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Tampa Port Authority sues to oust Channelside Bay Mall owner

The public agency that oversees Tampa's port has sued to boot out the owner of its most high-profile property, Channelside Bay Plaza.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the Tampa Port Authority charged that Channelside Bay Mall LLC owes $330,000 in rent and late fees, violated Tampa fire codes and let the entertainment and shopping center fall into disrepair.

The agency, which owns the land under the mall, is asking a judge to terminate Channelside Bay's lease and seeks unspecified damages. It cites a half dozen violations of the lease the company assumed from previous owner Orix Hogan Burt in 2005. The lease runs through 2036 with options for 40 more years.

Operation of the mall's 24 restaurants, nightclubs, shops and offices shouldn't be disrupted during litigation, port director Richard Wainio said.

Port staffers have bickered for nearly two years with Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., the private New York real estate investment firm that controls Channelside Bay Mall LLC, Wainio said. Ending the lease "is just one option," he said. "We just want to resolve the issues."

Ashkenazy's attorney in Tampa couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. In December, attorney Jaime Austrich blamed the Port Authority's mismanagement of parking in the Channelside area for declining sales for the center's tenants.

Channelside Bay Plaza evicted four clubs last year: Margarita Mama's, Banana Joe's, the Velvet Room and Lucky's. Michael Dennis, who owned all four clubs, said a drop in business last summer made it hard to pay the $57,000 monthly rent. Channelside Bay Plaza isn't covering its costs, Austrich said in December.

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 concern 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. The fire marshal has approved special events when the facility has provided an additional exit though a gate to a port dock.

Merchants validate parking stubs so patrons can get a discounted rate in the Port Authority's garage. Channelside must pay $252,000 a year for the discount but hasn't made a payment in more than a year. The company owes nearly $319,000, plus $12,866 for a valet lot, the lawsuit states.

Port officials also say Channelside has failed to repair broken light fixtures, torn awnings, discolored flooring and walkways.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa Port Authority sues to oust Channelside Bay Mall owner 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 10:51pm]
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