Cafaro Sues County for $1.1M in Repairs to Garland Plaza
By Dan O'BrienYOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Nineteen years ago, Mahoning County signed a lease agreement promising to occupy and maintain offices at Garland Plaza on the city's East Side. Instead, the county "trashed" the place.So alleges an attorney representing The Cafaro Co., which filed a $1.1 million lawsuit Tuesday against the Board of Mahoning County Commissioners that claims officials breached the lease signed in 1987 that enabled the relocation of the county's welfare department to the plaza owned by Cafaro. "They trashed the building and caused $1 million worth of damage," contends David Betras, who filed the complaint on behalf of The Ohio Valley Mall Co., a Cafaro subsidiary, in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. The county, Betras argues, has realized savings of about $3 million over the life of the agreement. Now, he added, county officials say they want to terminate the lease and move the Department of Job and Family Services to Oakhill Renaissance Place, which the county agreed to purchase July 27 for $75,000 and subject to all liens. Mahoning County agreed to buy Oakhill because it wants to consolidate its offices there and shed lease agreements it has with private landlords, the most prominent being Cafaro. The county pays Cafaro -- one of the nation's wealthiest commercial real estate developers -- $449,570 a year to rent 110,000 square feet at the plaza.Under the terms of the lease, however, the county is responsible for maintaining the building's roof, heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, floor coverings and interiors, Betras noted. "They haven't done anything for 19 years. They have never taken maintenance seriously," he told reporters shortly after he filed the lawsuit. The lease also calls for the county to make improvements and return the building to its original condition.The complaint alleges the county is responsible for $1.1 million in specific repairs or replacements to the building. Among them are $36,950 for repairs to the front entrance doors; $354,667 to replace the building's roof membrane; $215,250 for repairs to the HVAC system; $111,208 for upgrading the HVAC and cooling tower that serve an expansion area; $160,200 for new carpet and $250,000 toward the replacement of modular work stations.Under the lease, the landlord is responsible only for repairs to the structural portion of the building and parking lot. The complaint stipulates damages may increase if it's discovered the county's neglect led to damages to the building's structure.The lawsuit also asks for recovery of court costs and relief "for any other damages it proves it incurs as a result of the defendant's breach of its repair and replacement obligations under the lease."Betras said the terms of the lease were clear to all officials -- including the county commissioners and the Mahoning County prosecutor's office -- which negotiated and signed the agreement in 1987. The county, he added, agreed to the conditions in return for "a substantially reduced rent" of $4.67 per square foot. Most office space in Youngstown's downtown goes for $9- to $12 per square foot, he said."They only had one thing to do, and that's to take care of the building," Betras said. "They didn't do it."Moreover, Betras noted the county has refused to perform the repair work and has repeatedly snubbed offers from Cafaro to spend its own money to upgrade the facility and roll the improvement costs into a higher rental rate. "If anyone has been taken advantage of, it's Mr. Cafaro, not the county," he said, referring to Anthony Cafaro Sr., president of The Cafaro Co.The county's lack of good faith prompted the lawsuit, Betras said. "What else can you do?" The case is assigned to Judge R. Scott Krichbaum.Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, who was not prosecutor when the lease was negotiated 19 years ago, said the county will "vehemently defend" its position in court. "The lease is unconscionable. I would have never agreed to a lease like that," he said. "We're not going to take this lying down."The prosecutor added that his office expected a suit to be filed after the county received a letter from the company explaining its position. "We've been anticipating it, so my people have already been looking into it," he said. Gains said the problems with Garland Plaza only reinforce the county's position that it should relocate Job and Family Services to Oakhill. "It's all the more reason to vacate that building," he said.The Cafaro Co. has also filed a taxpayer's suit in Common Pleas Court to block the county's acquisition of Oakhill, arguing the transaction is illegal. That complaint also argues the county does not have the money to acquire the building -- formerly Southside Hospital -- and that the auditor has yet to certify funds for the project. The suit names county commissioners David Ludt and Anthony Traficanti as defendants but not John McNally IV, who voted against the Oakhill acqusition. It also names Treasurer John Reardon, Administrator George Tablack, Auditor Michael Sciortino and Prosecutor Paul Gains as defendants in their official capacities. Traficanti, Ludt and Tablack are also being sued as individuals.Cafaro's taxpayer suit seeks an injunction to prevent the acquisition of Oakhill and to stop any additional county funds from being spent on the project. That case is assigned to Judge Maureen Sweeney.MORE: Cafaro vs. County; County vs. Cafaro: Today and Yesterday"
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