The city of Tampa and the Tampa Port Authority need to apply what pressure they can to speed a decision on who will manage the beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza complex. The retail and entertainment venue was once downtown's next great thing — a hopping mix of retail, bars and restaurants that would attract locals and visitors alike and anchor the new condos in downtown's Channel District. But Channelside today is a shell of its former self, and if the foot-dragging continues it could be the wrong kind of anchor for an emerging downtown.
The abrupt closing Tuesday of Channelside Cinemas is but the latest flight from the complex, and it highlights the downward spiral of a sprawling venue that should be a crown jewel on the downtown waterfront. Stump's Supper Club and the Howl at the Moon piano bar closed earlier this month, over what one owner said were concerns about a lack of commitment by the landlords now that Channelside has been in receivership for two years.
New York real estate firm Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. bought the complex in 2006 but later failed to make payments on its $27 million bank loan. That prompted the bank that owned the property, Anglo Irish Bank of Dublin, to take it back in 2010. Several investors, including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, have submitted proposals to take over the property. While negotiations continue with the bank, the port has a hand in this decision too. It owns the land under Channelside and has veto power over any offer.
The city and the port should use their influence to pressure the bank to come to a decision. Two years is long enough; no one benefits by having Channelside die a slow death or driving down its brand for the few businesses still there. The city and the port have more influence than they might think; their cooperation is key if Channelside is to be a success for the bank and any new investor.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been a big booster for Channelside; his support for the trolley that runs alongside the venue is the sort of public commitment this project will need to remain viable over the long term. But the mayor was wrong to say the theater's closing was "a good thing." He may have been speaking to a deteriorating relationship between the theater and the landlord, but residents still lost a theater — and this area needs one. And there is nothing good in having more vacancies at Channelside as it struggles. The city and port should make the bank clearly aware of the public's stake in a management change — and of the consequences for all sides in continuing to drag out a decision.