TAMPA — The long-delayed sale of beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza took a sudden and important step forward Friday: The Irish bank that owns it asked a bankruptcy judge to approve a deal with the Tampa Port Authority as soon as possible.
The bank asked the judge to waive the usual 14-day period for anyone to challenge the sale.
The port has repeatedly said there are no creditors with standing to challenge the $5.75 million sale. But there is an aggrieved party that could be affected by that 14-day window: Liberty Channelside LLC, a group of Tampa real estate investors whose own bid for Channelside was thwarted last year by the port.
In December, Liberty filed suit against the Port Authority, accusing it of sabotaging Liberty's deal for the retail and entertainment complex so the port could buy the center at almost the same price as Liberty had negotiated.
The purchase agreement between the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. and the port has been held up so long in bankruptcy court that it expired Nov. 30. Both sides signed an extension.
But Friday, the bank's attorneys said time is suddenly of the essence.
"Because of the ongoing burdensome costs associated with maintaining the Premises which remain IBRC's obligations through the closing of the Settlement Agreement, prompt effectiveness of the Settlement Agreement is critical," said the motion, which was filed Friday.
The IBRC said in the motion that it has to pay about $106,000 a month in rent, upkeep and expenses on Channelside while the sale has stalled, and that doesn't include legal expenses.
The bank also said that approval of the sale is needed to settle a Hillsborough County lawsuit with the port. The IBRC said it needs to settle that local lawsuit as soon as possible to satisfy legal requirements in Ireland.
The port and the IBRC jointly control Channelside Bay Plaza — the port owns the land under it and the bank foreclosed on the building — but have spent more than a year wrestling over the choice of a new operator to turn the struggling center around.
So in September, the port offered to buy the building from the bank for $5.75 million. That would unify ownership of the property and give the port sole control over the choice of a new operator to revive Channelside. The sale would also settle the Hillsborough Circuit Court dispute between both sides.
But the IBRC, formed by the Irish government to sell off the assets of that nation's failed banks, was also seeking Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection for its U.S. assets in federal court — and that includes Channelside.
There are just two steps left to approve the sale of Channelside to the Port Authority: the approval of the federal judge, which the bank asked for on Friday, and then the approval of a Hillsborough circuit judge.