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Register-Guard: Hundreds Chime In On Debate Over Civic

The Register Guard | Feb. 18, 2014 7 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2014 10:57 a.m. | Eugene, Oregon

Contributed By:

Josephine Woolington

No matter which Civic Stadium offer the Eugene School Board chooses tonight, the decision is likely to leave a number of voters angry.

Some residents have vowed they will not support the school district at the ballot box if the board chooses Fred Meyer and its developer’s proposal.

Others have said that if the board doesn’t select Fred Meyer or the Eugene Family YMCA, they won’t vote “yes” on any future bond measures or operating levy renewal requests sought by the district.

The school board will select an offer for the 10-acre property at its meeting tonight. At least two members have said they are likely to pick the city of Eugene’s offer, which is the only proposal that seeks to preserve and renovate the historic ballpark near 20th Avenue between Willamette Street and Amazon Parkway.

Board members say they’ve received more than 500 emails urging them to vote a certain way. Board member Craig Smith said it “annoys” him to read emails from voters who threaten to not support the district, depending on which proposal board members choose.

“It disregards the importance of taking care of our kids,” Smith said.

Superintendent Sheldon Berman earlier this month recommended that board members choose the city’s offer, which would give the school district $4.5 million for the property, using funds from a parks and open space bond measure approved by city voters in 2006.

The offer, however, depends on private groups raising at least $3 million in six months to renovate the stadium. The City Council could take an additional three months to approve the final plan.

Berman said the city’s offer would be the easiest transaction, giving the district the most money in the shortest amount of time. Property closing for the Y’s and Fred Meyer’s offers could take years because of rezoning and other land use changes.

If the city can’t raise the money to complete the deal “it would be a pretty solid public response” that the community didn’t want to save the stadium, Berman said.

“This is the last best offer on Civic,” he said.

George Russell, a former Eugene School District superintendent and now an independent education management consultant, said Berman’s recommendation is politically wise and practical.

If the school board follows his recommendation, “it will be able to get the political angst (about the stadium) off its back by giving it to the city,” Russell said.

Plus, south Eugene residents are strong supporters of school district ballot measures, he said.

“If you go back and look precinct-by-precinct, the south Eugene area has always been a pretty consistent supporter of bond and levy elections,” said Russell, who added that he doesn’t think Berman’s recommendation was made mainly to avoid alienating south Eugene voters who would be upset if the board chose the most generous offer, from Fred Meyer.

The Eugene Family YMCA is offering to buy Civic for $4.5 million. Fred Meyer and Powell Development are offering $5.25 million. Alternatively, the retailer is offering a 20-year ground lease for $400,000 a year for the first 10 years, and $440,000 a year for the last 10 years, and would purchase the property for at least $10 million once the lease is up.

The district’s local option levy — which provides about $8 million a year for district operations — expires in June 2015. The district plans to ask voters to renew the tax either this coming May or November, or in May 2015.

South Eugene resident Greg Giesy said he’s heard talk about voter backlash if the district chooses the Fred Meyer option.

“People with influence in south Eugene are talking about boycotting the school district’s measures if a Fred Meyer goes through,” said Giesy, a longtime member of the Friendly Area Neighbors board. Giesy said he personally would like to see the grandstands saved while having a Y facility next to the ballpark.

The school board should also consider that not every south Eugene resident has school-age children and may not benefit from the added revenue that Fred Meyer could provide the district, Giesy said. The city’s proposal would benefit the neighborhood more in the long run, he said.

“I think the school board should look long and hard at that,” Giesy said.

Jodie Rogers, a southwest Eugene resident, said if the board doesn’t choose Fred Meyer, the district will lose her support. Not choosing Fred Meyer’s offer would show a “lack of stewardship of the resources they have available to them,” she said.

“The Fred Meyer proposal meets a lot of the long-term needs of the neighborhood and provides more long-term financial return to the district,” Rogers said in an email.

If the city’s offer falls through, school board Chairwoman Mary Walston said the board would likely solicit requests for proposals again.

Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill told board members at a recent meeting that the retailer would still be interested in acquiring the property if the city can’t complete its offer.

“We’ll stick it out,” Merrill said.

Y Executive Director Dave Perez said that the nonprofit agency’s board will decide the Y’s next steps in April, should the school board not choose the Y’s bid. He said the Y would be open to working with the city to possibly co-locate on the Civic site.

Or, the Y would consider working with the school district to explore a potential facility next to Roosevelt Middle School if the Y could break ground no later than 2016.

— Reporter Edward Russo contributed to this story

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