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Former owner of Channelside, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. has ties to many large real estate projects

TAMPA — When Ben Ashkenazy took over the Channelside Bay Plaza complex in 2006, the New York City investor already managed a swelling portfolio of high-priced real estate.

Having acquired 50 large shopping centers, office buildings and other properties, Ashkenazy saw Channelside as another retail moneymaker for his $1 billion investment fund.

"We're in it for the long term," Ashkenazy told the Tampa Bay Times at the time. "We think we can improve the mix."

But in 2010, Ashkenazy's firm, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., saw the struggling complex foreclosed after the firm defaulted on a $27 million loan.

And on Monday, a commissioner for the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the Channelside land, cited the firm's "right of first refusal" as a roadblock in handing over the complex to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his partners.

Despite the troubles at Channelside, Ashkenazy's firm remains a big player in real estate investing. The firm's portfolio now totals more than 100 buildings valued at about $5 billion, the firm's website states, including 13 million square feet of retail, office and residential space across North America.

A third of the firm's portfolio is in the New York area, where it is one of the largest retail landlords on iconic Madison Avenue, according to a New York Times interview with Ben Ashkenazy's partner, Michael Alpert.

The firm also invests across the country. It operates high-profile centers including Union Station in Washington, D.C., the Rivercenter mall in San Antonio and the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. In March, the firm bought the Village of Cross Keys, an upscale shopping center in Baltimore, for $25 million.

The firm, Alpert said, expected to invest $700 million this year buying property and acquiring debt.

In 2010, the Anglo Irish Bank, which is now the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Limited, foreclosed on the Channelside property, claiming the firm owed $26.1 million and had not made a payment in more than a year.

That same year, the Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. defaulted and lost ownership of the Shops of Grand Avenue, a sprawling mall in downtown Milwaukee, that it had bought for $31.7 million in 2005.

Alpert told the Boston Globe last year that the Tampa and Milwaukee centers were the only two stains on an otherwise healthy portfolio, adding that those venues were "overleveraged assets in troubled markets."

Jaime Austrich, an attorney representing Ashkenazy, said Monday he could not go into detail on Ashkenazy's motivations for Channelside. But he defended Ashkenazy against claims that the firm was a stumbling block tripping up the Channelside deal.

"The negative comments about him are not based in fact," Austrich said. "He had that center to the highest occupancy it had ever seen."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

Former owner of Channelside, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. has ties to many large real estate projects 10/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 10:22pm]

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