April 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Ems stadium threatens logging conference, public warns

13 min read
Commissioner Pat Farr: The number that I got is there were 8,585 room-nights last week generated by the logging conference—8,585, and you multiply that by whatever that does. So our fairgrounds is currently an economic generator for Lane County.

Stadium opponents offered public comment at both the city and county this week. At the city of Eugene Feb. 26:

City of Eugene: Our next speaker this evening is Allen McWayne.

Allen McWayne: The $100 million Ems stadium still has a $43 million funding gap. Requests of $1.5 million and $7.5 million were rejected last year by the feds and state, although the state may vote again in March…

Last November, this council considered a bond package of $25 to $45 million dollars for the stadium, Golden Gardens (Park) and LCC pickleball. The latter two projects were removed as incomplete and still in development phase. But now the stadium, which you are considering, is also uncertain and incomplete…

City voters should not pay for an expensive and limited-use baseball stadium built on county land to support a large private corporation.

[00:00:53] John Q: Allen also spoke to Lane County commissioners on Feb. 27:

[00:00:58] Allen McWayne: Allen McWayne, long-time city resident.

[00:01:00] I’m here to speak about the stadium. And we all know that there’s still a $43 million funding gap. Maybe $7.5 million will come from the state, but they’ve already turned that down last June.

The owners of the Ems, ESG (Elmore Sports Group), has said they’ll commit another $10 million. However, the city’s own resolution they just passed, drafted by legal staff, says, ‘The owner, ESG, has expressed plans to achieve approximately $10 million in additional private funds.’

[00:01:34] I’m skeptical about that ‘expressed plans to achieve approximately.’ Now, if ESG is the largest ownership group in minor league, they have to have $10 million sitting around, and I wonder why they’ve waited ’till this last moment to announce that. I am saying that their total contribution now is $23 million, but you know, $3 million of that is just fixtures, furniture, batting cages, bases, $10 million is prepaid rent.

[00:02:02] Elmore himself told me that is expected over 30 years, not 10 years or 20 years. And again, I think this $10 million might just be sponsorships. I hope I’m not wrong.

[00:02:14] This county is still not committed to the stadium, which was rejected by its own consultants. Now, Commissioner Loveall just told me that that master plan might be revisited in two weeks, and I sure hope so. If not, Mr. Loveall, that’s my ask, I needed an ask, okay?

[00:02:29] The master plan and further design work have been on hold since April for the plan, and further design work since August. In January, this board commented that the city council should not move ahead with the bond while the stadium was so uncertain. Again Mr. Loveall’s terms: ‘Putting the cart before the horse.’

[00:02:52] The county administrator, Mr. Mokrohisky, has yet to determine how much of the 2% increased visitor taxes can be used for a stadium which does not attract visitors. I appreciate Pat Farr telling me in our meeting at the fairgrounds last night that 8,340 rooms were booked for the logging conference, which might have to move to Albany.

[00:03:11] And it’s so ironic that we might build a stadium, not for visitors, but it would drive away visitors to long-time profitable events like the logging conference.

[00:03:23] So finally: The council has been waiting for three elements. One, Mr. Mokrohisky mentioned, that they will be absolved of further financial losses generated by the stadium. So they’re waiting for county commitment, and they’re waiting for secure funding.

[00:03:39] I don’t see the secure funding so far. I just mentioned to Ms. Trieger that Aug. 29, it seemed to me there was a hard stop. Feb. 29 was the decision point, six months, where they had to go forward or put this on permanent hold. So, you can correct me if I’m wrong later, I think we had modification to that since we are waiting for the state legislature, their short term, and also waiting for the city bond measure.

[00:04:07] John Q: With more on the logging conference, speaking to the city council on Feb. 26:

[00:04:12] John Crowder: The Lane County fairgrounds: I went to the logging conference and I talked to a vendor there, two semi loads of equipment came here. He did not have enough space that he requested to show that equipment.

[00:04:24] If you put a ballpark in the Lane County fairgrounds, you’re going to jeopardize the Oregon Logging Conference, is one of the bright stars in the city.

[00:04:34] So my recommendation there is if you’re going to vote, it shouldn’t be a city vote it should be residents and both the county and the city. I don’t know how you do that, but that’s what should be done.

[00:04:44] John Q: At Lane County on Feb. 27:

[00:04:47] John Crowder: John Crowder, I’m going to start off by talking about the fairgrounds. So, I’ve been a resident in Eugene, it’ll be 80 years this March. And I grew up on College Hill, and the fairgrounds was an active part of my life. And so, the logging conference—I was able to go to this weekend for the first time.

[00:05:05] You’ll probably say: ‘Why have you been in Eugene this long and not gone to the logging conference?’ And I had a friend invite me to go to see the equipment. And I talked to a vendor there. And the vendor was from Michigan. He brought two semi trucks full of equipment. He had space. He didn’t get as much space as he wanted.

