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Public weighs in on future of Tampa's Channelside

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Artist's rendering of possible future look for Channelside Artist's rendering of possible future look for Channelside
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

People packed a room at the Florida Aquarium Wednesday night to give developers suggestions about how to turn around Tampa's sleepy Channelside district.

Suggestions ranged from making the area more pet-friendly to improving waterfront views.

"We live here. We work here. We want Channelside to really become what it was always destined to be," said Punit Shah, President and Chief Operating Office of the Liberty Group. "We could've invested in so many different type of properties. This is just the crown jewel of Tampa."

Shah and his partner Santosh Govindaraju envision a "mixed-use lifestyle center."

"A work-play-live component to it where there's activity at all hours of the day," he explained.

They won't disclose how much they'll invest in the district, but made one thing clear.

"We are not financing it. It's all cash. So we're ready to go," Shah said. "We need to make sure this is done in a world-class manner, and we are looking for feedback from the neighborhood and community in general to tell us how we accomplish that."

Developers hope a hotel could attract the one million cruise passengers who come here each year to stay here.

They don't envision a tower, because some already complain Channelside obstructs the water view. It could be about three stories tall on top of the existing Channelside.

They would also like to see a skybridge to ease parking worries.

"I think that if they can really pull this off ... and it sounds like they've got some great people working with them to try ... I think if they can pull this off - they're not only going to change this area - they're going to help draw in all of downtown too," said Lauren Capo, who attended the meeting and is a commercial real estate researcher. "They're doing something that's different for downtown, which is: They're really enveloping the neighborhoods, which no one has really done in the past 25 years down here."

David Kunkel, who lives in the district, says it's a good start.

"There seems to be a disconnect between some of the developers ... I'd like to see them work together and put together a comprehensive concept to turn this whole district around," Kunkel said. "I think these are the type of developers that are important to build upon the future of the Channel District, which unfortunately came to a stall back in 2007."

There are big concessions Tampa's Port Authority must first buy into.  Investors are asking to pay half the rent they normally would for the first two years, saying they'll pump so much money into the place they'll lose $1 million in the first year.

"I don't see roadblocks, per se," said Paul Anderson, Director of the Tampa Port Authority. "I see that they have to pass some very stringent due diligence on our part. We owe it to the citizens in this community."

Shah and Govindaraju make their pitch in front of the Port Authority on May 21.

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