The Livestock Building at the Lane Events Center has housed horses and other animals fleeing wildfires in the area. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Bulls or Balls

The proposed Ems Stadium would demolish the Livestock Building 

Technically, the 53 acres of land and buildings near 13th and Jefferson is the Lane Events Center, but locals just call it the Fairgrounds. 

The Livestock Building at the Lane Events Center — host to 4-H and Future Farmers of America livestock during the annual Lane County Fair — could be demolished to make way for a brand new minor-league stadium for the Eugene Emeralds Minor League Baseball team. 

The cost on paper to rebuild the livestock facility, $10 million, tells only part of the story. 

If it breaks in favor of the Ems, longtime programs like FFA and 4-H will have to find a new venue during the county fair to present animals for livestock shows. Without that space, there will be no area at the Lane Events Center to show off animals during the week-long fair, or host any of the county-wide open horse shows.

FFA and 4H operate nationwide youth programs focusing on anything from agriculture to sewing to baking to arts and crafts. Without a place to auction or show off animals during the fair, livestock events will be forced to move to a different location.

Rene Speer, Lane County Fair Board vice chair, says the stadium won’t remove just the Livestock Building, but the parking lot that surrounds it as well. Without that 10-plus-acre parking lot, families from across the county will be unable to camp out during the fair.

She explains that camping allows many families from across rural Lane County to fully participate in these programs. “We require that the kids take care of their own animals,” Speer says, “but the families would have no place to stay.”

The loss of the arena would also affect various horse shows and dog shows year-round that utilize the arena for its large dirt floor space. The county has also used the Livestock Building to house horses and other large animals that needed to be evacuated during wildfires. 

According to Lane County Operations Director Lorren Blythe, no location for a rebuilt Livestock Building has been selected. More importantly, no timeframe is listed on when it will be reconstructed.

A March 7 letter from the Lane County Fair Board asked the Lane County Board of County Commissioners to “not move forward with this project as proposed at this time.” According to the letter, there has been no formal analysis on how the new stadium will impact the Lane County Fair and other programs throughout the year. According to Speer, the county has yet to even respond to these requests.

“While we understand there is a timing issue with this proposal, that does not eliminate the need for due diligence to analyze potential impacts and engage stakeholders,” the Fair Board wrote.

Speer affirms that neither she nor anyone else on the Fair Board have been informed on when or where the county may reconstruct the Livestock Building. She also says that the county and Ems have seldom approached the board for its input. 

“We’re trying to do what they asked us to,” Speer says. “And we’re frustrated, because we’re trying to do our job, but we feel a little stymied.”

“We don’t want it to go away,” Ems General Manager Allan Benavides says. “It’s an important part of the Fairgrounds. We want to be a partner in the community and make [the Fairgrounds] better for everyone.” 

The Ems, a High-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, will operate and maintain the facility, but never own it. “It’s an opportunity to have something we need in the community,” Benavides says, bringing in necessary updates to the Fairgrounds, like an emergency occupancy shelter. He says next month, when they meet with the Fair Board, he’d like to discuss the potential of moving it away from the northwest corner — where the Livestock Building is. 

“We’re doing all of this for a building that we’re never going to own,” Benavides says. According to him, the last bit of funding needed to allocate all soft construction costs is the $15 million general obligation bond on the Eugene May 21 ballot — making the total cost $90.4 million from city, county and state governments.

But there are still some hidden costs.

Dana Turell is the board chair of Travel Lane County, Turell Group president and spokesperson for Taxpayers for Transparency, all of which have come out against the construction of a new Ems stadium at the Fairgrounds.

“If they do allocate 20 percent of the Lane County Events Center, there are some big conventions or conferences that happen there that would no longer be able to happen,” Turell says. 

One of those is the Oregon Logging Conference (OLC), an annual event hosted at the Lane Events Center. Without the existing Livestock Arena, OLC Conference Manager Rikki Wellman says they would be unable to host high school students who learn about jobs in the natural resource industry alongside educational scholarships.

According to Wellman, OLC brings $9 million to Eugene, Springfield and Lane County for only one week of use during the tourist off-season in February. “Oregon Logging Conference is not opposed to building the baseball stadium, in fact we are in favor of the Ems building a new stadium,” Wellman writes in an email, “but NOT at the Fairgrounds.”

The reconstruction of the Livestock Building is slated to cost the project an additional $10 million. According to Blythe, all orientations that fit the stadium’s design could not accommodate the Livestock Building. 

While the Livestock Building will be removed, the Agricultural Pavilion behind that building where animals are housed during the County Fair and other livestock will remain. While initial designs didn’t even cover the Livestock Building, Speer says that over time the stadium’s footprint has grown to absorb more and more land at the Fairgrounds.

Minor League Baseball announced March 24 that Ems owners Elmore Sports Group had sold another of its teams, the Inland Empire 66rs, a Single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, to Diamond Baseball Holdings.

This story received support from the Local News Initiative at the Catalyst Journalism Project, based at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. For more, see