Channelside revamp begins with free parking for all

11:48 AM, Sep 13, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Free parking at Channelside is the start of a revamp at that will hopefully help the Downtown complex make a comeback.

The free parking is available in the parking lot just west of the complex, on the side closest to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

It's free through the start of the new year, all day, every day except during special events at the Forum.

The Port Authority owns the parking lot and this week agreed to buy all of the Channelside Bay Plaza complex for $5.75 millon.

Port leaders admit they don't know what's best for this place.

So they'll likely put out a call to Tampa Bay and the world looking for buyers -- companies and people with big ideas on how to get the most out of the complex.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is the top contender, with a vision like this California complex called L.A. Live. It would link the Forum and The Florida Aquarium into a seamless strip of shopping and fun.

"I would go if there if something would draw me there," said Beth Scanlan, who works out at a gym in Tampa's Channel District.

Expect Tampa locals like Scanlan to fuel Channelside's new future -- not tourists, who were much of the original target audience when the complex opened in 2001.

"It's a perfect venue. It's beautiful. It's right on the water. It's a great location. I would love it," Scanlan said.

Why change the focus from visitors to locals?

Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the year after this complex opened, there were 600 people living in Downtown Tampa. The number today is around 15,000.

That market is now 25 times bigger. That's large enough, Buckhorn says, to be the foundation of a reborn Channelside.

The Channelside complex is near a couple of spots that get a lot of talk as locations for a potential Downtown Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Buckhorn says along with the Forum and all of the condos and apartments in the area, that could make for a potent combination.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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