March 1, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Public shares thoughts on new Ems stadium

9 min read
Under the late and legendary David Gant Elmore, the Eugene Emeralds ownership group ESG chose not to renovate and preserve Civic Field in 2009. The Ems must now hustle to find a new ballpark to call home, and project costs are soaring.

The Eugene City Council hears public comment July 24 about a new stadium for the Emeralds.

Jill Cole, Emeralds PA announcer: My name is Jill Cole. My family has lived in Eugene for five generations now. I am actually a full-time volunteer with 4J schools and I am now the full-time PA for the Eugene Emeralds. I got pulled out of the stands because I was being ejected from a game and was offered a job. There aren’t a lot of female PAs so this is really exciting.

[00:00:29] The Emeralds have created a very positive impact in our community, and I just wanted to highlight that tonight. I really want to see the city approve the new stadium at the fairgrounds. There isn’t a student in our community that doesn’t know and recognize our mascot, Sluggo. Sluggo comes to our schools and our assemblies, he comes to our jog-a-thons and our fundraising events.

[00:00:51] But more importantly, he rewards kids for reading books. If they read 10 books, they get free tickets to come to an Ems game during the summer. And I think that it’s so important in our community that there is wholesome and low-cost fun for families in our area.

[00:01:08] I think it’s super important that the Emeralds celebrate our veterans, our firefighters, our police force, our first responders, and they also celebrate diversity in our area with our pride night, as well as the Los Monarcas de Eugene games that celebrate Latin culture in our area.

[00:01:28] I also believe that the Ems are shattering glass ceilings. I actually work in an all-female press box. This is the first of all minor league baseball. There’s six of us up there, and it’s absolutely fabulous. I just wanted to highlight those things that I love about the Ems.

[00:01:43] Jonathan Schuman: My name is Jonathan Schuman. I’m a resident of Eugene. I am here to support our Eugene Emeralds organization. My family and I relocated to Eugene in 2015. Having grown up in Oregon, my wife wanted to raise our kids in Oregon in the type of community that she grew up in: a safe, affordable, friendly community that values organized and accessible community events, which were lacking in the area we moved from.

[00:02:09] We were excited to learn that among those opportunities, Eugene was home to a minor league baseball team, the Eugene Emeralds. It may not sound believable, but we were hardly baseball fans. We couldn’t afford the major league games in our previous city, nor did we have the time to battle the traffic and the parking to even get there. When we would go on the rare occasion, it would set my family back nearly $500 for a single sporting event.

[00:02:32] Not long after we came to Eugene, my union, Lane Professional Firefighters Local 851, hosted a night at PK Park. It was my first experience at an Ems game. It didn’t take long for my family and I to become hooked. Yes, the games were a lot of fun to watch. But the thing that really impressed me was the community that surrounded the ballpark and the games.

[00:02:54] Every interaction was pleasant and had a strong sense of family. The tickets and food were affordable. The mood was positive, fun, and family-friendly. There weren’t traffic jams and the parking was convenient. My family and I have made lifelong friends at Emeralds Games. I have been involved in several of the community initiatives that the Emeralds have supported.

[00:03:12] My kids have been inspired by the amazing talent and positive role models that the Emeralds have had on their rosters year after year. Since having the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at his first Emerald game at the age of six, my now-12-year-old son Parker was inspired to play baseball, starting out with KidSports.

[00:03:30] He has moved through the levels of the Cal Ripken Babe Ruth organization culminating this year in earning a spot on the Willamette Valley Babe Ruth 12U all-star team, who won the state championship and placed third in the Pacific Northwest regional championship this past weekend in Washington.

[00:03:46] Baseball has given Parker confidence, discipline, an entire community of new friends and family. It has forever positively impacted our lives. And the Emeralds inspired this. The Emeralds are a very important part of this community. They are Eugene. We need to work and find a way to keep this great part of our city.

[00:04:04] You cannot put a price on community enrichment. It literally changes lives.

[00:04:09] Emma Spratt: My name is Emma Spratt. I’m a lifelong Eugenian. I’m also a small business owner here in Eugene. I came out to represent the average citizen of Lane County. Our passion for our minor league baseball team, as well as our full support and commitment for the construction of the fantastic multi-use stadium at the aging Lane County fairgrounds.

[00:04:30] The fairgrounds will get developed, it’s just a matter of time, and I’d much rather it be done by an organization with deep local roots like the Eugene Emeralds.

[00:04:40] I had a whole list of statistics. I considered reading to you about baseball and how it supports our local economy, but honestly, you know all that. And if you don’t, I’ll email it to you.

[00:04:50] But it’s impossible to ignore the economic and cultural importance of this team that we have held dear since 1955. The deadline to keep our ball team is getting closer and closer, we’re in the bottom of the ninth, and if you don’t act fast, we will lose our team.

[00:05:06] Lack of action is action. Lack of action is a choice. The repercussions of that choice is the loss of local culture and to be frank it’s one of the very few unifying activities that we have in a severely politically and socially divided world, a divide that Eugene’s not immune to.

