Thursday, October 05, 2000

County liable to arena

Judge says property was wrongly taken

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Hamilton County judge ruled this week that the county must pay the owners of Firstar Center for seizing the downtown arena's property and ignoring leases spelling out parking, staging and access rights.

        The million-dollar question is how much.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman said Hamilton County took possession of property in violation of Firstar Center's rights when it started demolition in August to prepare for construction of the new Reds stadium. The judge said Hamilton County has 20 days to file a lawsuit that will determine how much it must pay.

        “It's nice to win one,” said Doug Kirchhofer, president of Cincinnati Entertainment Associates, the company that owns the arena. “Judge Ruehlman's decision kind of validates our position. The way the county has approached this has amounted to a taking of the property without proper procedure.”

        Mr. Kirchhofer's firm filed a lawsuit in July asking for a temporary order halting demolition work until the two sides hashed out an agreement. But Judge Ruehlman refused the order, effectively giving the county the green light to demolish part of the parking garage and other surrounding property to make way for the $330 million Great American Ball Park.

        After the county files the new lawsuit, a jury will decide how much Hamilton County must pay for the property rights.

        “We don't know what Firstar (Center) is going to claim as the value of the property,” said Carl Stich, Hamilton County's first assistant prosecutor. “We are basi cally back at square one in terms of determining a valuation.”

        Judge Ruehlman's written ruling, filed late Tuesday, rejected the county's argument that it didn't take property rights and complied with all contracts.

        The judge cited an existing parking lease, easements and other contracts that granted property rights to Firstar Center.

        Mr. Kirchhofer, who declined to estimate the value of the property rights, said the arena has had trouble with large crowds at two concerts since the county began demolition work.

        He expects more trouble at events that require staging room for performers to bring in large pieces of equipment.

        “We are going on an event-by-event basis,” Mr. Kirchhofer said. "The big unknown is coming in March with the circus. We don't know what we're going to do.”


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