Who Will Pay for Tracktown USA?

If and when the track and field’s international governing body, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), brings its world championships to Eugene in 2021, it will be the biggest track event Hayward Field has ever seen.

But the cost of bringing the global track event to Eugene is just one part of the scandal that has erupted over the event and touching the group that has worked to bring it here, TrackTown USA. The nonprofit is pressing ahead with organizing the championships, and the decision to put state funding into this Eugene event lies in the hands of Oregon legislators.

Hayward is seen as a mecca for runners and has hosted the Olympic Trials, but 30,000 seats are needed to host the IAAF and Hayward currently seats 10,500. Forty million dollars is the number that has been cited repeatedly as what is needed from the state for infrastructure and renovations to bring the event to Eugene.

The track and field world was stunned in April 2015 when, after being passed over for the 2019 IAAF championships, Eugene was suddenly awarded one of the world’s largest athletic events, the 2021 championships.

In November 2015, allegations of doping and bribery rocked the IAAF, and Sebastian Coe, the new head of the IAAF, admitted to taking undisclosed, yearly payments of $150,000 from Nike for years. Oregon-based Nike has been a key player in backing the effort to bring the IAAF to Eugene.

In December, it was announced French prosecutors were investigating the decision to award the championships to Eugene, leaving the championships a question for many.

Back in 2014, then-governor John Kitzhaber pledged $40 million to the event. But earlier this January, The Register-Guard revealed that after TrackTown’s Executive Director Vin Lananna first contacted Kitzhaber for funding, the request was met with “coolness and skepticism.” The governor soon changed his mind.

The R-G writes, “Kitzhaber’s apparent reversal coincided with almost $400,000 in campaign contributions he received during a 42-day period in September and October 2014 from athletic apparel giant Nike, its co-founder Phil Knight and its CEO Mark Parker, as well as four members of the UO Board of Trustees.”

EW contacted Lane County’s legislators to ask them if they would vote for a $40 million subsidy to bring the games to Eugene.

Rep. Nancy Nathanson has been named as the legislator who would introduce a bill in the 2016 short session that begins in February to fund the event. She says the R-G “misunderstood the purpose of the bill, based on what must have been old and incomplete information.”

Nathanson tells EW, “My bill will increase resources for the Tourism Commission to invest in furthering the state’s tourism industry, to promote all of Oregon, and specific sites, activities and places in every region. TrackTown would be eligible to submit a proposal to the Commission, just as other projects submit grant requests.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski says he supports bringing the games to Eugene, and “I am willing to support a state funding bill, but I must see the actual proposal before I can state whether I will actually vote for the bill.”

Sen. Lee Beyer, like other elected officials EW contacted, says he has not seen a proposal for the $40 million but that “the biggest part of any funding would come from a 1-percent increase in the statewide hotel room tax.” He points out that the tax, currently at 1 percent, is “dedicated to promoting tourism” and that it’s “probably worth noting that the hotel tax is generally paid by out-of-state visitors, not Oregonians.”

Lananna told The Oregonian that TrackTown has now scaled back its request for a lodging tax increase that would generate $25 million, but if it doesn’t get the $40 million it needs in the short session, “we’ve got five years to bring people around.”