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Riverhawks caught in controversy over tax-abatement request

The owners of the Rockford Riverhawks have become entrapped by a request from the owners of Road Ranger Stadium for a tax abatement.

The owners of the Rockford Riverhawks (independent; Northern League) have become entrapped by a request from the owners of Road Ranger Stadium for a tax abatement.

The issue arises from confusion over the ownership of both entities. And although there's overlap between the ownership groups (mainly in the form of Kurt Carlson), the ballpark is controlled by Park Stadium LLC — a separate company from the RiverHawks.

It's on the ballpark side where the controversy has arisen. In recent weeks an attorney for Park Stadium LLC, Aaron Szeto, has sought tax abatement for the ballpark, asking for relief in the $38,245 paid annually in property taxes on the ballpark, valued at $1.4 million. Carlson is also seeking loans from the Winnebago County Recovery Zone Economic Development Bond.

Whether or not the ballpark owners receive abatements or loans remains to be seen. But one unfortunate side effect is that it has local citizens questioning the financial stability of the Riverhawks — an entity that Carlson maintains is a money-loser, but one he's willing to live with if the ballpark is profitable. But it's been a chore for Josh Olerud and the rest of the Riverhawks front office to shoot down rumors about the team while simultaneously arguing for the need for financial relief for the ballpark. Some of the reasons are well-founded. For example, Road Ranger Stadium is the only current minor-league ballpark among seven in Illinois privately owned and was built without public dollars. And there's a compelling argument to be made that the ballpark is a community resource: ore than 200 games have been played at the ballpark in 2009, but only 48 of them were played by the  Riverhawks, with the rest played by area high-school teams, amateur teams and the Rockford College team.

“We operate to be a community leader and an asset to the community, and that includes jobs with a full-time staff and a seasonal staff, as well as making it a big part of our goal to have the NIC-10 and Rockford College teams out here,” RiverHawks general manager/vice-president – sales Josh Olerud said. “This stadium was built for community use. The RiverHawks only occupy 25 percent of the games played here.”

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