‘Field of Nightmares’ in Zion
BY MARK KONKOL Writer at Largefirstname.lastname@example.org February 29, 2012 12:50AM
Zion, IL 9/7/11 Now that the Lake County Fielder's season is in the books, workers dismantle the temporary stands at the Field of Dreams. The ball field is now empty at the Field of Dreams. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2012 8:00AM
A conspiracy killed Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” in Zion, according to fresh allegations made Tuesday in a lawsuit.
The owners of the minor league baseball Lake County Fielders — a group that includes Costner — added two “civil conspiracy” counts to a $10.7 million lawsuit against the City of Zion as well as its mayor, Lane Harrison, its former economic development director and a well-known developer in town.
The team owners contend the three conspired to defraud the independent minor league team and provide potential profit to companies tied to the developer — Richard Delisle. The lawsuit claims they engaged in “fraudulent misrepresentation, material omissions, bribery, and intentional misuse of public services and public resources.”
None of the three — Harrison, Delisle or former economic development director Delaine Rogers returned messages for comment about the lawsuit. An attorney representing the city and city officials also declined comment.
Zion’s dreams of being home to minor league baseball began with great fanfare — complete with a visit from Costner before the first night game in 2010. But the deal to build the team a permanent stadium soon became a nightmare that’s landed in court.
The Fielders’ lawsuit includes allegations that Harrison, Delisle and Rogers:
◆ Conspired to keep the team in the dark about the heavy debt on the new ballpark site — a more than $7 million mortgage, according to public records.
◆ Entered the city into a 25-year lease agreement aimed at helping Delisle and his partners refinance that mortgage to avoid foreclosure.
◆ Intended to recruit a different team to play baseball in Zion.
The lawsuit also contends the mayor was improperly influenced in his decision to relocate the ball field to property in which Delisle has a financial interest, in part, because Delisle has been involved in a real estate deal with the mayor’s parents. Changing the stadium location to the heavily-mortgaged site undermined building the stadium, the lawsuit contends.
In an interview before the amended lawsuit was filed, Delisle said the deal to buy the elder Harrisons’ property had nothing to do with the baseball stadium.
In 2008, a firm Delisle has ownership in contracted to buy two adjacent properties in Zion from the mayor’s parents, including their home. The properties sit on land designated for future development, and Delisle and his partners wanted control of it, he said.
As the original deal neared it expiration date, the contract with the Harrisons was extended for three years. The March 19, 2010, extension increased the price for the properties by more than $40,000, at a time when real estate values were plummeting, according to documents Delisle showed the Sun-Times.
Delisle said he had to offer more to avoid the deal collapsing, and the loss of the original $20,000 down payment.
The documents showed that Delisle’s firm also increased its risk on the contract by increasing the down payment to Mayor Harrison’s parents in three annual cash payments. If the sale isn’t finalized by the November 2013 closing date, the mayor’s parents could stand to pocket more than $117,000 and keep title to their property, according to the contract.
Three weeks after that renegotiation, Zion’s decision to change the site of the stadium — to a piece of property owned by a company tied to Delisle — became public.
Delisle and Mayor Harrison stressed there was no quid pro quo.
Harrison said he avoided involvement in negotiations for his parents’ land. Delisle negotiated the deal with the mayor’s brother, Leigh Harrison, who lives in Minnesota and did not return calls seeking comment.
“I stayed out of discussions completely,” Mayor Harrison said. “I didn’t want any improprieties whatsoever.”
Delisle said the effort to buy the Harrison land began well before the stadium deal materialized.
“There is no wrongdoing. Anything that happens to line up will be purely coincidence,” Delisle said. “There is no corruption. How it sounds — I do you a favor, you do me a favor — you won’t find any evidence of that. That never happened.”