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Buying time for Civic.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The ideal result of the legal proceedings over the fate of Eugene's Civic Stadium would be a court order that freezes time. Civic Stadium could then remain the perfect minor league baseball park for an eternity of summer evenings.

Unfortunately, it is beyond Lane County Circuit Judge Karsten Rasmussen's power to produce such a result. He'll have to decide in favor of either the Eugene School District, which owns Civic Stadium and its 10-acre site, or the city of Eugene, which deeded the property to the school district in 1938. A victory for the city offers the best hope of keeping baseball at Civic Stadium, at least for a while, and ensuring that the property remains in public hands for recreational use.

The two local governments have asked the court to resolve a dispute over restrictions on the deed, and have agreed to abide by Rasmussen's decision. The city claims that the property can be used only for recreational purposes, as required by the 1938 deed. The language in the deed has political as well as legal weight - Eugene voters amended the City Charter and approved a property tax levy to retire the debt on Civic Stadium site. Those votes immediately preceded the transfer of the land to the school district for the token sum of $1.

The school district argues that the deed restriction no longer applies. Parts of the property have been used for such purposes as bus parking over the years, and seven of the original 17 acres were given back to the city for the right of way that became the Amazon Parkway - clearly not a recreational use.

In arguing against the deed restriction, the school district is acting as a good steward of taxpayers' resources. The district no longer needs Civic Stadium, and it has declared the property surplus. The property will be worth more if it can be sold or leased for uses other than recreation. While the school district has no immediate plans to dispose of the property, it is acting now to deepen the pool of potential buyers and ensure the highest possible price.

A decision in the school district's favor could have the unwanted effect of creating an incentive for a sale of the property. The district has a responsibility to make the most of its assets, and financial comparisons might favor development over a continued lease of Civic Stadium to the Eugene Emeralds baseball club.

Whatever the judge decides, the Emeralds' long-term future probably lies somewhere other than Civic Stadium. The 69-year-old structure needs repair and remodeling, and the school district would have a hard time justifying such investments. Fire and liability insurance costs for the wooden structure are high and going higher. As pleasant as Civic may be for most fans, others are poorly served by a stadium that falls short of meeting the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

If Rasmussen decides in Eugene's favor and the Emeralds were to leave Civic, the school district would be stuck with a recreational property without a recreational user. That's what the school district is hoping to avoid.

Yet the public interest is not necessarily best served by whatever result produces the highest market value for the Civic Stadium property. The Civic Stadium property may find other public uses after the Emeralds' departure. A 10-acre parcel close to downtown, the University of Oregon and some of Eugene's most densely populated neighborhoods always will be an asset as open space. And if the prospect of developing the property were to become irresistible, Eugene voters could be asked to remove the deed restriction.

In the meantime, a finding in Eugene's favor would reduce pressure to make changes at Civic Stadium. Such a finding wouldn't freeze time, but it might buy some.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; The stadium's future is at stake in court
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Previous Article:CORRECTIONS.

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