Civic Stadium Might Have a Future After All
Matthew Heuett, EDN Sports
It’s easy to be cynical about any grassroots effort to save an historic site, even one as beloved as Civic Stadium. Oftentimes, the group in question is big on emotional appeal and moral conviction, but falls short when it comes to more pragmatic concerns. On the other side of the equation is a property owner who, if given a choice between a developer’s business proposal and a slogan scrawled on a placard, would choose the plan every time. The end result is a spate of headline-grabbing bluster that fades to a disillusioned mutter once the site is inevitably bulldozed.
But every now and then, a community group proves it has some business acumen to go along with its high-minded rhetoric. Such was the case last Thursday, when Friends of Civic Stadium (FoCS) and Civic Stadium Sports and Entertainment (CCSE) presented their plan to save the venerable old stadium. Aided by detailed financial estimates, architectural renderings, and two professionally done feasibility studies, the presenters outlined their latest proposal to renovate the venerable old stadium and turn it into a multipurpose sports venue anchored by a professional soccer team.
After brief speeches on the historical and community value of Civic Stadium by Dennis Hebert of FoCS, Bob Hart of the Lane County Historical Society, and Oregon historian and author Joe Blakely, the evening got down to brass tacks. Janis Ross, executive director of Eugene Cascades and Coasts Sports, explored the idea of marketing Civic Stadium to sports promoters looking for an ideal spot to hold a tournament. The primary obstacle to attracting such events, she explained, was finding a location that contains multiple playing fields in close proximity. Using a map of the surrounding area as a visual aid, Ross highlighted no less than ten additional playing fields all within a few city blocks of Civic Stadium. “[That’s] difficult to find,” she said.
Ross was also quick cite the economic benefits of hosting a sports tournament. Between food, lodging, and other expenditures, just one two-day event involving eight fields would result in an influx of $150-200k into the community, “minimum.”
Following Ross was the highlight of the event, an overview of the groups’ business plan presented by Ron Crasilneck, a “semi-retired” businessman and president of CSSE. Scaled down from the $22 million proposal rejected last year by the stadium’s owner, 4J School District, the new $7.3 million plan outlined by Crasilneck includes an attractive new entrance, a revamped food court, an expanded parking area, a grass berm on the eastern edge of the field with fixed seating at midfield, and a new building on the north end of the field that would house ticket counters, public restrooms, locker rooms, and administrative offices. Possible future renovations, such as a digital scoreboard, a restaurant, and an indoor fieldhouse, were also discussed.
Along the way, Crasilneck was careful to stress a few key points. For starters, he explained that any realistic financial plan for Civic Stadium “does not include a reliance on tax dollars,” and according to his organization’s estimates Civic would be self-supporting by its third year of operation. Civic could also begin operations before the various construction projects involved are complete, thereby shortening the delay before income could be generated (in case you’re wondering, Civic would be run as a non-profit).
As for the professional soccer team, Crasilneck revealed that CSSE has already been in touch with a Dutch businessman who already owns two soccer clubs in the U.S. The unnamed sports owner has expressed a desire to expand his stable of franchises and is reportedly excited about the prospect of placing one of those new teams here in Eugene.
Jurgen Ruckaberle, director of coaching for Eugene Metro Futbol Club, discussed the rapidly growing popularity of soccer in the region, noting that the Pacific Northwest is now home to three Major League Soccer franchises, the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps. While neither Eugene nor Civic Stadium are big enough to house an MLS franchise, landing a team in the USL or its developmental Premier Development League, which itself is seen more and more as a training ground for future MLS talent, is a real possibility.
The evening was not all sunshine and kittens, however. As the presentations went on, it was hard not to notice that they were heavy on tentative words like “estimate” and “preliminary,” and Crasilneck in particular rarely wasted an opportunity to stress that nothing has been finalized.
To throw a little more cold water on the festivities, 4J’s director of communications Barb Bellamy was on hand to explain the two options being weighed by the school district regarding Civic Stadium. Option one, 4J tears down the stadium, builds a replacement for Roosevelt Middle School on the site, and uses Roosevelt’s old location to build a new elementary school. Or option two, 4J sells Civic as a surplus property or leases it long term, rebuilds Roosevelt on property the district owns next to the existing building, and builds a new elementary school elsewhere. But even if the decision is made to sell Civic, there’s no guarantee CSSE’s business plan would win out. According to Bellamy, 4J’s board of directors is bound by an open process that grants no preference to any non-public entity, meaning that FoCS and CSSE would be granted the sale if and only if they happen to submit the best offer.
The presentations concluded with City Councilman George Brown, who took a few moments to reiterate his personal support for the effort to preserve the historic stadium. Brown cautioned against hoping for the city to step in and save the day – his exact words were “don’t expect the city to ride in on a white horse” – but said that he was hopeful that the community group would ultimately prevail.
The night ended on a high note, with Brown ceremoniously donating a personal check to Crasilneck to help fund the CSSE’s efforts. For my money, however, the sentiment that best encapsulated the pro-Civic Stadium sentiment of those in attendance came earlier in the evening when Joe Blakely summed up his warm feelings toward the old ballpark in four words: “It’s no PK Park.”