Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Stadium refund: $14 million

County negotiates deal for Paul Brown overruns

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

Four years after Paul Brown Stadium came in $51 million over budget, Hamilton County is about to recoup $14.25 million of that.

County Commissioners Todd Portune and Phil Heimlich say they expect to OK a deal this morning with the company that insured the Paul Brown Stadium design team. Design Professionals Insurance Co. will pay the county $14.25 million. In exchange, the commissioners won't sue stadium architect NBBJ Architecture and several others involved with the design of the $451 million home of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It's a great first step for the county," Commissioner Todd Portune said. "I think this in large measure is a validation of our strategy to protect the taxpayers and to resolve the matters involving the riverfront."

Tom Owens, the in-house attorney for NBBJ Architecture, said it would be good news if commissioners approve the settlement today. He had no further comment.

Commissioners hired Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller in December 2000 to get back some of the $51 million in construction cost overruns.

Ice Miller sent Los Angeles-based NBBJ Architecture a letter in the fall of 2002 demanding $45 million.

Among the reasons costs skyrocketed, according to a 2000 audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers: Bids were taken on incomplete designs, and there was little oversight of changes as crews rushed to meet an August 2000 deadline to finish the stadium.

The county has paid Ice Miller more than $1.2 million for legal work to recover the money. The county also is on the hook for the first $250,000 of the architect's legal fees.

Commissioner Phil Heimlich said the settlement money will help the county's stadium fund, which had been projected to go into the red by 2007 or 2008. The fund relies primarily on sales tax revenue to pay back the money borrowed to build Paul Brown and the Reds' Great American Ball Park.

"It buys us another year or year and a half," Heimlich said.

The ideal next step for the county would be to settle the county's lawsuit against the Bengals and the National Football League, Portune suggested Tuesday.

The federal antitrust lawsuit, which seeks up to $600 million, alleges that the team and the league used their monopoly power to force the county to build Paul Brown Stadium and lease it to the Bengals on favorable terms. The Bengals countersued the county over alleged breaches of the stadium lease.

"(Wednesday's vote) should send a message that this board is willing to discuss settlement," Portune said.


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