TAMPA — Developers envisioned a bustling entertainment and dining district on the edge of downtown Tampa when Channelside Bay Plaza opened 15 years ago. Built along Tampa's seaport, there wasn't anything like it downtown.
The $49 million outdoor complex was meant to be a hang-out spot for locals and also serve tourists who stayed in downtown hotels or were about to board a cruise ship.
But the bulking shopping plaza struggled and within just a few years tenants were bolting, customers getting more scarce.
Now, new developers want to tear the 230,532-square-foot plaza down and start all over.
James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment, wants to raze Channelside Bay Plaza to make room for new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park.
Nozar presented a proposal for redevelopment of the outdoor retail and entertainment complex to the Port Tampa Bay board of directors Tuesday morning. The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve Nozar's proposal.
If approved, the demolition, part of SPP's $3 billion plan to reinvent the 53-acre area around Amalie Arena, could occur by 2018.
"Channelside Bay Plaza feels like it's a mile away from the arena right now when it's not," Nozar said. "The goal is to link our district with the plans the port has for its own property on the north end of Channelside Drive."
SPP's proposal includes building three residential towers overlooking the waterfront and several buildings that would house storefronts, restaurants and potential office and event space. The new development would expand into a parking lot that SPP also oversees off Garrison Street. A new cobblestone road would be paved through the center of this new walkable mixed-use development. A one-acre waterfront park with an event pavilion and beer garden would be built on the southeast corner of the property and the Riverwalk would be extended through Channelside.
The port would have to negotiate a new lease agreement with SPP to oversee development, leasing and management of the new mixed-use project.
Members of the port's board of directors had little to say after Nozar's extensive presentation Tuesday.
"It's a lot to digest," said Sandra L. Murman, Hillsborough County commissioner and port board member. "It's transformational. It's exciting and very appealing."
Nozar said that SPP has studied the use of waterfront spaces in cities like Boston, Washington D.C., and Sydney, Australia, to come up with an appropriate plan for Bay Plaza.
The new buildings would be pushed back 50 feet or so from the waterfront so the public could walk along a new seawall and docks there. Some of this access would be blocked when cruise ships were in port.
Nozar said the company chose to propose new development because Bay Plaza is outdated and hardly functional.
"Channelside Bay Plaza was built in a similar format to many retail centers 15 years ago, the kind that have struggled in recent years. It turned its back to the water," Nozar said. "We want to give the public access to the waterfront. There's not a lot of waterfront dining in Tampa Bay.
"Adapting the property as it stands now for reuse is more difficult than it seems. Today's retail market is different than it was 15 years ago," he added. "We knew if we reinvested in it the way it is now it would fail again. It's an outdated format."
The center is currently more than 70 percent vacant. CBP Development LLC, an entity within SPP, gave eviction notices to some tenants in July and more will likely close or relocate soon, Nozar said. He noted that the tenants are aware of the proposed redevelopment plans and SPP is working with some to help them find locations in the new development. SPP has made some improvements to the center since it acquired it in 2014 through a $10 million bond from the port.
"A lot of those improvements you can't see, it's like doing work under the hood of the car. It would not be the most bang for the port's buck to continue to use that money in the center the way it is now," Nozar said.
Nozar said Bay Plaza will house pop-up restaurants and stores on a temporary basis before any redevelopment begins. It will also continue to host events, like Tampa Bay Lightning watch parties.
"We will continue to work with James (Nozar) on the timeline presented," said Port CEO Paul Anderson "There's still a lot to be done. These images are all conceptual, but we couldn't be happier with the team Mr. Vinik has put together to work with the port."
SPP worked with port staff to develop a plan for the center that keeps the port's logistics and security standards in mind.
"It's a different perspective for the shops at Channelside," said Charles Klug, principal counsel for Port Tampa Bay. "We're still looking at it to make sure cruises can come in and that it's functional. But it's the board who has to approve it."
SPP anticipates the building permitting process could get underway by early next year. Nozar said the first phase of the Bay Plaza redevelopment could be some of the first vertical construction to get underway in downtown Tampa.
"We too want to do something different for Channelside and to open the gates to the waterfront," said Klug, who oversees the port's $1.7 billion venture to develop 45 acres of port-owned property. That ambitious project, which is included in the port's master plan, calls for one of Tampa's largest urban waterfront parks, a marina and two 75-story residential towers, among other office, hotel and retail development over the next 15 years.
Klug acknowledged that the port probably announced its development plans too soon last year, but said that a lot of work has been done since the announcement.
"We haven't worked a deal out with a developer yet, but it's possible SPP could be it. We're willing to talk it out," he said.
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.