Saturday, July 29, 2000

Stadium project can begin

Firstar Center loses in court

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let the wrecking ball swing, a Hamilton County judge ruled Friday, rejecting a Firstar Center request to delay demolition work at Cinergy Field.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman refused to issue a temporary restraining order halting demolition. He scheduled a hearing Aug. 9 on a lawsuit filed Thursday by Firstar Center's owner, Cincinnati Entertainment Associates.

        “We've got to get this thing done,” Judge Ruehlman said of the county's plans to start demolition work Tuesday to make room for the new $280 million Reds stadium. “We've missed out on a lot of things in this community because of the bickering. ... To delay this would set everything back.”

        Firstar Center officials say they never agreed to the county's plans to demolish part of a parking garage and a pedestrian bridge between Cinergy Field and Firstar Center.

        The center says demolition of the parking spaces and pedestrian walkway would disrupt customers' access to the arena. Also, plans to store construction equipment in a parking lot between the baseball stadium and arena would make it dif ficult for performers to unload equipment into the arena, Firstar Center says.

        “We are not saying they can't tear down our garage,” said Clifford Craig, a lawyer representing Firstar Center. “They can't do it without compensating us.”

        Firstar Center Chief Executive Officer Doug Kirchhofer said he wasn't surprised or dismayed by the judge's ruling, adding he still expects his company to be paid for lost property rights.

        “We will continue to cooperate with the county any way we can, whether it's in the course (of the lawsuit) or at the negotiating table,” for a settlement, said Mr. Kirchhofer, who also owns the Cincinnati Cyclones hockey team.

        Hamilton County commissioners held a closed-door session Friday morning to discuss the Firstar Center lawsuit.

        Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said the commissioners gave county lawyers “the direction they need” for the lawsuit, including possible settlement negotiations with Firstar Center's lawyers. He would not elaborate.

        “I'm comfortable with the case being heard on the merits,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “That doesn't mean we won't” consider a settlement.

        The county has approved a $280 million budget for construction of the Great American Ball Park, to be ready for the home opener of the Reds' 2003 season. The budget includes $204 million for construction, $53 million for soft costs and $22 million for contingencies.

        Mr. Kirchhofer said construction could derail Firstar Center's operation.

        “The arena is coming off its best year ever in terms of revenue, events and attendance,” Mr. Kirchhofer said.

        He would not reveal financial figures for the privately owned company but said cash flow is positive.


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