TAMPA — This week in court, Liberty Channelside LLC accused the Tampa Port Authority and bank liquidators of rigging the Channelside Bay Plaza auction in favor of the eventual winner: Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.
Now the Tampa Port Authority has fired back with an allegation of its own: It was Liberty that sabotaged the auction by failing to bid.
Had Liberty bid against its competitors — the port and the Vinik group — then the auction would have been more competitive, the motion said.
Instead, Liberty attended the July 2 auction but didn't bid. Then on Tuesday, Liberty challenged the auction in court, accused the Irish Bank Resolution Corp.'s liquidators, the port and the Vinik group of conspiracy, and offered $10 million for control of Channelside.
"Liberty has made a bad-faith attempt to commandeer this bid process for its own benefit," read the port's motion.
Liberty investor Punit Shah released this statement on Friday:
"Despite the responses from the Port and IBRC, the results of the auction speak for themselves. The fact that, out of 80 prospects, only Vinik, the Port, and Liberty were the ones willing to bid reflects that the auction process was poorly conducted and chilled by a multitude of factors."
The New York auction was overseen by the liquidators of the IBRC, the bank that owns Channelside. The Irish bank's assets are being sold off under the watch of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi.
Vinik's new company, CBP Development LLC, won with a bid of $7.1 million for the building. Vinik's new ownership group also presented a letter of credit of $10 million to assure the IBRC and the port that it could rehabilitate the plaza.
The Lightning owner's offer was declared the "highest and best" bid. It was for the most money, and his ownership group proved it had the resources to turn Channelside around.
After failing to bid, Liberty then accused the IBRC of colluding with Vinik before the auction. It also accused the Tampa Port Authority of setting a maximum bid of $15 million to scare away anyone who might bid against Vinik. The port bid $3.5 million for the loan.
The port's attorneys accused Liberty of playing games with the auction process.
"Liberty essentially admits that it knew it could not meet the possible highest and best bid, and, to circumvent this fact, Liberty simply chose not to participate in the live auction in order to obtain an improper advantage," the motion read. "By refusing to bid at the live auction, Liberty eliminated any competition from the auction …
"This was a tactical ploy by Liberty made in an effort to keep the bids stagnant by eliminating any competitive bid increases."
It will be up to the bankruptcy judge to rule on motions and allegations made by both sides. The court must also decide whether Vinik's winning bid will finally settle the ownership of Channelside once and for all. That hearing will take place Tuesday in Delaware.