June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

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Fans root for Ems, county, city to complete stadium deal by Feb. 21 ballot deadline

9 min read
Before seeking a vote on the $15 million investment, the city asked that the county: dedicate its own funds to stadium construction; explain its plan to fund the rest of the $43 million gap; and show that the city won't have to pay for stadium operation and maintenance.

The Emeralds and Lane County have until Feb. 21 to finalize a deal that might keep the minor league baseball team in Eugene. On Feb. 12:

Councilor Mike Clark: I just wanted to doublecheck with the city’s attorney. I thought we had a deadline of the 20th for the sake of the May ballot. Am I incorrect in remembering that?

[00:00:21] Kathryn Brotherton (Eugene city attorney): It is the 21st. And the Feb. 21 deadline is a city code-established 90-day deadline. The state-established deadline by which we have to submit a certified—if in fact there was a resolution referring it to the ballot—the state and county deadline for us to submit a certified ballot would be March 21.

[00:00:45] So the Feb. 21 deadline is the date by which, if the council were to want to adopt a resolution referring it, that is your deadline.

[00:00:56] Sarah Medary (Eugene city manager): I just want to say, you may have seen that date on a communication from me to the county administrator, because I let him know, I would need to know by the 20th in order to bring it to you on the 21st.

[00:01:07] John Q: The city was asked to provide $15 million toward the project. The city asked the county to meet three conditions before asking voters to approve a $15 million bond measure in May.

[00:01:19] Councilor Alan Zelenka: When we bring this back, there were three conditions that we asked of the county before we put this on the ballot:

[00:01:26] One was that there’d be a plan to fill the gap for financing (I’ve not heard that there is one); that Lane County actually dedicate funds to the stadium construction; and that we have assurances that the operation and maintenance of the facility won’t fall back on the city of Eugene.

[00:01:45] So my request is that: Can staff please bring back a status of all three of those items when we have this discussion on the 21st?

[00:01:55] Sarah Medary (Eugene city manager): Yes, I mean, I can re-reach out to the county administrator and let them know what you’re looking for.

[00:02:03] I previously asked for those three things and was given sort of, like, ‘Here’s our funding plan and here’s our… we never considered this part of our operations.’ I think there’s pieces of this that would have to be worked out in an MOU (memorandum of understanding) / IGA (inter-governmental agreement) at the point that we’re doing some sort of transaction. But yes, we can ask.

[00:02:24] Councilor Alan Zelenka: Yeah, one of the reasons we put those conditions on and didn’t refer it to the voters at that point was, ’cause those are big gaps in this whole plan and putting something out on the ballot and having people go through a campaign, put all that effort, have us put it on the ballot—which is not free and all the staff work it takes to do that—we should be cognizant of the amount of work that all that will take.

[00:02:47] If this isn’t going to go forward, or if we don’t have those kind of assurances for the May ballot, then maybe it’s just not ripe, and it should be going into the November ballot—if those things become much more real.

[00:03:02] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: I think the one thing we can all agree on is that keeping the Ems would benefit Eugene. I myself have very fond memories of taking my two kids, who played Little League, to games when they were small. And I know that there are a lot of people in the community that have similar fond memories of going to Ems games.

[00:03:20] The thought of losing our local team is not a pleasant one, and this long process has been hard and upsetting for a lot of us. But I’m not upset at the county. I’m not upset at the Ems. I’m not even upset at the 100-plus emails that we’ve gotten over the last couple days.

[00:03:37] What I’m upset about is with Major League Baseball, that doesn’t seem to realize the position they are putting communities in. You know, we are not a rich community, nor a rich state that has excess money just lying around. We don’t want to lose our local team. Yet we are being asked to fund, through state and county and local taxpayer money, what appears to be over 90% of a stadium they are requiring.

[00:04:01] I hope that there will be new information to discuss at the work session. But if not, I want us to remember that the county is actively working on this project’s viability, and it may be necessary to give them more time.

[00:04:13] If a city bond measure is a smart idea, it will still be a smart idea in November. And asking for money makes sense when we actually know what the funding gap is that is needed, and when we know what will be required to ensure the stadium’s operation and maintenance are sustainable.

[00:04:30] It makes the most sense for the county to come back to the city for funding to get them over the finish line, rather than in the middle of the race. And maybe that will be $15 million, maybe it’ll be more, maybe it’ll be less. Perhaps the county will find a different solution.

[00:04:45] But I think this patience will also give us a chance for the revenue team to come back with their ideas for covering the budget gaps in our own budget, so, hopefully, we won’t have to make program cuts to the library, animal services, parks, police, fire, all the important things that the city does.

We want this ultimately to be a win-win, right? And if it takes a little bit more time to make that happen, I hope that everyone involved will agree that it’s worth it.

[00:05:15] Councilor Emily Semple: I just want to say thank you to Councilor Yeh and Councilor Zelenka because those were my concerns and hopes. I wanted to wait till the conditions were met, but since we’re all still willing to work, I’m willing to still talk. And just thank you very much, Councilor Yeh and Councilor Zelenka.

[00:05:37] Councilor Randy Groves: I appreciate what my colleagues have said, and this is a difficult place to be in. At the same time, if we are telling ourselves we could always put it on November ballot, the November ballot will be too late. That’s just the way it is. It’s the May ballot is our one shot at this. Personally, I favor putting it out to the public and let them decide.

