April 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Ems celebrate $15 million from legislature; fans lobby Lane County

11 min read
Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides hopes the neighborhood surrounding the new multiuse facility develops an atmosphere like Wrigleyville—the Chicago neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field.

It was a wild week in Eugene baseball history. With the legislature approving $7.6 million for the project, supporters began lobbying the county to move forward with a new multiuse facility for the Emeralds. In Harris Hall March 5:

Dale Hartley: My name is Dale Hartley and I am here today in support of the Eugene Emeralds project. I have three bullet points I’d like to address today. Number one is the impact to our local baseball community and our nonprofit community. I am currently president of the Eugene Challengers American Legion Baseball Program, having been on the board for 28 years and serving as president since 2004.

[00:00:35] The collaboration between our organization, the Emeralds, is a critical component for our program to be able to succeed. Allan (Benavides) and his staff have supported us financially. They’ve promoted our organization. They have been a stout supporter of youth baseball in this community.

[00:00:54] Another hat that I’m proud to be a part of the organization is Sheldon High School Baseball. My son is a sophomore at Sheldon varsity baseball player. I’m currently the president of Friends of Sheldon Baseball, we’re a nonprofit organization that enhances the opportunities for athletes in the Sheldon community. Allan and his staff at the Emeralds have been a stout supporter of Sheldon High School athletics, and particularly our baseball program.

[00:01:18] And finally, the Willamette Valley area Babe Ruth. My wife has chaired numerous regional tournaments, which the Emeralds have supported by hosting opening ceremonies for teams from eight western states that come annually to this community and participate in youth baseball.

[00:01:29] My second bullet point is athletic facilities. I would like to question you and ask you if you know how many regulation 90-foot baseball fields are available in Eugene. The answer is six: PK Park, the four athletic fields hosted at the 4J School District properties, and one public field at the Mannahouse on Old Coburg Road. That’s the only six baseball fields in the entire city that are 90-foot baseball fields.

[00:02:04] If we lose this opportunity, we will lose yet another resource for our youth to be able to play baseball in this community.

[00:02:12] And finally, the economic impact. In 2016, the Eugene Challengers organization was incredibly honored to receive from Travel Lane County, the Sports Leadership Award for over 40 years of supporting this community through our efforts to bring visiting teams to the area to play in our annual summer baseball tournaments.

[00:02:32] I find it incredibly ironic that in less than two hours I’ll be meeting with a representative from Travel Lane County and their Eugene, Cascades and Coast Sports Commission to discuss the importance of the strategic partnership between the Eugene Challengers and their organization in bringing in needed overnight visitors to our community this July with our 48th annual Papa’s Pizza Invitational, bringing 12 teams to our community from 12 different communities outside of Eugene.

[00:02:59] And the 2024 American Legion State Baseball Tournament hosted here at Swede Johnson Stadium.

[00:03:05] Yet, Travel Lane County has been an outspoken opponent of this Eugene Emeralds project, which will not only provide an additional valuable athletic facility in our community, but will also provide potentially planned year-round activities that will spur economic benefit, positive social activities for our families, and we’ll bring visitors to the area that will benefit our hotels, restaurants, and ultimately Travel Lane County.

[00:03:30] Jamie Christopher: I’m Louis James Christopher, everyone calls me Jamie. I’m the current president of Willamette Valley Babe Ruth. I’m a former president of the Boys and Girls Club of Emerald Valley. I’ve been involved with nonprofits in this community for around 20 years. This project, I support the Emeralds stadium project.

[00:03:47] And it’s really about we and not me. The fairgrounds need to be revitalized. A private entity is going to invest over $20 million into a public facility that they don’t own. That’s huge. We need that kind of investment.

[00:04:03] The Eugene Emeralds are so far beyond baseball, I’m not even going to talk about baseball, even though that’s my background.

[00:04:09] When I was president of the Boys and Girls Club, our doors would have shuttered without them. They stepped up, they donated time, effort, and money, and a facility for us to host an event to raise money for our facilities, for our organization. If you talk to any nonprofit in this community, any nonprofit, the Emeralds have stepped up.

[00:04:26] During the pandemic, during the wildfires, I worked side by side with Emeralds employees who weren’t working on baseball at the time (because it was closed), providing food, shelter, clothing, housing, transportation of water, everything. An area for people to organize. Again, we cannot exist as a community without the Emeralds in my mind as I have never seen that. I can’t experience that.

