A civil lawsuit filed by Rich Ehrenreich and the Lake County Fielders against the city of Zion moved forward yesterday, with both sides proclaiming some level of victory.
In a sense, nothing really was decided. Zion was seeking to exclude Mayor Lane Harrison and former economic development director Delaine Rogers from the lawsuit under claims of immunity, but the claims were denied. On the other hand, the scope of the $10-million lawsuit was trimmed down, and the city was dismissed in one of the two counts of the lawsuit. That's a defeat for Ehrenreich, who says he wants to bring back the Fielders in time for the 2014 season.
Whether this is feasible remains to be seen: there doesn't appear to be a league where the Fielders could play (we can't see the American Association, the Northwoods League or the Prospect League upending their schedules to bring in the Fielders) and much of the temporary parts of Fielders Ballpark have already been removed. On the other hand, it's not a bad legal strategy to say the Fielders are a viable professional baseball team where there are issues of damages involved: if the team were to go bankrupt and cease being a viable entity, damages would be harder to prove. From the Lake County News-Sun:
The team contends Harrison, Rogers and developer Richard Delisle conspired to keep information from the team about heavy debt on the new ballpark site — a more than $7 million mortgage — and that the three also conspired to defraud the team and provide potential profit to companies tied to Delisle.
More than $7 million in city funds has been spent related to the stadium project, including site preparation, lighting and legal fees.
The stadium’s 2009 ground-breaking ceremony promised to usher in a “field of dreams” era of local minor league baseball, but the team played its 2010 season in a makeshift stadium at the site where the permanent one was to be built.
In any case, Zion taxpayers are learning an expensive lesson about the downside of pro baseball: the city has already spent almost $8 million on a new ballpark and could be on the hook for $10 million if Ehrenreich prevails.
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