Thinking big about Civic | Consultant’s report lays out an ambitious project

May 11, 2010 | Eugene Register Guard

It’s tempting to jump directly to the end of a long process mapped by consultant Marshall Glickman for saving Civic Stadium from the wrecking ball, and conclude that Eugene voters would never approve a bond issue for a $70 million sports and entertainment venue. Before a vote could occur, however, the Civic Stadium plan would have to pass a series of other tests, each of which would strengthen its credibility and, perhaps, reduce its cost.

Civic Stadium sits unused at the foot of College Hill now that the Eugene Emeralds baseball team has departed for the University of Oregon’s new PK Park near Autzen Stadium. For its owner, the Eugene School District, Civic is a dead and deteriorating asset. For generations with fond memories of warm evenings in the grandstands, the stadium is a treasure that, once lost, could never be retrieved.

As school district officials prepare to dispose of Civic as surplus property, or at least gauge the marketability of its 10.2-acre property, people in Eugene have an obligation to explore how the stadium might be saved. To that end, the Save Civic Stadium organization and the city of Eugene hired Glickman, a Bend-based former president of the Portland Trail Blazers, to analyze the site’s potential.

Glickman came up with a plan that includes a new YMCA building, two parking structures, a restaurant and a fieldhouse for indoor sports events. The existing grandstand would be renovated, and a new grandstand would be added. The stadium would be home to a professional soccer team, and would double as a venue for outdoor concerts.

It’s an ambitious plan, but there’s logic to it. Begin with the fact that the stadium needs rehabilitation and upkeep, which means there has to be a stream of revenue. Professional soccer and concerts are promising possibilities, and Glickman says there’s a local market for both. A partner in the venture would be helpful, and the YMCA is a good candidate. The YMCA could not be squeezed onto the site unless members had use of a parking structure. By the time all the parts necessary to keep the stadium busy enough to pay for itself are added, the initial cost climbs to the $70 million range.

Glickman envisions the stadium enterprise being run by a group of investors who would put up $2.3 million in private money for planning, design and other preliminary work. The group would pay rent and, eventually, a share of net revenues to the Eugene School District.

Finding investors willing to put their own money at risk will be the first big test of Glickman’s idea. Without an initial pool of capital, the group would be in no position to submit a proposal to the school district for the use of the stadium.

The Eugene School Board would subject the concept to a second serious test. The investors’ proposal might have to compete with other bidders for the property, while also being judged credible in its own right. Securing a commitment from a pro soccer team would be another hurdle. And though the YMCA is scouting for a new location, its willingness and ability to be a part of a Civic Stadium project depends on many factors.

A bond measure election would be the biggest test of all. Many voters wouldn’t like the idea of using public money to capitalize a privately run sports and entertainment venture. Others would balk because of the seemingly unending boom in construction of sports facilities at the UO. The loudest questions would come from those demanding to know why, if there’s money for pro soccer, the city can’t pave streets, develop parks and keep criminals in jail.

The nature of the obstacles ahead will change as the proposal is refined. Even so, it’s plain that the challenges are formidable. Perhaps they can’t be overcome. But it would be a shame to lose Civic Stadium to the bulldozers without having tried.