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Low Risk, High Gain

Keeping Civic Stadium in public hands makes sense

The Eugene City Council has a decision to make about Civic Stadium and it will be made very soon. The question is: Will the city put in an offer, using the city parks bond funds, and allow Friends of Civic Stadium (FOCS) to refurbish and reopen it for use, or will it step back and allow Civic to be demolished? As a longtime citizen of Eugene, I consider demolition to be a mistake. Both the YMCA (which plans to build housing as well as a new facility) and Fred Meyer, the only current bidders, have plans in place that call for tearing down the 75-year-old building. The council and Mayor Kitty Piercy need to hear that Eugene residents support buying Civic and keeping it as a public park, one with numerous benefits for our community.

Let’s clear up one major misunderstanding about the funds to be used. The city has a bond fund that was created in order to acquire parkland; it cannot be used for maintenance or operating costs, for either new or existing parks. This is where the money to purchase Civic would come from, not the General Fund. The city is hurting financially and many recreation sites will suffer from budget cuts. The purchase of Civic is separate from the operating budget, and FOCS will not be asking for any renovation or operating funds from the city.

Civic Stadium can be reopened with a minimum of work, and its potential as an economic engine for our community is great. “Build it and they will come” applies here: It’s already built, and people will indeed come. They’ll come when soccer games are played, when concerts are put on, when wineries rent it for events, and when other uses are made of it; FOCS has already received dozens of requests, and we can anticipate many more. The president of the United Soccer League called Eugene “a great market” for a new team, and Civic can be a focal point for the growing popularity of soccer, especially because it will be available to an audience that exists far beyond our city’s boundaries.

When Eugene voted to build the Hult Center, nobody envisioned a world-class Bach Festival, but the existence of the concert halls allowed the festival to grow into the major event that it is today, with financial benefits extending far beyond revenue from ticket sales. Civic, if bought by the city, would provide an affordable place for the whole community to enjoy, no doubt bringing in a similar sort of financial benefit.

Civic Stadium was built in 1938 by the WPA and in 2008 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. People value history, and we like to see its evidence in our buildings, in historical plaques and markers, in statues and murals. Civic has been the spawning place for more than 200 Major League Baseball players, such as Mike Schmidt, and the great Satchel Paige once pitched there. The historical significance of Civic gives whatever happens there a special quality, one which can be emphasized through the on-site use of photographs, murals and statues, to name a few ideas. 

But these benefits to our community can only be fully realized if Civic remains in public hands. If it is sold to private interests, the bottom line changes, and we are no longer in control. The YMCA cannot afford to buy the property outright, so they would partner with a real estate developer. Half of the site would be devoted to housing, and the Y may not have any control over that. Both their plan and that of Fred Meyer would greatly increase congestion in an already congested area, an unwelcome consequence. 

Buying Civic is a very low-risk move for the City. If FOCS is not able to rent it out and start bringing in revenue in an agreed-upon time period, it can always be sold, most likely for a profit. It would be managed by non-city personnel, and renovated by funds raised by FOCS. 

We have lost so many old buildings in our town, and have learned to treasure what ones remain. Let’s not make the irrevocable mistake of demolishing Civic Stadium; please email mayorcouncilandcitymanager@ci.eugene.or.us and let them know that you support a solution that preserves the stadium. So many memories have been generated there; they are a rich part of our community’s fabric. Let’s not tear that fabric apart.