Cincy officials still trying to get back overruns

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2003

CINCINNATI - Nearly three years after the Cincinnati Bengals' stadium opened, Hamilton County has yet to recover money from the project's cost overruns.

The county has spent $1 million on Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller to recover $51 million in cost overruns from the $458 million Paul Brown Stadium, which opened for the 2000 pro football season.

The county hired Ice Miller in December 2000. County commissioners say they want to see results.

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''I would think that for a million dollars, we'd be a lot further along than we are,'' Commissioner Todd Portune said.

''We are going to go forward,'' Commissioner John Dowlin said. ''If we get the money back, it's going to have a great payout. And we should get the money back.''

Pete Sepp, of the National Taxpayers Union, said Monday that he wishes the county luck, but advised recovering money after it has been paid is difficult.

''Their lawyers have every incentive to write escape clauses into the agreement,'' Sepp said.

Ice Miller sent the stadium architect, Los Angeles-based NBBJ Architecture, a letter in November 2002 seeking nearly $45 million, Portune said.

Rebecca Seamands, a partner with Ice Miller, said Monday she could not discuss the letter because of attorney-client confidentiality.

Ice Miller has had three or four staff lawyers, plus support staff, working on the case, Seamands said. The work is complex and has required substantial investigation and analysis, she said.

The bills have included attorney time at $240 an hour, according to the county's records.

Paul Becker, an NBBJ executive in Los Angeles who served as project manager for Paul Brown Stadium, did not return a call to his office for comment Monday.

The stadium and the Cincinnati Reds' new baseball stadium, Great American Ball Park, were built with revenues from a half-cent sales tax increase that Hamilton County voters approved in 1996.

Timothy Mara, a Cincinnati lawyer who led an unsuccessful effort to persuade voters to reject the sales tax increase, said he isn't surprised the project had multimillion-dollar cost overruns. Mara said he thinks county officials are entitled to an explanation from Ice Miller.

''What is the status of each of the many claims that the Ice Miller people are investigating?'' Mara said. ''Any client has the right to an explanation of where things stand and what are the odds of success.''