by The Register-Guard, March 17, 2016
Friends to Save Civic. Save Civic Stadium. Eugene Civic Alliance. Friends of Civic Stadium. A shifting group of volunteer organizations struggled for years to find a way to save the beloved, but deteriorating, local sports landmark, against staggering odds.
Now, a year after Civic Stadium burned to the ground, the property ironically has its best chance yet for a new life as a sports venue.
Then, in 2007, two things happened.
The school district ordered a market study of the site. This concluded that part of the land could be used for housing and commercial development but any attempt to tear down the stadium and re-zone the property was likely to generate a strong public backlash — potentially culminating in lawsuits.
And the University of Oregon stamped out any hope it might buy the property as a home for it baseball team, saying it planned to build its own stadium elsewhere. When PK Park was finished, the Ems abandoned Civic for a new home.
A constantly evolving list of civic fans fueled by love and nostalgia — but not money — meanwhile had begun campaigning to save the old stadium.
A Las Vegas bookmaker would not have given them good odds.
Then in 2014 things began looking up for the people who wanted to save the stadium. Father and son Art and Derek Johnson, both attorneys, got involved, joining forces with local business people, community volunteers and sports enthusiasts to form the Eugene Civic Alliance. A deal was worked out to allow the Alliance to buy the stadium for $4.1 million. Another $4 million would be needed to renovate the aging wooden structure.
The sale went through last spring. The stadium burned to the ground weeks later, the victim of arson.
It’s time now for all of Civic’s fans, who genuinely mourned the loss of the historic structure, to put the past behind them and look to the possibilities of the future.
As beloved as the stadium was, it had also become something of an albatross. It would have required enormous amounts of money to make repairs — Ems general manager Bob Beban’s estimate years earlier was at least $10 million — and more to maintain it. It also was dangerous, how dangerous became apparent when it burned like a torch.
The fire that destroyed the stadium had the same impact as a forest fire: It cleared the way for new growth.
The Eugene Civic Alliance now has a clean slate to work with to develop a worthy successor to the original stadium, a successor that will serve local residents not just in the next few years but, if done right, for decades.
The Alliance is off to a good start, with a newly announced board of directors who have expertise in sports, histories of community involvement and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to raise large sums of money and see the project through to completion. This is something that requires more than good intentions.
The new board includes former Olympic and NFL athletes, men and women with experience in youth sports and education, business people and people with a long history of local philanthropy and volunteerism.
The president of the board of directors, Jon Anderson, is a former Olympic runner, winner of the 1973 Boston Marathon, and businessman. He also served on the UO Foundation board.
Along with naming a board of directors, the Alliance has set up a 35-person fund-raising team. The three people who will lead this team are well-known: Jon Jaqua, a former NFL player, past deputy director of the state Economic Development Department, and member of a family whose philanthropic roots run deep in Lane County; Kip Leonard, a retired Lane County Circuit Court judge long involved in nonprofits benefiting families and youth, and Beverly Smith, an Olympic athlete and executive director of Kidsports, a nonprofit serving more than 15,000 children a year.
A key issue for the Alliance going forward will be to coordinate efforts with plans by the Eugene Family YMCA to buy part of the nearby Roosevelt Middle School property and build a new recreation and community center there. The two projects should complement each other rather than compete with one another.
The Alliance also needs to keep in mind — and articulate clearly, loudly and often — that the new Civic Park must be a facility for the entire community, not just for south Eugene. There is some resentment in other parts of the city regarding the amount of parks and recreation investment that has gone into that part of the city compared to other neighborhoods.
The Alliance’s early decision to focus on Kidsports, including building the first Kidsports fieldhouse, and soccer, with a field for both recreational and semi-pro play, are a good start in this regard.
Now is not the time to hold back when it comes to this project; it’s a time to be ambitious.
Thanks to the people who came before them — including the ones who once sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” to the Eugene City Council — the Alliance has a chance to do it right. They are not faced with a race against time, with a deteriorating asset on one hand and people ready to whistle in the wrecking ball on the other.
Having a large parcel of vacant recreational land in a central location is an opportunity that isn’t likely to come around again. This project needs to be done right, including feedback from the community.
This project has beat the odds multiple times. Now it’s up to the Alliance to give the community something as distinctive and well-loved as Civic Stadium, that will last another 70 years.
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Ausland Group | March 17, 2016