Sunday, January 21, 2018
Business

Suitor seeks to block sale of Channelside to Port of Tampa

TAMPA — The owners of Channelside Bay Plaza sought a federal judge's approval last week for a speedy sale of the faded downtown mall to the Tampa Port Authority.

A former suitor is saying not so fast.

Liberty Channelside LLC, which tried and failed to buy the mall last year, asked the judge to block the sale until a court rules on Liberty's claims that the port improperly thwarted its bid to purchase the mall from current owner Irish Bank Resolution Corp.

It's the latest legal back-and-forth over Channelside and threatens to further delay a sale that was supposed take place by the 2013 holidays.

"The Sale Motion should be denied and the Court should provide for an auction … ," reads the motion Liberty filed on Monday, "that not only provide for a full and fair sale but which also re(-)mediate the abusive and overreaching tactics of the Port Authority in tainting the competitive sale process."

Last year, the port and the Irish bank resolved their long and bitter feud over choosing a new developer to turn the nearly empty retail center around. In September, the port authority, which owns the land, agreed to buy the Channelside building from the bank for $5.75 million so that it can have sole power to choose a new developer.

But the sale needs the approval of the federal court because last year the bank sought Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection for its American assets.

After months of delay, the bank asked the judge on Friday to approve the Channelside sale as soon as possible and to waive the standard 14-day window for anyone to challenge the deal in court.

Liberty quickly challenged the expedited sale. Negotiations over its own offer to purchase Channelside for $5.5 million grew contentious last spring, and in May the port board voted to reject the sale.

Then, after the port signed its own deal to buy Channelside, Liberty sued both the port and the bank in federal court in December.

In its filings Monday, Liberty's attorney said that neither the port nor the bank has responded to the allegation in its December lawsuit: that the port intentionally sabotaged its deal.

Liberty not only wants Channelside to be auctioned off, but it is also seeking unspecified monetary damages against the port.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.

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