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Vinik bids $7.1M for Channelside

Jeff Vinik is back in the running to acquire Channelside Bay Plaza, with a starting bid of $7.1 million for the shopping and restaurant complex next to the Forum where his hockey team plays.

An auction is scheduled Wednesday for the Channelside complex. Two other parties are also in the running, according to court papers filed late Friday — Port Tampa Bay and the joint venture Liberty Group/Convergent Capital, which is in litigation with the port over the Channelside project.

Vinik has been silent for months on the subject of Channelside, though he submitted proposals in past years only to back away amid the legal quagmire.

Reached Friday evening, Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said, “I can confirm that Jeff Vinik indeed made a bid for Channelside.”

Wickett declined to comment further.

Vinik’s bid was buried in a 170-page court document filed late Friday with a federal bankruptcy court in Delaware. The document also includes Vinik’s proposed purchase agreement and other legal paperwork for a prospective sale if he prevails at auction.

To help make that bid, Vinik turned to a longtime associate, Jac Sperling, a financial adviser and sports industry operative whom the NHL helped introduce to Vinik as a guide in the acquisition of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team in 2010.

Sperling was also tapped several years ago by the NBA to help take over the struggling New Orleans Hornets basketball team. Prospective deal contracts for Channelside all have signatures by Sperling.

Vinik’s bid papers don’t include floor plans or site plans or disclose exactly what he plans to do with Channelside.

He has said he hopes for a way to rehabilitate the neighborhood around the Forum.

More than a few local elected leaders have said they hope Vinik’s plans help usher in a baseball stadium to coax the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa from St. Petersburg.

Companies connected with Vinik have been acquiring parcels of land north of the Forum, including several restaurant sites, parking lots and the few remaining homes in the immediate area.

Whether Vinik prevails will be up to the intricacies of bankruptcy law and how bankruptcy lawyers handle an upcoming auction.

Port Tampa Bay owns the land underneath Channelside and functions as the landlord for the mall. The mall has struggled, leading the operator to vacate years ago, and the property fell into foreclosure both by the port and by the Irish bank that held the mortgage on the above-ground structure.

To make matters more complicated, the Irish bank also filed bankruptcy and now the bank’s assets are being sold off, Channelside interests included.

Port Tampa Bay scheduled a hearing for Monday on presentations by prospective bidders in anticipation of the bankruptcy auction scheduled two days later.

For Wednesday’s auction, bidders will put in bids for both the mortgage on the property and the lease to operate the site. Leading up to the auction, lawyers for the Irish bank late Friday filed a public notice of where the highest bids so far stand to set a so-called “floor level” to begin the auction.

That document named CBP Development LLC, a company controlled by Vinik, as bidding $7.1 million for the lease to the property. If his bid for the lease is not successful, he’s also bidding $3 million for the mortgage on Channelside, which presumably would enable him to take over the lease.

The document then lists the two other parties that submitted bids: Liberty Channelside LLC, a company created by Liberty Group and Convergent Capital of Tampa, and the Tampa Port Authority. Their bid amounts were not disclosed, presumably because they were lower than Vinik’s.

Vinik’s $7.1 million bid comes in at just $100,000 higher than an offer attorneys for Liberty/Convergent said they were ready to make as part of their drive to intervene in the case.

If the auction proceeds as planned, lawyers involved in the case plan to present results of the auction to the court for approval July 15.

The highest dollar bid may not win the day. Bankruptcy law envisions a concept of highest but also “best” offer, which means courts will take into consideration a bidder’s financial wherewithal to complete a deal, and whether the bidder has a plan to help the asset prosper and avoid returning to bankruptcy court.

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