Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Tampa Port Authority vows to continue fight for Channelside

TAMPA — Buoyed by its win in court last week, the Tampa Port Authority vowed Tuesday to continue fighting for Channelside Bay Plaza.

"We cannot let it slip through our fingers," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board.

The board members wanted to make sure that CEO Paul Anderson and chief legal officer Charles Klug have the legal and financial firepower they need to prevail in the court case that will decide Channelside's fate.

"I want to make sure the two of you have the authority to take the right action," Murman said, "and if you don't have the authority, we need to give it to you today."

Both said they have what they need to continue litigation.

Channelside is up for grabs but under the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy judge who will ultimately decide who can buy the downtown mall and for how much. Two former suitors, the Tampa Port Authority and Liberty Channelside LLC, are battling each other for the right to buy it.

Liberty had also sued the port for damages from when the port squashed its deal for Channelside last year. But U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi dismissed all four of those claims last week. He did, however, give Liberty a month to refile one of them.

"That was a victory for us," Klug said. "But the matter continues."

The port failed to convince the court that it had no jurisdiction over the Channelside lease. Instead, the judge overseeing the bankruptcy of the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. decided the bank has de facto control of it.

But Stephen Swindal, the chairman of the port authority, said the port knew challenging jurisdiction was a legal long shot.

"We're strongly protecting our interest in this matter," Swindal said. "We are committed to seeing this process through with the goal of bringing about the full potential of the Channelside retail complex."

The port, which owns the land beneath Channelside but wants control of the building, believes it is the best choice to unify ownership and pick a new developer to refurbish the complex.

The board also wanted to make sure that Swindal, who once personally brokered a deal for the port to buy Channelside —a deal the same federal judge dismissed in February — can still act on behalf of the port to resolve litigation. But settlement talks seem far off, officials said.

If the port can buy Channelside, it will likely be for more than its last offer of $5.75 million.

"It ain't going down," Swindal said of the price.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.

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