Zion suit demands Fielders pay back rent

Zion is fighting back in court against the Lake County Fielders' parent company, claiming in a lawsuit the independent baseball team owes nearly $500,000 for unpaid rent, real-estate taxes and damage to equipment at the temporary stadium.

Fielders' owner Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment made the first move with a lawsuit against Zion last November that contends officials duped the Fielders into playing at the city's temporary stadium for a second season in 2011 by making misleading statements about the status of a permanent facility. Grand Slam seeks up to $10.7 million in damages.

Deerfield resident Richard Ehrenreich, who heads Grand Slam Sports, said it's unlikely the Fielders will play baseball in 2012 considering it's the beginning of April and no tickets have been sold. The club's first two seasons in different independent leagues started in late May.

"There are no certainties in life," Ehrenreich said. "Nothing's impossible, but the door is closing."

Ehrenreich formerly co-owned the now-defunct Schaumburg Flyers independent baseball team, which the village and park district evicted from a publicly owned stadium previously called Alexian Field in February 2011.

A Cook County judge ordered ownership to pay $551,829 in overdue rent, but Ehrenreich said the Flyers was a limited-liability corporation without assets to pay the judgment.

In the lawsuit filed in Lake County circuit court March 23, Zion demands $350,000 in back rent from Grand Slam Sports for 2011 and 2010. The city also seeks $101,809 in unpaid real-estate taxes and $23,993 for damage to equipment at the temporary ballpark in 2011 - bringing the total tab to $475,802.

Grand Slam Sports attorney Stephen Boulton said while his client could pay any of the financial claims made by Zion, such won't be the case because the suit is baseless.

"This is a public-relations lawsuit meant to divert attention from the problems in Zion," Boulton said.

Ehrenreich maintains he stopped paying rent because Zion didn't build a permanent ballpark as promised.

In May 2011, former Zion Economic Development Director J. Delaine Rogers told the Daily Herald the city was "working every day" to meet construction deadlines and that a 6,000-capacity structure was rising, but nothing was built.

Contrary to the stance by Grand Slam Sports in its suit against Zion, the city contends in court papers an operating agreement gives it until June 30, 2013, to deliver a stadium for the Fielders.

"The city has fully performed all of its contractual obligations by providing a temporary stadium for Grand Slam's baseball team to play in for 2010 and 2011," attorney Gregory Mathews wrote in the lawsuit he filed on behalf of Zion.

Mathews disagreed with Boulton's characterization of Zion's lawsuit as a public-relations effort.

"They haven't paid their rent," Mathews said, "and this is an eviction proceeding we intend to vigorously pursue."

Zion received a $1.3 million grant from state taxpayers to install professional stadium lights, a playing field, dugouts, bare-bones scoreboard and parking area on the private land at Route 173 and Green Bay Road where the city placed the temporary facility with roughly 4,000 seats for the Fielders. The permanent stadium was pegged for the same land.

Court documents state Zion wants a judge to grant possession of the ballpark site to the city. It's believed Grand Slam Sports has control over a locked fence surrounding the vacant 23 acres, which were improved with money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on the premise of job creation.

Zion documents obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request show the city incurred at least $875,162 in temporary stadium expenses including seat, restroom, banquet table, bar stool and generator rental in 2011.

Among the bills Zion contends Grand Slam Sports should pay is one Party Rentals of Kenosha sent last September, which demanded $18,726 for damage caused to banquet tables and chairs used in a bar area behind home plate at the temporary ballpark. Party Rentals also billed Zion for missing bar stools, court documents show.

Boulton said the Fielders never were informed about any of the supposed damage until Zion listed it in the complaint.

Zion and Grand Slam Sports have not always been at odds.

State and Lake County politicians turned out in force in November 2009 when Zion and the Fielders co-hosted a stadium groundbreaking at Trumpet Park, north of where the club has played in the makeshift ballpark. It later was learned the ceremonially shoveled dirt was on a site never intended for permanent stadium construction.

Despite that somewhat shaky beginning, both the town and the team were giddy in July 2010 when actor Kevin Costner - billed as a Fielders co-owner and featured on the team's pocket schedules and website - joined Zion Mayor Lane Harrison when the temporary stadium's lights were turned on.

"You're part of the poetry of this incomplete thing and you will later have fond memories of when it was a tent," Costner told Zion officials in 2010. "You're a part of the history of it."

Costner has faded away though, along with the talk of fond memories. His publicist, Arnold Robinson, has refused numerous requests to make him available for comment about the Fielders since last summer, when the initial turmoil enveloping the team centered on claims a radio announcer, some players and a manager were not paid all they were owed.

Suing: 'Unlikely' Fielders will play baseball this year, owner says

Richard Ehrenreich
  Illinois taxpayers have provided $1.3 million for lights, dugouts, a backstop, utilities and bare-bones scoreboard on private property the city of Zion rented to the Lake County Fielders in 2010 and 2011. The site is fenced and off limits to the public. A permanent stadium was supposed to be built on the land. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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