|Proposed Kidsports fieldhouse by Cameron McCarthy|
What is today’s best use for the 10.2 prime acres of land including the historic stadium in the center of Eugene?
And how do we pay for it?
Our community has grappled with those civic questions for decades, going back as far as the mid-1930s depth of the Great Depression, when citizens of Eugene voted for a bond measure to buy the property and build a grandstand.
More than 80 years later, the 2015 Eugene City Council soon will respond to citizen proposals for today’s best use. EW writers Camilla Mortensen and Amy Schneider interview Bev Smith, executive director of Kidsports, and Dave Galas, managing director of Lane United Football Club (soccer), two leaders of today’s citizen efforts.
by Camilla Mortensen
Kidsports Executive Director Bev Smith is originally from Canada, where she played twice on the Canadian Olympic basketball team in 1984 and 1996. She led Canada to a silver medal in the 1999 Pan American games and coached the Canadian women’s team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
In Eugene, Smith is perhaps better known as a standout player for the Ducks, where, according to GoDucks.com, she established school records for points scored in a single game (38), season (632) and career (2,063). She then went on to coach the Oregon women’s team for eight seasons before switching to youth sports which, she tells EW, “I find very compelling.”
What drew you to Kidsports?
I believe that number one, activity is very important for children. Personal experience always weighs in heavily, and it was very important for my upbringing and probably saved my parents a lot of grief in terms of they knew where I was and what I was doing. You seem to perform better when you are physically active at school and at home.
And fitness is important — we are human beings, and as a result we have mind, body and spirit. Even without organized sports it was important for me to be out on the playgrounds, just playing, running, jumping, having fun, socializing with the neighbors, all of those aspects we don’t always consider as aspects of team sports. I really felt my childhood was special because of that.
I have watched youth sports change drastically over the last 40 years, since I was child, and certainly in the last 20 years. In the 21st century, youth sports have come a long way, and at the same time there are some elements we should avoid. I felt I could help by giving back and making it a positive, productive element for children.
Tell me a little more about Kidsports.
Kidsports is a nonprofit organization, a 501(c)(3), that for 61 years this year has developed and delivered team sport opportunities for children kindergarten through eighth grade. The mission is “all kids play,” which is a double entendre as we do have minimum playing times, because we feel it’s important that children do sign up so they can play in games. Secondly, the mission is “all kids play” in the sense that we find a way for all kids to play, even if they financially can’t afford the registration fees.
The scholarship program works on the federal free-lunch program: If your child is eligible for free lunch, then you are given a 66-percent reduction in registration fees. Last year we had almost 13,000 registrants in district [4J, Bethel and Springfield], of which about 4,000 had some type of scholarship assistance.
With 13,000 registrants, if you miss out on those 4,000, not only do those deserving children miss a chance but it also reduces the viable leagues we can have.
The eight core sports we offer are flag football, tackle football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, softball, baseball and T-ball.
Kidsports has partnered with city of Eugene and school districts, and we’ve been very fortunate. I think it’s been a mutually beneficial association for all. In the late ’70s, 4J actually asked Kidsports to take over the middle school athletic programs because of budget cuts. Since that time Kidsports has provided after-school team sports opportunities for the community.
What are some of the challenges Kidsports faces that have led it to pursue getting a fieldhouse?
We don’t necessarily own any facilities, but our partners have really good rates to use the schools and city fields. But we have found there are limitations to the number of facilities we have. There’s a real crunch on not only the number of facilities we have in the city of Eugene, but also on access to facilities. Because of budget cuts to schools, a lot of the access hours have been cut due to janitorial budget cuts.
For example, we had almost 200 some-odd basketball coaches at a meeting Tuesday night to begin the basketball season, and we can’t actually fit all of our teams into the gyms we have available here in 4J, so there’s a lot of sharing. Coaches [sharing space on the courts] certainly can empathize with teachers over what it’s like to have 37 students in one classroom.
