Civic stadium plan unveiled

A sports consultant envisions a place for professional soccer, entertainment and community recreation

By EDWARD RUSSO



To save Eugene’s Civic Stadium, the historic ballpark should be converted from a baseball stadium to a $70 million home for professional soccer, entertainment and community recreation, a consultant recommends.

But private money would have to be raised quickly, and city voters next year would have to pass a bond measure to pay for the ambitious plan.

That’s the scenario from Bend-based sports consultant Marshall Glickman, who this week presented his ideas to preserve the 72-year old stadium at 20th Avenue and Willamette Street in south Eugene.

The fate of the Depression-era stadium is uncertain because its tenant for the past 40 years, the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball team, has left Civic to play starting next month at the University of Oregon’s PK Park. The Eugene School District, the stadium’s owner, considers the property a financial burden and wants to find a buyer for the 10.2-acre site later this year.

Glickman’s conceptual plan aims to show how the wooden stadium could be kept in use and turn a profit. “It’s not meant to be right; it’s meant to stimulate a discussion,” he said. Stadium supporters are touting the ideas as an alternative to the stadium being sold to a developer, torn down and being replaced by housing or some other use.

“It’s aspirational, but it’s grounded in reality,” said Joyce Berman, a board member of Save Civic Stadium. “It’s not just a pipe dream.”

Yet, there’s a vast chasm between the existing empty and decaying stadium and Glickman’s concept of a refurbished, profitable recreation and entertainment venue. Under his scenario, Eugene would need to attract a professional soccer team, and voters would approve a hefty bond measure.

Under Glickman’s plan, the school district would continue to own Civic and receive rent from a yet-to-be-formed operating company funded by private investors.

Stadium supporters will need to move quickly.

The school district board in September or October is expected to seek buyers to acquire the site.

Glickman recommends the formation of an “operating entity” to raise money from investors starting this summer. This group would be created by selling 91 limited partnerships for $25,000 apiece during the next 2½ years. That would raise $2.3 million. The private group would lead the preservation and development effort and eventually oversee the operation and renting out of the property to users, in cooperation with the school district and the city of Eugene.

The biggest financial investment would need to come from Eugene property owners.

A $70 million bond measure paid off in 20 years would cost the owner of home assessed at $200,000 between $101 and $106 dollars more a year in property taxes.

Stadium supporters said if the school board accepts the group’s proposal, they would work with the city of Eugene to put the bond measure before voters by June 2011.

Mayor Kitty Piercy, who on Friday was briefed by Glickman on the plan, called it an “exciting possibility in a time when we seek and need new economic engines in our community.”

Asked if voters would approve a bond measure, Piercy replied, “There’s a lot of work that must be done before this topic is ripe.”

Under the plan, the Eugene Family YMCA would move into a new 50,000-square-foot building on the site. The YMCA board has been interested in the Civic site to replace its aging structure a few blocks east on Patterson Street.

YMCA President Dave Perez said he was pleased that the plan shows a place for YMCA, but the group’s board of directors had thought it would pay for a new building with private donations.

He said the board would decide later this month whether to endorse the proposal from the stadium’s supporters.

Perez also said YMCA officials previously estimated that their new building would cost $12 million to $15 million.

But Glickman’s estimate, calculated with the help of a Eugene-based Turner Construction executive, includes the extra cost of a three-level parking garage and indoor tennis courts for the YMCA. Their estimate for the YMCA portion of the project is $34 million, nearly half of the total cost of renovating Civic. The YMCA would rent the buildings.

Even if the YMCA board agrees to be included in the concept outlined by Glickman, Perez said, the YMCA could respond to the school district with its own separate proposal.

Glickman’s concept includes an artificial turf soccer field, a new 2,000-seat grandstand on the east side of the field, a 50,000-square-foot-YMCA, a 22,000-square-foot, multi sport field house that could be used by the YMCA, Kidsports, the Eugene Metro Futbol Club and other groups, two parking garages, and a restaurant overlooking the athletic field. The 6,000-seat stadium with a stage on the athletic field would be an ideal venue for summer concerts and performances, Glickman said.

The complex would draw soccer fans, concert goers, athletes and others, but it would not make enough money to pay off the debt needed to renovate the stadium and construct the new structures.

That makes the public bond measure key to the plan, Glickman said.

“What’s wrong with that?” he said. “You are putting it out for the people to decide.”

Jim Ralph, executive director of the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, said he would be interested in putting on summer concerts at Civic.

“It’s a wonderful site, the central location and what it can be is just tremendous,” he said.

Glickman said Eugene could support a professional soccer team that plays in the first division of the United Soccer Leagues.

The Portland Timbers, which play in the USL, are moving up to Major League Soccer next year, Glickman said.

That opens the opportunity for a USL first division team in Eugene to affiliate with the Timbers as a development team, he said.

Glickman said he broached the idea of a Eugene team with Timbers executives and they were interested in exploring it.

In a financial analysis in the report, Glickman assumed that a soccer team with 15 home games would draw an average attendance of 3,433.

That figure is about what the Eugene Emeralds averaged at Civic Stadium for the past several years, said Bob Beban, the team’s former president and general manager.

Beban said he doubts a professional soccer team in Eugene could draw those size crowds.

“Soccer is a very difficult sale,” said Beban, now vice chairman of the Emeralds board. “Most soccer fans (at games) have children, friends and relatives who are playing. It’s different than baseball, where you can hang out, have a beer and have fun.”

But Glickman said soccer is becoming more popular, especially among people between 18 to 40 years old.

Glickman is to present his report to the school board on May 19.

The school board is set on June 2 to have a public hearing on the sale of the property. On June 16, the board is scheduled to decide whether to proceed with a sale, which would trigger the requests for proposals in September or October.

The Glickman study was paid for with $10,000 from private donations and $5,000 from the city.