CIVIC LEADERS

Note: Ausland Group is providing key program and project alignment as well as capital campaign technical support to facilitate this exciting project for the Lane United Football Club, Eugene Kidsports and other community partners in Eugene, Oregon. 

 

From left: Dave Galas, managing director of Lane United Football Club; Bev Smith, executive director of Kidsports; Derek Johnson, lawyer with Johnson, Johnson and Schaller; and Nancy Webber, owner of Tzum Productions. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard)

By Edward RussoThe Register-Guard September 7th, 2014

The last chance to save Eugene’s shuttered Civic Stadium may depend on the efforts of well-connected people facing a fast-approaching deadline.

Inspired by the volunteer work of Eugene attorneys Derek and Art Johnson, the now-forming group is working on an offer to pitch to city leaders.

The group, which includes leaders of Kidsports and Lane United Football Club, is trying to raise $4.5 million to meet a December deadline set by the City Council.

The council by then wants to know whether stadium supporters have the financial backing and expertise to renovate the 76-year-old wooden grandstand and field before the city buys the property near South Eugene High School from the Eugene School District.

The group — called Eugene Civic Alliance — so far has $2 million in pledges, Derek Johnson said. It has access to another $250,000 raised by the nonprofit Friends of Civic Stadium, he said.

Johnson declined to identify the donors.

He is working closely with Kidsports Executive Director Bev Smith, Lane United Football Club Managing Director Dave Galas, engineer Greg Ausland and community volunteer Nancy Webber on the project.

With less than three months before the Dec. 1 deadline, the alliance is just halfway toward its fundraising goal. But Johnson said his group will succeed.

“We’re confident,” he said. “We have a lot of lines out that we are working really hard at.”

But after buying Civic, the group still would have to raise millions more in donations and grants to achieve its ambitious plans for the stadium property. Those include a remodeled stadium and new field for soccer and other sports, additional spectator seating, the construction of an indoor fieldhouse for Kidsports, and possibly a hotel.

Alliance members declined to provide estimates for the total redevelopment.

Ausland, an engineer with expertise in historic wooden structures, said renovating the wooden grandstand would cost $3 million, with an artificial turf field costing another $1 million.

After the alliance buys the property, Webber said, residents could donate to their favorite part of the redevelopment.

“If people are passionate about soccer, they can direct their contributions toward the turf field or the grandstand,” she said. “Those who are passionate about Kidsports can direct their contributions to the field house. There will be campaigns for each of these projects and people can contribute through Eugene Civic Alliance and direct their contribution to what is most important to them.”

Hearts and wallets

Eugene School Board Chairman and former mayor Jim Torrey said the fundraising is “going to be a tremendous challenge.”

“There are a number of organizations in the community that are now attempting to raise money, including the (Eugene Family) YMCA, which wants to build a new facility next to Roosevelt Middle School,” he said. “And the Y also is raising money to build a new facility in the Bethel area.”

The alliance’s success will depend on the group’s ability to “touch the hearts and wallets of folks with sufficient amounts of funds to make their vision happen,” Torrey said.

The fate of the old ballpark has been uncertain since the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball team stopped playing there in 2009 and moved the following year to PK Park.

Since then, ideas to refurbish the stadium for soccer and other activities have been promoted by Civic supporters, but no one has secured enough money to buy the property and follow through on the plans.

Ausland, area manager of The Ausland Group, said he inspected the wooden grandstand in August, and found that the “key structural elements are in really good shape.”

Previous estimates to renovate the stadium have ranged from $2 million to $10 million, depending on the improvements.

For $3 million, the grandstand could get a new roof and siding, and the wooden bleachers could be restored, Ausland said.

More money would have to be raised to build locker rooms and offices in a separate building, plus additional seating, Ausland said.

The alliance is forming a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, Johnson said.

Alliance advisory members include U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken, Charlene Carter of Carter and Carter Financial, Irene Alltucker of The Relief Nursery, Allan Benavides, general manager of the Eugene Emeralds, and Rick Wright, owner of Market of Choice.

Soccer and more

Mayor Kitty Piercy, who favors the stadium’s restoration, said the group could achieve its fundraising goal.

