Eugene’s 6,800 seat 75 year-old, Great Depression era Civic Stadium faces an uncertain future.
Civic Stadium was built at the height of the Great Depression. A legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the largest New Deal program executed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Civic Stadium stands as a local monument to American ingenuity and resilience.
The WPA provided the unemployed with an opportunity to work, and laid the foundation for thousands of public improvements across the nation. Civic Stadium was built for about $18,000 and stands as a testimony to a great time in American history when individuals overcame unprecedented challenges.
Since it’s completion in 1938, Civic Stadium has been home to a variety of sports from South Eugene High School, principally football and baseball. Notably, from 1969 until 2009 Civic Stadium was home to the Eugene Emeralds Minor League Baseball Club.
When I spoke with Dennis Hebert, Chairman of the non-profit group “Friends of Civic Stadium,” he emphasized irreplaceable history of Civic Stadium. He said the “embodied energy” of the stadium is part of what makes it a great place to play. “When you think of the pro players who have played at Civic, it makes it an exciting experience for young people to play there.” Major League greats such as Mike Sweeny, Bob Boone, Kevin Appier and Mike Schmidt played at Civic Stadium for the Emeralds.
In 2007 Civic Stadium was placed on the Eugene 4-J’s “surplus property” list, meaning, the district does not consider the site necessary for “educational purposes.” In 2010 the stadium was shuttered. Since then, no games or concerts have occurred at Civic Stadium. The School District placed Civic Stadium and surrounding property up for sale however, in June of 2011 a 4-3 school board vote rejected each of the three seriously considered offers. “The four board members who voted to reject the proposals cited the importance of their neighborhood impact, community impact, financial viability, traffic issues and other factors.”
Currently the school district allows the non-profit group Friends of Civic Stadium (FOCS) to host work parties at Civic Stadium every few weeks to maintain the grounds and keep the stadium in decent repair.
When asked if the efforts of FOCS have been successful, Hebert said:
“Six years [after the founding of FOCS] we’re still here and the stadium is still there, I’d call that a success.”
Hebert spoke optimistically about the future of Civic Stadium. He said a complete renovation should cost less than $2 million. About $700,000 is needed for an upgraded field and a liberal estimate of $1.2 million for upgraded and repaired grandstands and facilities. However, he noted that nothing is “wrong” with the stadium right now.
[gn_quote style=”1″]“With a little paint and a few new boards and nails the stadium could be used right away,” Hebert said. “It passes code, there’s nothing structurally wrong with it.”[/gn_quote]
Hebert would not divulge the names of the developers FOCS is talking too. However, he was emphatic that there is interest among developers in improving the property without tearing down the stadium. “We’re not scared about raising $1 or $2 million, we believe the community can easily come up with that. We have a few prospects, things are looking good.”
When asked who the FOCS would hope to attract as a main tenant were they to gain operational control of Civic Stadium Hebert said they didn’t want to limit themselves to just one main tenant.
[gn_quote style=”1”]“When we initially looked at a USL team six yeas ago it was too cost prohibitive.” According to Hebert funding and stadium renovation for a United Soccer Leagues (USL) pro team would have cost anywhere between $50 and $70 million. “That number scared us. Then all of the teams in the Northwest moved up to MLS and there was nobody to play anyway.”[/gn_quote]
The USL is a professional soccer organization with 13 pro level teams. 11 of the teams at the USL pro level are located in the Eastern United States, with teams in Phoenix and Los Angeles being the lone exceptions. A USL pro team in Eugene would face multiple challenges, the greatest being location. USL teams have a low profit margin. Adding a trip to the Northwest would cost each team hundreds of thousands of dollars, completely destroying their bottom line. A team in Eugene would face cross-country travel for every away match.
USL does have a Premier Development League (PDL). Its main purpose is to give younger players the opportunity to hone their skills and prepare for an opportunity to play in the MLS. Most MLS teams have U-23 teams in the PDL, but there are several other independent clubs playing organized soccer in the PDL. If Eugene were to embrace pro soccer long term, this league seems like the best fit.
However, Hebert emphasized, “We’re not interested in soccer being the lone cash-cow.” Rather, he hopes to help Civic Stadium transition from essentially a single-use facility to a multi-use facility which may be used for every level of community sport; from a potential home for the Eugene Metro Futbol Club and Northwest Christian College’s field sports to KidSports tournaments, ultimate Frisbee, concerts, festivals, farmers and Saturday markets and everything in-between.
Hebert feels there’s an accessibility gap. “Right now [University of Oregon] sports are really the only game in town, and not everyone can afford [University] sporting events.” “We want […] something not so cost prohibitive. Civic Stadium can facilitate that. More of a community gathering place, to fill a void left in the sporting community’s fabric.”
There is a hope that, over time, Civic Stadium may be the home to higher-level soccer. However, FOCS hopes to facilitate that change gradually as Civic Stadium reestablishes itself as a premier sporting venue in the City.
“[Civic Stadium is] in a prime position for the City’s populous to access. It’s the only fully covered stadium in the area.”
[gn_quote style=”1″]“It’s not build it and people will come, it’s there and people want to use it.”[/gn_quote]
However, operational control of the stadium may take awhile to change hands.
Eugene 4-J has a lot on its plate right now. With a big funding initiative upcoming and scores of other logistical issues to tackle the school board has put the future of Civic Stadium on the backburner until later this year. According to district officials, Civic Stadium should be on school board meeting agendas sometime between June and November.
If you would like to have a say in the future of Civic Stadium there are several ways to get involved.
You may engage with the school board on the issue. Check HERE for information about upcoming school board meetings. Click on individual meeting agendas for information on what will be discussed during each meeting.
To assist in maintaining Civic Stadium any member of the public is invited to attend FOCS work parties. They will be held this weekend, on Saturday, April 20th, 11am-5pm and on Sunday, April 21st, 1pm-3pm. For more information about future work parties or other issues related to the future of Civic Stadium check FOCS website.