Zion to Fielders: Pay $185,000 in back rent

Zion has issued a default notice to the Lake County Fielders for owing $185,000 in back rent for use of the city's temporary baseball stadium dating to the team's 2010 inaugural season, according to a release issued by the mayor Tuesday night.

Mayor Lane Harrison provided the statement to the Daily Herald about a week after the newspaper received city records through a Freedom of Information request that show the Fielders have bounced checks and not made timely rental payments to Zion.

Harrison deferred to City Attorney Paula Randall, who said the default notice was a formal request for the $185,000 in back rent and not a court action. Randall said after Tuesday's city council meeting the independent league Fielders can continue playing at the temporary baseball stadium.

Acknowledging the recent default notice, Richard Ehrenreich, whose Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment is the Fielders' parent company, said he's stopped paying Zion because the city has yet to build the permanent ballpark it promised.

Ehrenreich said construction was supposed to be in stages. He said a permanent seating bowl, a concourse with concession stands and bathrooms were promised for this year and announced on the city's website in March.

“We're not going to pay anything until we see something,” he said. “We can't keep throwing money at something if we're the only ones performing.”

Zion's baseball facility has about 4,500 temporary seats and permanent elements such as lights, the playing field, dugouts and parking area at Route 173 and Green Bay Road. The Fielders play in the North American Baseball League.

In the statement, Zion contends it was led to believe it would receive enough state grants to pay for an entire permanent stadium. However, the city didn't receive anything beyond $1.3 million in state taxpayers' money that went toward infrastructure and utility costs.

“The city has been pressured by the baseball team to complete construction of a permanent stadium,” says the release. “However, the city, the baseball team and the owner of the land where the stadium is located have been unable to agree on a manner of funding the construction costs which provide adequate protection of the city's investment in the stadium project.”

Zion's 25-year operating agreement with the Fielders states the intent of all parties was to pursue construction and use of a permanent stadium within three years of the deal dated June 30, 2010.

Ehrenreich previously owned the now-defunct Schaumburg Flyers independent league baseball team. The village of Schaumburg and the Schaumburg Park District had the Flyers evicted from the publicly owned Alexian Field in February, claiming the team owed about $920,000 in overdue rent and other payments.

A judge in that case issued a court order requiring the team's ownership to pay $551,829 in overdue rent. Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said nothing has been paid toward the judgment.

Ehrenreich said the Flyers were a limited-liability corporation that no longer has assets and cannot pay $551,829 to the village and park district.

“Businesses close every day in this economy,” Ehrenreich said. “It's nothing unusual.”

Zion stated it doesn't want to wind up in a similar position as Schaumburg and seeks a “fair funding solution” for the planned ballpark that doesn't require only city money.

Documents show the Fielders remain in arrears for $60,000 of a $100,000 rent tab for the 2010 season and haven't paid $125,000 owed for this year. City records indicate the team bounced two rent checks.

Ehrenreich said the bounced checks were mistakenly written on a Schaumburg Flyers account.

Though actor Kevin Costner has been promoted as a Fielders co-owner, his publicist declined to comment on the accuracy of those claims. The spokesman, Arnold Robinson, would say only that Costner “is not involved in the operations of the Fielders.”

Ehrenreich described Costner as an investor and said he's familiar with the controversy that's been swirling around the team.

The Fielders' unpaid rent is just the latest event in a tumultuous few weeks for the team in which the manager and a radio announcer quit amid claims of not being paid all they were owed for this season, which began with a 32-game road trip in late May.

Ehrenreich said he doesn't consider Zion's demand for the $185,000 to be a controversial situation.

“The city and the team have a difference of opinion on the rent,” he said. “We've sent each other letters and we're confident it will be resolved once the city moves forward on the construction of a stadium.”

Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.

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