When the Jackson's Bistro waterfront site downtown changes hands today, the names of the buyers will be quite familiar to those in commercial real estate and local government circles.
“It will be the Liberty Group and Convergent Capital guys,” said Maurice Wilder, founder of the Wilder Corp., which is selling the site. “I guess for now they plan on keeping the property and running it as an office building.”
Collectively called Knights Point, the complex is at 601 S. Harbour Island Blvd., at the northwest corner of Harbour Island, where a bridge from downtown Tampa meets the island. Wilder Corp. is selling the complex through a two-part deal totaling $46.5 million. The first part involves Wilder selling the Westin Harbour Island hotel property to the New York-based private equity giant Blackstone for $39 million. On the same day, Wilder is selling the Jackson's parcel to Liberty-Convergent for $7.5 million.
Officials with Liberty and Convergent did not return messages seeking comment.
Blackstone officials confirmed they have a deal in place but did not confirm the purchase price.
The Liberty and Convergent pair have been increasingly active in local development circles, and they haven't shied away from a fight when they pick a site they wish to control.
The pair recently opened the new Aloft hotel in the former Mercantile Bank building at Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard, and they've acquired a string of other hotels across the country. At one point several years ago, they targeted the Channelside Bay Plaza retail and shopping center, though the landowner, Port Tampa Bay, contested that deal.
Last year, the dispute between the port and Liberty-Convergent became so personally contentious that the port broke off negotiations. The Channelside matter landed in a federal bankruptcy court that saw personal appearances on the witness stand by Punit Shah, CEO of Liberty Group, and Santosh Govindaraju, portfolio manager and CEO of Convergent Capital.
In July, all sides of the Channelside fight signed a settlement, helped in part by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik making an undisclosed payment to Liberty and Convergent for their development plans. That opened the way for Vinik to move along with his plan to remake the broader neighborhood around the Forum, where his hockey team plays.
Wilder originally bought the overall Harbour Island set of parcels in 2005 for a total of about $32.8 million.
Despite Tampa's vast waterfront space, Jackson's remains one of the few waterfront restaurants in the area, though that's gradually changing. The Gonzmart-family backed Ulele restaurant opened in August on the Hillsborough River. The Sail Pavilion, adjacent to the Tampa Convention Center, has turned into a popular spot, particularly during conventions. The Getaway beach bar-restaurant opened last autumn on the south side of the Gandy Boulevard causeway, adjacent to so-called “Beer Can Beach.”
As construction on the Riverwalk finishes through downtown, many restaurant and development observers expect a few more waterside spaces to open up.
As for the Westin hotel, Blackstone already held the lease on the hotel and managed the day-to-day operations, said managing director Glenn Alba, and Blackstone has no plans to dramatically change operations or switch brands of the hotel. “This is purely a real estate transaction,” Alba said. “We had the opportunity, and since we're already the operator of the hotel, this was a way to consolidate our ownership. We're pleased with the market and the performance of the hotel.”