Civic Stadium: a community triumph of the past, present and future

March 3, 2015
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The vision for the Civic Stadium property, which is finally set to be purchased and renovated by the nonprofit Eugene Civic Alliance. In the foreground, a proposed fieldhouse for Kidsports and on the field, a Lane United FC match. Rendering courtesy of Eugene Civic Alliance and Cameron McCarthy.

Late last week, a momentous decision was reached — a “minor miracle,” in the words of a Eugene city councilman — regarding the history of Civic Stadium near downtown Eugene. The Eugene Civic Alliance, a nonprofit group comprising Lane United FC managing director Dave Galas, Kidsports executive director Bev Smith, and several other community leaders, was able to show the City of Eugene that they had raised the $4.1 million necessary to purchase the Civic property. The facts and recent history of the deal have been well-reported in the local media; the long and short of it is that, pending the closing of the deal at the end of March, Civic Stadium will be in new hands.

It will be the first change of ownership for the stadium since its construction in 1938. The 4J Public School District has been the exclusive owner of the stadium since then, and it was used for its first few decades of existence as a venue for high school sports and graduations. In 1969, the Eugene Emeralds minor-league baseball team moved in and stayed for 40 years, fielding future Major League stars along the way like Eric Davis, Mike Sweeney, Larry Bowa, and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. Longtime residents of Eugene know the stadium best as the venue for relaxing summer evening baseball games during the Emeralds’ residence there. The Emeralds, who left Civic after the 2009 season for PK Park at the University of Oregon, were one of the major donors in the fundraising effort that allowed the Eugene Civic Alliance to purchase the property.

“The site was originally envisioned and has always been used as a community gathering place, and it was built in substantial part by volunteers who embody that spirit,” said Dave Galas, the Lane United managing director who also serves on the Eugene Civic Alliance. “I’m just glad that the community, even 75-plus years on, stepped up and was able to preserve it as a space that everyone can benefit from.”

Lane United has long been mentioned as a future tenant of a refurbished stadium, but the Eugene Civic Alliance’s plan makes it clear that many others will benefit from the renovations too. Kidsports will be helped immeasurably by having its own gym space in the form of a new fieldhouse that is intended to be built on the property, and most outdoor field sports will be able to use the new playing surface that will be installed.

“I’ve always seen Civic Stadium as the perfect venue for LUFC, but we have to take care to do what’s right for the club and what’s right for the community. The research I’ve done bears that out — that it’s ideal for all, because of the walkability, bikeability, integration with the surrounding neighborhood, access to public transit, everything. The Eugene Emeralds’ endorsement [David Elmore owns the Emeralds and is a part-owner of Lane United] of the Civic Alliance shows their dedication to the community, and that having a multi-use facility like this — great for families, sports fans, really for any type of event — near the heart of the city just makes the city so much more attractive, to an outsider or to residents, both.”

Galas has said that any talk of a timetable for completing the renovations that would allow Lane United to play at Civic would be “premature,” given the reliance on continued fundraising. But the list of necessary renovations for the stadium has been known for some time now, and Galas and others have pointed out elsewhere that the damage is mostly “cosmetic.” All but two of the 360 old-growth timbers used to build the stadium remain structurally sound 75 years on. Immediately following the closing of the sale this month, the Friends of Civic Stadium will be approached to pay for renovation of the stadium roof with funds from their own escrow account.

Though the timing remains uncertain, the dream that Lane United will one day play in a refurbished Civic Stadium, hard by downtown Eugene and serving as a healthy vibrant hub for the city’s active community, is now set to become a reality. From the entire Lane United FC community, we thank you for supporting all the Civic-related initiatives over the past few years and urge you to continue supporting the Eugene Civic Alliance in the years of hard work that lie ahead.