Summer of 2010 is earliest for new Illinois Field tenant
If Champaign-Urbana is to join the ranks of communities with minor league baseball, it won't happen by 2009.
Matt Perry, the top official of a Denver-based sports consulting firm, said Tuesday a group interested in bringing an independent league team to C-U has delayed those plans while it focuses on another start-up franchise in Ohio.
"I think the interest (in C-U) is still definitely there," said Perry, chief executive officer of National Sports Services.
A group led by Steven Edelson, managing director of Northbrook-based International Facilities Group, announced plans last September to establish an expansion franchise in the Frontier League. The venture would be tied to the group's renovation of Illinois Field, where the team would play its home games. At that time, the group targeted the 2009 season for starting operations.
However, Edelson's group has since become occupied with another Frontier League expansion franchise in the Cleveland area. Groundbreaking for a 3,500-seat baseball stadium in Avon, Ohio, took place July 1 for a team that will begin play next season.
In November 2007, Avon voters approved a 0.25 percent income tax to fund a new baseball stadium. In June, the city entered into a 15-year lease agreement with National Sports Services, with the company leasing the stadium for $50,000 a month for five months while agreeing to take care of maintenance throughout the year.
"We've been focused on our project up in Avon," Perry said. "I know Steven Edelson still has interest in Champaign. ... I think that he's in the mode of trying to step back and relook at Champaign. I know he still has an interest in the market, and he's trying to figure out the next best step to take."
A message placed with Edelson seeking comment was not returned.
The UI athletic department is receptive to gaining a summer tenant for Illinois Field because of the promised upgrades for the facility. The proposed renovation would include a new seating bowl with seating capacity of 3,000 to 4,000; stadium suites; administrative office space; a new clubhouse or expansion of the current one; hospitality areas; additional restrooms; new ticket windows; and additional concessions facilities.
Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb said he was disappointed but not surprised that the initial timetable for a C-U minor league team was not met.
"I was skeptical from the beginning with 2009," he said. "That was a great goal, but at the same time a lot of people have to sign off on things and agree to terms, and those things don't happen overnight."
Hartleb said architectural plans, which are needed to determine the cost of the project, have yet to be finalized by Edelson's group.
"Basically, they need to get final working drawings to know the actual costs," he said. "As in any big project there are always funding issues, and until those issues are resolved we'll be at a standstill."
Hartleb remains hopeful Edelson's group will follow through on its plans because of what a stadium renovation would mean to his program.
"Obviously, any time you talk about facilities upgrades it helps upgrade a program," he said. "I guess there is some disappointment, but at the same time I'm not surprised by the length of time it has taken to move forward.
"The ball is not in our court right now. It is 100 percent in their court."