Friday, November 25, 2005

Article: City and county to pay $3.5M (to STRS)

A Hamilton County jury ordered the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County on Wednesday to pay $3.5 million to the State Teachers' Retirement System of Ohio after determining a downtown Cincinnati building owned by the group suffered when Cinergy Field was destroyed.

At the heart of the case filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court last year is the Atrium Two office building and a skywalk to nowhere.

The skywalk had gone from the building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Sycamore streets to the stadium, which gave people in the building access to riverfront parking. But the city and county closed the skywalk in 2000 when planning to destroy Cinergy Field to make way for Great American Ball Park.

"The jury is trying to say the building lost their access ... and that had value," said the plaintiff's attorney C. Francis Barrett.

Barrett said the money would be put back into the building.

"We share responsibility with the county so at least some of the pain is minimized," said Cincinnati City Solicitor J. Rita McNeil. "But, obviously we're disappointed." She said city attorneys would evaluate appeal options.

Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Mark Vollman said he would meet with commissioners next week to discuss the next step.

He did not comment on the award.

Housed in the 30-floor building - the largest office building downtown with 800,000 square feet, 650,000 of it leasable - are Cinergy offices, Cincinnati Bell offices, bankruptcy court and the U.S. Attorney's Office, among others.

Although the case was filed in January 2004, it dates back to the 1970s, when the skywalk was built. In the early 1980s, when David Warner was building Atrium Two, the city and county required him to connect it to the skywalk. Warner sold the building to the teachers system in 1997.

On Oct. 2, 2000, after the last Cincinnati Reds game at Cinergy Field, the city and the county demolished the skywalk, despite objections from building owners. The county and city contended that the building had no right to the skywalk, Barrett said.

In 2001, a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge agreed, but two years later the decision was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeals, which said the building's owners illegally had their property rights taken away. The Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. As a result, the case was sent back to Common Pleas Court.

The trial began Nov. 9 and concluded Wednesday. It took three hours for the jury to award the $3.5 million compensation.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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