The long-running drama over the future of Channelside Bay Plaza could soon be over.

On Monday, a judge approved Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's $7.1-million bid for the struggling downtown mall.

The court settlement potentially gives Vinik's company, CBP Development LLC, control of Channelside. The money just needs to change hands.

Local business leaders said the settlement is likely to be an economic boon for downtown Tampa.

"That's a whole new chapter, an exciting new chapter in downtown Tampa and that has a huge implication for economic development in the region because this is the core, this is the hub and it has so much opportunity," said Rick Homans, President and CEO of Tampa Economic Development Corporation.

The plaza's business owners say they couldn't be happier about the news.

"We're just relieved and happy it's finally come to closure," said Robert Fisher, who is the general manager of the Hooters franchise in Channelside.

The legal fight over Channelside had been going on for years, and the problems have done a number on the place. Businesses closed up shop, and visitors stopped coming to the plaza.

Despite all the talk about revitalization, those who stayed were discouraged.

"After years and years and years of hearing this is going to happen, you sort of give up after a while," said Rick Drury, who owns Precinct Pizza.

Drury said he is cautiously optimistic about the news.

"Until you sign a lease with someone you don't know if it's over yet," he said.

Under terms of the settlement, the Tampa Port Authority also will pay an additional $1.9 million to buy the loan on the property.

Statements from parties involved

Statement from CBP Development LLC

“We are happy with this agreement as it now creates a path for the turnaround of a very important community asset” said Jim Shimberg, an executive of CBP Development.  “We appreciate the efforts of Liberty Channelside, Port Tampa Bay and IBRC in helping resolve this matter.”  

Statement from Port Tampa Bay

“Port Tampa Bay worked hard in the best interest of the tenants and the entire community, and was able to reach the best solution to a very complex problem,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay President and Chief Operating Officer. “This is the first step in a process and we look forward to a new beginning with CBP Development at Channelside Bay Plaza.”

Statement from Liberty Channelside LLC

“We are pleased this issue is resolved and are confident in Mr. Vinik’s plans to redevelop the Channelside retail center,” said Santosh Govindaraju, a principal of Liberty Channelside, LLC.