Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Reds told they owe taxpayers $6 million

Resident pursued lawsuit over rent for five years

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has ordered the Cincinnati Reds to pay Hamilton County $6.5 million the team owes in back rent for its use of Cinergy Field.

        In his five-page decision, Judge Robert S. Kraft acknowledged that the county has a new lease agreement with the Reds that forgives current lease payments “until a date in the future” when a new ballpark has been built.

        However, he wrote: “At this time, the original lease agreement ... remains in effect, requiring payment under its terms and requiring payment of the arrearages now due and owing.”

        Stephen Bailey, the Reds' attorney, said it was too soon to say whether his clients would appeal the ruling. “I haven't seen the decision and I haven't talked to my client,” he said.

        Judge Kraft's decision brings taxpayers one step closer to the conclusion of a five-year court battle initiated by Steven W. Ritter, a South Fairmount man who sued the city of Cincinnati and the Reds in hopes of forcing the team and then-owner Marge Schott to pay the millions of dollars the team owed in back rent.

        Mrs. Schott began withholding lease payments in the mid-1990s because she said city leaders reneged on an agreement to give equal treatment to the Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals. She said the Bengals received preferential treatment and contended, at the time, that she would withhold payment until she felt the city had made good on its promise.

        When Cinergy Field was transferred to the auspices of the county in 1996, the situation became the county's problem, according to court records.

        Mr. Ritter's attorney, Ronald Burdge of Dayton, Ohio, said Monday that the ruling is a victory.

        “After five years in court, we finally did it,” he said, adding that the lawsuit was meant to force elected officials to collect money owed to taxpayers.

        The lawsuit came several months before taxpayers approved a 1996 referendum that set aside a half-cent sales tax increase to build two stadiums.

        County Administrator Dave Krings said he didn't know what effect Judge Kraft's ruling would have.

        Both sides will return to court in August for an evidentiary hearing to determine a payment schedule.


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