Saving Civic’s Spirit

I come to bury Civic, not to raze it. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The sooner we put this week’s devastating fire behind us, the faster we’ll rekindle the pride and collective momentum that its last days portrayed.

Civic’s story focuses naturally on its origin and lifespan. Any of us would be satisfied if we touched as many lives in our 77 years. We may still have among us a few of those citizens who voted to tax themselves in May 1938 to pay off the structure’s outstanding liens. Some of the timber families who donated the materials have never left. Together, they embodied then the single-name we gave for its result: “Civic.”

The past few months have matched those glorious beginnings. Again, the city government stepped up, issued a clarion call for its citizens and business owners to do something civic by doing something for Civic. The call was answered, against all probability. We’re sometimes a town that doesn’t care about the odds. Maybe we’re just not that good at math, or maybe we believe in our core that our passions will carry the day.

It doesn’t much matter what the root of this peculiarity is — it’s deep inside us and we recognize it. It’s the good that’s in our bones.

“It’s like a lot of good things that happen in communities,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said in early April. “It takes real­ly dedicated people who put in a lot of time and use their resources and contacts to try and make things move.” She may have said “communities,” but I believe she meant “this community.”

If we’re to stay true to our best selves expressed in Civic in May 1938 and again in April 2015, we must move forward with the same collective resolve. The next few months must match the last few.

The forces that dedicated themselves to saving Civic envisioned sports and recreation continuing on the site. Soccer is part of the vision, as is a field house for Kidsports. We must honor the vision and dedication of those people. (Sorry, Fred Meyer.) We want only one thing more — whatever we call what rises there, it should represent what we consider “civic.”

Sadly, we now have a leveled playing field — options that may not have seemed feasible before might make more sense now. We have an opportunity here and now to survey our situation and ask again some questions that may be answered differently now.

Eugene just hosted the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. University of Oregon won both the men’s and women’s NCAA Track and Field Championships just a few weeks ago. Phil Knight announced he’s planning to step down as Chairman of the Board for Nike. Vin Lananna unveiled plans for an eight-city professional track and field league. Michael Schill has arrived on campus amid hopes that he can lead the University of Oregon’s $2-billion capital campaign as its 18th president.

Taking all those bits of news together, here’s a question I find myself asking: Is now the time, and is 2077 Willamette Street the place, to build an indoor track and field complex? UO became a football powerhouse only after building the Moshofsky Center in 1997, giving athletes and coaches an indoor training facility.

A similar gift to the track and field program may fit this time and place perfectly.

Schill knows that fundraising relies on a lead gift — one that creates a buzz for the whole campaign. Creating a cousin for Hayward Field and a year-round Tracktown USA might do exactly that.

It must also accommodate soccer and Kidsports, and not look from the street like a misplaced Costco. It must excite both university donors and neighborhood leaders. It must become the hub of activity envisioned by the Eugene Civic Alliance. It must stand as a monument of collaboration between the college and the town — in this college town.

It must embody the good that is now interred with the bones of what was — and must become again — our beloved Civic.

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