TAMPA Rather than knock down Channelside Bay Plaza and start over, Santosh Govindaraju has another idea. Add a hotel, new restaurants, office space, and perhaps sort out the most common complaint he hears: Parking. “We can’t change the past, we weren’t involved in the past,” Govindaraju said, strolling along the second floor of the complex, past the empty movie theater, past two empty restaurant spaces and past three empty nightclubs. “But we can change the future.” Wednesday night was the first time residents of the area had a chance to meet face-to-face with Govindaraju, who represents Convergent Capital, and Punit Shah, who represents the other company partnering on the project, Liberty Capital.
More than 300 people packed a meeting room at The Florida Aquarium to hear their plans, and both questions and comments from the crowd were overwhelmingly positive. After spending an undisclosed sum to acquire rights to the lease, the two companies could easily spend $9 million on renovating the site, and another $15 million to build a 150-room hotel that stretches three stories tall and wraps around much of the crescent-shaped second floor. The hotel would have views over the complex to the water, and be a “select service” tier, similar to a Hyatt Place, though they haven’t settled on a final brand. A walking bridge would connect the hotel to the more modern parking garage across the street, and parking rates would be lower and more predictable than the current system. They also hope to shrink the movie theater space, and transform it into a more upscale, perhaps dinner theater business, similar to Cinebistro in Hyde Park Village. With some of that space opened up, they hope to add 45,000 square feet of office space. Adding a hotel and offices, Govindaraju said, would mean more people walking the complex in the daytime. Govindaraju also floated the idea of turning Channelside Drive into a one-way street, which would actually continue the one-way direction that fronts the Forum downtown, and turning Cumberland Drive into a one-way street that flows back into downtown. When questions came, they varied widely. Will the movie theater be family friendly? Yes, the developers said. Will this be a party scene late into the night? No, they answered. They don’t want any more nightclubs in the complex. How will the managers embrace the Hispanic community? To be determined, they said, but look for lots of events to bring different groups together, like Sunday markets, and music and arts festivals. Will the site open up more to the water? Yes, to the extent allowed by the Department of Homeland Security. Will the new restaurants be dog friendly? Absolutely, said Shah, adding that “Every hotel I’ve bought became dog friendly on the day I bought it.” “I’m personally impressed, and excited,” said Daniel LeClair, whose company, AACSB International, has offices nearby on Harbour Island. “We bring a lot of people into Tampa from out of town, and this can be their first impression. … I like that the vision is realistic. They’re not coming in and selling something grandiose.” Jerry Strain, who works in sales for the nearby Stageworks Theater, was also impressed, but hopes the developers can make better walking paths for the several thousand residents who live nearby to stroll into Channelside. The overall bid on Channelside, however, is contingent on approval from the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land under the mall. Port board members have final say on any new mall operator, and have long sought several bidders for the property.