UA Goes to Court to Take Block of Land: Akron OH Beacon-Journal, 11/3/07

Business owners say they don't want to go, plus offers are too low

By Carol Biliczky

The University of Akron has filed lawsuits in Summit County Probate Court to take more than a dozen pieces of property by eminent domain.

The actions target homes and businesses in a block bounded by East Exchange, Nash, Spicer and Brown streets i land that is needed to make way for a $55 million stadium east of campus and west of state Route 8.

Two of the holdouts say that the university isn't offering enough money and that they want to stay on this part of East Exchange, sometimes called the Zip Strip. ''We want to be compensated for our loss of business,'' said Joseph Nemer Jr., who owns a bar, warehouse and other businesses in the area. ''We want to find a nice spot. We want respect.''

The university also filed against Manny Nemer, who owns Aroma Coffee and Tea and Manny's Pub, just up the street at 445 and 451 E. Exchange. Manny Nemer rents part of 445 E. Exchange to Chopstix restaurant.

Manny Nemer said he did not want to relocate, but would do so if the university found him a location across the street. He said he wants to stay in the same area. The Nemers' properties run from 357 to 469 E. Exchange, which includes the Sun Bar and Grille, and 354 Nash St., Joseph Nemer Jr. said.

Also sued were the Odd Corner, a store at Exchange and Brown streets owned by Harry Jackson; houses at 444 and 446 Nash St. owned by Tamas Mesterhazy of Silver Lake; and four properties owned by Fred Fanning of Fairlawn at 425 and 431 E. Exchange and 430 and 424 Nash.

The university has come to agreements with dozens of other property owners, sometimes offering them relocation expenses and compensating them for loss of business.

One of the homes that the university purchased was owned by Jack W. Morrison Jr., son of university Trustee Jack Morrison. After two members of the Ohio Controlling Board questioned the $110,000 purchase this week, the university and the elder Morrison asked the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate the transaction to ensure it was done in accordance with Ohio law.

Commission Director David Freel said Friday he has asked the university not to take any further action on the property - such as tearing the house down - until the investigation is completed.

He said that the commission could refer the purchase to the county prosecutor and could assist the prosecution if it comes to that, but has no power to directly fine or sanction public officials.

''We will investigate as soon as we can,'' he said.

University officials have said they want to buy all the property for the stadium by the end of the year, break ground for the project in January and complete construction in time for the first home football game in fall 2009.

University Officials May Face Hurdles in Getting Land to Build Proposed Football Stadium

Local business owners don't fear the 'Roo

As University of Akron officials ready plans for a new stadium, they may face hurdles - not the least of which may be a stout Lebanese businessman.

Manuel Nemer, 55, says he will dig in his heels to stop UA from taking his commercial property on East Exchange Street.

He's operated Aroma Coffee and Tea since 1994 and Manny's Pub since 1984, waiting for the day UA would unveil a new stadium near the campus and his businesses could be part of the action.

That time appears to be here. UA trustees are expected to act on a $55 million stadium proposal with 30,000 seats when it meets Aug. 1.

But building a replacement for the antiquated Rubber Bowl will mean buying up lots of parcels on 12 acres of the crowded urban landscape between the east side of campus and state Route 8.

UA already owns 86 parcels. Over the years, it has been quietly buying up land as it was available.

Last month it hired the real-estate services company CB Richard Ellis to negotiate the last 29 parcels that it needs, UA spokesman Ken Torisky said.

Ted Curtis, UA vice president of capital planning and facilities management, declined to comment about the process.

Most of the structures are turn-of-the-20th-century houses that have been converted to rentals on handkerchief-size lots. But a sprinkling are businesses situated on East Market Street's so-called "Zip Strip" of eateries, bars and stores that serve UA students.

The first step for the university's acquisition effort is an appraisal, to set the value of each of the properties - the amount the university would be allowed to pay by law.

One of the businesses that's been approached is owned by Harry Jackson, and he's none too happy.

He said he will fight to get the most he can for his small Odd Corner store at Exchange and Brown streets, ideally situated directly across from campus. He's been selling T-shirts, adult items and tobacco products for almost 35 years and is determined to stay in the area, be that in the same building or a nearby one.
He said he even offered to leave UA $2 million to $3 million for scholarships in his will if it would let the business remain.

