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Tampa Port Authority waives $440K in Channelside debt to get new manager

TAMPA — The public agency that oversees Tampa's port will waive nearly $440,000 in debt as part of a deal to bring new management to struggling Channelside Bay Plaza.

Tampa Port Authority board members unanimously agreed Tuesday to drop the agency's eviction lawsuit against the retail and entertainment center's owner, Channelside Bay Mall LLC. The action will make possible a deal for Channelside's lender to take back the property and bring in a new manager, said attorneys for the agency.

None of the members were happy about letting Channelside's principal owner, New York City real estate mogul Ben Ashkenazy, off the hook. But the deal will rid the Port Authority of a tenant who stopped paying bills, didn't keep up with maintenance and ran afoul of Tampa's fire marshal. The Port Authority owns the land under the retail and entertainment center.

"Our current situation is we have someone in control of a lease that we do not have a relationship with," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "It is our hope that (this) would be a more responsive situation."

Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin filed a foreclosure suit in March, charging that Channelside hadn't made a payment in more than a year on its $27 million loan to buy the property in 2006. Channelside still owed $26.1 million, plus interest, the suit said.

Attorneys for the bank and Channelside told a Hillsborough judge this month that they had a deal to resolve the dispute. The paperwork hasn't been filed but should be wrapped up shortly, said David Hendrix, an attorney for the Port Authority. Channelside essentially will walk away from the loan, he said.

Anglo Irish will hire Charles Taylor, vice president of the property management firm Madison Marquette, to run Channelside in a week or two, said Hendrix. The company, owner and operator of Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa, will start making payments on Channelside for this month, he said.

Channelside was designed as an upscale specialty retail center with restaurants and entertainment when it opened beside the Florida Aquarium in 2001. The center is home to a 10-screen cinema, a Hooters and a Bennigan's. But the biggest crowds show up for special events tied to holidays and sports events at the nearby St. Pete Times Forum.

Those crowds have been a concern to Tampa's fire marshal. The only approved emergency exit from the courtyard is a walkway running past Hooters, not large enough to handle 1,000 or more people.

Merchants validate parking stubs so patrons can get a discounted rate in the Port Authority's garage. Channelside agreed to pay $252,000 a year for the discount but hadn't made a payment in more than a year, the Port Authority said in its suit in February.

At the time, Channelside owed $330,000 in rent, fees and interest, the suit said. That had grown to nearly $440,000 this month.

In December, Ashkenazy's Tampa attorney, Jaime Austrich, blamed the Port Authority's mismanagement of parking in the Channelside area for declining sales for the center's tenants.

Reach Steve Huettel at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa Port Authority waives $440K in Channelside debt to get new manager 06/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 12:23am]
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