[00:05:26] So then I reflect (on) that conversation. And growing up, I remember Eugene being the timber capital of the world. Well, I’m not sure if it’s the timber capital of the world anymore, but it is a heartbeat of the economy around here, all the way from woodcutters to Christmas trees and the logging industry. And it’s huge.

[00:05:49] And so then we fast forward to 2024, and we talk about putting a stadium in the fairgrounds, and I’ve been told if the stadium goes to the fairgrounds, then all of a sudden there’s not room for the logging conference with all this equipment.

[00:06:05] So last night I was at the Eugene City Council meeting. The logging conference is a diamond in the rough here—I mean, it attracts people. So what happens if the stadium comes in to the fairgrounds? Well, maybe then the logging conference moves to Portland.

[00:06:23] So, the other thing I talked about last night was free enterprise. Jobs is an important part of Lane County. We need to protect jobs. And the jobs in Lane County, we have all these homeless people, there’s not enough jobs for the people, and there’s all sorts of reasons why we have the homeless.

[00:06:41] So I think one of the biggest things we need to do here is we need to protect small business, the economy, and the logging conference is part of that.

So, evidently you folks, and the city of Eugene, and I guess the state, are going to determine about the ballpark. So, I guess my vote is, that you’ve got to figure something out, you need to save jobs, and I know it’s a complicated issue.

[00:07:04] The other thing that came to attention is that you are, so I guess, an action plan, I would think. The city wants to send this to the voters. I think this ought to go to the voters of Lane County, because the fairgrounds is a county entity on public land, and somehow the whole county needs to decide, and not just the city of Eugene.

[00:07:27] So, my recommendation is that you push for that.

[00:07:30] John Q: A neighbor who lives near the Lane Events Center:

[00:07:33] Lisa Bray: My name is Lisa Bray. I’m just wondering where the stadium would benefit the county, especially through the tourism tax.

[00:07:42] Lane County is a big county. It goes from here to Florence, as everybody knows. And as the previous gentleman said, the logging convention did 8,000 rooms. I’m not sure that the baseball stadium would be able to rent that many rooms even over much longer of a period than three days.

So I’m just wondering: Where does it benefit the county, other than the Ems, when there’s so much work that needs to be done in this county itself?

[00:08:10] And that’s all. I’m concerned about the stadium. I’m a neighbor right there. And that’s not addressed. The plans that you show don’t even show any neighborhood around it. It’s a big neighborhood right there, plump in the middle. And it will affect all of us.

[00:08:25] And I love baseball. Everybody loves baseball. But I think we need to look beyond that, as to the livability in the neighborhood when that moves in—for the environment, for the night sky, for the noise, for the extra parking. The streets are already pitted, as you know, in Eugene, and potholes, and it’s pretty tore up as it is.

[00:08:49] Pat Farr (Lane County commissioner): Last Wednesday, I went to the city council meeting over at City Hall. But they hadn’t told me that they weren’t going to be there, it was virtual. So I sat in the room outside and there were a number of people who, like me, did not know that they weren’t meeting in person. So I had a chance to sit and talk to them.

[00:09:03] And I heard directly they were predominantly people who were immediate neighbors to the west of the fairgrounds, and one of them was Lisa Bray.

[00:09:10] That was at the city council meeting last week. So instead of going to the city council meeting, they had a chance to talk to me and really get their points across. And I listened very hard. And Lisa asked me if I would meet her in her driveway at some point just to take a look at where she lives. And I said I would do that.

[00:09:25] And that was last night, yesterday evening, and Ms. Bray invited a number of neighbors. I will say that there were, I don’t know, maybe close to a dozen people who were there, who live in that immediate neighborhood.

[00:09:34] And so that was what Ms. Bray was talking about, was what Mr. McWayne was talking about. He was there last night. So, you know, I had a chance to stand there at the west side of the fairgrounds where 14th Avenue, pitted, rutted, no drainage, no sidewalks, dead-ends into the fairgrounds.

[00:09:52] And I’d never actually been there before. It’s off of Tyler Street. And I will say that Mr. Crowder, he went to this first logging conference last week. There you are. I went to my first logging conference. I’ve lived in Eugene for 53 years. And I went to my first logging conference last week.

[00:10:06] And to support things that have been said, and I had a chance once again to see what it looks like from the very perspective of living on the end of 14th Avenue, adjacent to the fairgrounds, where the fair operates, where the logging conference operates, where the home show this week is going to be.

[00:10:22] You know, lots of things happen there. The logging conference, the number that I got is there were 8,585 room-nights last week generated by the logging conference—8,585, and you multiply that by whatever that does.

[00:10:37] So our fairgrounds is currently an economic generator for Lane County. It is an economic generator. And so as we move forward between now and what really is a drop-dead date, at least for the Eugene City Council, March 13, we have work to do as a Board of County Commissioners, I believe.

