TAMPA — Perhaps the most common phrase Andrew Wright uses about Channelside Bay Plaza is “for now.”
There’s maintenance to be done, for now. There are hip new restaurants in the space, for now. And there’s a new band stage in the courtyard and more corporate parties, for now.
All those temporary fixes will soon make way for major overhauls to the long-struggling waterside complex, as Wright and property owner/development magnate Jeff Vinik are finalizing a massive renovation plan they hope to show to the retail and development community in just two months.
The cost to rehabilitate just the Channelside complex isn’t disclosed yet, but Channelside will be a major entertainment anchor for developing the overall mixed-use neighborhood — a project with a budget that could top $1 billion.
Most likely, the complex will have a very high end dinner/movie theater, Wright said. Most likely, a third of the whole complex will come down.
Walking the project recently, Wright gave a few hints at the themes he has in mind for Channelside’s future, and he described the breakneck pace his team is working to bring something great to fruition.
“The major retail industry trade show is in Las Vegas in May, and we want to be there,” said Wright, chief executive of Franklin Street, the company Vinik brought in to manage the Channelside shopping complex. “The most valuable thing a retail company has is time, and they don’t want to wait on something that’s not finalized. They want to see real plans, so they can make their plans.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of work to go around at Channelside. First, there was the junk.
Many parts of the complex were littered with debris when Franklin Street began managing the site after Vinik won control of the property last year. The movie theater had piles of old supplies and trash. Many simple fire and safety systems around the complex were broken. “It was bad,” Wright said. Even the paperwork for managing the site was in disarray. Some tenants didn’t even know if they still had leases, so they simply paid month by month. Organizing information took weeks.
Crews of contractors are now systematically going over the complex to make maintenance fixes. Even a fresh paint job will help, Wright said, and he’s installing a stage in front of the now-closed Stump’s Supper Club for bands to play during private events. Such parties are really picking up, he said, and hinting at Channelside’s future as an entertainment satellite for conferences downtown.
❖ ❖ ❖
Next, Wright talked about the fixes they want to bring during a major renovation — starting to a great extent with the movie theater.
A bridge from the parking garage across the street will land directly in the theater space, so there’s some basic structural work to figure out. Next week, the theater site is hosting the Gasparilla International Film Festival, but Wright envisions much more.
This month, he traveled to the theater industry’s main trade show in Los Angeles, and met with executives of companies like iPic Theaters, Studio Movie Grill and Cinepolis USA. (Besides more than a dozen other locations, Cinepolis is opening an IMAX theater in Davenport, Polk County this Spring.)
Even if Wright decides against seat-side food, the theater will get massive overhauls, with recliner-style seats and better picture and sound.
Though hindsight is 20/20, Wright points out a huge problem that burdened Channelside in the past. There was little thought to the “tenant mix.”
“Whoever could pay rent was let in,” Wright said. That means a high-end steak house like Gallaghers was parked next to a raucous nightclub like Banana Joe’s. It just didn’t work, he said.
Highlighting the temporary nature of some fixes, Wright pauses while walking the property to say hello to Guy Revelle, the restaurant developer who was putting up signs on the front door of the Hablo Taco restaurant he opened in Channelside at the behest of Vinik.
Hablo Taco is meant to be a fun place, but not one to last. The building segment where Hablo Taco operates will be taken down as part of the overall master plan. But in the meantime, it’s quite popular.
❖ ❖ ❖
The architect on the grand overhaul is Tampa’s own Alberto Alfonso, who has won work for other Vinik projects in the new area Vinik is developing north of the Amalie Arena.
“We’ve seen 14 renderings,” Wright said, somewhat jokingly, but also to make the point that ideas are still in flux. He’s decided on the main layout of the complex, but the “look and feel” of the design is still a work in progress — at least until the May retail trade show. That’s a tight time-line, he said, as many plans will need to first go to Vinik’s development company, Strategic Property Partners, and then the governing board of Port Tampa Bay that owns the land underneath Channelside, and then the trade show in Las Vegas.
In the meantime, Wright is still focused on things he can do to Channelside, for now. Though he’d like to pull out and replace all the worn and stained brick pavers, that wouldn’t make financial sense, given the whole place will be a construction zone by this time next year. He looks around the place and sees dozens of small fixes he could make, for now.
Looking out the window of the former Gallaghers space, he points down Channelside Drive. “Before, there was this narrow little path you had to walk on the sidewalk between the elevated streetcar station and an ugly fence,” Wright said. “We were able to widen the sidewalk so people can walk through from the Arena and back. That’s something many people would never notice, but makes a difference.”