June 12, 2024

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Short $43 million at deadline, Emeralds request extension

3 min read
Say it ain't so, Sluggo! The Eugene Emeralds and Hillsboro Hops warn their communities that time is running out. They must quickly find $43 million and $20 million, respectively, to keep their minor league baseball teams. (Image courtesy Eugene Emeralds.)

from the Eugene Emeralds and staff reports

The Emeralds are “cautiously optimistic” they can find $43 million to build a new stadium at the Lane County fairgrounds and keep the team in Eugene.

After missing a Sept. 30 deadline set by Major League Baseball, General Manager Allan Benavides shared a list of current funding sources with MLB and asked for an extension.

“We are hopeful that Eugene, Lane County, and the state can work alongside us to establish a plan that will expedite the creation of this new facility,” he said.

Time remains a crucial factor in the project’s success, he emphasized.

The Eugene City Council is scheduled to discuss potential new revenue sources Oct. 11. The revenue discussion will seek new sources of funding to address the city’s $15 million budget gap. The city also hopes to establish permanent funding to operate homeless shelters set up with one-time federal money. The council can discuss stadium funding during that meeting, the city manager suggested.

In advance of the Oct. 11 meeting, councilors have asked Lane County and the Emeralds for more details about the project funding and its projected revenue. Lane County has estimated total cost of the project at just over $100 million.

Major League Baseball took over the minor league system in 2020 and announced it would reduce the overall number of leagues from 14 to 11, reducing the number of teams from 160 to 120. This would allow higher salaries for players and improved working conditions. MLB set a Sept. 30 deadline for minor league teams to comply with new rules for minor league stadiums.

The Hillsboro Hops also requested an extension. Hops President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher said the team is seeking a final $20 million for its new stadium financing package.

With its post-season playoffs now underway, MLB did not immediately respond to questions about how many minor league teams asked for more time, nor whether MLB would approve the extensions.

The Emeralds, who also played at Bethel Park (1955-1968) and Civic Stadium (1969-2009), have shared PK Park since 2010 with the University of Oregon baseball team. Because the expanded minor league schedule would conflict with the UO team, the Emeralds sought to build a new multiuse facility at the fairgrounds.

The Emeralds said the new facility would “significantly benefit the Eugene community by providing a modern venue for sports and entertainment.”

Emeralds fans have turned out in numbers—often wearing team gear—to support the team during city council public forums. Those supporting the stadium this year included Jill Cole, Jonathan Schuman, and Emma Spratt on July 24.

Speakers supporting the Ems at the Sept. 11 public forum included Billy Harper, Dale Berg, Emma Spratt, Jake Engelhardt, Jarl Berg, Jill Cole, Joshua Rodriguez, Kathryn Beer, Kimber Meyers, Paul Redhead (after speaking about the airport), Rachel Bitecofer, Rick Satre (sporting a Los Monarcas jersey), Tim Laue, and Warren Beer.

The July 24 and Sept. 11 forums also featured two speakers questioning the use of public funding for the project. They asked why the Ems’ ownership group is not contributing to the $43 million shortfall.

The Emeralds thanked the Lane County Commissioners, Eugene City Council, Eugene City Manager Sarah Medary, Rep. Paul Holvey, and other members of the Oregon state legislature and their staffs for their time and effort.

“We greatly appreciate the support from our multiple public partners, which has been instrumental in our progress on saving this valuable community asset,” said General Manager Benavides.

He has touted the stadium as a site for concerts, and offered to open the concession kitchens to nonprofit organizations feeding Eugene’s homeless population.

The Emeralds said they remain committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to advance the multiuse facility project.

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