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Insurance giant buys out SW Ohio women's home after 2-year court battle over historic property

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    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) (The Associated Press)

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    Kate Gallion, member of Allies of the Anna Louise Inn, rallies protesters 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 to get them to sell the property to make way for a boutique hotel. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers) (The Associated Press)

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    Tatiana McCormick, 24, a former resident of the Anna Louise Inn, is pictured in front of a protest 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 to get them to sell the property to make way for a boutique hotel. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers) (The Associated Press)

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    Jim Luken, 69, of Cincinnati, parodies Western & Southern CEO John Barrett during a protest 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) (The Associated Press)

A major 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 home's historic property in a beautiful 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.

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

Once they move out of the neighborhood, Western & Southern will be able to accomplish its long-standing goal of turning the old property into a boutique hotel.

"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 very public dispute began several years ago when the nonprofit rejected an offer from Western & Southern and the insurer sued to stop planned renovations, leading to a protracted legal battle. Owners and residents of the Anna Louise long have derided Barrett's efforts to convert the home into a hotel, saying they amounted to corporate greed and arrogance because the home was not for sale and the women didn't want to leave.

"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, had said in October. "We really do believe enough is enough."

In the news release, a short statement from Melton said she was "very pleased that this has come to a mutually agreeable conclusion."

"Now, as we move forward, our women will have a beautiful new home and will continue to enjoy safe and affordable housing for many years to come," she said.

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 have made an online video parody portraying a Western & Southern spokesman as a corporate fat cat hell-bent on kicking the women out of the Anna Louise, and even crashed the company's title yearly event, the Western & Southern Open.

As the world's top tennis players battled it out on the court this past summer, a plane flew overhead, trailing a banner calling Western & Southern a bunch of bullies.

At one point, the Anna Louise had considered an offer from Western & Southern to buy the property for $1.8 million, less than half its value. The inn decided against it after winning $12.6 million in federal and state tax credits for a renovation, a decision criticized by John Barrett as a taxpayer "bailout."

Days before the inn was to begin renovating, Western & Southern successfully sued to stop them, arguing that they broke zoning codes.

The Anna Louise had appealed and was rezoned but had been prevented from beginning renovations until the court fight was resolved. New arguments had been set for last week, but the home's deal with Western & Southern ends that.

The Anna Louise Inn has been housing low-income, single women in the same building since 1909, after President Howard Taft's brother, Charles P. Taft, built it for ambitious types pouring into Cincinnati to work as stenographers, bookkeepers and secretaries.

Over the years, the inn 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, some have fled abusive relationships, and others are escaping lives as prostitutes and drug addicts. Several have lived there for decades.

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.

They argued that a boutique hotel was much more suited to the area, and pointed to a University of Cincinnati study commissioned by Western & Southern that showed a hotel there could generate $355 million in economic impact over 30 years.

"It is the right thing to do for Cincinnati," Barrett wrote in an October editorial in The Cincinnati Enquirer. "No one loses with our proposal."

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