Saturday, August 14, 2004

Freedom owners group sued

Bank claims organization defaulted on $2.8M in loans

By Jennifer Edwards
Enquirer staff writer

In the latest indication of financial woes facing the Florence Freedom minor-league baseball team and its owners, Provident Bank sued the team's ownership group and a part owner, alleging they defaulted on $2.8 million in loans.

Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball LLC and Chuck Hildebrant defaulted Wednesday on the loans, one for $2.75 million and a second for $125,775.15, according to a suit filed Thursday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

Hildebrant and the baseball group were ordered Friday by the Hamilton County Clerk of Court to immediately repay the loans, interest on the loans and all fees under terms of the loan agreement.

Authorities said last week that Hildebrant is under federal investigation, which appears to be focused on how Hildebrant secured money to build the estimated $7 million to $8 million stadium, said authorities with information about the case.

Hildebrant is a 20 percent owner in Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball LLC, which owns and operates the baseball team. That group and the city of Florence signed a lease last year saying the city would rent the group the land to build a stadium. Work on the stadium, which is about 80 percent complete, was halted after contractors were not paid. As of Friday, 19 contractors filed liens, saying they were owed a total of $3.7 million.According to the bank records filed with the lawsuit, Hildebrant signed two promissory notes on May 5 to take out a $3 million loan and a $250,000 loan on behalf of the baseball ownership group.

The purpose of the $3 million loan was to pay for the construction of a baseball stadium, according to the promissory note. The loan for $250,000 was a revolving line of credit. Its purpose was not listed.

Kentucky state records show four members in the Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball LLC: Thomas J. Niehaus Family Limited Partnership, Tripleplay LLC, More Hits LLC and Chuck Hildebrant.

Dennis Buckley, attorney for the baseball group, could not be reached Friday for comment at his office or home.

Earlier this week, Hildebrant, 45, referred calls to his lawyer, Ray Stewart. Stewart did not return repeated calls.

Neither Provident Bank nor Florence Mayor Diane Whalen would discuss the specifics of the lawsuit or the group's troubles.

"At this point nothing surprises me," she said "I don't regret baseball in Florence ... Unfortunately, there are issues we weren't aware of.''

The ownership group announced last month it was looking for new investors.

But in the meantime, its bills appear to be mounting and deadlines for future payments are looming.

The group did not pay its full rent payment to the city of Florence Tuesday for the land on which the stadium is built.

The ownership group paid $5,000 of the $197,617 in an effort to "demonstrate the intention of the NKPB to move forward with the Florence Freedom," their attorney, Buckley, wrote in a letter that accompanied the check.

The team has until Sept. 10 to make the rest of the payment or default on its 30-year lease with the city for the 30 acres under the stadium.

The team's temporary certificate of occupancy expired Monday. Boone County Building Inspector Jim Key did not issue a new certificate, writing the team that the facility is "thus illegally occupied."

The owners have until Aug. 24 to correct several items in the stadium's construction.

Enquirer staff writers Brenna Kelly and Cliff Peale contributed.


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