TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik just jumped back into the race to control Channelside Bay Plaza.
The owner of the Lightning controls CBP Development LLC, which according to court records has the highest starting bid for Channelside in the auction coming on Wednesday.
CBP bid $7.1 million, records show. That is now the highest offer on record for downtown Tampa's dilapidated outdoor mall.
Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett confirmed that Vinik controls CBP Development LLC and has put in a bid for Channelside. But the Vinik spokesman declined to answer any other questions.
More than 60 potential bidders signed the confidentiality agreement required to participate in the Channelside auction. That allowed potential buyers to examine Channelside's records before the sale.
But according to court records, just three turned in bids. They are all familiar players in the Channelside saga:
• Vinik, who bought the Lightning and the Tampa Bay Times Forum lease in 2010 for what is believed to be $110 million, and has since bought 23 acres of empty Channel District property around the Times Forum and nearby Channelside.
Vinik tried to buy Channelside in 2012 but walked away from the deal when legal complications arose. They have been resolved, but Vinik stayed away from the property while it fell under control of a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware, who ordered that Channelside be put up for auction.
• Liberty Channelside LLC, which is under the control of bay area real estate investors Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah. They specialize in reviving distressed real estate and have previously offered $7 million for Channelside.
They also tried to buy it last year, but the Tampa Port Authority voted to kill the deal. Liberty has since proven to be a formidable foe in court against the port.
• The Tampa Port Authority, which voted June 17 to enter the auction at $5.75 million. That's how much the port tried to buy Channelside for last year, but Liberty sued and got a judge to dismiss the port authority's deal.
The port authority wants to buy Channelside but doesn't want to spend the millions needed to revive the complex. Instead, it wants to choose the developer who will fix Channelside.
If the port were to win the auction, it could sign a development deal with Vinik. The port's governing board became enamored of Vinik's 2012 plan to create a "Tampa Live" version of L.A. Live, a mix of hotels, shops, residences and restaurants built next to Los Angeles' NBA and NHL teams at the Staples Center. The Tampa version would complement Vinik's hockey team and be built in conjunction with his other Channel District holdings.
The port's governing board could vote to raise its bid price. In fact, all the bidders will be able to bid against one another when the auction starts at 10 a.m. at the New York offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the law firm representing the liquidators in charge of selling off the U.S. assets of the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. Channelside is one of those assets.
But it will take more than the highest bid to win Channelside. The auction rules state that the "best bid" will win, and that means the bidder that can prove it has the resources and the capability of rehabilitating and reviving the nearly empty outdoor mall.
It would also help if that bidder had the endorsement of the Tampa Port Authority's governing board, which owns the land beneath Channelside and has long asserted the right to approve any sale. The port has spent the past year at odds with Liberty in court, though port board members spoke highly of Vinik's plans for Channelside in 2012.
It won't be enough just to win Wednesday's auction. The judge must approve the winning bid at a July 15 hearing. That's also when the other bidders will get to challenge the winning bid.
Liberty has already indicated that it intends to challenge the auction itself in court.