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Legal issues still delaying Channelside Bay Plaza sale

TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority's deal to buy Channelside Bay Plaza is still on. It's just not going anywhere right now.

The proposed sale of the downtown retail center is stuck behind a legal roadblock that has delayed court approval of the deal. That raises the issue of whether the deal will bump up against its Nov. 30 expiration date.

Port officials said Tuesday, however, that the delays will likely have no detrimental effect. If the delays push the deal past the Nov. 30 deadline, then both sides would likely agree to an extension, Port Authority attorney Charles Klug said.

"The continuing saga continues," Klug told the port's governing board Tuesday.

The port owns the land, but an Irish bank owns the building. Channelside is in desperate need of a new developer and a new vision. But neither side could agree on who that should be. The port resolved the issue by deciding to buy Channelside itself.

So in September, the Tampa Port Authority agreed to buy Channelside from the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. for $5.75 million.

But that deal was complicated by the IBRC's decision to seek Chapter 15 federal bankruptcy protection for its U.S. assets, including Channelside. A federal judge in Delaware has yet to rule on the Chapter 15 petition. But it did issue a temporary stay, halting all litigation involving the IBRC's assets and giving the Irish bank's creditors time to investigate its assets.

But the judge has yet to make a final decision on the Chapter 15 petition itself. Resolving that issue would get the Channelside deal moving through the legal pipeline again.

Once the bankruptcy court grants the bank Chapter 15 protection, then creditors would have two weeks to challenge the Channelside sale. But port officials said Channelside has no creditors, so a challenge is unlikely to be upheld.

Then, after a federal judge has approved the Channelside sale, it moves to Hillsborough Circuit Court. That's where the port sued the bank in 2010. A state judge would have to approve the Channelside sale as a part of the settlement of the lawsuit.

It would actually be simpler if the federal judge denied the IBRC's Chapter 15 request. Then the deal would just need the approval of a Hillsborough circuit judge.

Officials said Tuesday that they remain confident the deal is going to happen — hopefully before the end of the year.