Friday, October 3, 2003

Stadium deal got worse

County pays fees for architect it's suing

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County taxpayers have not only ponied up money trying to get back $51 million in cost overruns building Paul Brown Stadium - now they're picking up the tab for the other side's lawyers.

"This is heaping insult to injury," said County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a longtime critic of how the county administration managed the stadium's construction.

The county cut a check for $218,184.03 Wednesday to the law firm that is representing NBBJ Architecture, the architect for Paul Brown Stadium.

"We have to do it, but it's nuts," said Commissioner Todd Portune, who took office after the stadium was built. "It's crazy that we have to pay (the firm's) legal fees if we're suing them for their bad performance. It's just another example of how bad a deal was struck."

The county built Paul Brown Stadium with money collected from a half-cent sales tax. The Bengals lease it from Hamilton County for football games.

The latest legal costs stem from an insurance policy the county bought for NBBJ in 1998, when the Los Angeles-based firm began designing the stadium. The policy covered NBBJ for errors or negligence up to $15 million per claim. It put the county on the hook for a $250,000 deductible.

When the stadium came in at $451 million - $51 million over budget - in 2000, the county hired Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller to see what money it could get back from contractors. Ice Miller, which itself has racked up more than $1 million in fees since then, sent NBBJ a letter last fall demanding $45 million.

In response, NBBJ hired Squire, Sanders & Dempsey of Cincinnati, which has since run up $218,184 in fees the county must pay toward the insurance policy's deductible.

"It's a tremendous failure of the administration," Rhodes said of the policy's terms. "That's where it's got to rest."

The county may have learned from its experience.

Insurance for construction of Great American Ball Park was handled differently, according to Mike Sieving, the county's construction executive. The architect is responsible for the deductible if any claims are filed.

Great American stayed within budget.


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