Monday, July 21, 2003

Convergys Center true loser if firm moves



By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Convergys deal to purchase Atrium One has the potential to create floors of vacant, unused downtown office space, and no building stands to lose more than Convergys Center.

The 29-story building at the northeast corner of Sixth and Vine streets is home to the majority of Convergys' 1,400 downtown employees. The billing and customer service firm rents 350,000 square feet, or about two-thirds of the building owned by New Jersey-based Prudential Real Estate Services Investors. All that space would be emptied under Convergys' consolidation plan.

Prudential officials have offered to sell Convergys Center to the company. With existing leases on another 130,000 square feet set to expire within one year, Prudential says there's enough room in the building for all downtown Convergys employees.

What's more, if Convergys consolidated its work force where most of its downtown workers reside, it would prevent the need to move hundreds of Cincinnati Bell employees and three smaller firms out of Atrium One.

"Our feeling is the building works for them," said Barry Quiner, vice president of Prudential. "We made a great economic offer to sell our building to them. Obviously, they need to make the best decision for their company."

James Orr, CEO and chairman of Convergys, said buying Atrium One is the "only economically viable option for us to stay downtown."

The firm's search for a single office building for its headquarters workers included an examination of all existing downtown office towers and possibly building a new tower. None worked.

The only suitable downtown building is Atrium One, Orr said, because the company could build additional office space facing Third Street as growth warrants.

The Atrium One purchase hinges on City Council's approval of an incentives package. Mayor Charlie Luken delayed last week's vote on the $63.4 million package after a majority of City Council members signaled opposition, and the city's administration made another offer to the company Friday.

City officials did not return calls for comment and company officials had little new to say.

"All I really can confirm is that talks have continued over the weekend," said William H. Hawkins II, the chief lobbyist for Convergys. "We're hopeful we can have something by Wednesday or Thursday."

Orr warned that if the city fails to approve a deal this week, his company will forfeit millions of dollars in option fees. That could prompt the company to leave Cincinnati.

"We're stuck with a very short time frame," Orr said.

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E-mail kalltucker@enquirer.com




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