Jeff Vinik is a community leader who spent $40 million of his own money turning the publicly owned Forum where his hockey team plays into a first-rate entertainment venue.
He’s long expressed an interest in taking control of the failed Channelside Bay Plaza retail complex near the Forum as part of a plan to develop an entertainment district in that part of downtown. Now he has come forward with a $7.1 million bid for the complex that has the support of Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors, who own the land underneath the complex and want to work with a developer who shares their vision for the area.
If all goes as planned, Vinik’s bid will be considered today along with at least two others in a federal court auction, with the winning bid expected to be determined later this month by a bankruptcy judge.
We think Vinik’s vision for the area, and the enthusiastic support for that plan expressed by the port’s board, provide ample reason for the judge to award the complex to Vinik.
The two other known bids — one by the port initially set at $5.75 million, and another thought to be $7 million by a development company previously rejected by the port — can’t compete with Vinik’s resources and commitment to developing the Channelside area.
The port’s bid is more about keeping control of the complex until a suitable operator is found. It appears the board has found that bidder in Vinik and is willing to let him win the bid. The other bid, by Liberty Channelside LLC, appears to be aimed at least in part at punishing the port board for rejecting its earlier proposal. The two parties have been in a legal battle ever since. That’s unfortunate. There should be other redevelopment opportunities in the area for Liberty. Prolonged litigation will only complicate Channelside redevelopment and hurt the community.
As the owner of the property underneath the complex, the port appears to have the final say on who operates the complex. But the bankruptcies by a failed former operator and the Irish bank that owned the mortgage on the complex have clouded that issue. It’s possible the bankruptcy judge might have the final say based on the bids being opened today.
That’s why it’s critical the judge give great weight to the plan Vinik put forward and his proven commitment to revitalizing the district.
At a meeting before the port’s board Monday, representatives for Vinik unveiled preliminary renderings that show a major renovation of the complex, along with a hotel he’s already announced near the complex. Vinik has purchased numerous lots around the Channelside area as part of a vision for an entertainment district with the retail complex as a centerpiece.
His bid is a reason to cheer for long-suffering tenants of the complex, for residents filling the condo towers nearby, for cruise ship passengers and Florida Aquarium patrons, and for the thousands of concertgoers and Tampa Bay Lightning fans who visit the Forum every year. Vinik is a known entity who has invested wisely in the area and given generously to the community. Let’s hope the judge has the good sense to take all of that into consideration.