August 8, 2013

Oregon’s Civic Stadium: "We Don't Want to Hear Strike Three"

  • By: Sarah Heffern
The last Eugene Emeralds opening day at Civic Stadium, in 2009. Photo courtesy Tom Clifton, Flickr.
The last Eugene Emeralds opening day at Civic Stadium in 2009.

It's one of only a dozen wooden ballparks still standing in the United States, and one of only five remaining built by the Works Progress Administration.

In its last season in use, it was the 9th oldest minor league ballpark in the country, and 3rd oldest west of the Rockies.

Eugene, Oregon's Civic Stadium has historic chops galore -- and yet, it sits unoccupied, slowly deteriorating. It is not, however, unloved or forgotten. The work of the Friends of Civic Stadium (FOCS) sees to that. The avid group of local preservationists have been working tirelessly to convince the stadium's owners, Eugene's School District 4J, to find a solution that will provide the historic stadium a new lease on life.

According to FOCS board member Jim Watson, the ballpark's future lies not with our national pastime, but with the beautiful game: "We see soccer as the major user of the stadium ... There are actually three Professional Development League teams currently in Eugene -- one women's team and two men's -- and all of them want to play at Civic Stadium."

In addition, Watson sees alternative uses, such as concerts, outdoor movies, festivals, and other "field sports" as parts of Civic Stadium's next phase.

A rendering of the rehabilitated Civic Stadium. Image courtesy of Cameron-McCarthy Landscape Architects, partially funded by a grant from the Historic Preservation League of Oregon.
A rendering of the rehabilitated Civic Stadium. Image courtesy of Cameron-McCarthy Landscape Architects, partially funded by a grant from the Historic Preservation League of Oregon.

Before that can happen, however, the stadium needs new ownership. Watson's ideal scenario involves a land swap between the city government and the school district, but the FOCS is working to raise funds with the expectation that the new owner -- whether it is the city or a private individual or group -- will take them up on their offer to assist in the stadium's rehabilitation. Watson estimates that updating the stadium will cost approximately $2 million, and a new field a bit less than $1 million.

In the meantime, members of the community are pitching in to keep the stadium in good shape and the decision makers on their toes. To date, more than 400 hours of volunteer labor has been dedicated to clean up efforts, and more than two dozen letters to the editor have been printed in the local paper.

Even the Eugene Emeralds, who left Civic Stadium for a new home at the University of Oregon, are getting into the act. According to Watson, their Civic Stadium Day on July 13, which featured "information tables, video screen tributes, prize drawings, etc." yielded about 50 new supporters and "made them visible to a whole new part of the community."

And last but certainly not least, there's Gary Marullo, whom Watson calls "a big supporter" of Civic Stadium. How big, you ask? So big that he wrote a song about it, and crafted a video.

Now that's creative preservation.

For more case studies and resources on saving historic stadiums, sports arenas, and ballparks, check out Preservation Leadership Forum's Iconic Urban Buildings slideshow.

Sarah Heffern is the National Trust's social media strategist. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

@smheffern

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