Friday, March 5, 2004

Bell to keep jobs downtown

Lease contracts keep company from moving some

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Bell plans to keep at least some of its 2,200 downtown jobs in the central business district even as it embarks on an extensive search throughout metro Cincinnati for a new corporate headquarters.

Spokeswoman Libby Korosec said Thursday that while some jobs may be shifted from Cincinnati - or even out of Ohio - existing lease contracts virtually guarantee that Bell will keep some downtown space.

Chief executive officer "Jack (Cassidy) has said we're called Cincinnati Bell for a reason," Korosec said Thursday. "It's most likely we'll maintain a downtown presence even if some of our employees move out of downtown."

Korosec said no final decision has been made on whether any jobs will leave downtown, but Bell is considering properties throughout Greater Cincinnati.

Forcing Bell's hand is Convergys Corp.'s plan to consolidate its downtown work force at the 20-story Atrium One tower on Fourth Street. Convergys purchased the building last year with the help of government loans, grants and tax giveaways totaling $52.2 million from Cincinnati and $144.2 million from Ohio.

No specific timeframe has been set for Bell's decision. But it must vacate its 360,000 square feet of Atrium One office space by the end of 2005 under a deal negotiated last year with its former subsidiary, Convergys.

Bell has another 155,000 square feet under lease through 2015 at the adjoining Atrium Two office tower. Bell now employs 1,500 at both Atrium buildings, and it has another 700 call center and customer service jobs at downtown offices on Seventh Street and Central Avenue.

The sheer number of tax-paying jobs leaves suburban developers hungry to strike a deal - and downtown boosters fretting about the potential loss of valuable jobs.

"Losing jobs is something we want to make every effort to avoid," said David Ginsburg, who heads the downtown services group Downtown Cincinnati Inc.

Suburban office developers grappling with high vacancy rates are wooing Bell.

"We certainly got our information out to them," said Rusty Myers of Cincinnati Capital Properties.

Myers is attempting to lease the mostly empty 197,000-square-foot Ridgewood Corporate Center near Milford. The office building's modern amenities and expansive parking could make a good fit for Bell.

But, "they're looking at everything in the market," Myers said.


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