Zion to discuss legal options on Fielders
Zion's city attorney says elected officials plan to discuss legal options next week regarding the Lake County Fielders independent league baseball team.
Attorney Scott Puma said aldermen and Mayor Lane Harrison remain concerned that the Fielders still owe $185,000 in back rent for a city-owned temporary stadium dating to the inaugural 2010 season.
Puma said the intended discussion at Tuesday night's city council session would occur behind closed doors under the category of "imminent litigation."
He said officials decided it was preferable to wait to address the financial issues until after the Fielders' season ends at home Monday. When asked why the city didn't consider evicting the Fielders for nonpayment during the season, Puma said officials feared hurting fans.
"The city was concerned if they began eviction proceedings, it would further damage people who bought tickets," he said.
Richard Ehrenreich, who heads the Fielders' parent company Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment, received a default notice from Zion demanding the $185,000 in back rent for stadium use in 2010 and this year.
Ehrenreich has reiterated the Fielders haven't paid rent this year because the city didn't deliver the temporary stadium until July.
He contends Zion failed to meet its obligation to have a proper facility in place in May for spring training and then regular-season play for the independent North American Baseball League that month.
"What exactly were we renting, a vacant field and a backstop that was half falling down?" he said. "On three different occasions, we had to request a change in the league schedule because of city delays. The first opening day was June 3, then June 18 and finally July 3."
Lake County started the season with 32 games in Hawaii, Canada, Arizona and California. Ehrenreich, who co-owns the Fielders with actor Kevin Costner, said the lack of a permanent stadium has caused financial stress to his operation.
Zion's facility has about 4,500 temporary seats the city rents. The state granted $1.3 million in taxpayers' money to cover permanent elements such as lights, the playing field, dugouts and parking area at Route 173 and Green Bay Road.
Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show Zion paid $70,739 to Ehrenreich's company this year. Documents show the city has incurred at least $875,162 in temporary stadium expenses -- including seat, restroom and generator rental -- in 2011.
Ehrenreich said it took the city more than a year to reimburse him for his contribution toward stadium equipment rental in 2010 that he wasn't obligated to provide.
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. The team is supposed to make a final $125,000 payment on Nov. 1, per its contract with Zion.
Puma said the city has been unable to work out some type of agreement with Ehrenreich on the rent. But Ehrenreich countered that city officials have not returned his calls or shown a willingness to meet.
Lake County faded from the North American League in August and scheduled its final 19 home games against a team called the Kenosha County Fielders. The Kenosha players have been described as semiprofessional.
Puma said there are questions about the Fielders' games against Kenosha and whether they've been meeting contract terms requiring professional baseball. Ehrenreich said he's confident the games have been as good as those in typical independent leagues.
"It's actually a higher level," he said. "They (Kenosha County) actually brought an all-star team to play us."
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's now-defunct Flyers were evicted from publicly owned Alexian Field in February, with the village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District alleging the team owed about $920,000 in overdue rent and other payments.
Flyers ownership, under a judge's order in that case, was directed to pay $551,829 in overdue rent. Ehrenreich said the Flyers were a limited-liability corporation and don't have assets to pay.