Part of the plan is to build a fieldhouse at the Civic Stadium site. What is a fieldhouse, anyway, and what would this entail?
There are different definitions, but what we have been looking for in the last two or three years as an organization is an opportunity to construct a fieldhouse that would hold four full-size basketball courts that you could then convert to nine to 12 volleyball courts. The real crunch for us is when the rain and the darkness of winter season begins, everyone goes inside and therefore we don’t have the facilities that can accommodate all of the activities and all of the programs that we have.
Having the equivalent of four new school gyms in one place would certainly provide some extra activity space that we feel would really enhance programs and allow us to facilitate our programs.
We wouldn’t change the core program; we would still go and use the school facilities in the neighborhoods where the children live and where the coaches live. That’s a very important aspect of this whole idea. But having four full-size courts would then allow us to hold tournaments and to allow our regular-season games to run in a facility which is operated and run by us. Currently we rent out space for our volleyball and basketball programs at the Lane County Fairgrounds and at Willamalane in Springfield. Without those courts we would not be able to run a lot of our programs.
If there is a fieldhouse built in south Eugene, would that mean someday Kidsports would have facilities in other areas of town?
That really is our goal; we do feel there is a need. We have people who travel all over the place — 4J people who travel over to Willamalane for our volleyball programs, people who travel up to Meadowview and Prairie Mountain, and then we have the older kids who live up there who come down to 4J where we can fit in the appropriate age groups for the facilities and equipment they need.
Certainly a fieldhouse in the south area would be considered an extra plus, but Kidsports has the breadth and depth to make sure it was accessible to everyone in Kidsports, and in the community whether you live in south Eugene, Churchill, Bethel; even our Springfield registrants would have an opportunity to use that facility.
How would they get there?
The other appealing part of that site is that it’s on a major LTD [Lane Transit District] bus route and accessible to people from all over the city. Our families travel from the Bethel area and Eugene area to go to tournaments at Willamalane but they also go to the Lane County Fairgrounds. People within a certain radius are used to travel.
Would LTD help?
I’m not sure that’s specifically what we’ve talked about, but I do know LTD is very generous in that regard. I know they have a lot of relationships with Willamalane, and I’m certain they would be more than willing to have a discussion with the city of Eugene in regards to that and our organization. That’s a great possibility and something we would be hopeful for because of the [bus] line that it is on.
It’s been discussed that the Y might not have tennis at its proposed new facility. Is that something that has been discussed in the plan for Civic?
It would be very difficult to include in the plan for the gymnasium, but I believe tennis is an activity that is great to teach when you’re young because it’s a lifetime activity. There is some talk to put a tennis facility on the northern parcel that is available. There’s about an acre on the site that right now Kidsports and the other entities are involved — Eugene Civic Alliance — don’t really have a use for, so there’s some discussion with the Y and the tennis-playing community that this might be an option for them.
Is there any duplication in what the Y offers kids and what Kidsports would offer at Civic?
From where I sit, I can say no, I don’t think there would be duplication. And in fact, I think having a Y facility and the couple gyms they’ve proposed to add to their facility and the four we’re hoping to add would almost accommodate everything we are hoping to do in this community. Instead of duplication, it would facilitate helping our kids and adults be active.
The Y does an outstanding job in serving the community, but they are still a membership-based organization, and some families that are part of Kidsports aren’t able to manage those types of expenditures. So I think we would be able serve the community much better in collaborating.
Our fieldhouse would certainly by accessible not only to our children but to adults. We’ve had several discussions with elder groups interested in having a space to move their bodies because, in the rain and the dark, they don’t have a place to walk. They have to go out to the mall. They could walk around the courts and be dry and we would have the opportunity to provide them with some age-appropriate activity as well.
Discussion of fundraising has been centered on getting the land. What about funds for the building?
