A lot of people have told Allan Benavides it’s impossible to find a spot for and build a new home for the Eugene Emeralds by April 2024.
Benavides, the baseball team’s general manager, told members of the City Club of Eugene he isn’t buying it.
“You know what they also told me was impossible? Winning a championship when I moved here,” he said, referencing the team’s three league championships in the past five seasons.
The Emeralds, a professional development league team that’s called Eugene home for more than 60 years, have been searching for around a year for a new home stadium after a promotion to the High-A league and long-season baseball meant the University of Oregon’s PK Park was no longer an option.
If the team doesn't find a new home, Major League Baseball may relocate the Emeralds to another market.
Lane County staff and consultants are working with the Emeralds to see if it’s feasible to build what the team is calling a “New Civic Stadium” at the Lane Events Center. The name heralds back to when the Emeralds played at Civic Stadium on Willamette Street near Amazon Park, where the new Civic Park is located.
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A designer and consultant helping the county with the master plan for the events center said during a meeting in December that there’s a good spot on 7.6 acres north of the Livestock Building and west of the parking lot to put a stadium that meets new MLB standards.
Benavides and the team are “through the roof excited” about a possible partnership with Lane County.
The county would build the multiuse facility, with the team and MLB making sure the building and amenities are up to standards, he said, and the team would lease the space.
Designs are likely at least a few months out, Benavides added, since the team and county are still in the exploratory phase looking at funding opportunities and haven’t started a public process to find architects, engineers and other contractors.
The facility would require significant public investment, as the Emeralds are prepared to contribute $10 million toward a price tag Benavides said would have been $45 million before the coronavirus pandemic but likely will be millions higher now.
The team doesn’t have a financial agreement with MLB that could help with funding, Benavides said, meaning local and state funding are crucial.
That means the Emeralds likely need some kind of commitment from the state in the 35-day legislative session that starts Feb. 1, Benavides said, to show MLB there’s some kind of progress.
Emeralds employees are working with nearly all of the county’s delegation to the Oregon Legislature, he said, and county staff also are working with state officials.
A lack of support, he said, “really (would) put us at risk to lose the team.”
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He encouraged people to reach out to local delegates, write letters to The Register-Guard and otherwise advocate for the new stadium.
If MLB or the San Francisco Giants do decide to move the team, Benavides said, the Emeralds likely would go to Washington state.
“All the economic output that this team does, all the community efforts that we do, would just be gone,” he said.
Benavides is hopeful and excited about the partnership despite the time crunch and funding gap.
He knows getting it funded and built in just over two years seems impossible but said the community needs to make it happen.
“We’re going to build this,” Benavides said. “People love this team way too much to not make it happen.”
Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Emeralds 'through the roof' about possible county partnership