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Bell files bankruptcy, preventing LaGrave Field foreclosure

Fort Worth CatsWith Amergy Bank threatening to foreclose on LaGrave Field, owner Carl Bell yesterday filed for bankruptcy protection, allowing him to keep control of the historic ballpark.

After the independent American Association pulled the team’s membership because Bell couldn’t put up a letter of credit for the 2012 season, he turned his sights to the independent North American League, where Byron Pierce and John Bryant were happy to buy the assets of the Cats and install Mike Stone as president of the team. Now, that sale probably didn’t cost a whole lot, as the two most valuable assets of a baseball team — a working agreement in a league and a clear ballpark lease — were noticeably lacking in this transaction. (We say the team lacked a clear ballpark lease because Amergy Bank had already initiated foreclosure proceedings when the sale was consummated.)

Amergy Bank was slated to auction LaGrave Field yesterday, but the bankruptcy filing puts that off. Bell still owes on a $12.5 million note first issued in 2005, when he had a development plan for land he owned adjacent to the ballpark. With the collapse of the economy, that plan also collapsed, and he’s sold off pieces of the land to keep the lights on at LaGrave Field. The bankruptcy protection covers the ballpark and 13 acres of land at Northeast Seventh and Calhoun streets. Selling the team also puts a little cash in his coffers. Bankruptcy protection will give him to restructure his business affairs, but the most valuable asset in the corporate till is the ballpark — which is why it was targeted by Amergy Bank for foreclosure. We’re guessing the bankruptcy protection will allow the Cats to play at least one season, but unless a new lender steps up, it’s hard to see Bell avoiding foreclosure forever.

LaGrave Field is a historic ballpark site once hosting Fort Worth baseball teams in the 1920 through the 1960s. It was revived by Bell in 2002; the original ballpark had been razed, but Bell rebuilt on the site, uncovering the original home plate and dugouts in the process. The ballpark and the Cats had always been a labor of love for Bell.

RELATED STORIES: Fort Worth Cats jump to North American League; Bell: Cats will be back in 2012; Fort Worth booted from American Association; Future of Fort Worth Cats in doubt; big decisions loom; Bell selling Cats, ballpark


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