Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Vinik group offers to buy Channelside

Tampa Bay Times Forum

Year opened: 1996

Cost: $144 million

Sq. Ft.: 670,000

Owner: Taxpayers (Vinik's company, Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment LLC, controls the lease)

For sale Channelside Bay Plaza

Year opened: 2001

Cost: $49 million

Sq. Ft.: 234,520

Current Owner: Irish Bank Resolution Corp.

Jeff Vinik and partners submitted an offer Wednesday.

TAMPA

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wants to buy another of the city's crown jewels.

Vinik is part of a group that submitted an offer Wednesday to purchase the financially troubled Channelside Bay Plaza, the entertainment complex that sits adjacent to the Lightning's home, the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Rumors of Vinik's interest have circulated since late last year, given his wealth and the possibilities that would be available to someone who controlled both the Times Forum and the Channelside retail complex.

Vinik has garnered a reputation for strong civic involvement since buying the Lightning in 2010. He bankrolled about $40 million in recent renovations at the Times Forum and has been a major donor to area charities. He also owns property next to the Times Forum.

"It is exciting," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "There's a lot of synergy there. It could only be looked upon as an advantage. It would be nice to have someone who has skin in the game."

Vinik's partners are Andrew Wright, chief executive officer and founder of Franklin Street, one of the fastest-growing commercial real estate firms in Florida; and Anthony Everett, founder and president of Everett Realty Services. He is the son of Tampa real estate icon Toni Everett.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett confirmed that Vinik is part of the group. He declined to comment further. Wright said, "We're excited about the opportunity,'' but he declined to say anything more. The amount of the Vinik group's bid was not revealed.

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.

The deadline for receiving bids was Wednesday. It's not clear whether anyone else submitted a bid.

The Tampa Port Authority owns the land under the center and has to approve any offer. Charles Klug, counsel for the port, said 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 port, Klug said, prefers a local buyer. He said it will take about a month to select a buyer.

Klug said he is excited about Vinik's making an offer, since the team owner has a stake in the Channel District.

"As a neighbor, he is interested in what goes on down there," Klug said.

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 former Fidelity Investments stock picker now operates his own hedge fund, Asset Management LP.

At first, his background as a money manager raised eyebrows about his plans for the Lightning. Vinik vowed then to get involved, saying, "I'll be a big part of the community."

The deal to buy the hockey team and the Times Forum lease included 5½ acres of land around the arena. Last year, he added the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm to his collection for an undisclosed price. He's also a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox.

Buckhorn has said he would welcome any additional involvement in downtown by Vinik, whom he called the kind of professional sports owner that Tampa loves to see. Buckhorn said several local groups expressed interest in Channelside, but he didn't know how many submitted bids.

Two parking lots and a cross street separate the Times Forum and Channelside. Buckhorn envisions the area becoming a walkable district where people could bounce between restaurants and sports and entertainment venues.

"I think the entire (Channel District) is ripe for redevelopment," he said.

If the Tampa Bay Rays leave St. Petersburg, the Channel District has been rumored as a possible location for a new baseball stadium. Buckhorn agreed.

"If baseball were to happen, and that's a big if, that would only enhance those (other) projects," he added.

Guy Revelle, a partner in four Channelside venues, including Splitsville and Stumps Supper Club, is the complex's biggest tenant. He is enthusiastic about the possibility of a sale to Vinik.

"That would be the best thing that could happen," Revelle said. "I'd love to have a local owner who cares about Tampa and who would be here for the long term."

Revelle, who has operated the restaurants for a decade, said they shattered sales records last year as the economy improved. But Channelside, he said, is suffering with out-of-state landlords.

"The landlords from New York don't care about Channelside," said Revelle, who has been nicknamed the "Mayor of Channelside" by other business operators. "It's only an investment."

The center is anchored by a 10-screen cinema. But the biggest crowds show up for special events tied to holidays and sports events at the nearby Times Forum.

Many street-side properties are vacant. But the center rallies around businesses such as Splitsville, Stumps Supper Club and Hooters. Passengers from the adjacent cruise ship terminal also spend money at Channelside.

A Chicago unit of a Japanese financial services company, ORIX Real Estate Equities, originally developed Channelside on land leased from the Tampa Port Authority. Price tag: $49 million.

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.

The port authority's staff has feuded with Ashkenazy and charged that the company let the center fall into disrepair, violated city fire codes and didn't pay the port for giving shoppers free parking in its lots.

Chuck Taylor, the court-appointed receiver for the center, said last April that annual rent payments were running $700,000 short of covering Channelside's operating expenses.

Channelside and similar retail centers Centro Ybor in nearby Ybor City and BayWalk in St. Petersburg all opened about the same time. And all three have had troubled financial histories.

After losing most of its tenants and falling into foreclosure, BayWalk was bought last year by Bill Edwards, a longtime mortgage magnate and music producer.

Edwards paid $5.2 million for BayWalk — about $3 million less than its initial sale price.

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459.

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