But that proposal has fallen on deaf ears, he said.

"I'm quite willing to fight," Jackson said. "Be sure to let people know I do not intend to close."

As for Manny Nemer, he is keeping his fingers crossed that UA will back off.
"I want to pass this on to my children," he said in the cluttered back office at Aroma Coffee and Tea. "I'd like to leave my name around."

He paints himself as a hard-working immigrant in search of the American Dream. He came here as a teen with $6 in his pocket and has worked hard to put his children through Catholic schools and colleges.

"I had few hours of sleep, few hours to see my kids grow up. No time to join my wife for their school meetings and school activities and no time to even help during the nights of their sickness," he said in written comments prepared by his wife, Colette, on a manila folder.

Money won't buy him off, he said. Where would he rebuild?

He's willing - even eager - to abandon the renovation and expansion plans he has in hand for the coffee shop, pub and part of a building he leases to Chopstix restaurant in favor of one that suits the university. He will build whatever they want, he said expansively.

If UA takes him to court for eminent domain - the governmental right to acquire property for a public purpose - a jury would side with him, he insisted.

"We are optimistic and confident that we can deal with Akron U in a wise and fair way -- hopefully," he said.

UA Seeks State Ethics Probe of Home Sale
Son says trustee didn't advise him what properties school might want, or help him buy house later sold at profit to college

The University of Akron asked the Ohio Ethics Commission on Thursday to investigate UA's purchase of a house owned by a trustee's son.

UA officials say Trustee Jack Morrison didn't help his son acquire the property at 334 Spicer St. and abstained from voting when fellow trustees approved the purchase this year.

''We don't think we did anything wrong, and Jack doesn't think he did anything wrong,'' UA spokesman Paul Herold said. ''We're going to turn this over to the Ohio Ethics Commission just to be sure.''

A court document about another purchase in the university area says the elder Morrison has provided financial help for his son's business of buying properties, but not the Spicer Street home.

The university bought the 108-year-old home this year for $110,000, 40 percent more than Jack W. Morrison Jr., the son, had paid for it the previous year.

It is one of many the university plans to acquire either through a direct purchase or eminent domain to make way for a new stadium east of campus and west of state Route 8.

For almost two years, the younger Morrison, a 28-year-old attorney, or his company, Braymor Development, has accumulated 18 properties around the university valued at almost $900,000, according to Summit County records. His other properties are on Beltz Court and Allyn, Kling, Brown, Power, Rankin and Sumner streets. Those properties have not been sold to the university.

In a deposition he gave in January in a breach-of-contract lawsuit he had filed over an attempt to buy a house at 444 Kling St., he quoted another investor as calling the area ''beachfront property.''

''They want to expand the practice fields to Power Street, and this house is right on the practice fields,'' the younger Morrison said. ''That's why I was interested initially.''

On Thursday, the younger Morrison said he buys houses cheaply, fixes them up and rents them to students.

He said it was a coincidence that he bought 334 Spicer St. and it later was acquired by the university. He said his father did not advise him what properties might be of interest to the university.

Morrison, with his father as his lawyer, lost the lawsuit over the 444 Kling St. property and has appealed the case to the 9th District Court of Appeals.

In the deposition, he said his father provided financing for some of his projects. ''When I first started, I needed some money to put down on the first house,'' he said.

He cited homes at 355 Rankin, 331 Cross and 365 Rankin as ones his father helped finance.

In an interview with the Beacon Journal on Thursday, the senior Morrison said he loaned his son money from time to time, and he did not know how it was used.

''I don't know how he finances his properties,'' said senior Morrison, who is president of Amer Cunningham, the Akron law firm where the son is an associate. ''If he recalls I loaned him money, I wouldn't dispute that.''

He said he has nothing to do with his son's businesses.

In the deposition, the younger Morrison said he first visited the 444 Kling St. property with his father. In various projects, he said, he has ''had some help with doing some repairs with my father here and there.''

He also said in the January deposition that, for the Spicer street home, he invested $10,000 to $15,000 in improvements. That is significantly less than was reported in two appraisals conducted in the spring.

Appraiser Howard Myers said in his report that Morrison Jr. told him he invested $28,000 in improvements, excluding his labor.

The younger Morrison had hired Myers to do the appraisal, which became one of two that the university used in setting its purchase price.

