Knight’s New Stadium Would Fit Near College Hill

Eugene hasn’t had the best of luck with land swaps lately. Both the EWEB site and the county courthouse have taken forever and their futures are still uncertain.

Two public land deals that have gone smoothly don’t readily spring to mind, because one wasn’t recent and the other wasn’t substantial. It seems like it was 100 years ago when the city intervened for the Civic Stadium site. The Eugene 4J School District relinquished the property and it’s now owned by the Eugene Civic Alliance.

The other small success involved a decade-old agreement to sell a small parking lot next to the millrace to the University of Oregon. It recently exercised that option to make more room for the new Knight Campus being built along Franklin Boulevard.

The University and the Eugene Civic Alliance share the best track record for land deals, so I’m thinking they might want to meet to discuss a new opportunity to reshape and resize their futures.

The Eugene Civic Alliance tragically lost their historic Civic Stadium grandstand in 2015, when three young boys learned too early how to spell “incinerate.” Preserving that grandstand was central to the group’s vision and efforts. It’s remarkable that they have continued to build their vision for a recreation and entertainment hub after their cornerstone of preservation went up in flames.

Meanwhile, the University is hoping to move quickly for mega-donor Phil Knight’s latest architectural ambition. He and his team have designed a brand new facility for track and field that would be unmatched in the United States, and maybe in the world. Let’s not call that facility Hayward Field, because it replaces Hayward’s trademark triangularity with curvaceous glass.

Several people have suggested that the University would find a ready recipient for Hayward’s fabled east grandstand, if it could be moved to the Civic Stadium site. Eugene would turn out in droves to cheer the grandstand’s ceremonial run to Willamette Street, as they did last Sunday to cheer the marathoners.

That structure, after all, has been moved once already. The 500-ton grandstand was moved 2.5 inches less than 12 yards east in 1987, to make room for the track to be converted to metric standards. If it could be moved 12 yards then, it can be moved 20 blocks now.

Or not. Civic architect Otto Poticha has described Knight’s latest vision as “the caterpillar that ate Agate Street.” He faults the curvaceous design for being out of scale for that cramped portion of the university’s central campus. He’s right. Autzen Stadium was built north of the river. Matthew Knight Arena is sited on a busy thoroughfare.

Poticha likes the design itself. He just thinks it’s being built in the wrong place. Why not build it on Willamette Street instead? Eugene Civic Alliance’s bare lot sits between two busy roads, near a growing and vibrant business district. And it’s shovel-ready.

If the University and the Alliance swapped facilities, both visions could be realized more quickly. Knight’s architects could get to work immediately, without being slowed by historic preservation details. The Alliance could begin outdoor concerts this summer, while plans are drawn up to convert the field for professional soccer next year.

The Hayward Field site leaves no room for a Kidsports fieldhouse, but so what? MacArthur Court is only a javelin’s throw away, the University has no plan to refurbish it, and Kidsports Executive Director Bev Smith knows that building as well as anyone.

Allowing the University to expand its footprint to 20th and Willamette would itself restore history. The nearest neighborhood is called College Hill for a reason. That’s where this city’s love for higher education began.

In 1856, a handful of Presbyterian ministers opened Columbia College for 52 students at 19th and Olive. The school was co-ed and anti-slavery — radically modern positions for the day. The building was burned down a month after it opened its doors, but it was rebuilt twice.

We can preserve history by repurposing Hayward Field and Mac Court. We can also rebuild history by siting something radically modern in the shadow of College Hill.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.