Harvard Baseball Stadium Competition Shut Out; Could Be Shut Down Thursday Night by MCC Vote

I thought there was something very wrong when I first found this clause in a $70,000 McHenry County College contract:

“At the completion of the feasibility study and independent review, if the College elects to proceed with the project, the College will contract with EquityOne or it’s (sic) assigns to develop the project on the College’s behalf.”

The contract was signed September 27, 2006, by McHenry County College President Walt Packard and Mark Houser, President of Equity One.

It was for a “feasibility study for the development of baseball stadium — indoor sports center complex on the McHenry County College campus.”

The clause, in boldface above, seems to preclude competition.

And college officials repeatedly have refused to share details.

MCC hasn’t even released the report that was considered in open session on Monday night. That Board meeting was not even announced on the MCC web site until after I called the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office Tuesday.

Wednesday, I discovered that there is baseball stadium competition.

It’s led by Bill Larsen, originally from Chicago, and Chris Diserio, who grew up in Crystal Lake. His group is called “McHenry County Community Baseball and Family Entertainment.”

They want to build a privately financed baseball stadium in Harvard and have been working on it since 2003.

Larsen is a long-time minor league baseball executive with over 20 years of experience successfully operating minor league baseball teams around the country, including the Kane County Cougars. His formula consists of aggressive community-based marketing efforts leading to fan bases stretching as far as 75 miles from the stadium itself. This concept will lend itself well to the easy-access location of the complex.

Chris Diserio, the second in the group, is a 1986 graduate of Crystal Lake Central High School whose first job in baseball was in 1998. The stadium complex and the rookie league team will be owner-operated with the primary investors running the day-to-day operations of both the team and the facility.

Because of the lickty split rush to judgment by the McHenry County College Board–scheduled for 7 PM Thursday night–the investor group and the City of Harvard have gone public.

Harvard even issued a press release, which starts,

The City of Harvard announced today that it is negotiating with a group of McHenry County-based investors whose mission is to privately finance and construct a baseball complex in Harvard, Illinois.

The complex will include a baseball stadium with approximately 2,000 seats with lawn seating for approximately 2,000 additional fans. The stadium will be home to a rookie league baseball team that will play approximately 40 home games every summer with play beginning in 2009. The baseball stadium will also play host to high school and amateur games as well.

Property for the complex has been identified and negotiations are ongoing to acquire the land. The group initially contacted the City of Harvard in 2003.

The press release ends,

“at no cost to taxpayers,”

a phrase that brought a big smile to my face.

It wouldn’t have as large a seating capacity as the stadium proposed for MCC, but it would have a “Miracle League Field.”

“The outfield fence goes 105 to 110 feet from home plate,” Diserio explained. “That’s really a big part of this whole thing.”

This part of the complex would have a rubberized surface where wheel chair bound children and others with handicaps could play with less danger of injury than elsewhere.

Sounds perfect for NISRA (Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association) clients.

And, this development team approached McHenry County College, even speaking to President Packard.

Both the Music Men, who have had the red carpet rolled out for them by the McHenry County College Board, and the group interested in Harvard want to make money.

But the Music Men want the taxpayers to be on the hook, rather than themselves.

As a veteran in the business told me Wednesday, minor league baseball teams pretty much all make money the first couple of years.

It’s because of the novelty.

After those first few years, promoters like Music Man Pete Heitman, sell their rights to the team and move on.

Then, the team might not do as well, as I’ve been told is the case with the Schaumburg Flyers.

I wonder if the MCC Board has done due diligence on this deal.

It certainly has not allowed any meaningful public debate.

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Top right is how the MCC baseball stadium is laid out. The two head shots are of Mark Houser of Equity One on the left and MCC President Walt Packard on the right. The picture of the child in the walker is taken from the Miracle Field web site. The three men being escorted from President Packard’s office to the MCC Board room are left to right Mark Houser, Pete Heitman and Frontier League President Bill Lee.

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