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New plans for Channelside bring both excitement and disappointment

11:32 PM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- It's called the new Channelside, the new vision for the struggling entertainment complex, and it needs help fast.

So, to that end, a new player entered the bidding. A Tampa-based investment company group has been eyeing Channelside for some time.  Ever since Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's interest in the property waned due to messy financial complications, Liberty Group Inc. has stepped up with a vision and cash.

Liberty wants to buy Channelside and completely reorganize and renovate the property. If the Port of Tampa, which owns the property, agrees, Liberty wants to add a two to four-story hotel to the top of the existing building, open sight lines to the water, and make the complex a 24/7 operation where people work, dine, party, and play.

"We want Channelside to be everyone's living room where you spend time, relax, and enjoy company. We want this to belong to the community at large as well as visitors to Tampa," said one Liberty partner.

To that end, Liberty invited the public to an open forum to listen to the desires of the community and to explain their vision of the complex's future. A standing room only crowd packed the place, and when the 2-hour meeting was over, reactions were generally positive.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Tampa resident Emily Brown-Hoe. "Without a doubt, this will help bring people here. I think these men have a very definite vision for this place," said Channelside resident Ginger Brown.

But with no architectural drawings or images, the plans are difficult to imagine, and that fact wasn't lost on several of the forum attendees.

"Very, very vague. It's easy to say we wanna do this and we wanna do that, but I want to know what it will look like, and how it will fit in with the surrounding design of the city," said Channelside resident Keith Parks.

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