Civic Stadium: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Dennis Herbert sits at a table at the Erb Memorial Union, still in his work clothes. His bushy white and gray beard covers his face and the top of his head is concealed by a baseball cap. He is lost in a memory:

“It’s like a throwback in time. You go to a baseball game or an event at Civic Stadium and it’s very much like taking a step back. You expect Ty Cobb to be coming out of the dugout; someone like that because of the feel of the place when you’re sitting in the grandstands. You have the wood beams and the wooden structures and the grass fields, the whole feel of the place… you can hear everything.”

The future of Civic Stadium, Eugene’s oldest baseball stadium, is unclear. This is why Herbert is the President and Co-founder of Save Civic Stadium, a group dedicated to preserving the stadium for the community.

The stadium, which was built in 1938, has become the source of many fond memories for residents such as Herbert. It stands in stark contrast to stadiums such as Autzen, with its titanium benches and colossal televisions providing playbacks and advertisements during games. The simple wooden benches at Civic Stadium can seat 6,800, while Autzen can pack in numbers close to 59,000. One advantage Civic does have over the University of Oregon’s prize playing field is its name is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

Partially because of the recession, families and school districts are finding it harder and harder to provide resources for teachers and help pay for the costs required to give students a solid education. This burden has not only been felt by University of Oregon students in the form of tuition increases, but neighboring elementary, middle and high schools as well.

The 4J-Eugene School District owns Civic Stadium and says it can no longer afford the cost to keep the property. The original deed for Civic Stadium granted 4J the field, stands and parking lot, and then in the 1960’s 4J also purchased two of the farther reaching lots. Those two lots have sparked much debate in a recent February 17th meeting. 

The school district originally wanted to sell the two lots. The result of the meeting was that they decided that they would not sell the lots now, but simply rezone them. Another important outcome of the February 17th meeting was that the school district gave Herbert’s organization, Save Civic Stadium (the organization filed and obtained non-profit status with the state of Oregon in 2007) 90 days to come up with a reuse study.

Jennifer Geller, a board member at 4J, said that 4J is struggling to maintain the stadium partially because the Eugene Emeralds are no longer using the field and the district no longer has a source of revenue to fund it. There is debate over how much the repairs would cost; repairs that the stadium direly needs. Geller said that the school district is struggling with funding both academic programs and upkeep for Civic. According to Geller the 4J district had budget cuts of $20 million last year $6 million this year, and they are looking at cuts of $11 to $12 million next year.

The empty spot on Civic Stadium where the Emerald's Logo used to be.

Geller and her family have lived for seven and a half years on College Hill, only a few blocks a way from the stadium. She expressed concern about what would become of Civic Stadium, but said she knew it was the right thing for the school district to do, “What would be ideal is if there were some buyer that was able to preserve the stadium, and if not preserve the stadium then at least use it in a way that would provide recreation for the community.” Geller said.

Herbert hopes to find a buyer that would preserve the stadium as well, and Save Civic Stadium’s next plan of action is to send out Requests for Proposal (RFP) for the reuse feasibility study. A requests for proposal gives potential buyers the opportunity to submit proposals on what they will do with the available property.

Carlos Barrera, Co-Chair of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Association (FAN) and resident of Eugene for the past 11 years, said that the FAN board voted several years earlier to support the Save Civic Stadium Movement. Barrera spoke at the February 17th meeting on behalf of FAN about the historical significance of the stadium and his concerns about how it would affect the community if it was destroyed. “We’re trying to raise awareness of this issue and that there’s a real danger that the stadium will be demolished. That’s the direction the school board is moving right now.” He said.

Barrera thought that this would affect the community in a negative way, since he looked at Civic Stadium as something important to the spiritual health of citizens. “We’ll do whatever we can to facilitate the preservation of the facilities. It’s too important a resource for our neighborhood and really all of the city.” He said.

A concern that both Barrera and Herbert shared is that if the stadium is destroyed some residents have vowed not to vote yes on future bond measures for the school district. Geller’s response to these statements was that she hoped people wouldn’t make a decision that would hurt children’s futures.