UA spokesman Herold said the university accepts appraisals from property owners as long as it also obtains one on its own. In this case, the second appraisal was conducted by John W. Emig, who put the value of Morrison's improvements at $34,000.
Morrison's house was among 14 UA purchases approved Monday in a 5-2 vote by the Ohio Controlling Board, with one member questioning the property's steep appreciation in a declining market. The board has final oversight on capital acquisitions by state agencies and institutions.

Stadium Plan Approved
UA football facility to cost $55 million, seat 30,000

University of Akron officials said "Wow" a lot Wednesday as they plunged ahead with plans for a $55 million stadium, the linchpin of the second phase of their campus redesign.

The 30,000-seat stadium will be named for InfoCision and the field for Summa Health System, the two largest donors to the athletic project to date.

"This will be football the way it was meant to be," UA President Luis Proenza said. The construction of the stadium was one of two major items approved by trustees on Wednesday.

They also took early steps to find financing for more projects to come - a residence hall for 450 to 500 students next door to the stadium and a parking deck with 1,100 to 1,500 spaces somewhere on campus.

All the projects are part of UA's continuing Landscape for Learning, which has invested $350 million over the last decade to beautify and modernize the downtown campus.

The long-sought stadium will return football to the campus, and the university made the most of the announcement. At a balloon-festooned reception, officials gave out T-shirts emblazoned with "Roo Town," a play on the schools' mascot, Zippy the kangaroo.
Cheerleaders, a band and Zippy were on hand, as were colored render Please seeings depicting the look of the red brick, stone and glass stadium.

A stream of UA officials praised the proposed facility. Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said the goal is to "build the nicest stadium in the country."

The project will be funded through a $30 million campaign that launched Wednesday with almost $21 million collected or pledged to date, plus perhaps $25 million in general revenue bonds.

UA students will not be charged for the stadium unless they hold a referendum and vote to contribute to the project through special fees. Each student already pays $222.60 a semester to retire bonds and operate the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and Student Center.

The stadium will offer something for everyone, including a variety of seating options - from private boxes and loges to end-zone grass berm - office space and 45,000 square feet on two levels for classrooms.

The facility with artificial turf could be used for community events - everything from marching band activities to summer athletic camps to concerts. The club level of the press box, which seats 486, will be available to the public for meetings, receptions and more. Pricing has yet to be worked out.

UA officials say the stadium is critical to recruiting and retaining students, including student-athletes.

Ted Curtis, UA vice president of capital planning and facilities management, said the facility will bring something new to campus - the opportunity for students and alumni to hold tailgate parties, building camaraderie and team spirit.
Students gave that a big thumbs up.

"It's gorgeous, a striking design," said Adam Ferrise, a communications major from Cuyahoga Falls. "If that's the way it's really going to look, wow."

Ryan Bahill, a nutrition major from Akron, said the stadium would attract many more students to games - including her - because it would be much more conveniently located.

"I think it's a good way to get students involved more on campus and to get them to unite," said Teresa McQuaide, an English major from Warren.

At this stage, the project does not include its own parking deck, but Curtis said that won't be a problem.

About 10,000 campus parking spaces will be within walking distance of the stadium and 7,500 more are in downtown Akron, a short shuttle-bus ride away. As each vehicle typically carries three people, that should be more than enough for even a filled-to-capacity stadium, he said.

With construction to begin in October, the university is continuing to buy up residential and business property on the stadium's 12-acre footprint east of Lee Jackson Field and north of East Exchange Street. UA officials have said they will go to court to invoke eminent domain if they need to.

And the new stadium project does not include retail shops or restaurants, as was once envisioned. Proenza, the UA president, said it was deemed more cost effective to use the space for classrooms.

Over the next two years, the university also will continue to spend at least $375,000 a year to maintain the 66-year-old Rubber Bowl, which the university bought from the city of Akron for $1 in 1971.

Proenza said no decision has been made yet on the Rubber Bowl, but it will almost certainly be sold.

UA officials also refused to disclose the size of the gifts from Summa and from Gary and Karen Taylor, owners of InfoCision, citing their requests for privacy.

The Taylors also asked that the stadium be named for their company and not for them.
Later Wednesday, Gary Taylor said the gift included "multiple millions" spread over 20 years. UA named the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing for him when he initially gave $1.5 million. He later gave another $2.1 million.

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