Friday, July 28, 2000

Firstar Center sues to stop ballpark construction

Owners fear Cinergy demolition plan will hurt business

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Hamilton County judge ordered the owners of Firstar Center and county lawyers to return to court today with a compromise or face a ruling on a lawsuit that seeks to block construction of the Reds' new $280 million ballpark.

                Firstar's owners, Cincinnati Entertainment Associates, filed a lawsuit Thursday. It asks Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman to issue a temporary restraining order to halt ballpark construction or force county officials to come up with a solution answering Firstar's concerns over access, parking and staging.

        They say their business will be harmed because plans to demolish part of a parking garage and a pedestrian bridge between the arena and Cinergy Field will make it more difficult for people to get to arena events.

        “There is a crane down there this minute with a ball, waiting to destroy that bridge,” said Clifford Craig, a lawyer representing Firstar. “It is the county's intent to tear it down soon.”

Firstar Center (foreground) and Cinergy Field.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        County officials warned that any delay will disrupt a timeline for construction of the Great American Ball Park, immediately costing taxpayers $1 million and possibly delaying the stadium's scheduled April 2003 opening.

        Although the lawsuit asks for a temporary order stopping construction, Mr. Craig told the judge he wants Fir star's owners and the county to work out an agreement to avoid fouling up the construction timeline.

        Firstar officials may seek a financial settlement from the county in lieu of an alternative strategy to alleviate parking problems or staging for arena events, acknowledged Doug Kirchhoffer, chief executive officer of Firstar.

        Mr. Kirchhoffer said he planned to discuss the judge's requestwith his partners Thursday afternoon. As of late Thursday, Hamilton County Administrator David Krings said he was not aware of any proposals offered by Mr. Kirchhoffer or other Firstar principals. He expects the two sides will work out an agreement.

        “Every concern they have come up with, we have addressed in some manner,” Mr. Krings said. “This is just another challenge. The whole development of the riverfront has been one challenge after another.”

        Carl Stich, Hamilton County's first assistant prosecutor, said the immediate costs for delaying construction include increased equipment rentals and contractor's fees

        for lost work time. Long-term costs are unknown.

        “It creates a ripple effect,” Mr. Stich said. “There is no way to fully estimate costs that will be incurred for delaying this project.”

        Firstar claims that attendance at arena events will suffer. Not only will it be difficult to park; people will no longer have a bridge to walk directly to the arena.

        Staging for events — everything from unloading elephants to hockey sticks — will be jeopardized because contractors plan to store equipment in the area between Cinergy and Firstar.

        Firstar claims its concerns about the parking, staging and access have largely been ignored for more than two years as Cincinnati plans an extensive riverside entertainment and residential project.

        But Mr. Krings said the county is building a 1,200-space parking garage east of the arena. The garage will be finished in August.

        “I understand their concerns, but the circus isn't going to be here next week,” Mr. Krings said.

        Another problem for Firstar customers will be the county's plan to excavate 15 feet around the arena, making it difficult to access Firstar, the lawsuit states.


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