Think Out Loud

Eugene Emeralds face budget shortfall for new stadium

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Oct. 11, 2023 5:51 p.m. Updated: Oct. 18, 2023 9:50 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Oct. 11

Eugene Emeralds baseball cap.

Eugene Emeralds baseball cap.



Since 2010, Eugene’s minor league baseball team have been playing at University of Oregon’s PK Park. But with a MLB decision to upgrade to a more expanded season, conflicting schedules and facility requirements mean the Emerald’s can no longer play at the field they’ve known for the past decade.

The team has proposed a multi-use facility, but they only have two-thirds of the funds to pay the $90.4 million bill they would need. Allan Benavides, the general manager of the Ems, joins us to share what’s next and what the team means for the community.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Since 2010, Eugene’s minor league baseball team the Emeralds have played their games at the University of Oregon’s PK Park. They recently got a promotion from Major League Baseball, meaning an expanded season. It’ll mean higher quality games and more of them. But that has created a new issue. With a much longer season, the Emeralds will have to find a new stadium. The team is proposing a multi-use facility, but they’re short tens of millions of dollars and are asking for taxpayer support. Allan Benavides is the general manager of the Emeralds and he joins us now. Allan, welcome.

Allan Benavides: Hi, thanks for having me.

Miller: Thrilled to have you on. Can you give us just a brief sense for the Emeralds’ history in Eugene?

Benavides: Yeah, we were founded in 1955, almost 70 years ago, played at Old Bethel Park, and then we played at historic Civic Stadium from 1969 to 2009, and then moved to PK Park at the University of Oregon in 2010.

Miller: I gave the short version, but why can’t you stay at the University of Oregon’s PK Park, where you’ve played for more than a dozen years?

Benavides: In 2020, major league baseball reinvented what the development system is. What we used to know as Minor League Baseball is now called the Professional Development League. And they invited 120 teams out of what was Minor League Baseball into this new league. And they eliminated what was short season, which we used to play for 40+ years. And we got promoted to High-A, similar to the Hillsboro Hops and other teams in the Northwest. A couple teams got eliminated. So Salem, Kaiser, and Boise Hawks got eliminated through that process.

Our lease with the university stipulated that at least our games would start in mid-June. The new league has us starting in early April. We roughly have 70% more games. And the facility at PK Park only has one locker room. So for a significant part of the season, the players are in tents, they’re in trailers. We don’t have female locker rooms. There are three female coaches in the league this year. We have no family waiting room areas. We don’t have storage. Our players can’t access the facility to practice until six o’clock at night, when normally they would get in at one o’clock. And this is not just for the Emeralds, but also for the visiting teams. It creates a huge development issue for us. And when you talk about the business aspect from sponsorships and marketing and concessions, the overlapping seasons are much to bear.

Miller: So what was your initial estimate for how much a new ballpark would cost?

Benavides: We thought that it would cost between $45-50 million. And that number came because we operate a facility in Amarillo, Texas. And that was actually a bigger stadium, that was a AA stadium that was built in 2018. And that was almost $49 million. And you know, the thinking was, we’re going to build a smaller stadium. It’s on the coast, we have seismic issues. We thought we could build it for about $45-50 million.

Well, fast forward a few years, interest rates tripled, supply chain issues, labor issues. The cost of everything has just doubled. And so when the initial cost came back at us, it was like $115 million. And we were floored. Floored! And then we went back to the drawing board with the county and the architects and said, take this out, take this out, and brought it down to about $90.4 million. Which is a lot, I understand, it’s a big chunk of change. But that’s as low as we could get it.

Miller: How much of the funding towards $90 million is already lined up?


Benavides: We have about two-thirds identified, $57.5 million. And a big chunk of that came through the TLT hotel tax that is geared for infrastructure for tourism and venues like these for not only baseball, for visiting teams, but for concerts and whatnot. And we feel that it would be a great asset for the community to have a new facility like this that would be operated by the Ems year round for events throughout the year. But $35 million of that would be there. And then the state has invested about $7.5 million. In fact, the state was the first to say, hey, let’s try to keep the team here back in ‘22. And that gave us the advance to try to find a location and work with the county to identify the fairgrounds as the best possible site. If you’re familiar with the Eugene fairgrounds, they’re very old, they’re very dilapidated. They’re basically in downtown Eugene, they’re about a mile away from downtown. And it’s just a great site to build something like this.