“You have got some people with some real abilities here,” she said. “They are very dedicated to bringing this in. And they are fairly influential people, so I am hopeful and cheering them on.”

Lane United Football Club two months ago completed its first year of competition on a soccer field at Willamalane’s Regional Sports Center in Springfield.

The Red Aces play in the USL Premier Development League, with unpaid college players and young international players.

Lane United’s goal is to field a team in the USL Professional Division, which features paid players and a high level of competition.

To do that, the team needs to play in a bigger venue, such as Civic Stadium, said Galas, the managing director.

Smith, of Kidsports, said her organization hopes to build a 44,000-square-foot indoor field house next to the stadium for basketball, volleyball, exercise programs, coaches clinics and other activities.

Kidsports uses public school gyms and other facilities for many of its programs.

The field house would enhance Kidsports offerings, not replace them at area schools, Smith said.

Now, Kidsports often must wait until school sport practices are over for its programs to take place in schools, she said. And Kidsports activities must end when school gyms are closed for the night.

With its own building, Kidsports could offer some of its programs on its own schedule, said Smith, a former University of Oregon women’s basketball coach.

Kidsports would apply for a grant to pay for 40 percent to 70 percent of a no-frills building, she said.

“What has held us back from doing that is finding some land,” Smith said.

A one-acre parcel at the north end of the Civic property could be sold and possibly be developed as a hotel, Johnson said.

A whole new ballgame

But first the alliance has to persuade the City Council to embrace a new strategy for buying the property.

The Eugene School Board in February had selected the city’s $4.5 million bid over separate offers from Fred Meyer and the Eugene Family YMCA. Both the Fred Meyer and YMCA plans would have razed the stadium.

The council agreed to buy the property from the school district on or before next March, using $4.5 million from the 2006 voter-approved parks and open space bond measure.

However, the purchase depends on stadium supporters showing they have raised at least $3 million for renovation, as well as having a business plan illustrating the capability of overseeing the work and managing the facility.

The council gave stadium supporters until Dec. 1 to meet both conditions.

Under the council’s plan, the city would own the stadium while private or nonprofit groups renovated the grandstand and field and managed the property.

But the Civic Alliance is proposing a different approach.

The city would still spend the $4.5 million in parks bond money to buy the property. However, the city would then immediately sell the stadium and land to the alliance for the same amount.

“It’s cleaner and it’s an easier process to have it out of the city’s hands,” Johnson said. “The city has the benefit of getting their $4.5 million back into the parks bond fund. And if the nonprofit takes ownership of the property, the city would not have any responsibility for project supervision or management.”

The alliance would agree to deed restrictions requiring the stadium property to remain in public use, Johnson said. The restriction would not apply to the one-acre parcel designated for the possible hotel.

A push for donations

City Attorney Glenn Klein said the city could sell the property to the alliance as long as the parks and open space bond funds were replenished.

“If we are not going to use the stadium and land for park or open space purposes, then we would have to repay the fund,” he said.

Earlier this year, City Councilor George Poling voted against the purchase because he didn’t want the parks bond funds spent on the stadium. He also was concerned that the renovation and management of the property would become a money pit for city government.

But, he said, the alliance’s proposal to pay the parks bond fund back right away and to own the property makes him more receptive to the purchase.

“The city would be out of the picture as far as spending any more taxpayer money on it,” Poling said.

Johnson said he and other alliance members will spend the next two months talking to individuals and groups in hopes of raising another $2.25 million by Dec. 1.

On Sept. 19, for example, the group will meet with the government affairs committee of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group’s website, which will enable people to make donations, could be operating in a couple of weeks.

After years of talk about renovating Civic Stadium, some may be skeptical about the alliance’s plans.

But Johnson said many of the community’s most impressive buildings, including the Lillis Business School on the UO campus, started as ideas that needed donations to get built.

“We have what we consider a new and different project,” Johnson said.

“We have new people working on it. And all we need to do is buy this dirt, move this vision forward and make this happen.”

Ausland Group offers complete capital improvement expertise in development consulting, engineering, and construction.   For more information, visit us at https://auslandgroup.com/

Ausland Group | September 9, 2014

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