Stadium deal for Lake County team? Nobody's talking
Another peculiar chapter was added Tuesday to the history of the 2-year-old Lake County Fielders, a team that had a home game at Zion's temporary stadium suspended because of inferior baseballs.
Fielders publicist Bernie DiMeo had claimed an investor would appear at the Zion city council meeting to pitch a $70 million sports and entertainment corridor that would be a way for the team to receive a publicly owned, permanent stadium there.
Although by all accounts Elizabeth Ochoa of LaGrange showed up at Zion city hall, she never spoke as expected during public comment time.
DiMeo said Ochoa was in the back of the city council meeting room and left after an unidentified official “rudely” told her to not speak. He said Ochoa was unavailable for comment.
Commissioner Jim E. Taylor, who acted as mayor in place of Lane Harrison, acknowledged after the meeting that the city has met with Ochoa about a sports and entertainment project, but he said he couldn't comment in detail because of a confidentiality agreement with her.
Taylor didn't want to get into the reason Ochoa left city hall without speaking.
“I have no comment on this,” Taylor said. “This publicist (DiMeo) needs to get a life.”
Ochoa last summer dropped a proposal to build a mammoth sports complex in Yorkville with soccer and baseball fields. Illinois secretary of state records show she heads Ochoa Enterprises LLC.
DiMeo said it was hoped the proposed $70 million, three-phase project for the sports and entertainment corridor in Zion would keep the independent league Fielders in the city. He said the Ochoa plan would involve the Fielders dropping a lawsuit the team filed against Zion in exchange for a settlement with the city and a stadium.
Fielders parent company Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment last November sued the city, Harrison and others, contending the independent league team was lured to play a second season in a temporary stadium and misled about construction of a permanent facility.
Headed by Richard Ehrenreich, Grand Slam Sports contends in the suit Zion went as far as having a construction fence built to make it look like work would start on a permanent ballpark this year. No work was accomplished.
Grand Slam Sports seeks up to $10.7 million in damages in the suit alleging fraud and breach of contract.
Also named in the suit is Richard Delisle, owner of the 23 acres where Zion placed the publicly financed temporary stadium and pledged to build the permanent facility. The land, at Green Bay Road and Route 173, is zoned commercial and named Green Bay Crossing, but so far the only commercial building on the site is a drugstore.
In the lawsuit, Grand Slam Sports contends the Fielders were duped into playing in 2011 to benefit Delisle. Green Bay Crossing had a $7.2 million mortgage and little income in 2010, according to the lawsuit.
Zion leased the land in 2010 and 2011 for the makeshift ballpark, which the city then rented to the Fielders. The state granted $1.3 million in taxpayers' money for professional lights, a playing field and parking area on the premise a permanent stadium would be built around those elements.
Zion had wanted another $2 million in state taxpayers' cash, but Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity documents show that request was rejected. The city sought the $2 million to buy 11 acres of Delisle's 23-acre site where the temporary stadium was placed.
Commerce and economic opportunity director Warren Ribley issued a rejection letter to Zion on Jan. 12, 2011. In part, Ribley noted Zion and Grand Slam Sports didn't follow instructions stating no project costs may be incurred before the grant decision, according to the document obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Upon review of information Zion provided to support possible public benefits, we did not believe a realistic case was made,” wrote Ribley. “Both the contract between (Grand Slam) and Zion, which greatly restricts activities on the ballfield and the design of the space, which involves no facilities to support public services, provided strong concerns to (the agency) that public benefits could realistically be achieved.”
Meanwhile, Tuesday night was another chapter in the Fielders' follies that started in July 2011 when the manager, some players and a radio play-by-play guy had alleged they were not paid all they were owed.
In August, umpires agreed that recreational baseballs being used were inferior and suspended a home game against the Calgary Vipers after 1½ innings. The Fielders finished the season at the Zion diamond with an extended series against a semiprofessional team called the Kenosha County Fielders.
Zion contends the Fielders owe the city $340,000 in back rent for temporary stadium use in 2010 and 2011.