Liberty Center sues business for never opening In the Game site there

Liberty Center has sued Illinois-based Family Entertainment Group LLC for $850,000 because it violated its contract by never moving In the Game into the $350 million mega mixed use mall development.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court late last month, claims Family Entertainment Group LLC signed a lease agreement to move an In the Game entertainment center into 16,879 square feet of space at the mall in Liberty Twp. The move-in date was supposed to be Sept. 19, 2019.

In the Game never materialized at the mall, and Liberty Center claims it is owed at least $855,641 in back rent and late fees, plus other damages.

Last September, Liberty Center General Manager John Taylor told the Journal-News the pandemic delayed In the Game’s plans.

“Obviously they’ve been affected by everything as well,” he said at the time. “Their other locations are open so we’re working with them to set a new timeline for when they can start construction and when we can get them open. We expect it’ll be sometime next year.”

The entertainment center was supposed to offer food and “a creative adult drink menu,” and feature arcade gaming, six-lane boutique bowling, virtual reality, an axe-throwing arena and more.

Officials with Family Entertainment Group LLC could not be reached for comment on why they did not open the new location here. According to the website, the company has six In the Game locations, including one in Orlando that opened earlier this year.

Earlier this year, Liberty Center owners challenged Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds’ reevaluation of several parcels, asking for a $58 million value decrease to $80 million. The application stated the reduction request was due to: “Recent sale(s) of comparable properties. Physical, economic, functional depreciation or obsolescence. Economic valuation based on gross or net income.”

The auditor’s Board of Revision last week allowed a $14 million value drop to $124 million. In addition, Mike Gildea, an appraiser for Reynolds’ office, said because of a new law Liberty Center can also apply for a further reduction due to the pandemic. The current case only involved the pre-pandemic value, he said they intend to argue in October the contested portion of the development is only worth $60 million due to the crisis.

“They’ll be allowed to present information on how COVID impacted their numbers,” Gildea said. “And it’s not good, there are actually two appraisals on Liberty Center. There is one prior to COVID and one after COVID was in full swing and they are night and day appraisals.”

Liberty Center officials would not comment on the lawsuit or the BOR decision.

ExploreButler County agrees to $14 million property value drop for Liberty Center

The total investment on Liberty Center was more than $350 million, paid by public and private sources. The project ended up receiving more than $49 million in funding backed by taxpayer dollars, including a $12 million loan approved by Ohio Water Development Authority. The developer is required to make minimum annual payments of approximately $2 million on the debt, according to the development agreement.

Butler County and Liberty Twp. officials forged the complicated development deal and all have said they don’t want to see Liberty Center go under in these uncertain times, when bricks and mortar retail establishments are struggling and the pandemic dealt a deadly blow to many.

“We’re in negotiations with them about what the county may do to secure our interests, it’s ongoing,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “We’re looking at them for a long term strategy.”

The Liberty Community Authority was formed to serve as a watchdog over the taxpayer investment in the development. The LCA is responsible for maintaining garages and storm water systems at the center and paying off the debt to build those. It uses a facilities charge of one-half of one percent, which the public pays during each transaction at a Liberty Center business. It also uses a 10-mill assessed value charge levied against the properties on the site.

There have been some issues with the bond payments in recent years for a variety reasons, necessitating “loans” from the county tax increment financing district.

LCA Chairman Phil Morrical said the bond repayment is on schedule but the board has been working on options, such as refinancing, to better their financial position because of the recent problems with the payments. Higher values would have helped the situation.

“We were counting on those projections in the long run, the values going up would help pay things off,” he said. “The assessment we have, the values go down our assessments go down.”

About the Author