What’s beautiful about a Hayward Field roar is the way it bounces and builds.
As Denzel Comenentia won the men’s shot put Wednesday in Eugene, he bounded up and down the field, ripping his arms through the air to pump up the crowd. Fans went nuts. It was the 6-foot-1 University of Georgia thrower’s second NCAA championship of the day.
Just a few seconds later, the roar pinballed across the stadium as men’s 10,000-meter runners sped up with just a couple laps to go. The rumbling throats grew louder, and louder, and louder as University of Michigan senior Ben Flanagan chased down University of Alabama junior Vincent Kiprop in the final 100 meters along Hayward’s beloved grandstands.
In July, those grandstands along with the rest of Hayward Field will come tumbling down.
The 2018 NCAA Championships are the last major track meet in Historic Hayward Field before it's completely rebuilt.
The famed grandstands at Hayward will be razed, making way for an enclosed bowl with a transparent roof.
Sandy resident Nancy Allan, for one, is excited about the new Hayward.
“We’re thrilled,” she said. “The stands are crap.”
Allan was leaning against some bleachers with her husband, David, Wednesday during the first day of NCAAs. David wasn’t so excited as Nancy made him out to be.
“I wouldn’t mind if they just redid it some … but I wonder if it’s overkill,” he said. “These new places just don’t have the same feeling.”
The new stadium will seat nearly 13,000, expandable to about 30,000. A nine-story tower surrounded by what amounts to a moat will house offices, viewing areas and media amenities in the northeast corner. New Hayward will also be fully ADA compliant and seismically reinforced. (Historic Hayward is not.)
The design is more Star Wars than Field of Dreams.
The stadium rebuild marks the start of what will be a long three years of preparation for Eugene’s brief moment in the global spotlight: IAAF World Outdoor Championships in 2021.
Eugene has hosted plenty of large-scale track and field events in the past, including U.S. Olympic Trials, NCAA Championships and the annual Prefontaine Classic. But worlds are a different beast.
The event is second only to the Olympics in global track and field. Past hosts include London, Beijing and Moscow. Eugene is easily the smallest city of the bunch with an estimated population of about 168,000. During worlds, Eugene's population could grow by a third.
A new stadium is a big piece of the 2021 puzzle.
Community members knew a Hayward redesign was coming years ago. The university pitched a renovation in 2015. That proposal though preserved portions of the East Grandstand. This latest grandstand-less design came just two months prior to the rebuild's scheduled start date.
Councilor Alan Zelenka represents Eugene's third ward, in which Hayward and the university are located. He said many in Eugene felt blindsided.
“A lot of people had a lot of buy-in to that place [Hayward], a lot of attachment to it,” Zelenka said. “And so [the university] underestimated the feelings people had for it.”
Zelenka and members of the group East Grandstand Supporters initiated discussion of designating the grandstand as a Eugene City Landmark. Though the designation probably wouldn’t have stopped the grandstand’s demolition, Zelenka said it may have bought the community more time to discuss the structure’s future.
City Council ultimately voted against discussing the landmark designation. Despite public outcry, the rebuild appears likely to move forward as planned.
Zelenka said the city will now turn its focus toward three priorities:
- Determine what to do with the East Grandstand and materials saved from the demolition.
- Minimize construction impact on parking, traffic and noise to Hayward's neighbors.
- Develop a similar impact plan for parking, traffic and noise for when construction is completed.
Zelenka said the city went through a similar process during the construction of Matthew Knight Arena, a multi-use facility that hosts University of Oregon basketball.
“Not wanting to just use our neighborhood as their parking lot ... so that the livability of the neighborhood was respected was all the stuff that we were about,” Zelenka said.
“We want the same thing, just kinda lift that model up and plunk it down on Hayward Field.”
The councilor said UO President Michael Schill has agreed to replicate that process to minimize impact to neighbors.
The university has not set an official start date yet, but demolition is expected to begin sometime in July.
Nike co-founder Phil Knight is one of the primary investors in the Hayward project. He acknowledged Eugene's frustration with the design in an interview with The Register-Guard newspaper.
“I’m sure of one thing,” Knight told the paper, “when those bulldozers in July knock that East Grandstand down, I am the most reviled man in Eugene.”
Knight is joined by his wife Penny and 50 other donors funding the project, according to the university. The rebuild is expected to take nearly two years.
For the Allans, the new Hayward presents a host of new opportunities. Nancy Allan, in particular, envisions a successful world championship, bigger crowds at Hayward — maybe even an Olympic bid someday.
“We have the crowd to support that,” she said.
Hayward’s lights came on, shining brightly against a pink-orange sky.
Comenentia climbed the podium to thunderous applause, which melted into the roars for 4x400 relay runners zipping by the East Grandstand that will soon be no more.