While the village of Schaumburg and the Schaumburg Flyers still hope a promised sale of the baseball team will remedy their dispute over nearly $1 million in overdue rent and fees, a looming Jan. 20 court date is a reminder of a lawsuit that could permanently sever their 12-year partnership.
Similar financial problems recently brought about the end of the Joliet Jackhammers baseball team and paved the way for the city of Joliet to make its Silver Cross Field available to a new team that will start play this summer.
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Neither Schaumburg officials or team ownership want a similar fate for the Flyers.
Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said both sides agree that the best possible outcome is a sale of the Flyers that will restore hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and keep the team at Alexian Field.
But the lawsuit filed against the team in November demonstrated that there's a limit to the patience of the village and Schaumburg Park District, which co-owns the ballpark.
The suit claims that as of last August, the Flyers owed more than $920,000 in overdue payments. That includes more than $600,000 in rent and another $100,000 in interest and other fees.
"The purpose of the lawsuit is to get our lease back for nonpayment, and we're pursuing it," Fritz said. "One of (the Flyers') most valuable assets is the lease."
As much as Schaumburg favors maintaining its relationship with the Flyers under new ownership, the village is a strong market for minor league baseball and there has been significant interest in use of the stadium, Fritz said.
"We're optimistic that the Flyers will consummate the sale," he added. "But if they don't, and we get the lease back through the court process, we believe we can still have baseball in 2011."
Rich Ehrenreich, the managing partner of the Flyers, said he remains confident about an imminent sale, even though another near-deal fell through last summer.
He believes a sale is so close it will have mended fences not only in time for Opening Day, but before this month's court date. He finds it very unlikely the Flyers and Schaumburg will part company this year.
"It's hard for me to envision that, knowing what I know," Ehrenreich said. "We're still negotiating primarily with one person. We're confident (the court date on) the 20th will be a moot point."
To their credit, Fritz said, the Flyers have been proceeding as if they fully intend to play ball at Alexian Field this summer. They've hired the former Northern League's 2010 Manager of the Year, negotiated a place in the North American League after the Northern League's collapse, and have kept up all the marketing efforts in the postseason needed to remain a viable business entity.
Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas said Schaumburg's statements that it could quickly replace the Flyers was probably not just empty talk.
In Joliet's case, finding a replacement team was no problem in comparison with dealing with the Jackhammers' financial problems that left the city out $220,000 in unpaid rent.
"That was actually the easier part of the process," Thanas said. "We had a lot of suitors ready to take over. We're pleased we were able to turn the corner."
Though Joliet opted not to wrest its overdue rent from the dying Jackhammers, the new lease agreement with Steel City Baseball Club and its yet unnamed team could help make up the shortfall.
While the base rent of the stadium has dropped, so as not to financially trap the team during lean years, the new lease rewards the city more during years that attendance is up, Thanas said.
While the Flyers' Jan. 20 court date is largely expected to be a status hearing, there is a remote possibility of it having greater significance, Schaumburg Village Attorney Jack Siegel said.
The team's previous attorney recently withdrew from the case, Siegel said. If a new attorney doesn't file an appearance on the 20th as expected, the judge could order an immediate eviction of Ehrenreich's organization from Alexian Field, he said.