Miller: You wrote in an FAQ on your website that you know there are issues with the Lane County fairgrounds site, and that some neighbors are very concerned. What are the issues that have already come to the fore?

Benavides: I think the big ones are parking, noise, traffic. And those are all things that we’re looking at with traffic studies and trying to figure out in ingress and egress. It’s got to work for the fans. If it doesn’t work for the fans and the community, it’s not gonna work, if it’s difficult to get in and out. We do have a plan to move forward to figure that out. They figured it out at Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon, when they built that beautiful new basketball campus, [we’re] looking at how they did that with parking. So there is a plan already of how to get it done, and we’re going to identify that and see how we can make that even better.

But lights are an issue that people have identified, and with new led technology and very little light bleed, we’re not too concerned about the lights. And then the sound, we’re going to mitigate the sound as best we can with directional sound. But people are afraid of the noise and the crack of the bat and the cheering. But you know, it’s an event center, and we’re really hoping to help revitalize that part of town with this facility.

Miller: So as you noted, something like $35 million would be coming from tourist lodging, from a tax there. But you’re still short something like $33 million, which you’re hoping to get from public support in other ways. What’s your overall pitch for why tens of millions of dollars of public money should be spent on this baseball stadium?

Benavides: Well, it’s more than baseball. Certainly, that’s what’s going to generate revenue for upkeep and the team. But we don’t have a lot of great facilities in town. All the pretty shiny buildings that we have in town all belong to the University of Oregon. Which is a great facility. But as far as the public and folks that live here, the newest thing that we built for our community is really the Hult Center, which is our performing arts building. It’s a beautiful building, built in I think 1982. The community has grown tremendously. We don’t have really good places to host high school graduation, big high school baseball tournaments, concerts. We have an antiquated outdoor arena, which is beautiful, at the amphitheater we have here in town, the Cuthbert. But we need something a little bigger for our growing community. We would love to see that get revitalized.

Between that Portland, Washington, San Francisco I-5 corridor, we believe that this could be a great venue to host nice big events a few times a year. Enhance the county fair that happens annually on campus where they can bring in better shows. And do year round nonprofit and corporate events at the stadium. These are things that we want to do. We have been a community anchor for the past 70 years. We do a ton in this community with fundraising, helping out the Boys and Girls Club, Relay for Life, American Cancer Society. We are ingrained, and have become a part of this community, and want to see this historic team continue to grow for the next 70 years.

Miller: If the vast majority of the money for the stadium came was public money, would the public own this facility?

Benavides: Yes. The county would own the facility. We would have a long term lease. And hopefully, we could have this open by the ‘26 season. But the county would definitely own the facility. And we would help maintain and operate it.

If you look at averages, facilities like this, minor league facilities, not major league, the public investment has been about 72% when you average them. So it’s not a unique problem that we’re facing. Teams across the west coast are facing this.

Miller: You talked about why you can’t stay at PK Park, given the scheduling realities. But what happens if the city or the county balks at this and say, “We can’t put the money for this?” What would that mean for the future of the Emeralds?

Benavides: We would be gone in the next few years. Major League Baseball would look for a different market. There are markets, like Ontario, California, just raised their sales tax 1% to build a minor league stadium, and they don’t have a baseball team. They know that teams aren’t gonna be able to do this. But our city is in a tough spot. We have a budget shortfall. I think it’ll probably end up going to voters. I’m doing everything I can to save this historic team. But it’s a tough issue.

Miller: What do you think would be lost if the Emeralds were to leave Eugene?

Benavides: We’re a blue collar team, man. We are an affordable entertainment venue for families that just want to come out and have an inexpensive night to watch professional baseball players, and come out from their homes and enjoy an outdoor evening away from their phones and computers, and not spend a ton of money. And potentially see big league stars, six of which were on the San Francisco Giants this year that played either in Eugene this season or the season before. That’s the kind of quality of baseball we’re getting. It really is an affordable entertainment item that would be lost to generations of families that have enjoyed coming to Ems games.

Miller: Allan Benavides, we are out of time, but thank you very much for joining us.

Benavides: Alright, thank you.

Miller: Allan Benavides, general manager for the Eugene Emeralds.

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