TAMPA — A group led by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has emerged as the frontrunner to buy the troubled Channelside Bay Plaza.
Vinik's group has been asked to make a formal presentation to the Tampa Port Authority, said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett. He declined to discuss the presentation or the group's plans for Channelside.
The port owns the land underneath the center and has the power to approve or veto the deal. The next board meeting is June 19.
The port prefers a local buyer with deep pockets to rejuvenate the center, which could also spur more development in the Channel District.
When Vinik bought the Lightning in 2010, he was considered one of Boston's richest people, with a net worth of more than $500 million. The deal to buy the hockey team and the Tampa Bay Times Forum lease included 5.5 acres of land around the arena. The land could be used for new development tied to Channelside.
The Channelside complex is one of the most coveted pieces of real estate available in the Tampa Bay region, but the public might not learn how much the winning bidder spends to secure the property. The winning bidder will be paying the bank that currently owns the mortgage on the property. The port's interest isn't in the price, but in what the winning bidder intends to do with the property.
"The Port Authority does not want to know the bid price since it is irrelevant to the qualifications to the Port Authority's review of the proposals," said Charles Klug, counsel for the port.
"We are interested in what the proposers intend to do with the property and what financial resources they have to make improvements to the property and market it, not the bid price."
Vinik has teamed with Andrew Wright, head of Tampa commercial real estate firm Franklin Street, and Anthony Everett, founder and president of Everett Realty Services in Tampa.
Last month, two other groups also submitted bids to buy Channelside: Bill Edwards, who recently bought St. Petersburg's BayWalk, teamed with Rick Michaels, chairman and CEO of Communications Equity Associates in Tampa, and Ken Jones, executive vice president and general counsel for Communications Equity Associates; the other group was headed by a group led by Centro Ybor property manager M&J Wilkow of Chicago.
Edwards and Wilkow eventually joined forces to compete against Vinik.
Edwards declined to comment on Monday, but Jones said, "I have all the respect and admiration for Jeff Vinik. This community can use a few more guys like him."
Channelside has been in limbo for years. The port had expected to have already received information on bids from the Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin. It took back Channelside in 2010 after the previous owners defaulted on a $27 million loan. The Irish government now owns the bank.
Developers designed Channelside as an upscale specialty retail center with restaurants and entertainment when it opened beside the Florida Aquarium in early 2001. The 234,520-square-foot center struggled to boost occupancy during the recession. When listed for sale in April 2011, it was 78 percent occupied, according to real estate data.
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.