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The Ems stadium proposal is on track for more funding, but some fair officials are concerned

State Senator James Manning speaks at a press conference for the multi-use facility project on Mar. 8, 2024.
Nathan Wilk
State Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, speaks at a press conference for the multi-use facility project on Mar. 8, 2024. If this prospective funding goes into effect, the state legislature will have given $15 million in total towards the stadium.

The attempt to build a new baseball stadium at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene could receive another $7.5 million in state funding.

That allotment is included in HB 5201, which passed the Oregon legislature on the final day of the session Thursday. The bill is now awaiting Governor Tina Kotek’s signature.

At a press conference Friday, Eugene Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides celebrated the legislature’s move. He said the project is now closing in on its $90 million price tag.

“We have so much momentum, so much support, I can't see how it doesn't happen,” said Benavides. “I understand that we still have some really important steps to get to, but I'm excited that it's almost done.”

If the bill goes into effect, the funding's release would be conditional, requiring that city and county partners also commit to financially supporting the project.

In communication with the City of Eugene last month, Lane County said it already increased its transient lodging tax to free up funding for the facility, although it was waiting to specify an amount until the project’s needs were more clear.

Meanwhile, Eugene’s City Council will meet Wednesday to discuss if they should ask city voters for $15 million for the project, or retract the bond measure from the city’s May ballot.

Councilors appeared split on the issue in an earlier discussion in February. But on Friday following the state’s allotment, Councilor Matt Keating told reporters he expects the bond measure to proceed.

“If we take that final action, based on what the state has done, based on the buy-in from our county partners,” said Keating, “Eugene voters will have a choice to say, yes, we believe in a project that benefits the community.”

The Concerns

However, some are still skeptical about the stadium project. On Thursday, the Lane County Fair Board announced its opposition, sending a letter to County Commissioners urging them not to move forward with it at this time.

Fair Board President Bruce Webber said he’s a fan of the Emeralds, but there’s unknowns about how the stadium would impact the other activities at the fairgrounds. He said some lucrative events might have to leave the site due to how much space the stadium would take up.

Additionally, Webber said he’s worried about the removal of the fairground’s popular horse arena, as is proposed in some designs. He said this is an important resource for youth development through the 4-H program, but there’s little word of when or where it would be rebuilt.

“We just don't think that the decision to do this should be made until there's been a defined public process that includes the community and the stakeholders, [and] the Fair Board," said Webber.

On Friday morning, Benavides said that he hadn't yet read the Fair Board's letter, but the livestock building’s removal isn’t yet set in stone, and he’d like to work with the board. Project spokesperson Anne Marie Levis told KLCC that developers have already started community outreach, but they’ll do more once funding for the project is secured.

Webber said the city, county and the stadium's neighbors need to be involved in this process.

“The Ems are a big part of the community,” said Webber. “And I would like to find a way for them to stay. We all would. Everybody on the Board wants that.”

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.
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