Tampa Port Authority rejects Channelside deal - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Tampa Port Authority rejects Channelside deal

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The Tampa Port Authority board members voted unanimously to reject a plan by local investors to purchase Channelside Bay Plaza.

The Liberty Group and Convergent Capital have been working for months on a plan to buy the struggling entertainment complex. The groups had drawn up plans that included 45,000 square feet of new office space, new restaurants and shops, as well as a new hotel.

Several weeks ago, investor Santosh Govindaraju sounded optimistic. "What we believe today, is that this should be an entertainment hub, an extension of the living room," he explained during an interview. "Not very different than a country club for the residents that live in this area."

Govindaraju and his partner had a contract on the facility, but they needed the Port's approval to close on the deal. The Tampa Port Authority owns the land on which Channelside sits. The negotiations hit a snag last week, when the two sides couldn't agree on how much Liberty Group should put in an escrow account to pay for renovations. Liberty proposed putting in $2 million, the board wanted $8 million.

"If this isn't working out, it's like buying a home," explained board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "If you can't negotiate and get the deal you want, obviously, you're going to walk away."

Murman made the motion to bring up the Channelside lease deal. The issue wasn't originally on the agenda. She said she feels the board needed to send a decisive message.

"The board needs to step up. We need to be in charge. We need to be the leader, and say we're going to do what's right for this community." she said.

Murman said she doesn't believe the board had the assurances it needed to feel confident the Liberty Group would do what it planned to do.

Liberty partners Govindaraju and Punit Shah released a statement late Tuesday afternoon. The men said they were shocked and stunned by the board's actions.

"The lack of protocol is shocking," the statement read.

Both men said they'd have more to say on the issue once they consulted advisors and determined their legal position.

"Only word that comes to my mind right now is flabbergasted," said Precinct Pizza owner, Rick Drury. "I can't figure it out. They must have a reason, I just can't figure it out yet."

Drury said he was looking forward to having a new, local landlord, and the news comes as a disappointment.

"I mean, everything they told us is what we wanted to hear. The question is, were they going to follow through," Drury said. "They couldn't come to a deal, I guess."

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