TAMPA — Remember the Tampa Port Authority's deal to buy Channelside Bay Plaza? It's still on — and it's still delayed.
The sale of the downtown Tampa retail center has been put off for two months and three weeks now. But the port's chief legal officer, Charles Klug, said Monday that all indications are that the purchase will be finalized — eventually.
The process, though, has dragged on for so long now that the original sale agreement for the port to buy Channelside from the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. expired on Nov. 30. But Klug said that both sides agreed to extend the purchase agreement until the sale is finished.
Back in September, the port agreed to buy the building from the Irish bank for $5.75 million. The port owns the land under Channelside, but the bank owns the building itself. Both sides spent a year at odds over Channelside's fate. The port resolved the dispute by agreeing to buy the building to unify ownership of the property. Once it owns Channelside outright, then the port hopes to find a developer to revive the nearly empty retail center.
The basic situation has remained unchanged since both sides struck the deal in September: the sale has been stuck in limbo while the IBRC seeks Chapter 15 federal bankruptcy protection for its assets in the United States. The Channelside building is one of those assets. A federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware has yet to rule on the Chapter 15 petition, which is being opposed by other parties for reasons unrelated to the Channelside sale.
If the judge rejects the IBRC's bankruptcy petition, that would actually help the port. Then all the port would need to complete the sale is the approval of a Hillsborough County circuit court judge. Finalizing the sale would be part of the settlement agreement in the port's lawsuit against the Irish bank in state court.
"Then they can sell off their assets and do whatever they want to do," Klug said.
But if the judge grants the IBRC Chapter 15 protection, then anyone opposing the purchase of Channelside would have two weeks to challenge the sale. Klug, though, has said that no one has standing to challenge it. But if someone does object, that could still require a court hearing, which would further delay the process, perhaps into early 2014.
One potential wrinkle: Liberty Channelside LLC, the jilted suitor that tried to buy Channelside Bay Plaza over the summer, has asked the Delaware court to send its lawyers copies of any decisions, motions or other documents filed in the IBRC bankruptcy case.
Klug said he didn't know why Liberty would do that, saying it only indicates that Liberty wants to be kept in the loop regarding the bankruptcy case. But could it also be a sign that Liberty might try to oppose the Channelside sale?
Liberty's representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. But relations between Liberty and the port have been testy since the Tampa Port Authority's governing board voted in May to kill Liberty's deal with the Irish bank to buy Channelside.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter @jthalji on Twitter.