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Channelside outlook brightens

Published: April 29, 2013
You have to go back about four years, when Tampa last hosted a Super Bowl, to find something positive to say about the Channelside retail complex.Thousands of revelers packed Channelside in the days leading up to the Super Bowl in 2009, providing a rare glimpse of its potential as a waterfront entertainment and dining destination that could transform that part of downtown.Four years later, it’s 60 percent vacant. The drawn-out legal entanglements involving former managers and a defaulted mortgage have cast a pall over efforts by the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land underneath the complex, to pump new life into the property.But maybe, just maybe, those days are coming to an end. We sincerely hope so.Two local developers told Tampa Tribune reporter Richard Mullins that they have the financing in place to breathe new life into the complex. Convergent Capital Partners and the Liberty Group, both based in Tampa, have submitted a joint bid to the Tampa Port Authority to become Channelside’s operators.Mullins also reports that one of the legal stumbling blocks to attracting prospective operators appears to have been resolved. That legal hurdle gave a former manager a right-of-first-refusal over deals with other potential operators.That hurdle was an issue for Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who expressed an interest in taking over Channelside as part of a grander plan to link the retail complex with the Forum where his hockey team plays. He eventually put his bid on hold, but not his interest.You can’t help shaking your head and wondering just what the original Channelside developers were thinking when they decided on a design that walls off pedestrians and minimizes its waterfront location. Subsequent changes to appease security concerns after 9/11 only worsened the access problem for cruise ship passengers and pedestrians alike.Interested developers know it needs a serious facelift. They also know it’s on the water and situated between a cruise port and a large entertainment venue that hosts major concerts and a professional sports team. In other words, it has location.The Port Authority may consider the recent bid by the Convergent and Liberty group at its meeting next month. Their early plans call for a mix of retail, office space, restaurants and a 150-room hotel.They also are seeking rent concessions and $1 million from the port to build a pedestrian “sky bridge” connecting the parking deck to the complex.The initial reaction from one Port Authority board member was less than enthusiastic. “It would be nice to see some other ideas for Channelside,” William “Hoe” Brown said.Those ideas could still come from Vinik.With that troubling legal hurdle eliminated, and with new residential towers planned for the neighborhood, the homely retail complex is suddenly looking a lot more attractive.The port needs to be fiscally responsible while insisting the future design maximizes Channelside’s waterfront appeal.