Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Sale of Channelside Bay Plaza opens door for Jeff Vinik

That's it? Really? So after all the bickering, all the fits and starts, all the negotiations, all the "So's your ol' man" single finger salutes it came down to this? A mere lousy, stinking $5.75 million to buy up Channelside Bay Plaza — one of the most USDA Prime cuts of real estate in downtown Tampa?

This is just a bit like being able to purchase a home in Avila for $1.50.

In recent years poor Channelside, which was once touted as a future retail and entertainment nirvana, had instead taken on a bit of a threadbare look. There were probably more fun and games options to be found in downtown Aleppo than the steadily declining Channelside Bay Plaza complex of red ink.

The complex went into foreclosure in 2010 when the old owner defaulted on a $27 million loan. And thus began the long, steady legal battle between various potential suitors to come to the rescue. But first they had to deal with the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., holders of the bad paper and the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land upon which Channelside sits.

Everyone always assumed Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik had the inside track to buy Channelside because it would fit so neatly with his already existing holdings in the area. And, of course, Vinik also makes Daddy Warbucks look like a roadside aluminum can collector.

But when Vinik and the Irish bankers got into a tiff, the mogul walked away from the deal.

Then along came two ambitious real estate developers, Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju, who made a bid on the complex. But that deal also got scuttled.

Irony alert: Shah and Govindaraju were forced to walk away after the Port Authority Board made unreasonable demands on the men and questioned their business acumen. And who voted against them? Then Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown, who himself was forced to resign after disclosures emerged he was running a cockroach-infested slumlord empire. And this guy was giving the stink eye to two young successful entrepreneurs?

Is it any wonder naughty words were uttered?

So let's review. The original owner goes belly up on a $27 million loan. The most current appraisal on the land values the complex at $12 million. And now the Port Authority has managed to make the Irish eyes smile for $5.75 million just to go away.

Not a bad deal. After all the Port Authority probably has $5.75 million hanging around just in its vending machines.

Now what? Just who might the Port Authority sell the Channelside complex to? Who could possibly be available and interested and have the financial wherewithal to seal the deal?

Hmmmmmm? Who? Who? Who? You're right. This is probably a crazy, zany, cuckoo, completely off-the-wall idea. But do you think it's remotely possible Jeff Vinik could be induced to once more enter the picture?

And because the port bought the complex for $5.75 million, it's entirely possible Vinik could snatch up Channelside for, oh $5,750,000.35.

So all's well that ends well. Channelside seems poised to rise from it fiscal ashes to reclaim its former glory. Jeff Vinik could well be on the brink of expanding his real estate empire.

And when the Tampa Bay Rays move to downtown Tampa things will really start hopping, which — forgive a touch of cynicism — is what this deal ultimately always has been about anyway.

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