Saturday, December 28, 2002

Portune to Bengals: Redo lease or I sue



By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune asked Friday for the Bengals and the NFL to renegotiate the team's lease on Paul Brown Stadium.

Acting as a county taxpayer and citing the county's "looming fiscal crisis," Mr. Portune sent correspondence to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Bengals president Mike Brown. The letters threaten legal action if the club does not agree to participate voluntarily.

Mr. Portune set a deadline of 30 days to successfully resolve negotiations before he and his attorney, Robert Furnier, would file a formal petition for discovery. Mr. Furnier, a law school classmate of Mr. Portune's, is not being paid for his work but is documenting his time in the event of a legal settlement.

"I want to emphasize it is not our intent to sue," Mr. Portune said. "It's our intent to negotiate. It's our intent to peacefully resolve these issues."

Mr. Portune also wants the Bengals and the NFL to consider using the league's "G-3 Resolution" program to help reduce the county's debt incurred by the 1997 stadium deal. He said the program exists to assist NFL franchises and local governments with interest-free loans to build and renovate facilities.

The team pays the loan back to the league though gate receipts.

He said the county's $380 million in bonds issued to finance stadium construction was the most generous contribution of any publicly supported NFL stadium.

The Bengals and the NFL had no comment on Friday's developments. NFL spokesman Steve Alic said Mr. Tagliabue was out of the office and did not provide requested information about the "G-3" program.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Portune was unsuccessful in involving the county in the lease renegotiation effort. He made a motion during a meeting of Hamilton County Commissioners that the county use special counsel to pursue legal action to renegotiate the lease.

His motion did not receive a second from either of the board's other two commissioners, John Dowlin or Tom Neyer Jr., and was not adopted.

Mr. Portune's motion sought to excuse the office of Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen from further service to the board, retain the special counsel and instruct the special counsel to "initiate and complete a comprehensive review of the lease and related matters" within 30 days.

The opinion of Mr. Allen's office regarding a possible legal challenge to the lease was not released. As the commissioners' attorney, the prosecutor provided his opinion to the board two weeks ago. The board is not revealing the opinion, citing attorney-client privilege.

Friday afternoon, at Mr. Furnier's Montgomery office, Mr. Portune issued a report that said the Bengals have benefited from Paul Brown Stadium but the county has not.

Mr. Portune said the Bengals' operating income will reach $32 million this year, nearly four times the $8.6 million from 1999.

He also said that poor attendance at games, the result of a losing team, has reduced the expected number of visitors into the city and the region.

The Bengals are 2-13, the worst record in the NFL, and finished with a 1-7 home record. They did not make the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, a dry spell twice as long as the next most futile NFL team.

"I am willing to take all appropriate steps against the league and the Bengals rather than allow the stadium debt to cripple essential services to the citizens of Hamilton County," Mr. Portune said.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com



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