Potential new Channelside owners present vision and receive input from locals

While none of Liberty Channelside LLC's plans are concrete, Shah and Govindarju had certain aspects that they considered integral to the success of Channelside Bay Plaza. Chief among them is diversity amongst tenants that currently consist of mostly bars and restaurants.

“The underlying theme is we need traffic throughout the day,” Shah said. We need to focus on how we create the activity that really benefits all the tenants of Channelside and the customers of those tenants as well. It's a big change from today, but we want to incorporate a office , a hotel, a restaurant, a bar, retail. We believe that those items together, done in the right mix that we're forecasting to have will lead into the launch into success of Channelside.”

The potential hotel is a major part of the planned rejuvenation of Channelside. The group feels it will bring tourists and help develop businesses for the locals.

“One of the concepts that we'd like to bring to the center is a hotel for Channelside,” Shah said. “We think it's a perfect fit and a complement... there would be people there looking for a cup of coffee and a bagel, donuts, and a coffee shop would now thrive where it didn't before and late at night when they return, they could go grab a drink, spend time, hang out, and spend more money here at Channelside. The hotel is a concept where we bring more activity. It's our intention to add this hotel on top of the existing structure of Channelside. It fully integrates the restaurants and the retail in the property. It helps us accomplish our goal, transforming Channelside from an entertainment center, which it is defined as now, to a true mixed use lifestyle center.”

The focus on lifestyle and livability was referenced constantly throughout. Shah envisions the plaza to become the “living room” of the district's residents.

“A big part of our vision for all of you is for those that live in the Channel district and Harbor Island. We want to make this place an extension of your living room. When guests come over we want you to spend more time here. That's what we're working towards.”

The group also has plans to change the look of Channelside. These include a bridge connecting the current structure with the parking garage across the street and hypothetical measures that would create a better view of the Bay. They also admitted that they would likely lose close to a million dollars during their first year of ownership.

Following the presentation the audience was given nearly an hour to ask questions. Issues ranged from the inclusion of local restaurants and culture to Liberty Channelside LLC's relationship with Jeff Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning who was once favored to take over the plaza.

The audiences response was fairly positive, with loud applause when Govindarju spoke of making the area more of an upscale hangout and again when Shah spoke of his love of his dogs and efforts to make Channelside more dog-friendly.

Some members of the audience weren't so impressed.

“There's no question that Channelside originally was a failed concept,” an audience member said to the group. “You have to approach the Port Authority on May 21 with something to convince them to accept your plan ... What dynamic concept do you have that will convince them to adopt your plan? We thought we'd see something here that was dynamic, that would change it dramatically. What are you proposing?”
Liberty Channelside LLC will find out the outcome of their proposal after their presentation at the Tampa Port Authority meeting on May 21.

“We think our plans are reasonable,” Govindaraju said. “They are definitely executable and we have the traffic here to do it, so we hope that they'll see the sense of what we have proposed.”

  • Punit Shah

Wednesday evening at the Florida Aquarium, Liberty Channelside LLC principal owners Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju addressed a gathering of Channel District residents and businesses, unveiling the group's plans for the beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza, which they have recently made their intention to purchase.

Both members of Liberty Channelside LLC have strong ties to the Bay area. Govindaraju was raised in Tampa and attended Gaither High School, While Shah has lived in Tampa for the past decade. The last project the two worked on together was buying the former Mercantile Bank, which they plan to turn into Aloft Tampa Downtown, an upscale hotel.

The presentation remained upbeat, as both Shah and Govindarju emphasized the potential of Channelside and Tampa in general.

“We know that Tampa is the next great city,” Shah said. We need to focus on what that strategy is. Santosh and I are here tonight to hear from you ... We are very excited about being here. We are very excited about the long term plans and strategies for the city and today we want to hear what you want from us. Because ultimately Channelside will only be a success if you all go there.”

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