Sunday, June 17, 2018
Business

Liberty challenges Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's winning Channelside bid

TAMPA — Liberty Channelside LLC continued its court battle for Channelside Bay Plaza on Tuesday, accusing the top players in last week's auction of colluding to hand the plaza over to the winning bidder, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

Liberty is trying to scuttle Vinik's winning bid while also proposing a new deal to the judge overseeing the Channelside auction: Liberty offered $10 million for the fading downtown Tampa mall.

Liberty will present its case to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi on Tuesday. The judge is handling the liquidation of Channelside's owner, the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., and still has to approve Vinik's winning bid.

Even before the auction started, Liberty indicated that it would challenge the result. Liberty attended the auction in New York but didn't make a bid. It made the $10 million offer in Tuesday's court filing.

Instead, Liberty stood by while Vinik's new company, CBP Development LLC, won with an opening bid of $7.1 million.

The Lightning owner's bid was declared the "highest and best" bid by the auctioneer. He won the bidding and demonstrated the ability to turn Channelside around. He presented a $10 million letter of credit to the IBRC's liquidators to guarantee that he would rehabilitate Channelside.

Vinik seemed to be the frontrunner entering the auction. Days beforehand, he won the endorsement of Tampa Port Authority, which owns the Channelside land and asserts the right to approve any sale of the building above it.

But those are the parties — the Vinik group, IBRC's liquidators, and the Tampa Port Authority — that Liberty accused of "apparent collusion" that has "tainted the integrity of the auction process." In short, Liberty said the auction was rigged to favor Vinik.

Liberty attorneys complained that their actions "chilled the market for all potential bidders."

The IBRC's liquidators filed court documents on Tuesday asking the judge to keep Liberty from interfering with the auction. They said Liberty's arguments were "another waste of judicial resources and an abuse of the bankruptcy process."

A spokesman for Vinik declined to comment.

The Tampa Port Authority did not address Liberty's allegations.

"We look forward to working with the bankruptcy court and the IBRC and now the Vinik group, CBP Development LLC, in finding the best resolution for what's in the best interest of the community," said port spokesman Ed Miyagishima.

Liberty's attorneys told the court that they found digital evidence that the Vinik ownership group traded "at least" five drafts of contracts with the IBRC's liquidators before the auction.

Liberty also accused the Tampa Port Authority, which was the only other bidder in last week's auction, of scaring off any other suitors who might have competed with Vinik.

Two days before last week's auction, the board voted to spend up to $15 million to buy the Channelside mortgage. But the board only ended up submitting a bid of $3.5 million, and that was just for the Channelside loan. Vinik's winning bid was for the Channelside building.

Liberty argued that the board's endorsement of Vinik and its auction ceiling of $15 million were meant to keep other bidders from joining in.

"The obvious intent of this approval was to prevent Liberty, the only other qualified bidder, from winning the Auction in any form, effectively chilling all potential competition for Vinik and Port," the motion said. "The motivation for Liberty, or any other non-Vinik or Port bidder to bid beyond $10,000,000, $11,000,000, or even a dollar more than $7,100,000 was eliminated."

Liberty also said that the Tampa Port Authority had a report prepared assessing Channelside's deficiencies that inflated the actual repair costs to around $7.6 million, scaring off prospective buyers.

The report contains "items that are not items truly in need of immediate repair," according to Liberty, and that Channelside's "safety risk are heavily inflated in both magnitude and cost."

Vinik has been eyeing Channelside since 2012. He already owns the Lightning, the lease to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and 23 acres, all in the same Channel District neighborhood. Acquiring Channelside would help shore up his downtown Tampa empire.

Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Comments
Your barista is a robot. Should it be friendly?

Your barista is a robot. Should it be friendly?

SAN FRANCISCO - The cold, steely arm of Fernando the Barista swirled the foam of my matcha latte, set it down gently, and waved goodbye from inside a glass case. San Francisco, 2018. Where you can get robot pizza and robot salad, and now, a robot mat...
Published: 06/16/18
Extending Albert Whitted’s runway could help Innovation District take off

Extending Albert Whitted’s runway could help Innovation District take off

ST. PETERSBURG — Albert Whitted Airport wants to extend its main runway. But what would benefit the airport could also benefit the St. Pete Innovation District.Moving the runway would ease building restrictions around the airport, allowing the Univer...
Published: 06/15/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Florida’s unemployment rate drops to 3.8 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate drops to 3.8 percent

Just when it seemed like Florida’s unemployment rate couldn’t get lower, it did. According to the state figures out Friday, Florida’s jobless rate dipped to a near 18-year low of 3.8 percent in May after holding steady at 3.9 percen...
Published: 06/15/18
St. Petersburg home becomes finalist in HGTV contest

St. Petersburg home becomes finalist in HGTV contest

ST. PETERSBURG — A house in St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast is a finalist in HGTV’s Ultimate House Hunt contest. Built in 2007 in the Mission Revival style, the 4,000-square-foot home a block from Coffee Pot Bayou is among 12 nationwide in the "curb a...
Published: 06/15/18
Florida’s first not-for-profit coding school is opening in St. Petersburg

Florida’s first not-for-profit coding school is opening in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Filling in a hole that was left by The Iron Yard’s exodus last year, a new computer coding school will open its doors to its first class in downtown St. Petersburg on July 23.The Academy at Suncoast Developers Guild will operate thro...
Published: 06/15/18
Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates pays $43-million for Boynton Beach apartment community

Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates pays $43-million for Boynton Beach apartment community

Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates, has bought Aventine at Boyton Beach, a 216-unit apartment community, for $43 million.Aventine, garden-style apartments that are 95 percent occupied, will be renovated and renamed "Verona at Boynton Beach."It i...
Published: 06/15/18
Florida craft beer guild: Big Beer is pushing us out of Publix

Florida craft beer guild: Big Beer is pushing us out of Publix

The national battle between Big Beer and local craft breweries is playing out on the shelves of your neighborhood Publix — and some favorite Florida brewmakers are losing.The guild that represents Florida brewers says at least 12 small breweries have...
Published: 06/15/18
Accused of racial profiling, Lowe’s ends policy of checking customer receipts as they leave

Accused of racial profiling, Lowe’s ends policy of checking customer receipts as they leave

Memorial Day weekend was supposed to bring three productive days of home improvement for Will Mega, a dean at a North Philadelphia charter school.He’d go to two Lowe’s locations near his home in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood for a grill and ...
Published: 06/15/18
McDonald’s to test alternatives to plastic straws in U.S.

McDonald’s to test alternatives to plastic straws in U.S.

NEW YORK — McDonald’s said Friday it will switch to paper straws at all its locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and test an alternative to plastic ones in some of its U.S. restaurants later this year.The burger chain and other fast-food comp...
Published: 06/15/18
Strange brew? Tampa Bay group hopes to grow hops and medical marijuana in the same spot

Strange brew? Tampa Bay group hopes to grow hops and medical marijuana in the same spot

ST. PETERSBURG --- Among topics that stir passionate interest, two that rank high are medical marijuana and craft beers.A group of Tampa Bay entrepreneurs has ambitious plans to profit from both.They are leasing a vast warehouse space in St. Petersbu...
Published: 06/15/18