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Tampa Port Authority heads to court to speed Channelside sale

TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority's governing board is tired of waiting for a deal that would give beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza a new owner — and hopefully new life.

So the commissioners decided Tuesday to go back to court to pressure the two sides into making a deal.

The board voted unanimously to revive its dormant lawsuit evicting Channelside's old owner, who defaulted on a $27 million loan in 2010 and left the entertainment complex in the hands of the Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin.

The commissioners hope the move gets the bank to come to an agreement with an ownership group led by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, which has emerged as the frontrunner to take over Channelside.

Were the Port Authority to prevail in court, then it could take over the 234,520-square-foot complex free-and-clear and sign a lease with a new operator of its choice. Under that scenario, the Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin, which was nationalized by the Irish government in 2010, wouldn't see a dime of what it might have otherwise gotten out of Channelside.

The earliest date for a trial in Hillsborough Circuit Court would be next year. That gives the bank and the Vinik group several more months to hammer out a deal.

"We've been trying to get this resolved as quickly as possible to stop the hemorrhaging down there," said Charles Klug, counsel for the port. "We've been trying to get a new party in there to start the recovery process.

"We've tried to work with everyone. It's just taking some time."

Restarting litigation is an option the board passed on in June. But during Tuesday's monthly meeting, board members heard that the port staff had nothing new to report about the ongoing negotiations.

"Would your recommendation be to reinitiate (the eviction suit) to speed this up?" port Commissioner Patrick Allman asked.

"That is an option for us," Klug said.

"I want to know what the effects could be," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port board. "Could it push everyone away so that (the deal) doesn't exist anymore?"

Klug told the port commission that it could force the bank to deal, but that the Vinik group itself would not be dragged into the eviction proceedings.

Vinik's ownership group also includes Andrew Wright of the real estate firm Franklin Street and Anthony Everett, the founder and president of Everett Realty Services.

After the commission's vote Tuesday, Klug said he spoke to the Vinik group's attorney, Stephen Mitchell of Tampa.

"He says they're making progress with the bank," Klug said. "They should reach a conclusion soon, hopefully in a couple of months."

Meanwhile, the Port Authority is negotiating its own lease agreement with the Vinik group that would take effect once negotiations with the bank are complete. The Port Authority governing board has the final say on everything, however, because it owns the land that Channelside sits on.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett, the designated spokesman for the Vinik group, sent this statement via email:

"We are aware of the action taken by the board (Tuesday) but as that action doesn't directly involve us, we'll comfortably wait to further engage until directed by the board and its staff."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

Tampa Port Authority heads to court to speed Channelside sale 07/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 10:17pm]
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