UPDATED AUG. 20 WITH QUOTE BY CINCINNATI INSURANCE SPOKESPERSON
Six of Greater Cleveland’s swankiest establishments that share the same owner have not reopened from the Coronavirus shutdown. Several sources with direct knowledge of the businesses’ operations and finances said they doubted all of the establishments would reopen under their current ownership.
Valley View’s LockKeepers plus downtown Cleveland’s Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar, Il Venetian, Il Venetian Doughnuts and Gelato, Marble Sushi Room, and St. Clair Ballroom closed back in mid-March along with all other Ohio restaurants and bars under health orders by Gov. Mike DeWine.
But none of those six restaurants, all owned by the Millennia Hospitality Group, LLC, reopened starting in mid-May during the partial relaxing of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced shutdown or after the wider reopening two months later.
Millennia sued its insurance carrier, Cincinnati Insurance Co. of Fairfield, OH, claiming it failed to honor its policy coverages, including for loss of business income and extra expense due to the actions of a civil authority. Millennia said the civil authority orders issued by Gov. DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health in response to the pandemic should trigger payments under its policy coverage.
Several other businesses in Cuyahoga County also individually sued Cincinnati Insurance for the same reason. Those businesses were Mitchell Brothers Ice Cream Inc. based in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, Nighttown, Inc. located in Cleveland Heights, and iAthlete & Fitness, LLC doing business as Results Fitness in Mayfield Heights.
At Cincinnati Insurance’s request, these individual cases were consolidated as a class-action lawsuit on July 15 and assigned to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy A. Fuerst. The reason they were consolidated was because the terms of the business income and civil authority coverages in each policy were identical and because Ohio law will apply to each of these claims, court documents showed.
“We respect the rights of all parties to have their issues heard and resolved in a court of law. For that reason, we generally do not comment on pending litigation,” said Betsy Ertel, media relations director for Cincinnati Insurance, which is the main insurance subsidiary of Cincinnati Financial Corp.
|LockKeepers has been located in Thornburg Station, a mixed-use
development including offices and restaurants at Rockside and
Canal roads in Valley View, since 2001. Its previous location
nearby was much smaller and dated to 1992 (Google).
“What I can say,” Ertel continued, “is that commercial property insurance policies require direct physical loss or damage to property to trigger coverage for claims for business interruption, including business interruption due to civil authority. Cincinnati Insurance remains committed to doing our part to support the families and businesses in our agents? communities, helping them to proactively manage risks and promptly paying covered claims.”
There have been multiple lawsuits filed against Cincinnati Insurance from businesses located around the country in response to non-payment on civil authority coverages, as noted in recent articles in the Cincinnati Business Courier.
“Global pandemic risks are uninsurable,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO of a national trade group the Insurance Information Institute in another article published by the Cincinnati Business Courier. Given the unpredictability and unimaginable potential for worldwide losses, insurance is simply unable to cover a global pandemic.
Today, Fuerst notified the case parties that Cincinnati Insurance will file a Rule 12 motion by Aug. 27 to determine the presentation of its defense and/or the responsiveness of Millennia. Per the notice, Millennia has until Sept. 17 to respond and Cincinnati Insurance has until Oct. 8 to reply, according to the court docket.
If the Common Pleas’ overall court docket is any indication, Millennia is either having difficulty paying its contractors or it has hired difficult contractors. Millennia currently has four active lawsuits pending against it for allegedly failing to honor its agreements with those contractors.
The contractors include WCCV Floor Coverings, Inc. of Peninsula, OH which seeks contract payment plus interest of at least $78,012.30; private utility locator Blood Hound LLC of Brownsburg, IN that says it is owed $109,066 on a contract plus interest; radon mitigation firm ATC Group Services, LLC of Gahanna, OH which seeks $867,482.42 plus reasonable attorneys? fees and collection costs; temporary staffing firm Express Services, Inc. DBA Express Employment Professionals of Mobile, AL that it has not been paid $69,771.88 on a contract with Millennia.
|Il Venetian, Il Venetian Doughnuts and Gelato, Marble Sushi Room
plus the St. Clair Ballroom are all located at Key Plaza. The plaza
includes Key Tower, the Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key
Tower and the historic Society For Savings Bank (Millennia).
Fuerst is the judge for all of the cases except the one brought by ATC which is being heard by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shannon M. Gallagher.
Millennia has responded to each allegation in each case, denying nearly all of the allegations. For counts it hasn’t denied, Millennia said that the complaints lacked sufficient information. In one case, brought by Express Services, Millennia’s only unqualified admission to the complaint was that Millennia was located in Cleveland, Ohio. Millennia also “generally admits that an ‘agreement’ or contract existed between the parties, but otherwise denies the remaining allegations,” claiming a lack of sufficient knowledge.
Because of these cases and the ongoing closure of Millennia-owned restaurants, rumors have swirled about Millennia possibly being in financial trouble and whether some of its properties are at risk of foreclosure.
“Frank (Sinito, Millennia’s CEO) says all of it is untrue,” said Valerie Jerome, Millennia’s media relations director. “He’s in good standing financially.”
Millennia has a controlling interest in multiple, highly visible downtown properties for which it has paid large sums — Key Tower (Ohio’s tallest skyscraper), Statler Arms apartments, Garfield Building apartments, 925 Euclid/The Centennial (planned mixed-use redevelopment) and 75 Public Square (housing conversion underway).
Millennia also owns 274 housing complexes, most of them affordable apartments, nationwide. The company has built 23,000 residential units in 23 states, according to an official biography about Sinito.
|Millennia Hospitality Group’s restaurants serve up some of the
fanciest establishments in town. They offer elegant settings,
fine food and drinks, and are places to be seen (KJP).
Jerome said that Millennia’s high-end restaurants in downtown Cleveland and in Valley View would remain closed until further notice.
“There is no reopening date at this time,” she said.
Visitors to the LockKeepers Web site are greeted with a hopeful message about the restaurant’s future:
“Dear friend of LockKeepers, Although the state of Ohio is relaxing some coronavirus restrictures, we are not reopening yet. We are spending this time deep cleaning the restaurant and refreshing our dining spaces as we look forward to serving you soon again. At this time, we do not have an opening date established but we will be sure to keep you advised of our status. We will begin accepting reservations as soon as this date is determined.”
Meanwhile, other high-end restaurants in Greater Cleveland have reopened. They include Adega, Crop Bistro & Bar, Dante, L’Albatros Brasserie, Lola, Luca (downtown and Westlake), Morton’s The Steakhouse, Pier W,? Red the steakhouse (downtown and Pinecrest) and Salmon Dave’s Pacific Grille.
Other fine dining establishments have shown signs of activity, like Urban Farmer Steakhouse which is hosting private events, or Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse which has reopened its Beachwood and Westlake locations but not downtown as yet. On the other hand, Cowell & Hubbard has no timetable for reopening with the indefinite shutdown of all Playhouse Square theaters.