Tuesday, February 10, 2004

No crime found in failed project

Building rehab never happened

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - No criminal charges will be brought against the husband-and-wife architecture firm that failed to develop eight buildings near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine and abandoned the project last year.

Cincinnati police detectives and city auditors have been investigating the Scheer & Scheer project since November, when the city foreclosed on the project. City Manager Valerie Lemmie, - citing a litany of failed city development projects, including the nearby Empire Theater - ordered a police investigation to determine whether developers were intentionally ripping off the city.

Brenda Case Scheer and David Ross Scheer, now faculty members at the University of Utah's school of architecture, got a $1.1 million contract from the city to rehabilitate eight buildings near Findlay Market. The project collapsed after an apparent dispute between the Scheers and contractor Jindal Builders and Remodelers over $232,000 in cost overruns. By that time, the city had released $338,859 to the Scheers.

After a two-month investigation of project records and interviews with people involved with the project, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office says "it appears no criminal activity took place."

"The money spent on the project appears to have been expended for legitimate purposes," Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor William H. Anderson wrote. "There is no evidence of any misuse of public money or suspicious disbursements."

The cost overruns, Anderson said, were the result of "unforeseen, unanticipated construction-related costs."

The related internal city audit blamed the 2001 riots and city red tape - including a dispute over prevailing wage requirements and lead-abatement regulations - for the delay. But auditors said the architect and contractor have not cooperated fully with the audit.

The city has since contracted with another construction company to complete the roofs, repair the masonry and board up the eight buildings. Cost to taxpayers: $394,745.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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