Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Tennis organizer still finalizing center deal

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - A deal to keep a world-class men's tennis tournament here does not appear to be close to completion, despite a Wednesday deadline.

Paul Flory, who runs the Western & Southern Financial Masters, said Monday that he's still working out details to buy the ATP Tennis Center, near Paramount's Kings Island. Owned by Carl Lindner's American Financial Group, the center includes three stadiums and seven other courts on 90 acres.

"This is a big puzzle, and putting all the pieces together takes a lot of time and goodwill on everyone's part," Mr. Flory said.

American Financial officials could not be reached for comment Monday, but Mr. Flory indicated work on the deal would continue beyond Wednesday.

The Western & Southern is one of the 13 biggest tennis tournaments worldwide and a required stop for the top 50 players - players such as Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. Fans fill more than 160,000 seats a year, and 35 million more watch the tournament on TV.

American Financial announced an agreement this month for Mr. Flory to buy the property, setting an Oct. 30 deadline for completing the deal. The deadline, however, was subject to finalizing details such as financial help that Mr. Flory has been promised by the city of Mason, the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Warren County and Deerfield Township.

None of the four has a signed a contract with Mr. Flory yet, but this is how the side agreements are shaping up:

Mason is willing to give $3.125 million over 25 years, according to a letter from City Manager Scot Lahrmer. In exchange, he wants some public access to the center as well as city use of a stadium suite during the Masters for business-recruitment purposes.

Warren County and the Convention & Visitors Bureau are combining to give $3.65 million over 19 years, all from hotel-tax revenues.

Deerfield Township is looking at giving $600,000 over 20 years. In exchange, it wants public recognition of the contribution and public access to the center.

The tournament adds $23.3 million a year to the region's economy, according to a University of Cincinnati study.

Mr. Flory has been in negotiations with American Financial for several years to buy the center or lease it long-term. He agreed this month to American Financial's asking price of $16.5 million even though a 2001 appraisal put the land's value at $7.8 million based on its potential as an office park - the likeliest non-tournament use.

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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