Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Irish bank wants federal bankruptcy court to enter Channelside saga

TAMPA — Believe it or not, the Channelside Bay Plaza mess just got a lot messier.

The Irish Bank Resolution Corp. wants the fate of all of its U.S. assets — including Channelside Bay Plaza — to be decided in a federal bankruptcy court in Delaware.

It's a legal maneuver that could threaten the Tampa Port Authority's interests in the struggling downtown retail center.

More immediately, it will likely delay the port's lawsuit to evict the Irish bank from Channelside. That's set to go to trial in November in Hillsborough circuit court.

By moving to have the retail center's fate decided in an out-of-state federal bankruptcy court, the IBRC would add a whole new layer of complexity to the never-ending Channelside saga. Not only would Channelside enter the federal arena, but the IBRC could even use this tactic to introduce Irish law into the case.

The bank foreclosed on the building, but the port owns the land. Both must agree on a new operator. But the two sides have never been further apart. This new litigation could delay an endgame by months or longer — and there wasn't a resolution in sight to begin with.

"It is much more complicated now," said professor Theresa Pulley Radwan of Stetson University College of Law. "Now you're dealing with the laws of multiple countries and assets located in multiple countries and trying to coordinate all that through the bankruptcy process."

The IBRC was created by the Irish government to take over its failed banks and their assets. Thanks to a defaulted $27 million loan, one of those assets is Channelside.

On Monday, the bank filed for a Chapter 15 proceeding. That allows a foreign entity undergoing a bankruptcy overseas to protect its U.S. holdings from creditors, much the same way a company here would declare bankruptcy. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi will hear arguments Sept. 20 in Wilmington, Del.

The port sued the bank in state court to evict it from Channelside for failing to maintain a "first-class" facility. But that lawsuit is more of a tactic. The port wanted to force the IBRC to find a suitable buyer by threatening to strip away Channelside without giving the bank a dime for it. By asking a federal bankruptcy court to take over, the bank would delay the port's local lawsuit.

Bruce Markell, a former bankruptcy judge who recently joined the faculty at Florida State University College of Law, said it makes sense for the IBRC to put all of its U.S. holdings under the jurisdiction of one court. According to court records, the IBRC is facing a handful of lawsuits across the United States. All of those would halt if the court steps in.

"If you have problems in Florida and New York and anywhere else," he said, "you get them resolved in one jurisdiction."

The port can, of course, assert its rights in bankruptcy court. The port could get the federal judge to allow its local lawsuit to continue. It could also get the court to rule that the bankruptcy has nothing to do with the port's claims against the bank. But all that takes time and money.

Yet the IBRC's Chapter 15 filing also reveals that it still has every incentive to sell Channelside: The reason the bank wants bankruptcy protection in the United States is because the Irish government ordered it to liquidate its holdings — including Channelside.

The retail center's situation has never been worse. In the past 10 months two different purchase agreements have fallen apart while Channelside has lost more shops and customers.

The port and bank aren't even talking to each other right now. The bank has not responded to a June 11 letter from the port offering better cooperation.

Last week, the port's governing board voted to give chairman Stephen Swindal the power to negotiate directly with the bank, or a potential buyer, regarding Channelside. The port is also exploring whether to buy Channelside from the IBRC itself.

The IBRC also told the federal court that it was "attempting" to finalize the sale of Channelside. But it was unknown if the bank was simply stating a goal, or had actually found another buyer.

A Tampa Port Authority spokesman said Wednesday that the port will continue to prepare for the November trial.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter @jthalji.

Comments
Career Q&A: What to do when your boss is stealing

Career Q&A: What to do when your boss is stealing

Q: I strongly suspect that my boss is stealing from our employer. As the property manager for this apartment complex, she handles all payments, deposits and other financial matters.A few weeks ago, I accidentally discovered some suspicious discrepanc...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you donít want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health officials and doctors warn. The influenza v...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Italian Butterfingers? Nestle selling candy business for $2.9B

Italian Butterfingers? Nestle selling candy business for $2.9B

Associated PressNEW YORK ó Swiss food and drink giant Nestle is selling its U.S. candy business to Italyís Ferrero for about $2.9 billion in cash. Ferrero will take over iconic chocolate brands Butterfinger and Crunch bars, as well as the sugary Nerd...
Updated: 11 hours ago
23 seek vacant PSC post

23 seek vacant PSC post

There is another Mariano seeking a job in Tallahassee.Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, the father of state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, is seeking an appointment to the Florida Public Service Commission, the powerful board regulating Florida ...
Published: 01/16/18
St. Petersburg’s apartment boom is spreading west

St. Petersburg’s apartment boom is spreading west

ST. PETERSBURG — Still more apartments are coming to St. Petersburg, this time to the Edge and Grand Central Districts just west of downtown. The new projects, all by out-of-state developers and more moderately priced than those downtown, will...
Published: 01/16/18
Florida raises insurance regulation grade from C to B

Florida raises insurance regulation grade from C to B

When it comes to regulating insurance, Florida is slowly improving. The Sunshine State raised its grade from a C in 2016 to a B in 2017 on the "R Street 2017 Insurance Regulation Report Card." It ranked No. 15 among all states.The annual report, writ...
Published: 01/16/18

US travel industry launches plan to reverse tourism decline

Associated PressNEW YORK ó Travel industry representatives sounded an alarm Tuesday over declines in international tourism to the U.S. and announced plans to reverse the trend. Organizers of the new Visit U.S. Coalition portrayed the decline as long-...
Published: 01/16/18
Raymond James advice for small to mid-sized companies about activist shareholders? Prepare and listen

Raymond James advice for small to mid-sized companies about activist shareholders? Prepare and listen

Shareholder fights between activist investors and publicly traded companies are getting nastier, especially in some industries, and a lot of them donít involve corporate giants like General Motors and Procter & Gamble.In 2015, according to Raymond Ja...
Published: 01/16/18
Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

The Dow Jones industrial average blew past 26,000 Tuesday for the first time ever, coming only a week after hitting 25,000 and showing further evidence that the long-running bull market is alive and well."There are several reasons for markets to melt...
Published: 01/16/18
Arizona-based AFI Mortgage opens St. Petersburg branch

Arizona-based AFI Mortgage opens St. Petersburg branch

Times StaffAFI Mortgage, a subsidiary of an Arizona-based bank, is opening its first Florida locations in St. Petersburg and Lakeland. Its parent company, AmeriFirst Financial Inc., specializes in mortgages. "This Florida team is innovative, knowledg...
Published: 01/16/18