[00:05:58] And this won’t be taking away from police, fire, parks, library. This would be above and beyond, with the public saying they are willing to spend more to cover a bond.

[00:06:10] It’s a G O (general obligation) bond. It’s not a levy. It’s not anything that can be used for any other purpose other than this. And the bottom line is, if we do move forward and the deal falls apart, we won’t be levying the money. The money is to be dedicated towards contributing to the stadium construction. It’s not for anything else. I don’t believe we can legally use it for anything else. And the city attorney is acknowledging that’s correct.

[00:06:35] John Q: During public comment, three Eugene residents spoke about the stadium.

[00:06:41] Alan Gormezano: As far as the stadium, I ride my bike through that neighborhood a lot, and I see a lot of signs saying ‘No to the stadium’ at the fairgrounds. Please hear those people as well. I don’t really know enough about the issue myself, but I’m just saying, please hear those who have dissent. Thank you very much.

[00:07:02] Allan Benavides (Eugene Emeralds general manager): I’m Allan, GM of the Emeralds. We’re on the brink of realizing the dream of keeping the team here. This public-private partnership will create a stadium that hosts, not only hosts incredible baseball games, but it’s also going to be a gathering space for emergencies like earthquakes, wildfires, and the ice storm.

[00:07:20] I was just at the fairgrounds, the Wheeler Building, handing out water and supplies, and that building is decrepit, as most of the buildings are out there. We need better resources out there. This opportunity can take us to better high school graduation, bigger events for our county and city with concerts that bypass us.

[00:07:36] I want you guys to know that the Ems ownership has pledged an additional $10 million to this project, bringing the Ems involvement to $23.5 million to this project, which is a genuine blend of private and public investment.

[00:07:50] Generally, these types of facilities are totally publicly funded with some investment, but this is 26% investment by the team in a facility that we will never own.

[00:08:01] In many ways, we compare what’s going on with the YMCA in South Eugene. I remember when I moved here years ago, and everybody said that wasn’t going to happen, but that new building is a vibrant hub for activity in Eugene and just in the same way, this new facility will be one at the fairgrounds.

[00:08:15] I know we have a slew of challenging events that are affecting our community, but we do need a win. We need a win for everybody. And I believe that this project is that.

[00:08:24] You’ve seen your inbox, the hundreds and thousands of emails that have been sent to commissioners and councilors, people who support this project.

[00:08:31] You earlier today discussed downtown. It is a project like this that can boost vibrancy, support local businesses, and create jobs. This project hits all those marks. It won’t solve everything, but it’ll be a step in the right direction. The county has done an immense amount of work to get this to where we’re at right now.

[00:08:48] They could have killed it. They could have killed this two weeks ago if they didn’t want to make this happen. They put $9 million worth of land towards this project. They increased the hotel tax, and we put hundreds of thousands of dollars into getting to this point.

[00:09:00] The county has done a tremendous job, the state has put in, they’re going to put in $7.5 (million), and looking for another $7.5 (million). The federal government has put in a grant for $1.5 million and we need the city to help us.

[00:09:10] The Ems along with our $23 million gets us to a pathway of building this whole project. There is a pathway and we need your help. So thank you.

[00:09:20] Allen McWayne: Allen McWayne. There are many reasons why this proposed Ems stadium is not a good idea. The county’s LEC (Lane Events Center) master plan ranks it as number seven of eight possible improvements and rejects it. It is too large, it’s in the wrong location, require removal of the indoor arena. It would detract from LEC operations and it would lose $200,000 each year.

[00:09:46] Yet the discussion has been only how to procure the $100 million in funding, not the proposal’s lack of merit. The Ems owners are the largest management group in MILB, but have not chosen alternate stadium sites, instead asking for the public to fund this on county land.

[00:10:02] The way Allan Benavides mentioned the $26 million, I believe, from ESG (Elmore Sports Group). $10 million is a 30-year lease prepaid and $3 million of that is furniture and equipment.

[00:10:15] No one wants to say no to this stadium because reason one, it will actually revitalize the LEC. But their own consultants advise against it, it will lose money, and the campus, even with the new stadium, will need $52 million in upgrades.

[00:10:32] Reason two, people say it will support the local economy. Actually, numerous studies and 40 vacant minor league stadiums across the country indicate otherwise.

[00:10:43] Reason three, people say Eugene will lose baseball forever. Actually, we do have five local teams including the Ducks and the Springfield Drifters, who built their stadium for $3 million.

[00:10:54] And everyone loves the Ems and we hope ESG (owners Elmore Sports Group) will find another site.

[00:10:59] The easiest decision for this council would be, let the voters decide. But you risk your credibility by asking taxpayers to fund a $15 million bond while reducing city services by $15 million.

[00:11:14] Only 1% of residents attend Ems games, yet taxes for this would be paid for all. And some folks still think that Ems and county visitors will pay everything. Once the true financial burden is evident, voters will make the sensible choice by rejecting the bond.

[00:11:30] I advise the council to resist the temptation of placing a doomed bond proposal, with its costly campaign, onto the May election.

[00:11:40] John Q: The city continues to wait for details in writing from the county to assure taxpayers their $15 million investment will be a safe one. The council will meet Feb. 21, on the very last day they can put a bond measure on the May ballot.

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