[00:04:50] There are communities around this country fighting and crawling for the baseball that we, that provides the summer entertainment, the family fun and entertainment they provide, the financial benefits, the 300-plus jobs that they provide, the taxes, the nondirect public services that they provide.

[00:05:06] They literally, their contribution to the community is without measure in dollars and cents, even though they are investing over $20 million to a public facility. I want that to resonate. People are watching. I have hundreds if not a thousand people looking at my Facebook page for Willamette Valley Babe Ruth. They overwhelmingly support this project.

[00:05:26] Do not be the reason that we do not have the Eugene Emeralds in our community. Please, please give us a chance. We need them.

[00:05:33] Seth Karpinski: My name is Seth Karpinski. We’ve lived at 15th and Washington in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood for 21 years. I’m here to speak in support of the Eugene Emeralds ballpark at the fairgrounds. In our first year in Eugene, we lived at 19th, just above Willamette, about two to three blocks from Civic Stadium.

[00:05:57] As we were raising our kids, we’d enjoy heading over to Civic for a game. The kids would have the run of the place, if you all remember that, very favorably. Baseball is an important part of the American fabric and the fabric of Eugene, as these earlier speakers have alluded to.

[00:06:17] Baseball in the fairgrounds makes tremendous sense. It’s centralized. People can walk, bike, or bus to the stadium, and there’s parking. Whether it’s early spring or a hot summer night, having a game right in the heart of Eugene would be grand. The fairgrounds is a tremendous asset in our neighborhood. As neighbors, we enjoy it on a daily basis, the wide open space that the fairgrounds provides.

[00:06:45] Seeing it put to use for a bit for the baseball season would be fantastic. As a neighbor, as a 22-year resident of Eugene, and as a baseball fan, I heartily support the Emeralds’ proposal and encourage (you) to support the Emeralds at the fairgrounds in any way you can.

[00:07:05] John Q: On March 6, the Joint Ways and Means Committee considered $7.6 million for the Emeralds as part of Senate Bill 5701.

[00:07:15] Sen. Lew Frederick: Senate Bill 5701 is the omnibus budget reconciliation bill for the 2024 session. It’s only 200 pages, 204 pages long. (laughter) This measure modifies state agencies’ 2023-2025 legislatively-adopted budgets and adjusts general fund appropriations to the emergency board.

[00:07:50] John Q: There was only one opposing vote, from Sen. Lynn Finley.

[00:07:54] Sen. Lynn Finley: My district is 43% of the land mass in the state of Oregon. These budgets that we’ve been going through and passing put $450 million for state pay raises, $20 million for baseball fields, yet it put zero money for youth recreation in my district. It put zero money to assist a county that’s trying to survive on a 75-year-old courthouse. It put zero money for a county to provide health care services and try to keep their hospitals open.

[00:08:21] Provided zero money for Central Oregon homeless programs. Zero money for fire and EMS services where they’re doubling up in a station. Zero money for rural school mental health and behavioral health. Zero money for youth suicide. I could go on, but in respect to your time, I won’t. But I’d be happy to share all that.

[00:08:40] Please join me in voting no on all these budgets. This is not a fair and equitable budget for rural Oregon.

[00:08:47] John Q: The vote on Senate Bill 5701, which included the $7.6 million dollars to help the Emeralds:

[00:08:55] Rep. Tawna Sanchez: Further discussion? Is there objection? Sen. Finley. That motion passes.

[00:09:02] John Q: The Emeralds announced the state legislature’s approval at PK Park on March 8.

[00:09:09] Allan Benavides (Emeralds general manager): Hey guys, thanks so much for being here. We’re really excited about what the legislature did here, and the allocation of another $7.5 million, bringing the total to $15 million to this multiuse facility at the fairgrounds. It’s a really great and wonderful opportunity to build something for the community here that we haven’t had in a long, long time.

[00:09:29] It’s an opportunity to not only host games, but also to do graduations, to do high school baseball championships, to do better concert experiences, not only during the fair, but throughout other events. You know, it’s an opportunity to do boxing and MMA. And it’s just, we’re really excited about the future, what this does.

[00:09:45] But more importantly, we need a resource in case there is an earthquake, in case there are more wildfires. We’ve seen the devastation we’ve had recently. The Emeralds have stepped up every time to help out and to be able to have a resource like this where we can make it like an emergency operations center, in addition to all the wonderful things it’s going to do, is fantastic…

[00:10:04] You know, obviously there’s a lot of support. There’s been thousands of emails and calls in support of this project. It’s been a long slow road to get here—three plus years. We still have a little bit of work to do, but there’s a finish line in sight. Excited to get there.

