Going Postal

Maybe itís time to revisit Steve Stogelís redevelopment plan for the Old Post Office downtown

One reason for the delay in a financing announcement by DESCO and DFC may be Marcia Behrendt's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last May 28, which seeks to halt the Century's demolition. As a property owner with a view of the Century Building from her Tenth Street loft, Behrendt claims in the suit that she "has a property interest which will be injured by the present plan for Old Post Office Square that will diminish the value of her property by changing the essential character of the Central Business District by eliminating one of the most singular and historic properties located therein," the Century Building.

"What the lawsuit is challenging," explains her lawyer, Matt Ghio, "is the programmatic agreement [a statement of intent] that governs both of those projects. My client is asserting that they didn't follow federal law in coming to this programmatic agreement, for a number of reasons. They didn't consider reasonable, prudent alternatives to the piece of the project that destroys the Century building. But it's also asking the court to order all of these parties to go back and consider all the alternatives they should have. The main concern about getting it back to the drawing board is that proposed garage."

It's a suit to save the Century, basically, and even its supporters say it doesn't stand much of a chance. "I hope that the lawsuit keeps [the Old Post Office proposal] from happening long enough for it to die a death of its own," says one downtown insider, who declined to be named, "but it's sure been hanging in there."

If, however, Stogel and company come to terms with their prospective tenants and complete their financing package, demolition of the Century will begin immediately -- the suit is powerless to prevent it. Then, says Ghio, "that would force my client to change her claim to one for damages for the diminution of value" of her loft. The Century will vanish and, predicts Stogel, the district will be on its way to filling the empty office space that surrounds the Old Post Office. "In five years," he says, "25 percent of the entire vacancy that existed three years ago -- when DESCO and DFC started this deal -- could be addressed and turned back into a useful, viable neighborhood plan that works." Until the ink is dry, however, the Century Building remains.

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