Certainly that is one of reasons I began looking for some property a number of years ago, is that Kidsports has the opportunity to be eligible for a Community Sports Development Council grant. That is a nonprofit out of Salem that helps physical activity nonprofits to serve their communities. A grant that we would be eligible for could pay 40 to 50 percent of cost of the facility. We would like to see how they might be able help us, but that is something we can’t submit until we have land. It’s a bit of a catch-22.
How would the professional use of the soccer field by Lane United intersect with Kidsports?
The soccer field would be accessible for Kidsports activities; the soccer professional team uses the field for training up to two hours a day and for games. We have had a standing verbal agreement that Kidsports would have access to the field for activities which would really, really help because there is a little bit of shortage of facility space. And with Roosevelt now moving and becoming a new school and taking some facilities and some field space away, certainly a new field would help offset that loss of space. There is also a lot of high school and small college interest in using that field as well.
I think the community has an opportunity to be shoulder-to-shoulder with professional athletes who not only provide an example of how they arrived at a certain level of soccer, but a lot of them, particularly on the Lane United team, have pursued and maintained their education because they know they probably won’t be making millions. It’s kind of a neat way for kids to see that you can do both, and one aspect is not more important than another. There’s a time and place for both. It’s a great opportunity for young children to be close to that.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Kidsports and Civic Stadium?
There’s a lot of confusion over who we are versus who the Save Civic organization is. What we are trying to portray is that we are really trying to transform that area rather than “save” the stadium. We are trying to transform it into a 21st-century grandstand that could help with the initial desire of the community that it be a recreational area.
The stadium is important, but it is only acting in my mind as seating capacity for the soccer [team]. And when you can preserve a heritage building and make it of functional use for the future, I don’t see how people can argue with that because we are going to need seating capacity for the professional soccer team.
We’ve looked at research in terms of getting rid of the grandstand, and building new seats would cost more than refurbishing the stadium. Past articles haven’t really focused on this. There is a lot of polarization when it comes to putting money into that old, decrepit stadium, and I understand that. However, it does serve a great purpose, and it’s fiscally and financially responsible to do it this way.
by Amy Schneider
Lane County loves its soccer, if the packed seats during last summer’s World Cup viewings at Oakshire Public House were any indication. Dave Galas is managing director of Lane United Football Club, Lane County’s semiprofessional men’s soccer team, and he thinks Civic Stadium could serve as Eugene’s premier soccer venue.
With Lane United FC entering its second year of play at Willamalane Center, Galas says he hopes the team can eventually expand into the prestigious USL-Pro League, offering the people of Lane County an alternative to the faraway and spendy Portland Timbers games. But first, the team needs a stadium.
How would you describe the Eugene-Springfield community’s interest in soccer?
The community has been amazing, and we wouldn’t be here at all if not for the community support. We started the club with an idea and a logo and floated the idea to the community, who really got into it. This first season has been amazing — we traveled around the Northwest, which everyone knows is a hotbed for soccer, and we were able to see that the Red Aces [official fan club of Lane United] are already among the best and most animated of the Northwest. So yeah, in our short existence, we’ve had great support from the community.
What is your vision for soccer at Civic Stadium?
Well, it’s sort of in two parts. As a resident of south Eugene, I’m certainly a fan of having something be at Civic Stadium. It was a great community gathering place when the Ems [Eugene Emeralds baseball team] played there. As managing director of Lane United, I have to remove that emotional tie and do what’s best for the club. I’ve done some extensive research as to what makes for a successful stadium, and it really comes down to the location and the involvement with its surrounding neighborhood. And in terms of metrics such as bike-ability, walkability, public transit and the surrounding amenities — they all indicate that [Civic’s] location is absolutely prime for a successful stadium.
How much of the property will a soccer field take? Will there still be room for kids to play?
I think the beauty of the design is that it really brings many components together and makes the site a complete entity that serves the community in a lot of different ways. It can also be developed in phases. We can put in a field and restore the grandstands, and we could be playing potentially within 18 months.