[00:10:17] Really excited about our ownership who has stepped up to provide just slightly over 25% of the funding to this true private-public development. It’s over $23 million that the Emeralds are putting in, into a facility that we’ll never own. It’s private money going into a publicly-owned facility.

[00:10:33] John Q: He was asked to respond to neighbor concerns about traffic and parking.

[00:10:39] Allan Benavides (Emeralds general manager): The ingress and egress has to work for our fans. They need to be able to get in and out quick for any event that happens at the facility. So if it doesn’t work for the neighborhood, it doesn’t work for the folks coming and using the facility. So we’ll have a robust plan on how to get people in and out of this facility.

[00:10:54] Remember that when parking happened at the fairgrounds during the fair, the fair happens on the parking lot. So there’s nowhere to park. There’s over 2,000 spots right now. It’ll be close to that once the facility is built.

[00:11:05] Right now, currently in PK (Park), when we host the Fourth of July event, we use about 1,100 parking spots. So, it’s more than enough parking to host at the fairgrounds.

[00:11:15] And as far as like noise and whatnot, we want to create a committee with the neighborhood, with the city, with the Emeralds, where we can discuss game times, when a concert is, our noise restrictions.

[00:11:26] I mean, I think those are things that we want to be an advocate and an ally for the neighborhood, and really kind of create this like Wrigleyville atmosphere here in Eugene. You know, it’s just something that’s going to be an amazing experience for not just the locals that live around the ballpark and our facility, but also for everybody that’s coming in.

[00:11:43] It’s just going to be, it’s going to be a dynamic partnership with the community and getting people back downtown, getting some foot traffic, people riding their bikes, using the Amazon path to go to Hot Mama’s Wings or to go downtown and come catch a game afterwards.

[00:11:58] Mike Marzano (Hot Mama’s Wings): Being a small business owner, this is very exciting about the economic boost that this will provide our business and other small businesses in the area. In the 13 years I’ve operated my business, I’ve had more good resumes—with no jobs to provide them—than ever, so the jobs that this will provide to the community is probably the most exciting part for me, as people are out there looking for work now. So I’m excited to be a part of this. I appreciate you guys having me here.

[00:12:31] Matt Sorenson (Boys and Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley): Matt Sorenson, CEO for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley. I think it’s synonymous, the Eugene Emeralds, they go out of their way to be not only giving back to the community, but also supporting those that need it most. We’ve been able to partner with them to host MLB camps in partnership for hundreds of kids, at no cost to the campers, and no cost to the club, we have been able to impact hundreds and hundreds of families.

[00:13:01] And what I like most is that this multiuse facility not only would help us when we want to put on special events as a nonprofit, or help us when we want to see concerts, or things that will enrich our experience as community members, in addition to the baseball, but then they’re also bringing in assets and resources themselves, and they’re investing in Lane County.

[00:13:20] So in partnership with Lane County, with the Ems, with the community, we’re going to get a multiuse facility that will help hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children in addition to the thousands of community members.

[00:13:31] And God forbid if we had a disaster we’d also be able to have refuge there and so we just think this is one of the most important things and it’s one of the many nonprofits that partner with the Ems. We’re honored to be here and we really are excited to see this get across the finish line.

[00:13:45] Allan Benavides (Emeralds general manager): So, excited that it’s almost done. I think we have so much momentum, so much support, I can’t see how it doesn’t happen, but understand that we’ve still got some really important stuff to get to, but I’m excited that it’s almost done.

[00:13:56] I mean just, I just visualize, literally, I don’t know how many times I’ve visualized shovels in the ground, I’ve visualized opening day, I made the comment that I’m going to—my dream is to play the national anthem on my accordion for a game one day at the stadium. I just started playing the accordion, but I’m going to learn how to play it. But that’s a dream. And I’m just—it’s just going to be so great.

[00:14:27] John Q: With state funding in place, the City Council is expected to ask Eugene voters for $15 million. The council will have a final discussion March 13, in time to place the measure on the May ballot.

Section 481 of Senate Bill 5701 includes “$7,614,676 to Lane County for construction of the Fairgrounds Multi-Use Facility.” The SB 5701 Budget Report and Measure Summary explains that the pass-through for the lottery revenue bond project includes $7.5 million for the project and $114,676 for issuing the bond.

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