With no signs of stadium construction and Zion government's inability to receive state money to help fund the project, a leader of the new Lake County Fielders minor league baseball team said he is concerned about the June 11 home opener.
Despite the uncertainty, the Fielders' Richard Ehrenreich said he was not prepared to release information about an alternate site for his team even though it is less than 70 days before the first homestand, starting with the Gary RailCats.
"We are certainly concerned about meeting that (June 11) date," said Ehrenreich, managing partner and president of Fielders parent company Grand Slam Sports & Entertainment in Deerfield. "It's April and it's a tough chore. We're just not sure. We don't know the answer yet. It's too early to tell with certainty."
Actor Kevin Costner has been billed as a Fielders co-owner and is featured on the team's pocket schedules and Web site. Costner's spokesman, Arnold Robinson, didn't return detailed messages seeking comment.
Plans call for a 4,000-seat stadium - with amenities such as suites, a party deck and concert stage - to rise at Green Bay Road and 9th Street in Trumpet Corporate Park. Fielders employees told fans at team events in February the park would be ready June 11.
However, construction can't occur until the city of Zion pays $2.6 million to the North Shore Sanitary District for a 55-acre former landfill site in the business complex set aside for the stadium.
Mayor Lane Harrison attributed the delay to the city not yet receiving state money that was expected for the land purchase since Costner was featured in an announcement about the new team in February 2009. The city would lease the stadium to the Fielders.
"The city of Zion is not buying the land with our own money," Harrison said. "We've said that from the beginning."
Officials involved in the project decline to say how the stadium construction would be paid. At least $1 million for the land buy would come from the state's $31 billion public works program, known as a capital bill, specifically for Trumpet Park infrastructure, including the stadium.
Harrison said no other site would work for the stadium because it's meant to be an amenity at Trumpet Park, which competes with LakeView Corporate Park in the border town of Pleasant Prairie, Wis. A 260,000-square-foot recreation and ice-skating facility is among LakeView's features.
North Shore Sanitary District General Manager Brian Dorn said ballpark construction could not begin immediately on the Trumpet Park site even if Zion bought the land today.
Dorn said a building permit for the 55 acres is required from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. He said the permitting process speed depends on whether questions arise about the land, but it typically takes up to 90 days.
In addition, Dorn said, state EPA permits would be necessary for water and sewer lines to be extended to the ballpark site. He said the EPA already has agreed a gravel parking lot can go on the property's west end.
Ehrenreich said he guarantees a full refund to those who have paid for tickets or sponsorships if the stadium doesn't open on time for the independent Northern League squad.
"These are complicated deals and it is difficult to stick to a timeline in good economic times, let alone 2010," he said. "We'll be communicating with our ticket holders and sponsors in the next 10 days to give them a full update. If we aren't playing games in a new stadium, they will have the option for a full refund for any money they've paid."
One sponsor, Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport, paid $35,000 in public money to become the "Official Airport of the Lake County Fielders."
Mitchell spokesman Ryan McAdams said team representatives assured him as recently as late March that stadium completion was on target for the June 11 deadline.
"From what we've seen, we're hopeful they will be done on time," McAdams said. "We haven't seen a reason for concern. They've been upfront, and we've had a good relationship so far."
Ehrenreich said he's optimistic about the ballpark getting built and that fans should expect a "positive and exciting" announcement in the coming days. He didn't reveal the nature of the announcement.
Lake County is to begin the season May 20 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Fielders are scheduled to play 20 road contests before the first home game.
Original plans depicted a $17 million two-tiered stadium for the Fielders. In November, Zion officials and the Fielders hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on an 8-acre site the city owns at Trumpet Park separate from where the ballpark would be built.
At the team's fan events in February, a scaled-down, single-story design was unveiled with lawn viewing areas, restaurant, the concert stage, party deck, suites and 4,000 permanent seats. The new plan was touted as requiring 45 fewer construction days.
Roughly 3,000 tickets have been sold to the Fielders' June 11 home opener, Ehrenreich said.
"We're holding off on selling additional single-game tickets for the beginning of the season until we have a better estimate of the stadium occupancy date," he said.
Visitors to the Fielders' Web site can buy tickets to August and September games. Seat availability is shown by clicking a map of sections at "Lake County Fielders Stadium."