In 2012, Vinik wowed the port's governing board with a vision of creating a "Tampa Live" version of L.A. Live, a mix of hotels, shops, residences and restaurants built next to the Staples Center, Los Angeles' home for its NBA and NHL teams. He backed off, however, after a protracted legal battle emerged between the port and an Irish bank that had controlled the property before bankruptcy.
On Monday, Leiweke and Sperling highlighted Channelside's makeover as part of a "vision of connectivity" for much of the waterfront, including the Florida Aquarium and the convention center. Beyond a physical connection to the sites, Leiweke said, there needs to be an emotional connection and branding connection so visitors associate all the attractions together.
Alluding to a concert at the Times Forum Monday night, he said, "Our dream is Katy Perry is having chicken wings at (Channelside's) Hooter's post-concert tonight."
The circular centerpiece for the new Channelside Bay Plaza would feature a large screen and be capped by "Channelside Live" signs. CBP's renderings showcase an entertainment complex heavy on open-air and glass elements, including a glass bridge with tubular supports that connect to the parking garage, glass skylights and an opaque glass box lit from the inside.
The group would not specify what retail, restaurant or hotel brand names it has in mind as tenants. Nor would it say how much it would invest, beyond pledging to spend more than the minimum $8 million estimate that consultants pegged it would cost just to fix the site.
An endorsement by the port board is viewed as crucial since it controls the land under the site But a green light from the port is just the first of several steps toward determining Channelside's fate.
On Wednesday comes the bankruptcy court auction. There is no guarantee, however, that the highest bid will prevail. Auction rules state that the "best bid" will win, which means a bidder must prove it has the resources and capability of reviving the nearly empty outdoor mall.
The bankruptcy judge has final say for approving the winning bid at a July 15 hearing, which is also an opportunity for other bidders to challenge the winner.
Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.