Saturday, February 22, 2003

Bidder wants 2nd chance

Florence still sticking with chosen baseball promoter

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - The city may have a pinch-hitter at its disposal if problems with Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball aren't ironed out.

Thomas Chema, who directed development of Cleveland's Gateway project in the early 1990s and is now helping the Florida Marlins in an effort to build a new ballpark, made a bid for the Florence franchise last August. He lost to Gary Enzweiler's group, Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball, but said he would love another shot at bringing baseball to Florence.

Chema said he was unaware of the stadium construction delays and lien discovered on the Johnstown Johnnies franchise that Enzweiler is trying to purchase and move to Florence. When told there would be no baseball in Florence in 2003, he wasn't surprised.

"I frankly didn't think there would be," said Chema, who said he's worked on 35 stadium projects since 1990. "It was not realistic to expect a stadium to be built and everything put into place that quickly."

Chema's proposal was to begin play around Memorial Day of 2004 with a team from the Northern League. The Northern League is an independent baseball league with teams in South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Kansas City and Canada. Enzweiler's proposal involves a Frontier League franchise, in which the team would play teams from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Chema said his proposal cost more than Enzweiler's, he wanted more land to build a stadium, and that Enzweiler had been working with the city on the project longer than he had.

"I think we were too late in the derby. They went a long way down the road with Enzweiler by the time I got involved," said Chema. "I think our proposal was also more complicated, but a lot more realistic."

Florence Mayor Diane Whalen said she still thinks NKPB will have a team in Florence in 2004, and that it's too early to consider looking at Chema's proposal again.

"That's always a possibility, but we're not ready to give up on (NKPB) yet," she said. "I'm confident things will turn out all right.

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