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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Channelside bid rejected by Tampa Port Authority

TAMPA - The long and tangled drama over Channelside Bay Plaza took another unusual turn Tuesday as members of the Tampa Port Authority board went out of their way to reject a still-unfinished proposal by a pair of developers hoping to take over and renovate the complex.
In a unanimous, if complicated, maneuver, board members sent what they called a “decisive” signal that they didn't like where negotiations had gone with the Tampa-based team of Liberty Group and Convergent Capital, and that they wanted the port to be in charge of Channelside's fate.
“Once burned, twice shy,” said port chief executive officer Paul Anderson after the board vote.
Referring to past operators who let the complex fall into disrepair, he added, “We have learned from the past that it's in the best interest of this port and the community to have a little bit of a baseball bat in hand as leverage.”
Liberty and Convergent jointly proposed to take over the lease to the complex and add new shops, restaurants and a small hotel on the second floor of the structure.
But in recent weeks, negotiations broke down on several fronts, as the bidders asked the port to waive any existing defaults on the lease. Port negotiations in turn asked the bidders to put $8 million in capital into an escrow account to pay for renovations, lest they acquire the complex and neglect it.
At one point during meetings, bidders lost their composure and made threats against port staff, only to apologize a day later.
On Tuesday, Santosh Govindaraju, of Convergent, and Punit Shah, of Liberty, attended the port's monthly board meeting. Govindaraju addressed the board, saying his company has “continued interest in Channelside” and that he hoped that “within 30 days, we can come to a conclusion to this matter.”
But he and Shah then left the meeting as it appeared Channelside wasn't on the official agenda.
Then, after the board considered things like budgets and railroad operations on the port, board member Sandra Murman asked for the unusual move of putting a new item up for consideration: Channelside.
“I feel strongly about this,” she said. “We as a board have to be decisive. … I don't want to talk to just one bidder and peel back the onion and find that one isn't going to work out.”
An Irish-based bank officially holds the lease on the property, and Liberty and Convergent were proposing to take over that lease.
After some debate over what they were voting on, the board agreed unanimously to tell the bank that the port was rejecting the re-assignment of the lease to Liberty and Convergent.
That effectively short-circuits Liberty and Convergent's hopes to continue negotiations with the port.
Anderson added after the meeting that the port has far larger projects to consider than Channelside.
“This isn't the only project we are working on,” Anderson said. “While we are doing everything we can, we want to make sure we get Channelside right this time.”
As for whether the port would simply make its own deal with the Irish bank that holds the lease, and thus take total control of the site, Anderson said, “We will look at every option.”
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