Liberty Channelside wants rent cut by 50%, to build hotel and skybridge for pedestrians

CHANNELSIDE, Fla - Developers Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju unveiled their vision for Channelside Bay Plaza at a public forum Wednesday night.

Shah, president of Liberty Group Inc., addressed more than 300 people in person and even answered questions posed on Twitter.

The Tampa-based investment company filed paperwork with Tampa Port Authority last month to take control and revitalize the entire Channel District which includes restaurants and retail stores.

Developers hope to re-launch the struggling complex which is barely at half capacity.  Their plans call for a 150 room hotel, a pedestrian sky bridge that would make the street crosswalks obsolete, office space and storefronts occupied by local vendors.

They also want to make the plaza accessible 24 hours and have different venues to support that.

"We want specifically things that are unique to Tampa," explained Shah of the retailers he is seeking.  "And, whether that is a brand that started in Tampa, whether that is a unique entrepreneur that wants to start there own retail facility in Tampa or even office space.  We want something that is a memorable guest experience for people who come to Tampa."

There were some who challenged the idea that big retail stores wouldn't take up residence.

"They did say they wanted to invite independent businesses from the community but  they usually cant afford half the rent to be a part of this," said Jerry Strain, who works in the Channelside area.

When town hall attendees challenged Shah about what makes his plan different from other failed ideas, Shah was quick to point to finances.

"We have the funding for all this.  It is all cash.  We have no financing. We have no debt," Shah explained.

He added that being financially stable will allow his group to pick and choose who gets to be a part of the hybrid entertainment lifestyle center.  As Shah put it, they have time to look around and don't need to take the 'first check that is plunked down on the table.'

In two weeks, the developers will make a formal presentation to the Port Authority.  They hope they will get to the vote to take over the plaza at that time.

The developers are asking Bay area residents to participate in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #newchannelside.

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