The Kidsports fieldhouse would be a great asset from a game-day standpoint, so the Kidsports element is certainly key. We’d like to bring kids in, have them be elbow-to-elbow with professionals. And that’s also one of the things we really focused on with our players — getting them involved with the community and with the kids, and that’s certainly not going to change. We want to think of it as a visible, accessible site, a focal point for kids being active.
So local kids could play in this space as well?
Yes, that field would be available to Kidsports.
What additions are needed to create a successful soccer stadium?
Greg Ausland from the Ausland Group has looked at this, and he’s been involved in restoring over 30 of the historic covered bridges in the state. It turns out they are very similar to grandstands in construction. He did a thorough analysis of the structure of Civic Stadium and found only two out of 360 columns need to be replaced. The lower bleachers themselves have been exposed to the weather, so they need to be replaced, but the uppers are fine. The roof needs to be replaced as soon as possible, and Friends of Civic Stadium already has the money to do that in its escrow account. We’d need to replace half of the bleacher boards, give it new siding, a little bit of seismic retrofit, and then we’re ready to use it again.
It’s ugly, I’ll give you that. In its current state, it’s an eyesore. But underneath all that, it’s 95 percent structurally sound. So we’d do a whole bunch of cosmetic stuff to fix it, but only a tiny bit of structural work is needed.
Do you see this as a possible economic driver?
I think it could be an economic engine run. That game-day experience in particular is big, to have something of our own that’s not related to the university. It would be a team people can get behind regardless of where they went to school — not just a Ducks thing. Soccer is really popular, especially for the younger demographic. Millennials are looking for nice places to live, and this would certainly fall in line as a good amenity.
In addition to that, the nice, central location of Eugene between Portland and Southern Oregon would make the stadium a perfect place to host high-school playoff games in addition to major tournaments. With the fields at Amazon Park and South Eugene High School so close, bringing Civic Stadium back online as a usable field means we could host really big soccer tournaments, which can bring thousands of visitors for long weekends. Right now, we don’t have the ability to do that. Even smaller cities like Medford and Redding host huge tournaments. For Eugene to do that, bringing Civic back would be a huge factor.
How does Civic Stadium play a part in Lane United getting to the next professional level?
We’re hoping to reach USL-Pro League, and right now we’re USL PDL [Premier Development League], which is semi-pro. USL Pro has a seating capacity requirement of at least 5,000 seats. So, basically, we can’t get there yet because there’s currently nowhere for us to play.
What’s coming up for Lane United this year?
We set our schedule for this coming season, which should be released in the next couple of weeks, and the season-ticket launch party at Oakshire Public House should be coming up at the end of this month. Then we will be off to Spain for some tryouts, where we hope to find a handful of players to bring back, and we’ll hold open tryouts here in town right around spring break. The season starts the first week of May.
What will the team look like?
We had a really good relationship with Oregon State University this past season, and that will continue. By league rules, we can only have a maximum of five players from any one university, so we plan on filling those spots from Oregon State. We’ll also be recruiting nationally and internationally. As we did last season, we’ll play a handful of players from local tryouts, as well.
What are the advantages of having a home soccer stadium in Eugene?
First off, I think Willamalane has been great to deal with as an organization. They’ve been really supportive and continue to be supportive going forward in trying to make the game-day experience that much better for the fans. That being said, their location is a little bit remote, and I know that hurts our attendance. People don’t just go out there on a whim. They have to plan for it. In the Emeralds days, people would just go to a game because it was happening and happened to be close.
I think it would definitely help attendance, but I would still want to pull from all over the area and work with LTD to make it easily accessible to people all over. We certainly are not into it being a Eugene-versus-Springfield thing, but the Civic location has such good walkability to shops and bars, and right up Willamette is the university and downtown — it’s really centrally located for all kinds of post-game activity.
I think it would create that neighborhood game-day experience, much like they have in Portland [Portland Timbers stadium Providence Park, formerly Jeld-Wen Field], where people flood the streets and walk around. That kind of experience isn’t possible at Willamalane. But it’s possible at Civic Stadium.