Plan in the works to demolish Channelside Bay Plaza, improve Tampa’s waterfront

This photo of Channelside was taken in Eagle 8.
This photo of Channelside was taken in Eagle 8.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) -– Channelside, as we know it, may never look the same again if Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and billionaire investor Bill Gates have their way.

The business visionaries are looking to shake things up in the unique waterfront property in downtown Tampa. Tuesday morning, plans were announced to raze the property altogether to make room for change in a big way. They describe the project as “re-imagining the waterfront.”

A major part of the property currently sits empty with few daily visitors. However, developers are hoping with this project that new life will spring from the old, borrowing ideas from other major waterfront cities on how to revitalize prime real estate.

James Nozar spoke candidly with members of the media Tuesday morning. Nozar is the CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate company controlled by Vinik and Gates’ Cascade Investment LLC.

Nozar told WFLA, “It’s inspiration drawn from areas in Boston, Washington D.C., Seattle and San Francisco and New York City. Tampa has miles of waterfront and is in a unique position.”

The project itself is being referred to as a “renaissance.”

Port Tampa Bay CEO, Paul Anderson explained how Tampa is changing and adapting to an ever-evolving marketplace.  “As the world continues to evolve and change, Tampa Bay is changing with it,” Anderson said. “It’s clearly a renaissance taking place. What city in America wouldn’t want a gentleman like Jeff Vinik leading the charge?”

Tampa residents like Kim Beck spoke with us about these proposed changes as she was walking her dogs Speedy and Sheba along Channelside Drive. She maintains that being outside on the waterfront is what Channelside living is all about. “I would like to see all of the businesses filled up. More people down here, more people coming to live down here,” Beck said. “It’s just one huge package. You can never be bored here. Ever!  It’s awesome.”

The renderings released by Vinik and his business partners include a vast waterfront property that would showcase a spacious park with an amphitheater, a large-scale pedestrian plaza, shopping, restaurants, office space, condos and even a medical center for USF.

The demolition, if approved, would most likely take place in 2018. When asked about existing Channelside tenants, Nozar told WFLA that current business owners are talking about future possibilities with this new proposal.

In addition, when we asked about the idea of simply revamping the existing property versus complete demolition, Nozar said, “We are not planning for a long-term Channelside Bay Plaza as it is today. We believe it would fail again.”

But, renaissance comes with a price – a hefty one – roughly $3 billion. It is, by all accounts, an ambitious and aggressive plan, albeit one that is sorely needed, according to people who live and work in Channelside.

Look at this place,” one man told us. “It’s empty. All this space, and no one’s here. They’ve got to do something!”

In the end, it is a renaissance in the making that residents like Kim Beck can’t wait to see.

“It’s just so many things to do, and they’re building up. Just more and more people coming into the area. I think it’s fabulous,” she said.

A final proposal on the issue will be voted by the Port Tampa Bay board late this year.

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