Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

Second local group bids for Channelside Bay Plaza

TAMPA — A second group of Tampa Bay business titans wants to buy Channelside Bay Plaza.

The group includes mortgage magnate and record producer Bill Edwards, who bought St. Petersburg's BayWalk last fall; real estate titan Lee Arnold, chief executive of Colliers International; Rick Michaels, chairman and CEO of Communications Equity Associates in Tampa; and Ken Jones, executive vice president and general counsel for Communications Equity Associates.

Jones is also the president of the Tampa Bay Host Committee for the 2012 Republican National Convention in August. He confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that the group submitted a bid. He declined to reveal the price.

"We are very excited about having the opportunity to buy Channelside," Jones said. "Everybody in this group has lived most of their lives in Tampa Bay. This is not a quick flip deal."

The Tampa Port Authority owns the land under the center and has to approve any offer. Charles Klug, counsel for the port, said the agency is pleased that local investors are interested in the property. The agency prefers a local buyer.

Jones' group confirmed the bid a day after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik assembled a group to submit an offer for Channelside. His partners include Andrew Wright, head of Franklin Street, a commercial real estate firm in Tampa; and Anthony Everett, founder and president of Everett Realty Services in Tampa.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is elated that more buyers came forward and that both groups have the capital to improve Channelside.

"It's a great thing," he said. "For me, this is a good sign that downtown is hot. It's a project that desperately needs a shot in the arm."

Neil Kiefer, president and CEO of Hooters Management Corp., has operated a restaurant in Channelside for years. He doesn't know either group of bidders but is excited they are both local.

"It's better than somebody from California," he said.

In September, Edwards paid $5.2 million for BayWalk, St. Petersburg's troubled retail complex in the heart of downtown. That was about $3 million less than the asking price.

So far, Edwards has changed little at BayWalk, aside from a fresh coat of paint and a new architectural rendering that was unveiled last month at City Hall. At that meeting, Edwards repeated his desire to City Council to turn the 74,500-square-foot complex into a destination shopping and dining hot spot.

Developers originally 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.

New York real estate firm Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. bought the complex in 2006, but later failed to make payments on its $27 million bank loan. That prompted the bank that owned the property, Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin, to take back the property in 2010. The Irish government now owns the bank.

Bank officials will meet next week to discuss the bids before offers are sent to the port. Before picking a buyer, port officials will examine the financial, marketing and business plans of all bidders.

The deadline for receiving bids was Wednesday.

If the Rays leave St. Petersburg, the site has been rumored as a possible location for a new baseball stadium.

Jones said his group has no plans to raze Channelside for a baseball stadium. They want to transform it into the retail and entertainment destination that was envisioned.

"You have to operate it like you would own it for 25 years," he said. "This is a long-term investment."

Michael Milano, managing director at Colliers International, said the transformation of Channelside will not happen overnight. He stressed the timing is essential since the residential population has exploded in the past few years in the Channel District.

"You can have a very successful project there," he said. "It will take time."

Bill Edwards and Lee Arnold know real estate.

Edwards has two of downtown St. Petersburg's crucial but underperforming assets.

Beside BayWalk, Edwards' music promotion company manages and operates the city-owned Mahaffey Theater. The hope is that he can transform the sleepy facility into a bustling complex. He pumped $2 million of his own money into the operation and soon booked top performers.

Edwards also bought the bankrupt Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club and invested in a makeover and brought in Vegas-style acts and a few Grammy winners. He is seen as one of the biggest money donors in St. Petersburg.

In 1974, Arnold founded Arnold Associates and turned it into one of the region's biggest commercial brokerages. Twenty-two years later, the company became part of Colliers International, one of the globe's largest real estate firms.

Jones and Rick Michaels are Tampa GOP heavyweights.

In 1973, Michaels founded Tampa-based Communications Equity Associates to provide service to cable industry clients who needed financial expertise. The worldwide firm has completed deals worth more than $45 billion.

Jones grew up in the Tampa Bay area and has spent years working in legal, government and management positions in Washington, D.C. He also has experience running political conventions. He stressed that politics has nothing to do with the deal.

"Channelside is a first-class real estate facility," he said. "It's important that you have the right owner."

Jason Carroll works and lives in the Channel District and runs the Facebook page "Channelside Residents," which serves as an online newsletter for the area. He is anxious to see plans from both groups and hopes that improvements happen faster at Channelside than at BayWalk.

"Either way, it's a win-win," he said. "At least the local people have an incentive to do something."

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente[email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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