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OCT
17
2 YEARS

Real-Life 'Field of Dreams' Plan Prompts Dueling Lawsuits

A proposal to build ballparks on the site used in the 1989 movie has a plot twist out of left field.

Kevin Cosnter Field of Dreams - H 2012
Universal Pictures

If you build it, they will sue.

Plans to erect an "All-Star Ballpark Heaven" on the same Iowa site used in the 1989 baseball film, Field of Dreams, has prompted a game of litigation.

In the movie, Kevin Costner rips up his cornfield to build a baseball diamond and is eventually rewarded for this crazy, financially-draining move by getting to play ball with the 1919 White Sox and his father.

In real life, Go the Distance Baseball LLC, a development company run by Denise and Mike Stillman with financial backing from Hall of Fame player Wade Boggs, is involved in a $38 million project to turn a 193-acre farm in Dyersville, Iowa, into a destination spot for youth baseball and softball athletes. Costner's character built one ballfield, but this project aims for 24 of them. And unlike in the movie, there's no mystic ballplayers coming from the bushes. This time, it's only lawyers.

On October 12, Go the Distance filed a lawsuit against the Residential & Agricultural Advisory Committee, a local coalition of neighbors trying to stop the project. The Stillmans are alleging tortious interference and defamation.

Not everyone in Dyersville was thrilled to hear that the Stillmans would be spending about $4 million to buy the farm property from current owners Don and Becky Lansing. Nor that Tampa Bay Rays pitching phenom and Iowa native Jeremy Hellickson would soon be coming to participate in the youth baseball program. Nor that a slice of ballpark heaven would be built on that farm.

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Instead, the project to transform the Field of Dreams site became a different type of movie -- the one where local residents rise up against the evil developer.

"Save our Town!" read the flyers stuck underneath the windshield wipers of churchgoers in June.

The missive was authored by an anonymous person who supposedly spoke to a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Cooperstown, New York, where a similar ballfield project had once been erected. The letter warned of hotel and parking issues as well as a menacing food threat. To quote one local news report, "The letter also predicts restaurants will have to decide whether they want to cater to their regular customers or the baseball people."

The Residential & Agricultural Advisory Committee was the first to a courtroom in an attempt to have the city's rezoning decision reconsidered. That attempt was denied last week.

But an appeal might threaten the Stillmans' hopes of closing on their deal by the end of the year, so the Stillmans have filed their own lawsuit in hopes of pushing the project forward.

Now, according to the Dyersville Commercial, that "Save our Town!" letter has become Exhibit “A” in support of allegations that RAAC is attempting to interfere with Ballpark Heaven plans, which include the deal with the Lansings, a $16.5 million sales tax rebate with Iowa and a $15 million Midwest Disaster Area Bond Allocation.

The Stillmans accuse townfolk of lying to their neighbors about what's happening and libeling them with defamatory statements.

It's almost as if Costner's neighbors had distributed pamphlets to stop his field of dreams because such an endeavor could attract "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and a bunch of gamblers. That would definitely have not been a happy ending.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner