VA project in hands of dumped developer

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Salvaging a $75 million project to build a Veterans Administration outpatient center in Butler County presents challenges because the land is owned by a developer the VA dumped from the project citing “false and misleading representations” in its bid proposal, an attorney said on Tuesday.

“This can cause a problem,” Butler Township Solicitor Larry Lutz said.

Westar Development Co. of Aurora, Ohio, owns 21 acres designated for the outpatient center.

“Whoever might bid, they'll have to deal with Westar. Westar owns the property,” said Lutz.

Westar attorney John Climaco said he would not comment “at this time.” Westar officials did not return phone messages.

The VA said it notified Westar on Aug. 9 that it terminated the company's lease.

Westar was to construct the hospital, and the VA had agreed to pay Westar an average of $7.6 million a year in rent for 20 years. The outpatient center was scheduled to open in 2015.

The project has not been canceled, according to the VA, but it did not say how it would go forward.

“It does concern me,” township Commission President Ben Simon said. “I thought it was a good project that was going to be a good thing for the veterans in our community. This delay could go on indefinitely.”

Westar bought two tracts near VA facilities on which to locate the outpatient center. One tract had been owned by Butler Township and the other by Butler Memorial Park.

Westar's payment has cleared, Lutz said, and the deed is in Westar's name.

“We can't undo the deed on our end,” Lutz said. “Westar would have to do something, whether they sell it or make some other arrangement.”

John Cyprian, Butler County veterans' services director, asked why questions about Westar's conduct during the bidding process are being raised.

“Who looks at that and waits until the middle of the project and then says this paperwork isn't in order? It doesn't make sense,” Cyprian said.

The project has been under a cloud for months. On June 21, the VA stopped construction because the VA's Office of Inspector General uncovered “initial findings” about the project and VA Butler Partners Co., a Westar subsidiary, and company representatives.

Days before the April groundbreaking, Westar fired its senior vice president, Robert Berryhill, following his indictment on charges that he stole money from companies involved in construction of FBI offices in Knoxville and Indianapolis, while he was senior vice president at Carnegie Management and Development Corp. in Cleveland.

Those charges, for which Berryhill received a sentence last month of up to 75 months in federal prison, weren't related to the Butler project, authorities said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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