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Insurance giant buys out Cincinnati women's home

Monday - 5/13/2013, 5:11pm  ET

Protesters shown on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, in downtown Cincinnati. The group of 150 protesters are demanding that insurance giant Western & Southern Financial Group end a two-year court fight to stop the women's home from renovating and ultimately get them to sell the property to make way for a boutique hotel. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)

AMANDA LEE MYERS
Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) -- An insurance company has bought out a nonprofit home for struggling women in Cincinnati in a deal announced Monday, ending a bitter two-year court battle over the historic property in a picturesque downtown neighborhood.

Western & Southern Insurance Group bought the 104-year-old Anna Louise Inn for $4 million, according to a joint news release issued by the formerly acrimonious pair.

The settlement clears the way for Western & Southern to turn the property into a boutique hotel after a protracted fight that saw the insurer file a lawsuit against the nonprofit after it refused a low-ball offer to sell.

Under the deal, the 60-plus women now living in the Anna Louise Inn will remain where they are for two years as a new facility for them is built.

"Our stance has consistently been that this could be a win-win, and now it is just that," said Western & Southern CEO John Barrett in a statement.

The protracted legal battle began several years ago when the nonprofit rejected a $1.8 million offer -- about half its value -- from Western & Southern and the insurer sued to stop the building's renovation over a zoning issue. Owners and residents of the Anna Louise long have derided Barrett's efforts, saying they amounted to corporate greed and arrogance because the home was not for sale.

"It's like someone coming up to you and saying, 'I want to buy your house' and you politely say it's not for sale, and they don't understand that not for sale means it's not for sale," Mary Carol Melton, executive vice president of the nonprofit that operates the inn, said in October.

Monday's release contained a short statement from Melton in which she said she was "very pleased that this has come to a mutually agreeable conclusion."

Steve MacConnell, president of the nonprofit that operates the inn, told The Associated Press that agreeing to sell was difficult but ultimately the best option.

If the Anna Louise had continued fighting Western & Southern's efforts, more than $12 million in tax credits would have expired by the end of the year. Although the home could have applied for them anew, winning them again was no guarantee.

"I would not say that we gave up," MacConnell said. "We were getting concerned about the funding and also, we were just stuck in the mud with this litigation, and we went as far as we could with that ... It's time to move on."

The Anna Louise Inn has been housing low-income, single women in the same building since 1909 and has become a haven for women looking to make a new start. Some residents are just getting out of foster care, some are between jobs, and others are escaping lives as prostitutes and drug addicts.

During their fight to buy the Anna Louise, Barrett and others at Western & Southern repeatedly referred to the home's former prostitutes and said its residents just don't belong in the serene and lovely neighborhood.

Monday's deal came less than a week after about 150 supporters of the Anna Louise protested outside a downtown courthouse, demanding that Western & Southern give up on buying the home and vowing that the Anna Louise would never give up.

The protest was one of many that have been held in the last two years. Supporters of the Anna Louise also made an online video parody portraying a Western & Southern spokesman as a corporate fat cat and even got a plane to trail a banner critical of the company over last summer's Western & Southern Open tennis tournament.

Josh Spring, one of Western & Southern's harshest critics and the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, vowed to continue protesting the company.

"Western & Southern, and specifically John Barrett, have bullied their way to this," Spring said. "We will continue to push for access to affordable housing and for the justice of not being displaced."

A request to interview Barrett was not immediately answered Monday.

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP


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