It’s made of rotting wood, broken plastic, overgrown grass and 75 years of history; and over the next few months, its future in the South Eugene neighborhood will be decided.
The object I am referring to is Civic Stadium, a 6,800-seat stadium adjacent to South Eugene High School that has been a part of Eugene’s landscape since it opened back in 1938. Civic, built and funded by the Works Progress Administration established as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, now holds a place in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, but that isn’t stopping current owners, Eugene School District 4J, from selling it off as surplus property.
Since the Eugene Emeralds baseball team, Civic’s main tenant from 1969-2009, announced plans to relocate their team to the University of Oregon’s newly built ballpark for the 2010 season, 4J has kept the future of Civic in flux, and, as recently as two years ago, begun taking bids from developers that seek to purchase the stadium.
Out of the list of potential developers, three major players have emerged as the most likely to match what 4J is asking for the stadium, and come away with the stadium in the end: Fred Meyer, Eugene YMCA, and United Stadium Group (USG) in partnership with the City of Eugene.
A few years ago, there were discussions between the YMCA and USG about both being able to utilize the site but Dave Perez, long-time executive director at the Eugene YMCA, believes that this is not a viable option. “We spent a couple years working with the stadium group trying to figure out how to fit the Y and stadium on the site but it just doesn’t work. We’ve spent thousands and thousands on that.” Perez highlighted that parking was the primary issue, stating they are not in the position to build a parking garage, which he estimates would cost ten million dollars to solve that issue.
Ron Crasilneck, Secretary Treasurer for USG and a member of the Lane United Supporters Trust, and Dave Galas, managing director at Lane United Football Club, see it differently, however. He believes that plans could be made to fit the YMCA, as well as a renovated stadium on the same site.
“There were actually plans done by Pivot Architects showing the Y and a stadium complex. It would work…I never really understood why the Y would not want to work with a program that included a stadium except for the fact that there wasn’t a lot of money involved in it,” stated Crasilneck.
“[The Y] doesn’t need more than 4.5 to 5 acres, so there is enough room on the site for the Y and a stadium for sure. It comes down to money,” says Galas who recognizes that the Y isn’t interested in expanding to field sports and thus would rather sell off the unneeded acreage to a real estate developer to help cover their costs, citing the recent student apartment housing boom in Eugene.
Galas, whose Lane United Football Club is lined up to be the main tenant for the newly renovated Civic Stadium if USG, along with the City of Eugene, ends up winning the bid, highlighted that the major appeal of Civic Stadium is its urban location, which would be hard to establish if they were to build a brand new stadium somewhere else in Eugene/Springfield. “Having an inner-city, urban, stadium I think is critical to the game-day experience. Jeld-Wen Field in Portland [home of the Portland Timbers] got the right to host the MLS All-Star Game next year specifically because of the urban center around that stadium, and that game-day experience that it offers.”
The ultimate goal for Galas, in partnership with USG, is to convert Civic Stadium into a soccer stadium with enough seats to fulfill the requirement to establish a USL-Pro team in Eugene, an upgrade over the PDL team kicking off their first season next summer.
The USL-Pro is tier three on America’s soccer pyramid with the MLS and Portland Timbers being tier one. Recently, USL-Pro has established teams in Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Sacramento and has had franchises establish long-lasting existences in cities such as Charlotte, Richmond, VA, and Rochester, NY. Galas mentioned the recent departures of Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver to MLS, USL-Pro has mentioned a desire to be back in the Northwest and Eugene being the perfect fit to fill that void.
In what might seem like a hard case to parallel, Galas and USG are able to connect Civic Stadium and its placement in history with other ballparks built in that era that have been able to stand the test of time.
A prime example of this is Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL. Opened in 1910; Rickwood was once home to the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues. Rickwood lost its main tenant in 1987 to a newer stadium in the city in the same fashion the Emeralds left Civic for PK Park. Owned by the City of Birmingham and located just west of downtown, Rickwood has been undergoing gradual restoration and is currently designated as a working museum. David Brewer is a member of an organization known as Friends of Rickwood. The 501-c3 has been in charge of the park’s revitalization since 1992, and has since completed approximately two million dollars in reinvestment to the park; showing old ballparks still have life in this day and age. Rickwood Field has also been used to film scenes in the recent movie 42.
Galas and USG believe that, even though they might end up having the lowest big in terms of dollar figures, they believe a renovated stadium will provide the most benefit to the community, a figure you can’t put a price tag on. When asked if having the added benefit of Northwest Christian University’s soccer teams using the field as well as other local teams, Galas stated, “I think there is no question we bring a lot more community benefit in terms of city and public use of the facility.”
The YMCA first arrived in Eugene, OR in 1887 on the campus of the University of Oregon. Since then, the Y has moved to its current location on Patterson Street on the opposite side of South Eugene High School from Civic Stadium. The Y has been in its current location since the 1950s and has been experiencing growing pains because of it. Currently, the Y reaches 14,000 different individuals that use the facilities on an annual basis, including 600 children who are given child-care on a daily basis.
Perez and the Y’s plans for the Civic Stadium are to tear it down and build a new YMCA on the site as well as single-family, owner occupied detached housing. The Y would increase the 34 parking spots it has at its current location, two large pools that include one lap and one family pool equipped with water slides, expanded rooms, a tennis center with two additional courts, and an academic achievement center focused on closing the achievement gap for kids in the summer months and during the school year.
One of the major requirements the Eugene YMCA wants when building a new facility would be to be located next to a school, and Perez points out that the only site where the Y can have such a connection in South Eugene is the Civic Stadium site which will not disrupt their relationships with nearby Roosevelt Middle School and South Eugene High School.
Fred Meyer is a chain of superstores located in the Pacific Northwest with headquarters located in Portland, OR where the chain was founded in 1922. Fred Meyer’s parent company Kroger, of whom they merged with in 1998, is the largest grocery store chain in the country and fourth-largest retailer in the world.
The plans Fred Meyer has for Civic Stadium is simply to tear down it down and place one of their superstores on that location. Out of the three main bidders, Fred Meyer has the most financial backing out of any of the groups, and will most likely win a bidding war over the YMCA or USG if it comes down to money.
Fred Meyer will face competition from Safeway, located two blocks north of the stadium, as well as the many local businesses south of the stadium that line Willamette Street but developers have come to the conclusion that a location at the site of Civic Stadium would create revenue for the company, and are willing to fork over the cash to acquire the spot.
“You got that little strip between 18th and 24th of green. Why do we need to make it more business? Let’s retain it as parkland, as green,” says Crasilneck.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of small businesses along Willamette [Street] that I think would be seriously threatened by a large box store going in there,” stated Perez.
The final date for these groups to submit their proposals to 4J is December 3rd at 2 p.m. with a final decision expected to come sometime in February. In the meantime, let’s try to remain civil about Civic.