[00:05:25] I spent my summers growing up at Ems games since before I could walk at the old Civic Stadium. Those games mean the world to me, my family, my six-year-old daughter. We’re not an anomaly. We’re the average Eugenian, and it’s really important to us.

[00:05:43] I’m a little disappointed that I have to be here tonight. I keep waiting to hear the great news that you guys have approved the plans proposed by the Emeralds. I have a family that I’d rather be at home with right now, but I’m just glad that this was held at, on an off night, so I don’t have to miss a ballgame to be here.

[00:05:59] Allen McWayne: Allen McWayne. Like the three previous Emerald fans, I also support the team, but I think there’s a better location. Lane County would not be planning a $100 million stadium without constant promotion by the Ems. I’m surprised that the LEC (Lane Events Center) has not completed their master plan, and there will be no public vote. 65% of residents oppose this, in two surveys.

[00:06:22] A local business group is now concerned about the lack of transparency without even a projected operating budget or revenue stream. LEC has continually underestimated the scope of this plan to minimize the impact on taxpayers. The cost has grown from $40 million to over $100 million dollars.

[00:06:41] The size has grown from five acres to almost 13 acres; capacity from 4,000 baseball fans to 12,000 concert goers; from 66 home baseball games to now over total 120 events; the timeline from 2024 to 2026; and the horse arena would now be demolished without the $10 million to rebuild it.

[00:07:06] Numerous studies have questioned the impact of sports facilities on economic growth. As resistance grows from voters, most recently in Tempe, Arizona, Las Vegas, there are now 40 vacant minor league stadiums where cities have invested almost $300 million. Northampton County, in Pennsylvania, a $10 million ball yard stadium failed and was demolished in 2005.

[00:07:33] The Ems were a local team in 1955, but are now owned by ESG, a multimillion-dollar California conglomerate, which owns 132 companies, including nine teams and moved three of these teams out of their hometowns recently. Yet ESG has not offered to invest in any of the current $43 million shortfall.

[00:07:54] The Ems could have chosen many other sites like Glenwood, but chose LEC because public funds would be used to benefit their private franchise. They rejected the other sites because they wanted to be in the heart of Eugene, yet they left Civic in 2009 because they didn’t want to spend $10 million to upgrade that historic stadium.

[00:08:14] Instead they moved to PK Park, which was built by the U of O with public funds.

[00:08:19] City of Eugene: Next, we will hear from Allan Benavides.

[00:08:22] Allan Benavides (Eugene Emeralds General Manager): I’d like to say thanks to the supporters that have been bombarding you guys with emails and also to Allen (McWayne) and the opposition that are part of this project. It is really going to take a community to get this going and we’re really excited to hopefully get this going.

[00:08:35] But we are in our 11th hour in trying to get a facility built. You know, we’ve been here since 1955, almost 70 years of family entertainment and affordable fun, but with Major League Baseball guidelines that have taken place in 2020, we are in an environment at PK Park that we can’t be there much longer.

[00:08:52] It’s just, there’s a shortage of locker room space, female space. Out of all the minor league teams in the country, PK Park ranks third-worst in facilities for the players. So it’s not like it’s a small thing, it’s a major thing.

[00:09:04] People often ask: ‘Why can’t the Giants help?’ Well, the Giants provide our professional baseball players. They provide, they pay those salaries. They pay their benefits. They pay their wages, which has had a 70% increase. Without the Giants we’re simply an amateur wood (bat) baseball team that Councilor (Randy) Groves could come try out for (which I’m sure you’d be great at).

[00:09:21] But without the Giants and Major League Baseball, we’re just not going to have big-leaguers that played here in Eugene. In fact, we had six big-leaguers that are in Major League Baseball that played right here in Eugene last year.

[00:09:32] I just want to address what Allen (McWayne) said earlier. Our ownership took hold in 1983 and they’re one of the most dynamic ownership groups. They allow us to do all our pride events, our Monarcas events, our community engagement. They truly strive for us to be a dynamic partner and I just commend them for being so great with us.

[00:09:50] Deb Michaels, who lives in in Jefferson Westside, has suggested that we partner with Burrito Brigade (and it’s funny that you guys are here because) to use the facilities in the kitchens at the new stadium so that they can work out of there.

[00:10:01] Hotel rooms, you know that’s a big thing people are talking about. In 2019 we did about 3,000 rooms. ECONorthwest is forecasting that we’ll do about 20,000 rooms and we’ve been paying hotel taxes whole time while we’ve been here. For 70 years we’ve been doing this. Our economic output was about $8.7 million in 2019.

[00:10:19] It’s going to balloon to about $75 million. We can do this. We know it’s going to be tough. But we really need your help. Otherwise, we’re going to lose this team. And I really, really thank all the supporters that have been emailing us and whatnot. And I know that we don’t have the answers and I know there’s not a vote coming up. And I know it’s a tough decision. We’ve got to try to figure something out because we need your help to make this happen. Thank you for your time.

[00:10:42] John Q: Three fans and the Emeralds’ general manager offer public comments supporting a new stadium for the Ems. Allen McWayne notes that costs continue to climb and polls show that two out of three people say no.

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