1. Business

Project vision begins to emerge as Port Tampa Bay okays selling parking lot to Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment for $9.8 million

TAMPA — It's not much to look at now, but the Garrison parking lot that Port Tampa Bay agreed to sell Tuesday to Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment is seen as a key piece of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project.

"It's pretty high on the priority list," said Bryan Moll, executive vice president of Strategic Property Partners, the development company that Vinik created with Cascade Investment.

So Strategic Property Partners is looking at a plan — conceptual at the moment — for two towers with a total of 350 to 550 apartments or condominiums on the northern end of that lot, plus some stores and restaurants near the seawall next to the Garrison Channel.

That will take years to develop, but it's one part of the plan to activate the area around Channelside Bay Plaza, the struggling mixed-use plaza now controlled by the Vinik-Cascade partnership.

This summer, developers plan to open a waterfront park and beer garden with pop-up restaurants on about an acre cleared last fall by the demolition of one wing of Channelside Bay Plaza. Inside, developers are converting some of the plaza to office space. Vinik sees Channelside as a future home for tech companies and a Tampa office of the startup accelerator Dreamit, into which he just invested $12 million.

"The success of the waterfront and of Channelside, we think, depends on the long-term success of Garrison," Moll said. "They're all inter-related."

What Strategic Property Partners has in mind is different, but Moll said the success of the public market at the renovated Armature Works building shows that "people want to be out near the water, want to be social, want to be able to enjoy it."

"That provides a fantastic opportunity for us, and we plan to take full advantage of it," he said.

More details of the plan emerged Tuesday as the port's board approved a multi-part agreement with a Strategic Property Partners subsidiary, CBP Development, to:

• Sell 20,000 square feet of the Garrison lot to CBP for about $9.87 million.

• Lease most of the rest of the parking lot to CBP for rent that starts at $517,667 a year and rises over time.

• Hire CBP to run two parking garages and two parking lots next to the port's cruise ship terminals. Under the agreement, CBP will keep 37.5 percent of parking revenues collected, with the rest going to the port.

The port and the Vinik-Cascade have been discussing a deal for the parking lot, at the corner of Channelside and Beneficial drives, for three years.

BACKGROUND: 'The area along the Garrison Channel should be activated and integrated'

"This is great for the community," port commissioner Gregory Celestan said. "We're really appreciative that we're finally getting this started."

'Common sense should apply'

In other business, port commissioners Mike Griffin and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said they will be looking to see a lot of detail in an audit that port executives commissioned last December into three years of port staff spending on promotions and marketing.

Buckhorn, who has called news reports last year that port executives had charged thousands of dollars' worth of golf club memberships, Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets and meals at luxury restaurants "not the port's finest hour," said he wanted an audit that outlined "this was appropriate, this was not appropriate, this reimbursement is justified."

Since news reports on the spending, the port has tightened policies, but commissioner Patrick Allman said "the problem that you have is that (auditors) can only review was the policy that was in effect at the time followed."

"Even if that policy proved to be inappropriate?" Buckhorn asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," said Allman, who has helped the port's outside auditors at Rivero, Gordimer & Company put together a work plan for the audit. "The policy, for example, didn't require you to turn in a receipt then. Now it does. How can you fault (someone) for not turning in a receipt" when it wasn't required.

Still, Buckhorn said, "if it doesn't pass the smell test, it should be noted."

No matter what the policy was before, "it should be fairly simple to go back three years and look at similar types of expenditures and determine whether that was appropriate or not," the mayor said. "Common sense should apply. Logic should apply. ... If were mistakes were made, we need to acknowledge that and move on."

MORE: Go here for more Business News