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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Port admonishes Channelside bidders’ ‘decorum’

TAMPA - Bidders hoping to take over the Channelside Bay Plaza apparently lost their “decorum” – using “foul” language and making threats against officials with the Tampa Port Authority who would be their future landlords – as negotiations over a potential deal reached an impasse this week. A partnership between Tampa-based Liberty Group and Convergent Capital is attempting to take over the lease for the struggling retail and restaurant complex, and add a hotel and new shops to the property at the cruise ship terminal. Late Wednesday, however, Port officials wrote to the bidders with a three-page list of documents and items needed to proceed further, and they added a scolding at the end. The Port would continue to meet over the proposed deal, “provided, however, that certain rules of decorum are followed. These include no harsh or foul language during the negotiations and no threats to or against any of the participants,” according to a letter from Port Counsel Charles Klug to the bidders.
“The Port will not tolerate such statements or threats,” the letter continued, “and advises Liberty’s representatives to govern themselves accordingly!” The bidders responded today in a statement by Punit Shah of Liberty group: “We are fully committed to the Channelside Bay Plaza and look forward to having our application reviewed on June 18.” “While we have been frustrated by our interpretation of a complex and unique negotiation, we remain committed to and passionate about the Channelside Bay Plaza project,” the statement said. The bidders plan to schedule meetings and continue discussions with the port, Shah’s statement said: “We are open to discussing reasonable and viable options that demonstrate our financial commitment and we are hopeful and confident that we can reach mutually agreeable terms.” The Port’s missive came after scores of meetings at Liberty’s offices that reached an “impasse,” particularly over a request by the Port that Liberty/Convergent put up at least $8 million in an escrow account to pay for planned renovations. The funds would in part protect the Port from the situation it endured when the previous mall operator let the complex fall into disrepair and bankruptcy. (A court-ordered receiver is now maintaining the complex as a caretaker.) Port officials say they remain ready and willing to keep negotiating, but listed several areas where talks remain at an impasse: Liberty/Channelside are still asking for the Port to waive current defaults on the mall lease, which the Port says it doesn’t have to give for one mall operator to take over for another. The Port is still waiting for an outright financial commitment to the project, as they say is required in the original application form offered to bidders. The Port is still waiting for current financial statements of the bidders provided by a “Big Four” accounting firm. Though Liberty has shown the Port copies of letters from banks showing amounts on deposit, “there has been no indication that these funds are available,” Klug wrote. The bidders have not demonstrated experience with retail operations, and the port has received “conflicting statements” about their proposed retail management company arrangement. Meanwhile, several Port board members say they want far more details about the bidder’s plans, and they won’t move forward with any vote on the project until port staff to finish negotiations. At one point, the bidders envisioned a potential Port vote on the deal this Tuesday, but the current agenda for the meeting does not detail that item. Any more meetings, the Port wrote, “must remain civil and address the outstanding issues listed above in a constructive manner.”

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