Conversely, Natalie Perrin, a former University of Oregon student, believes that the situation is not a dire as many believe. Perrin, who now works in historic preservation in Portland, was also the person who singlehandedly got Civic Stadium its historic status while she was a student at the university. Because there is a long process involved with removing a historic status, Perrin feels that the fear of tearing Civic down is a bit premature. Even though 4J owns Civic Stadium, the City of Eugene has protection of historic property, so whoever buys Civic will have to go through the city first if they want to demolish the stadium.

Perrin also thinks that the cost of repairs for the stadium is exaggerated. “These numbers get getting bigger and bigger every minute that goes by. When it first started it was four million then ten then 15,” Perrin said. “If you’re just doing maintenance and repairs, the number I came up with was closer to a million dollars.”

Civic Stadium's wooden grandstand.

Everyone has an opinion about what should be done with the stadium. Barrera, who had spoken with Geller before, mentioned the possibility of trading Civic in exchange for other city property. He likes this idea because, “That would mean that they wouldn’t have to spend money in the future to buy property to build schools.” Herbert had many suggestions as well and is hopeful to get another anchor baseball team, which would be either the West Coast League or an independent minor league team. He said that there was been interest from minor league soccer teams, and the Eugene Metro Futbol Club is yet another possibility.

Connie Carley, who has lived in Eugene for 57 years, feels that the property should be preserved regardless of whose hands it falls into because of its rich history and its ties to her family. Carley’s mother, whom she refers to as “Nana,” ran concessions at Civic Stadium and MacArthur Court  for a large portion of the seventies. When she was eighteen Carley helped her mother run the stands. “My girlfriend and I went to a couple games and decided we needed to earn some money. We got out food handlers license and I sold beer and hot dogs [at the stands].” She said.

Carley considers Civic a monument for the community, and when it’s sold, she hopes the future owner will continue to use the property for sports. Currently the field is being used by South Eugene High School, who play their home games there. Two practice soccer fields are utilized during the spring as well.

            The future of Civic Stadium is unclear at this time. While 4J owns the property for the time being, many still feel that the fate of the historic property should be the community’s decision. Perrin’s work years ago earned Civic Stadium its historic status and she believes that the community benefits from this. “Historical preservation is a great economic stimulus for local communities,” Perrin says.  “A project of this grandstand could have a ripple affect that is incredibly beneficial to Eugene. If we lose it we’re never getting it back.”

Sidebar: Poll

Poll: What should 4J do with the Civic Stadium property?

4J should not sell the property.

4J should trade Civic Stadium to the city for city property of equal value.

4J should ask the communities for donations for repairs, and start a community project to repair the stadium.

4J should sell the property only to a company that plans to preserve it.

4J should sell the property only to a company that either plans to preserve it or will use the property for another type of recreational activity.

4J should sell the property to the highest bidder

Sidebar: Quote Collection

“The players always say it’s the loudest stadium they’ve ever played in because the stadium projects the sound.” – Dennis Herbert on the sound quality produced by Civic Stadium’s grandstand.

“It was just a really fun time of my life. I met lots of people lots of regulars that went to every game.” – Connie Carley talking about her time running a concession stand at Civic Stadium.

“It needs ten million in repairs to be brought to minor league standards.” – Jennifer Geller talking about the money Civic Stadium will need.

“I understand people’s passion. I would hope people wouldn’t make a decision that would hurt children’s futures.” – Jennifer Geller responding to some community members threatening not to vote yes on future bond members if the stadium is destroyed.

“That’s my main objection to the stadium being lost, it’s one of those things that bind the community together, that shared experience of going to a community event.” – Carlos Barrera’s reason for speaking at the February 17th meeting and why he thinks the stadium should be preserved.

“My wife told me I ran over and no one said anything so I just kept talking until I said what I wanted to say.” – Carlos Barrera on his time speaking at the February 17th 4J meeting.

“It doesn’t really matter because 4J doesn’t have the money to do the repairs regardless of the cost.” – Natalie Perrin on the cost of repairs for the stadium.

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