[00:10:52] And I’m telegraphing that, Mr. Mokrohisky, I told you I would ask this question: What is it that we’re going to do between now and March 13? Which is the deadline for the Eugene City Council, if they choose to, to not place the—they had a 7-1 vote to put the $15 million bond on the ballot. They can still withdraw it, or they can still modify it, whatever it may be, as late as (March) 13. What are we going to do between now and then?

[00:11:11] To me it’s important that we as the Board of County Commissioners are able to respond to not one, or two, or ten, or twenty, but dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of people who are sending us letters. I personally responded to more than four dozen people over the weekend who sent messages. So, that’s my questions to you.

[00:11:32] Steve Mokrohisky (Lane County administrator): Chair and Commissioner Farr, thank you for the question. We are looking at the possibility of having a discussion with the board if we have some time. We’re trying to carve out some time on March 12, which is right before the city council’s March 13 meeting.

[00:11:46] We have responded to all their requests to date and the latest inquiry that I had from the city manager was last week after the council’s work session, asking if there was any update from the last update that we had provided.

[00:12:01] And so that’s our intent, is to come and have a discussion with the board on March 12 and seek any additional feedback that you all may have on that so that we can provide that to the city.

[00:12:10] And one other comment I’ll just make: We’ve talked about this project now for a few years. And there’s so much focus right now on: What is the city council going to do to help support the project? What is the state legislature going to do to help support the project? Where is Lane County at in its prior support and potential future support of the project? So there’s a lot of local and statewide entities that are all trying to do what we can do to support this effort.

[00:12:34] The reality is that we’re in this position because Major League Baseball has determined that, you know, new facilities need to be built across the country. They put these requirements in. And so now these local teams and local communities are in the position of responding to that.

[00:12:49] So we all, as a community, Lane County, the city, the state are all doing our best to try to respond to that need, but the reason that we’re in this position is because Major League Baseball has put the team and our community in the position.

[00:13:04] Ryan Ceniga (Lane County commissioner): It’s interesting. I spent a lot of time at the logging conference this weekend, and unlike my fellow commissioner here, I’ve been going for decades. But it’s great to hear from the neighbors also. ‘Cause this is a huge lift for you guys, I understand that. Thanks for coming out here and explaining to us your side of it and what you’re going to see.

[00:13:22] And then, Mr. Crowder, you actually live in my district. You live as far away from Eugene and still being affiliated with Eugene as you can and you understand that the stadium will have consequences.

[00:13:34] As I was meandering through the logging conference after all these years of going, still amazed by the size of it and the kind of equipment that’s there, and the showing, I mean, it’s packed day after day after day.

[00:13:48] At a certain point it was kind of one of those events where you want to pull your hat down and try not to get noticed because it was a hot button topic. ‘Where are we going to park these? Where are we going to park this equipment?’ We keep hearing that, ‘Yes, the equipment will fit,’ but as you’re sitting here looking at it, how? And I didn’t have an answer for that.

[00:14:08] Because look at it, there was people that wanted more equipment. There was equipment outside that was still on trailers because it couldn’t be brought in because it wouldn’t fit.

[00:14:16] So it’s a major event and it’s something that we really are going to have to consider and think about when these kind of decisions are made.

[00:14:23] I’ll just take a second to represent Florence as we talk about this TLT (Transient Lodging Tax) being spent. They’re really concerned about it because the Ems aren’t going to fill beds on the coast. And, they might not be inundating everybody’s emails, but they are inundating my phone. And I need to do some justice and let them know that this decision weighs heavily on them too.

[00:14:51] Laurie Trieger (Lane County commissioner): I’m looking forward to the discussion we get to have in a couple weeks… the big picture, as we discussed more than two years ago…overall project viability and how it is a value-add to the community at large, but to Lane County as an entity, what the plans and possibilities are for operations and so on. I think there’s a lot of bigger-picture questions that we need to answer.

[00:15:12] The Ems have done a great job of focusing everyone on the importance of retaining the team in town, and of trying to hit a sort of target number for a capital construction project that we actually haven’t had current costing on, now that we know some of the other impacts to the property and other buildings affected. So I’m looking forward to that bigger-picture conversation.

[00:15:30] The Lane Event Center is in my district, so I am talking to folks all the time about that site and was before this project came up in fact because it’s a major impact to the good and sometimes creates challenges for neighbors in terms of the three-quarters of a million visitors that we have on that site each year and the variety of events that are hosted there. So I’m looking forward to that bigger-picture conversation.

[00:15:49] And just for clarity to Mr. McWayne: The pause was that we were not expending effort as Lane County, we were wanting to put a six-month window in place for the Ems to try to work to close the funding gap for their project that MLB has forced their hand on.

[00:16:08] And we wanted that project or that runway to be long enough for the legislative session to conclude, should state dollars be something they wanted to go after, and so that’s another reason for (March) 12 as opposed to any sooner because the legislative session will not conclude until (March 10).

[00:16:23] John Q: Neighbors raise concerns about losing the logging conference, which brings money into the local economy. Commissioner Ceniga notes that Florence residents don’t see how a Eugene stadium will help their businesses.

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