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Eugene voters to decide on funding for Ems stadium

Eugene Emeralds
The Eugene Emeralds say they'll have to leave PK Park to comply with Major League Baseball's standards. Their plan to move to the Lane Events Center has received pushback from some city officials and other organizations that use the space.

Eugene voters will soon decide whether to approve a $15 million bond measure, which would help fund a new minor-league baseball stadium at the Lane County Fairgrounds.

Skeptics say it's a risky move in the middle of a city budget crisis. But supporters argue it could be the last chance to stop the Eugene Emeralds from leaving.

The Promotion

The hometown crowd cheers when the Ems steal a base, as celebratory music blares from the loudspeakers at the University of Oregon's PK Park.

Since 2010, this space has been home to the Ems, the city’s minor-league baseball team, which is a Single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. For fans, these events provide affordable access to professional sports.

"I get such enjoyment watching the families—the grandparents, the parents with their children," said Warren Beer, an usher at the games. "The smiles on the kids' faces—they just enjoy the game so much.”

However, the Ems now say they must prepare to leave PK Park.

In 2020, the team was upgraded to a higher level of minor league ball, which resulted in a longer season that conflicts with the university’s baseball team.

Ems’ general manager Allan Benavides says this has severely limited his team’s ability to practice. And he says PK Park’s facilities don’t meet the MLB’s new standards.

“There’s one locker room, there aren’t facilities for female staff to change, or for females to have coaching or umpires, family areas," said Benavides. "A lot of things that the Major League Baseball Stadium requirements put forth in 2020, we just simply don't have.”

PK Park during a Ems game in April. The team played under their alternate title, Los Monarcas de Eugene.
Nathan Wilk
PK Park during a Ems game in April. The team played under their alternate title, Los Monarcas de Eugene.

The Pitch

Now, the Ems are looking for a new location. And they have their eye set on the Lane Events Center.

The pitch is to build a county-owned stadium there. The Ems say they’ll use it for 66 games a year, leaving space for other community events. Benavides says the facility could even double as an emergency shelter.

“Yes, it's an open air stadium. But we're working with partners like [Deployed Logix] to have tents ready in case a Cascadia event should happen," said Benavides. "You're going to need open areas where we have showers, we have kitchens, we have places to provide hot food, places to sleep.”

However, the location of the proposal has generated controversy. The Lane County Fair Board publicly opposes the project, because initial designs suggest demolishing a nearby livestock building, and they say they've seen no timeline on when it would be replaced.

Meanwhile, organizers with the Oregon Logging Conference believes their event would no longer fit at the fairgrounds due to the loss of space and parking. They say they'd likely have to leave Lane County entirely.

“It really squeezes us down beyond what it looks like we could adjust to," said conference president Jayme Dumford.

Benavides said the idea to remove the livestock building isn't finalized. He said he'd doesn’t want the stadium to be an obstruction to these events, but a tool to elevate them.

“For this to pencil in for the community, you need to have it used for the logging conference," said Benavides. "You need to have concerts, you need to have graduations. You need to activate the site."

State Senator James Manning speaks at a press conference for the multi-use facility project on Mar. 8, 2024.
Nathan Wilk
State Senator James Manning speaks at a press conference for the multi-use facility project on Mar. 8, 2024.

The Bond

The Ems estimate the stadium will cost $90 million, although that doesn’t include future recalculations for inflation, or the price of replacing the livestock building.

So far, the project has secured federal, state, and private funding. The team is asking Eugene voters to help fill in the gaps.

Earlier this year, Eugene’s City Council chose to send a $15 million ask to voters, but only after some debate.

According to Councilor Jennifer Yeh, Major League Baseball still hasn’t provided enough details for voters to make an informed decision.

“Our communities can’t be held hostage by a for-profit company that's going to demand that we solve their problem for them, without showing us how this is going to benefit us," said Yeh. "How is this going to be managed? Is it going to make money?”

Meanwhile, Eugene is projecting a $14 million budget shortfall over the next two years, which Yeh warns may affect essential services in a visible way.

She’s concerned that supporting an unproven project could erode trust and make voters less likely to approve bonds in the future.

“We know a lot of folks are struggling and additional taxes, and even additional taxes that they know are helping them and are things that they really want can still be a burden," said Yeh. "And tax fatigue is a real thing.”

Additionally, Yeh said the city might raise fees for other services without a ballot measure, making this vote the opportunity to keep costs down.

If this measure passes, the average homeowner would pay an extra $22 a year. Ballots are due May 21.

The Next Steps

If Eugene approves the bond, the project would still need to secure $35 million in county funding through Transient Lodging revenue. If the stadium isn’t actually built, Eugene homeowners wouldn’t have to pay the bond.

Previously, financial consultants for the Fairgrounds advised Lane County not to build the stadium, citing a lack of significant projected revenue and its negative impact on other fairgrounds activities.

If this project fails, Benavides believes that MLB will move the Ems to another city.

"You'll lose an iconic piece of entertainment value that has meant, for generations of Oregonians who have lived here, those memories of going to America's pastime, the ballgame," said Benavides. "You'll never get minor-league baseball back in a community like this."

Benavides said the MLB has given the Ems a deadline. By then, he said they'll need to secure their funding path, location and operating agreement. If everything goes according to plan, they're aiming for an opening in April 2026.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.
Related Content
  • Soon, voters in Eugene will vote on a bond that asks taxpayers to help pay for a new stadium for the Eugene Emeralds at the Lane County Fairgrounds.On this edition of Oregon On The Record, you’ll hear voices from several points of view on the ballot initiative including: the initiative's PAC, Eugene's Mayor, Travel Lane County, U of O professors of sports business, the State of Oregon and neighbors near the project.