Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wins auction for Channelside, but a legal battle is expected

Bankruptcy judge will review deal

The owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning appears poised to move forward on his vision to restore Channelside Bay Plaza, but a competitor may try to block his plan.

Jeff Vinik's development company won the bankruptcy auction for the Channelside property during a proceeding at a New York City law firm Wednesday.  Vinik bid $7.1 million, while the Tampa Port Authority offered $3.5 million for the mortgage note on the land.

"We're ecstatic about it," said Robert Fisher, general manager for the Hooters Channelside restaurant.  "We're just excited to see that we're going to start seeing some progress at Channelside."

A federal bankruptcy judge will review the auction during a court hearing in Wilmington, Delaware on July 15.  At that time, a rival developer may challenge the auction.

Liberty Channelside LLC has also made an attempt to take control of the troubled downtown destination, but did not bid during the auction.  Instead, the company may try to argue its own case for the property before the bankruptcy court.

Word about Vinik's winning bid spread quickly among businesses in Channelside.  For some who visit the attraction, a potential new owner was welcome news.

"It just seems depressing and vacant and void of any kind of life," said William Lane, who brought his two sons to Channelside during the afternoon.

"We just had lunch in a 4000 square foot restaurant and we were the only ones there," Lane said.

In recent weeks, Vinik's company presented proposals for renovating Channelside, and the plans would tie together the Florida Aquarium on one end, and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where Vinik's team plays, on the other.  

The planned redevelopment, Channelside Live, would be comparable to the destination L.A. Live near the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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