Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

Tampa Port Authority hopes for smooth sailing en route to Channelside purchase

TAMPA — Stop if you've heard this one before, but the impending sale of Channelside Bay Plaza is on track for approval.

And the Tampa Port Authority really means it this time.

Last week the port struck a deal with the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. to resolve the Channelside mess once and for all by buying the retail center from the bank for $5.75 million.

But this is Channelside, after all, the downtown complex that has spent years mired in financial and legal turmoil while losing tenants, customers and relevance. In the past, if something could go wrong at Channelside, it did. So what could go wrong this time?

"I don't want to speculate on that," said the port's general counsel, Charles Klug, after Tuesday's monthly board meeting. He also laughed nervously.

Last week's surprise agreement resolves the impasse preventing a turnaround for Channelside: The port and bank were divided over finding a developer to remake Channelside. The port owns the land, but the bank owns the building. Both must agree on the choice.

Further complicating matters was that the port sued the bank. The trial was set to take place in a Hillsborough County courtroom in November. That lawsuit was further complicated by the Irish bank seeking federal bankruptcy protection for its U.S. assets.

But since both sides agree to the sale, Klug said the deal likely will play out in one of two ways:

• • •

The sale could be delayed if a federal judge grants the IBRC bankruptcy protection at a hearing Friday. Creditors would then have 14 days to protest Channelside's sale. Klug said that shouldn't be a problem because Channelside has no creditors.

But if the IBRC's other creditors attempt to object and meddle in the Channelside sale, then the port and bank would have to challenge those claims at a hearing. Under that scenario, Klug said, approval could be pushed back to November.

• • •

But if the federal bankruptcy court denies the bank's petition Friday, then all the bank and port have to do is get a local judge to approve the deal. That could happen in October.

Once the sale is final, port staff will come up with a process to solicit and examine bids from developers. The port could sign a lease giving a developer the right to use the building, or it could sell the entire building to a new developer. It depends on what the port board wants to do.

"We haven't actually thought about whether we're selling or leasing it," Klug said. "The process right now is to finish this."

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