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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Tampa Port Authority should pursue Channelside’s purchase

If nothing else, the tortured litigation that has dogged the Channelside Bay Plaza retail complex is proof that the Tampa Port Authority should take complete control of the troubled complex.

A bankruptcy judge this past week scuttled a $5.75 million deal the Port Authority’s board had negotiated with the Irish bank that holds the mortgage on the complex. But the judge’s decision shouldn’t deter the port from its pursuit of the complex. Port board members should regroup and make a better offer, one the judge can’t refuse.

There’s too much at stake to take a chance on allowing an outside interest to gain too much control over the complex. That model resulted in the legal morass that has put the complex into a prolonged tailspin.

The port needs to gain control, seek public input and embark on a plan to turn Channelside into a vibrant commercial and entertainment destination.

The complex was poorly designed to begin with, and has been unable to rise from its lackluster beginnings because of the legal hurdles presented by outside ownership.

The port owns the land underneath the complex, but the buildings that comprise the shops and restaurants are currently owned by the Irish bank, which is in foreclosure.

That’s why the port’s deal with the Irish bank was subject to approval by a bankruptcy judge. Unfortunately, the judge decided the offer was too low and ordered the bank to seek new bids.

Already in line are two local developers who offered $5.5 million for the complex last year but were rejected by the port’s board, which has the final say on ownership. Those developers, Liberty Group and Convergent Capital, are now suing the port, claiming their bid was wrongfully denied and laced with ethnic bias because they are of Indian descent.

They made a last-minute bid to purchase the complex for $7 million in recent weeks, delivering a check to the bankruptcy judge in what turned out to be a successful effort to scuttle the port’s deal with the Irish bank.

The judge put little stock in their racial bias claims, but took notice of the higher bid. The port should now get with the Irish bank and deliver a suitable offer. Sadly, the legal high jinks by the local developers will end up costing the port. And it adds further delays to putting Channelside on the path to success.

The port made the right move in September to seek to bring the complex under its ownership, where it can control the rebirth and management of this vital link to commerce and entertainment in a growing area of downtown Tampa.

The port should continue full speed ahead until it has total control of Channelside.

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