Channelside wish list: Fewer bars, more families
TAMPA - No more bars. No more nightclubs. No more scandals over drunk NFL cheerleaders. Those are among the formal and not-so-formal factors Port Authority officials envision from any of the potential bidders coming forward to take over the long-struggling Channelside entertainment and retail complex in downtown Tampa. "We want a collection of restaurants and shops that are more family oriented," said port counsel Charles Klug. Certainly, current restaurants like Splitsville and Hooters make much of their revenue from beer and wine, Klug said, but there's no interest in letting new operators turn Channelside into Ybor City. "We want to make sure this is something good for the community."Bidders With the bank holding the defunct mortgage looking to unload it, a series of people have come forward offering to take over the complex, including some of Tampa's most prominent business players. Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik is leading one group that includes commercial real estate executive Andrew Wright and Anthony Everett, who is also a real estate executive and the son of notable local real estate broker Toni Everett. A rival four-person group includes Bill Edwards, who recently took ownership of the struggling BayWalk shops in St. Petersburg; real estate executive Lee Arnold; Rick Michaels, who is the current chairman and chief executive of Communications Equity Associates in Tampa, and Ken Jones, who is the CEA executive vice president and general counsel. "Channelside had a similar fate of many entertainment and shopping complexes around the country that struggled," said Jones, who is also the host committee president for the RNC convention this summer. "I do know some people want to raze the whole place and start over. But I think we have a plan for reorientation and restructuring that will work." The key, Jones said while advocating for his own group, is picking local owners who are interested in the long-term health of the complex and the surrounding area – not simply the quarter-by-quarter return on investment. Tenants Anyone taking over will face a decidedly complex picture. Channelside sits adjacent to the cruise ship terminal where thousands of passengers walk through each week. Yet the retail and restaurant complex sits 28 percent vacant, according to monthly reports filed with local courts. For instance, the Channelside Cinema theater filed for bankruptcy, stopped paying rent in April last year and now owes more than half a million dollars, while the total complex has tenant debts of $1.5 million more than 90 days late. On the plus side, managers have repaired escalators and fire systems and piqued interest in a few new tenants. The AQUAFIN seafood restaurant plans to move in, while there's interest from the Tampa Improv comedy club. Scandal More retailers and restaurants would help the center move into a new chapter, Klug said. For a time, several nightclubs dominated the second level, and Channelside made national headlines in November 2005 when two Carolina Panthers cheerleaders were arrested after what may or may not have been an intimate encounter in a restroom stall at the Banana Joe's Island Party nightclub. "We don't want that kind of reputation," Klug said, and the Port has more than a little authority in the matter. Presently, the Port owns the land. The complex above ground is in bankruptcy, and the mortgage was taken back by Anglo Irish Bank, which tried to sell the property last year but couldn't. The Irish bank was nationalized in July into a version of the Resolution Trust Corporation in the United States that took over thousands of distressed properties in the 1980s. Much like someone buying a foreclosed house through a short sale, bidders are now presenting offers to representatives of the Anglo Irish bank in Boston. Representatives for Anglo Irish declined to comment. The Port expects to receive a list of those bidders next week. Bidders would not be paying the Port for the property, but rather the bank. The Port will then ask for extensive proposals from the bidders, an accounting of their financial backing and details on their designs for marketing the property and attracting new tenants. A key point will be how willing those buyers are to pay for improvements in the complex to entice new tenants – or whether all or part of the complex should be torn down and rebuilt to better direct cruise passengers into the shopping area. Once the bidder list is set, a committee with members from the Port, the City of Tampa and others will review the plans and put the list up for a vote at the Port Commission, with everything decided potentially by June.
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