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Cougars owner seeks $9M in spending on stadium in 'public/private partnership'

Plan is to be presented in private meeting March 20

GENEVA – Kane County Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich is proposing a $9 million public-private partnership with the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission to be spent over the next 15 years on the stadium.

Called “A Public/Private Partnership Plan to Keep the Kane County Cougars in Kane County,” a copy of the 23-page plan was provided to the Kane County Chronicle.

The title alludes to the possibility that the Cougars would leave Kane County if the deal is not approved, but Froehlich was not available for comment March 18. In a text, Froehlich wrote that he would be available to comment after the private meeting.

The proposal is scheduled to be presented to five members of the forest preserve commission at a private meeting March 20, according to Forest Preserve Chairman Michael Kenyon, R-South Elgin.

The presentation asserts that the Cougars’ current lease is “extremely onerous” when compared to other communities with minor league baseball teams.

At 28 years old, Northwestern Medicine Field is the oldest minor league stadium in the region, according to the presentation.

While the Cougars pay $700,000 in rent, plus 12 percent of gross revenue in excess of the first $8.25 million, other ball teams pay much less, the presentation stated.

Quad City River Bandits pay $273,000; South Bend Cubs pay $131,250; and the Fort Wayne TinCaps pay $119,567, the presentation stated.

Froehlich’s proposal stated that under his ownership, he has spent nearly $2 million on improvements – from a new sound system to continuous concrete repairs – while the forest preserve "provided and planted 24 trees."

The presentation states that in 2014, the Cougars’ base rent was reduced to $700,000 from $1.1 million. The rent reduction allowed for that rent to cover principal and interest payments on general obligation bonds for the stadium.

Since the debt has been re-financed, the payment for both is now down to just over $600,000 a year, according to the presentation.

Calling it a two-part simple plan, Froehlich’s proposal would pass on the savings from the refinancing to the Cougars and reduce the base rent to $600,000.

The second part would be a joint $9 million renovation and improvement campaign over the next 15 years, in which Froehlich would spend a minimum of $300,000 each year for a total of $4.5 million.

That money would be a credit against its base rent, thus reducing it to $300,000 annually, while the forest preserve would match the $300,000 a year for 15 years, for $4.5 million, the presentation stated.

“This is a win, win win … win for you, win for me, win for the community,” according to the presentation. “You will also win as you become the model for others to follow regarding what a true public/private partnership is all about.”

Froehlich’s Cougars would win because the stadium’s costs would be more in line with other Midwest baseball leagues, the presentation stated.

“The community wins because no one is more committed to giving back to the community than the Cougars,” the presentation stated. “We have a little over $8 million in annual revenues and give back almost $1 million.”

Forest Preserve Commissioner Mark Davoust said the meeting involves less than a majority of a quorum and is not open to the public.

“It’s an informal meeting,” Davoust said. “We will talk with them. It’s not an open meeting. There is no action to be taken.”

Davoust, who is chairman of the Forest Preserve Finance Committee, said the commissioners have ongoing communications with the Cougars.

“We own a ball park, and they manage a ball team,” Davoust said. “We have an open line of communication. Dr. Froehlich is a respected guy from the finance world. We’ll sit down and talk to him and listen to whatever the most recent ideas are.”

Davoust said he has not already seen the presentation, but that it would likely come up at a public meeting next month.

“I have no other comment on it,” Davoust said.

Kenyon also said he has not seen the presentation, but will likely see it as he is one of five people invited to the private meeting.

As to whether the commission would accept the reduced rent and other aspects of the new proposed agreement with the Cougars’ owner, Kenyon said, “Those decisions are made by the board, and we have to do them in the best interest of the county.”

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