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Another Year, Another Riverfront Lawsuit

By Doug Trapp · August 10th, 2000 · Burning Questions
The Firstar Center finally filed a long-rumored lawsuit against Hamilton County in late July. The issues: what effect construction of the adjacent new Reds stadium will have on Firstar attendance and whether the county is living up to the arena's lease, which the county inherited when it took over managing Cinergy Field.

The county and Firstar Center have been talking about these issues at twice-a-month meetings for more than 1 1/2 years but never fully resolved them. Now the two sides are arguing in front of Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman, who will likely order them to hold more negotiations before issuing a ruling.

Firstar Center CEO Doug Kirchhofer said the issues came to a head in mid-July, when Firstar Center employees parking in Lot 6 -- the surface lot between the arena and Cinergy Field where Great American Ballpark will be centered -- found flyers on their windshields notifying them they would have to park elsewhere on Aug. 1. That's the day demolition crews moved into the lot and began removing the pedestrian bridge connecting the arena and Cinergy Field.

That's also the day the arena ceased to fit in with the eastern riverfront the way it was designed to and the day the walk from Cinergy Field garages to the Firstar Center more than doubled in length and difficulty.

As things stand, Kirchhofer no longer believes county promises that the arena will be in as good a position to attract events and visitors as it was before construction began.

Assistant County Prosecutor Carl Stitch said the county made every effort to accommodate Firstar requests, such as including them in the design of the new 1,250-space garage east of the arena, which was directly connected to the Firstar Center's plaza at the arena's request.

So why wasn't this dispute resolved before it ended up in court?

"They never put a specific offer on the table," said Suzanne Burke, the county's director of administrative services.

Kirchhofer said he's been communicating the Firstar Center's concerns for two years, but he listened to the county's assurances that the arena would be in as good a position later as it is now -- that is, until he realized the pedestrian bridge was coming down and Lot 6 would be off limits.

Hamilton County Administrator David Krings said it's a simple issue of two sides not seeing eye-to-eye.

"It ended up in court because (the Firstar Center) wanted more," said Krings, who agreed with Stitch that money is the stumbling block. The county, Krings said, is open to most of the arena's other demands, mostly concerning better access for arena patrons. But paying the Firstar Center for projected revenue decreases is out of the question, according to Stitch.

Kirchhofer, on the other hand, contends the Firstar Center's lease guarantees the arena some sort of compensation because the arena will be less valuable than it was before construction.

Many times Kirchhofer has heard the argument that the Firstar Center will be much better off after The Banks -- the planned multi-use riverfront neighborhood -- is built, because of the attention and people it will bring to the riverfront. But he said downtown visitors don't "happen" to attend Firstar events when they're already downtown. And it might take years for people to learn how to get to the arena after the Reds stadium construction ends, he said, which could mean years of lower attendance and difficulty in booking events.

Kirchhofer believes the county has neglected the Firstar Center by not using county-paid engineers to design better access to the arena both during and after construction. Instead, he said, the county told Firstar owners to hire their own architects.

"Why should that be our cost?," Kirchhofer asked.

A county-built pedestrian bridge on the arena's southwest side would shorten the walk from the Cinergy garages and ease some of his access concerns, Kirchhofer said.

Krings said the county told the Firstar Center to hire its own architects only when Kirchhofer wanted help with changes to the arena's interior.

In any case, Judge Ruehlman denied the Firstar Center's last-minute request for an injunction to stop the pedestrian bridge demolition and force a quick resolution to the dispute. The matter was scheduled for an Aug. 9 hearing to wrap up details about the denied injunction, according to Stitch. Unless the two sides negotiate a quick settlement, it could be in the courts for months.



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