Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Bengals seek $30M in lawsuit vs. county

Court filing also denies antitrust allegations

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The Cincinnati Bengals sued Hamilton County for $30 million worth of stadium improvements and cash Monday in the two sides' expanding legal battle over 4-year-old Paul Brown Stadium.

"The last thing our community needs today is litigation that damages its reputation," Bengals attorney Stuart Dornette said in a warning letter to the county that was included in Monday's court filing. "... The Board of Commissioners has now cast cooperation aside in favor of complex litigation that will take years to sort through."

The county is suing the Bengals and the National Football League for $600 million in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, claiming football owners illegally used their monopoly power in the mid-1990s to get the Bengals' Mike Brown a new stadium with favorable lease terms.

The Cincinnati Bengals claim that Hamilton County hasn't fulfilled its lease commitments on a raft of items, including:
• Concrete and leak repairs, $5,880,000
• Reversible escalator work, $4,200,000
• Club lounge heating repairs, $2,000,000
• Support column repairs, $500,000
• Stadium sound system repairs, $400,000
• FM wireless system for the hard-of-hearing, $100,000
• Power-washing system, $250,000
• Club lounge video walls, $300,000
• Override microphone for emergencies, $100,000
• Upgraded wall finishes in club lounges, $400,000
• Insurance, $400,000
The Bengals denied the allegations in their countersuit Monday, as did the NFL in a separate filing. The Bengals' countersuit accuses the county of violating that lease by forcing the team and their fans to put up with what it calls the stadium's shoddy design and construction.

For instance, reversible escalators that were supposed to carry fans up before games and down afterward can't carry people down because there's not a big enough landing for disembarking at the bottom.

Fixing that mistake alone would cost $4.2 million, according to the Bengals' suit.

"It's an effort to try to offset our claims, and with all due respect I consider theirs to be quite frivolous," County Commissioner Phil Heimlich said.

The team estimates that all of the repairs and additions it is demanding would cost $15 million.

"While we would prefer to solve these problems together, the board has forced our hand," Dornette said in his letter. "These issues below are real, they are issues the county has promised to address, and must now address."

The Bengals' countersuit also demands that the county hand over $13.8 million by Aug. 15 to reimburse the team for taxes paid on seat-license fees as well as legal costs of fighting the tax.

The Bengals gave the county the seat license fees - which totaled $26 million - when Paul Brown Stadium was built as their contribution toward the $451 million cost.

The team and the county joined legal forces to dispute the IRS's interpretation of the fees as taxable, but a 2000 lease amendment holds the county responsible if any taxes must be paid. While awaiting a final decision, the team paid the $13.3 million tax but stopped paying the county its $1.7 million annual rent.

The tax issue has not yet been settled, and the Bengals told the county this month that the team will no longer share legal representation with the county against the IRS.

Attorney Stanley Chesley, representing the county commissioners in the federal lawsuit, will also represent them with the IRS, he said.

Lastly, the Bengals said the county owes the team $1.2 million for claims and legal fees it paid to settle a class-action lawsuit over seat licenses in 2000.

The seat-license holders objected that they received different seat locations than they expected.


E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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