Sunday, July 18, 2010

July AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

PK Park (photo courtesy of the Eugene Emeralds)

The weather was perfect, the company grand, and the backdrop sparkling. The 2010 edition of the AIA-SWO summer picnic this past Wednesday, July 14, took in America’s pastime at pristine PK Park, new home for the Eugene Emeralds baseball team.(1)

Like previous years, AIA-Southwestern Oregon invited related construction-industry organizations to join us at our annual picnic:
The event was a fun way for members of these different groups to get to know one another better. It also featured all the hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and baked beans you could eat, and a heck of a ballgame to boot (the Ems bested the Tri-City Dust Devils by a score of 3-1).

Pk Park - West Entrance (my photo)

A warm summer evening at the ballpark is the perfect setting for people of all ages to gather, meet, relax, and have fun. Baseball’s languorous pace (due in part to the sport’s unique absence of a running game clock) helps us to unwind, slow down, and soak in the atmosphere. Those who attended the 2010 AIA-SWO picnic reveled in the occasion and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

PK Park - View from the concourse along the 1st base line (my photo)

PK Park
Named after uber-donor (and former University of Oregon athletic director) Pat Kilkenny, PK Park has 2,040 box seats with backs, a general admission bleacher section that holds 480, 53 ADA and companion seats, two picnic plazas, eight upper level luxury suites and a VIP lounge. Much of the seating is sheltered by a cantilevered roof above. PK Park also features a broad concourse that wraps the entire length of the seating bowl. The open concourse affords fans the opportunity to stay in touch with the action on the field as they mingle with friends or wait in line at one of the varied concession stands.

PK Park - View of the field from behind home plate (my photo)

The playing surface is a baseball-specific version of Field Turf, which allows play to occur when the field is wet, something natural grass cannot do.

While not overtly historicizing, PK Park’s architecture does reflect the vogue for new stadia that are reminiscent of the classic ballparks constructed during the early decades of the 20th century. It achieves this impression by using brick (actually tinted concrete masonry units), exposed steel painted deep green, and green seats. The field of play features angled outfield fences and quirky foul territory dimensions, also reminiscent of classic structures like Ebbets Field and Fenway Park that were shoehorned into the urban fabric. The overhanging luxury suites and press box further the allusion to the parks of baseball’s golden age.

Sluggo, the Eugene Emeralds mascot (my photo)

DLR Group’s sports facility design division was the architect for PK Park.(2)

As a venue for collegiate and minor league baseball, there’s no doubt that PK Park compares more than favorably against any other similarly-purposed facility in the country. DLR Group has done an admirable job. So why is the advent of PK Park bittersweet? It’s because its appearance likely signals the death knell for Eugene’s beloved Civic Stadium.

Whither Civic Stadium?
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be good again.”

Field of Dreams (1989) – Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones)

Ty Cobb & "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (1914)

More so perhaps than any other spectator sport, fans of baseball passionately revere its history, rituals, and traditions. It may be because the game harkens back to simpler times when traditions mattered, when everyone knew right from wrong, and the good guys always won. Perhaps it’s because it stirs childhood memories of sons playing catch with their fathers. Or possibly because the more society changes, the more baseball reassuringly stays the same. Baseball’s glorious nostalgia is its most valuable currency.

Prior to the 2010 season, the Emeralds called Civic Stadium in south Eugene the team’s home. Generations of fans watched games from the facility’s wooden grandstand, originally constructed in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. According to Emeralds president Bob Beban, the move to PK Park was precipitated by the increasingly poor conditions at Civic Stadium. At the time of the decision, he cited a litany of major issues with the old ballpark, including a poor irrigation system, broken seats and an unreliable power supply.

Civic Stadium’s owner, Eugene School District 4J, has declared the stadium to be “surplus property” to be disposed of at its discretion. The school district does not have the funds to renovate Civic.

A local community group, Save Civic Stadium, developed its own vision to save the stadium. It hired G2 Strategic, a sports consulting firm, who proposed saving Civic Stadium and developing the surrounding site so that it can host an economically viable mix of events to serve youth and the community at large.

G2’s report recommends that Civic Stadium be rehabilitated and converted from a baseball stadium into a multipurpose venue anchored by a professional soccer team that would be funded by a local private investment group. The renovation of the stadium itself would be publicly financed.
This is a photo taken of Civic Stadium on 7/14...Civic Stadium (Image via Wikipedia)

District 4J intends to issue a Request for Proposals this fall, inviting interested parties to describe their plans for the property and offer a purchase price (or suggest terms of a long-term lease or property trade). G2’s vision for Civic Stadium may only be one of several schemes that 4J will ultimately consider. If the school board selects a proposal to approve, the district will move forward with negotiating a sale, lease or trade.

Regardless if Civic Stadium survives in one form or another, its life as a minor league professional baseball park has ended. This is a shame.

Civic Stadium is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, primarily in recognition of its rarity as a surviving example of a once common style of timber-framed ballpark rather than the merits of its architecture.(3) What makes Civic irreplaceable isn’t its design but instead the memories that were formed there.

PK Park vs. Civic Stadium: An Assessment
My initial impressions of PK Park are that it is a modern, functional, and attractive facility. I only hesitate to proclaim that the Ducks and the Emeralds have hit a home run (pardon the pun) with PK Park because I cannot avoid comparing it to Civic Stadium.

As decrepit and deficient as Civic Stadium was (is), it nevertheless had several things going for it. One was its setting in south Eugene, nestled against College Hill, its grandstand oriented past the outfield toward the southeast hills. During evening games, the setting of the sun against those hills was truly magical. Another was the smell of the freshly cut grass, as quintessential to the baseball experience as the crack of wooden bats and the seventh inning stretch. Civic Stadium’s large sections of bench seating also fostered a more relaxed attitude toward how families and friends interacted in the grandstand than is now possible at PK Park.

Coupled with its timber construction and long history, these and other factors endowed Civic Stadium with great appeal. Unfortunately, such charm cannot be fabricated from whole cloth. PK Park skirts the perils of historic pastiche, but just barely. Only time will tell if the community will embrace the new building. It will take the passage of many years for PK Park to acquire an engaging patina to rival that which Civic Stadium enjoyed.

(1) Of course, PK Park was purpose-built for use by the resurrected University of Oregon Ducks baseball team, which resumed PAC-10 play in 2009. As such, the stadium’s design was tailored to the college game and not entirely for professional, minor league standards. For example, the stadium presently lacks a visitors’ locker room, a deficiency that will be remedied by future facility upgrades.

(2) Prior to retaining DLR Group, the University of Oregon originally commissioned my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, and Cameron McCarthy Gilbert & Scheibe Landscape Architects to develop a master plan for the new stadium. We tested alternative configurations for the ballpark, and executed the first phase of PK Park’s development (the design of the field of play).

(3) Natalie Perrin, at the time a graduate student at the University of Oregon, prepared the application for Civic Stadium’s listing on the National Register in 2008.
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1 comment:

Weisenheimer said...

A pity that Civic Stadium has gone away. It was my favorite venue on our 2008 Northwest League tour.

One could nearly accept the notion of the new park were it not for the phony turf. I'm with Dick Allen and Crash Davis: Real grass rules.