Port board acts to curb Channelside rowdiness

Published May 16, 2007

TAMPA - Ten months after raising concerns about rowdy bars spoiling the family atmosphere at Channelside, Tampa port commissioners took action Tuesday to get the complex owner's attention.

Led by Mayor Pam Iorio, the Tampa Port Authority board held off allowing Channelside Bay Mall LCC to lease space to an urban design, planning and engineering firm.

Commissioners didn't have a problem with LandDesign Inc., but were unhappy with a new tenant: McGraw's Country Party.

Iorio heard complaints that customers, enticed by drink specials, had to be escorted from the bar by police.

"We don't want any kind of atmosphere that chases families away, " Iorio said. "We don't want all-you-can-drink and sink-or-swim specials. We learned from experience what that's doing at Ybor (City)."

The public agency owns the land beneath the complex and leases it to Channelside Bay Mall, owned by New York real estate dealmaker Ben Ashkenazy.

Iorio and other board members raised objections last July to a "country pop saloon" called Slingshots and plans for McGraw's.

The agency talked with Ashkenazy's company about reining in the bars but reached no agreement, said Charles Klug, the port authority's general counsel.

McGraw's opened last month - to the surprise of port officials - without receiving approval, Klug said.

Channelside general manager Kathy Walsh was surprised herself Tuesday to hear complaints about the bar.

"That is total news to me, " she said. "We have regular security patrols and additional Tampa police Friday and Saturday nights.

"There's nothing in the reports that there's been incidents of rowdy patrons."

The port board postponed a vote on the LandDesign lease until next month and asked staffers to resolve the bar issues in the meantime. In other business Tuesday, the board:

- Asked about budget shortfalls at the agency. Since its fiscal year started last Oct. 1, the authority is $1.4-million behind on projected revenues because of delayed contracts with tenants. Port Director Richard Wainio said he's cut expenses and expects revenue to match last year's levels.

- Approved a lease for Andino Cements USA to build a cement and aggregates terminal at Port Redwing. The facility should be completed in 24 months and will employ as many as 65 workers.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.