Hayward Field to get a remodel



 Before
 After


From the outside, Hayward Field looks exactly as it did in 2015, when the University of Oregon announced plans to renovate its iconic track and field venue.

By now, the aging facility was supposed to have been replaced by a state-of-the-art stadium capable of accommodating the 2021 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Instead, the project stalled as the university searched for a design that would satisfy the International Association of Athletics Federations, Eugene’s hard-core track fans and the school’s largest donor, Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

The university says it has found that design — which includes a complete teardown of the East Grandstand, once slated for partial preservation — and will unveil plans to the public next month. But some stakeholders, including the son of legendary Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, have expressed concern about what they see as a lack of transparency surrounding the project.

“I definitely support the idea of the renovation, but I worry (about) the direction it’s going right now, without public input, and without disclosure, and without the opportunity for stakeholders to participate and share in ownership of it,” Jay Bower­man said.

The clash between history and modernity is a familiar one at Oregon. This time it involves two legendary figures in the history of track and field: Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, the coach and the middle-distance runner who went on to found Nike and alter the landscape of the sport indelibly.

Oregon says the new stadium will honor the legacy of Bill Bowerman, who died in 1999. But Jay Bowerman said the secretive nature of the project has left some stakeholders feeling shut out, prompting speculation and anxiety among those faithful to Hayward Field’s history.

“My worry is that by following a process like this, it just opens the door for rumor and issues that run the risk of jeopardizing the project, the university and the reputation of Eugene and the state,” Jay Bowerman said. “It just doesn’t make sense. It’s just not the right way, at least I don’t believe it’s the right way that things should be done.”

Project ran into delays

Renovating Hayward Field was one of the first orders of business after Eugene landed the 2021 World Championships. Along with upgrading amenities and replacing crumbling infrastructure, designers needed to expand the stadium to meet the 30,000-seat capacity stipulated by the IAAF.

Oregon unveiled plans for a redesigned stadium in September 2015. The concept, inspired by Nike’s Tinker Hatfield, called for preserving elements of the East Grandstand, the oldest and most iconic part of the venue.

“With Tinker Hatfield’s magnificent design vision, Hayward Field is sure to set a new standard as the home for athletes from across the world,” TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna said at the time.

Almost immediately, the project ran into delays. Construction was pushed back to accommodate the relocation of a cellphone tower, then was stalled again by what were described at the time as “design issues.”

Sources trace the change in direction to one overriding factor: the involvement of Knight, who had been a more passive participant early in the process.

Fundraisers recognized the renovation wouldn’t happen without Knight’s support. The project moved ahead with his tacit approval, but the initial design failed to elicit an enthusiastic response or a firm financial commitment.

“I just don’t think he ever bought into it,” said a source involved in the project.

The involvement of Howard Slusher, Knight’s longtime confidant and Nike associate, signaled a shift in direction. Slusher, a former sports agent known for his hard-nosed negotiating tactics, joined the design team about a year ago and began implementing a vision more closely aligned with Knight’s.

Slusher also oversaw construction of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and the Jaqua Center for Student Athletes, Knight-backed projects on the Oregon campus. He is a controversial figure in Oregon circles, not known for compromise or broad collaboration.

“You look back on Howard’s involvement with other projects at the University of Oregon, and the record doesn’t look real good,” Jay Bowerman said. “It clearly shows that when he’s got a hand in it, he’s going to do it his way and he doesn’t really much give a crap how anybody else feels about it.”

Paul Weinhold, CEO of the University of Oregon Foundation, said the design team went to great lengths to seek outside input, visiting facilities in eight countries, consulting a raft of experts and incorporating ideas from coaches and athletes who will use the stadium.

Though Slusher is charged with executing aspects of the project, ultimate authority rests with the university, Weinhold said.

“Howard is a bulldog when it comes to execution and getting things done, but the university, they’re the ones who approve the project,” Weinhold said. “They approve the design and Howard gets the job done.”

“Hayward magic”

Erected in 1925, Hayward Field’s East Grandstand holds a special place in the hearts of Oregon track fans. The wooden bleachers are where fans cheered star Steve Prefontaine on the back stretch, where Bill Bowerman held court with his athletes and where the term “Hayward magic” originated.

Preserving the look of the East Grandstand, either in structure or in spirit, was central to the original design concept. Quietly, the university has since decided to raze the East Grandstand and replace it with a structure more congruent with the rest of the stadium.

Rumors of the design change sparked concern for many in Eugene’s track community, including Scott Krause, who started a petition on change.org to keep Hayward Field from being demolished. It has about 350 signatures so far and has been getting support on Facebook from former Oregon thrower and assistant coach Sally Harmon and Neta Prefontaine, one of Steve Prefontaine’s sisters.

Krause’s main focus is the East Grandstand, which was built during the coaching days of Bill Hayward himself.

“I think we need to do what we can to save that structure,” said Krause, who worked in promotions and marketing at Nike under Geoff Hollister during the late 1970s and early 1980s. “This place is the Carnegie Hall of track and field and even if it does cost more money to save parts of it, there should at the very least be a discussion.”

Weinhold said the challenges of preserving the East Grandstand became apparent as the project progressed. Along with issues of structural integrity, he said architects felt the grandstand would look out of place with the rest of the facility.

“There was a really strong desire to maintain Hayward Field on the east side,” Weinhold said. “As we went further along, we recognized with engineers and all the experts that the East Grandstands are basically rotten (with dry rot). They’re falling down.”

The private nature of those deliberations has left some stakeholders feeling shut out of the process. TrackTown USA has relied heavily on community support to stage a series of large meets, including the Olympic Trials, the NCAA Outdoor Championships and the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships. With the future of Hayward Field in the balance, some of those supporters say they’ve been left in the dark.

“We all feel very strongly about historic Hayward Field,” said Bruce Mortenson, a 1965 NCAA steeplechase champion for the Ducks and longtime Oregon Track Club member. “People in town here who have been fans for years, OTC members, alumni, it’s pretty meaningful to them.

“They probably will come up with something really, really nice, but gee, I wish they would’ve had at least some open meetings where we could’ve given input. … People who’ve worked there or fans who have been there could say, ‘Well, we’d like to see this or that.’ Whether they used it or not isn’t even the point. It’s a public university.”

Privately funded

As with other projects financed by Knight, Oregon plans to lease the property to a private LLC for the purposes of construction. Rather than use the entity originally established for that purpose, Hayward Enhancement LLC, the property will be leased to Phit LLC, a company registered to the UO Foundation and backed by Knight.

That arrangement has been criticized as a way to circumvent the usual disclosure requirements for a public project. Because the project is being funded strictly through private donations, Weinhold said, the university isn’t obligated to disclose its contracts or construction costs.

“The only reason we do it this way is because it’s a privately funded project,” Weinhold said. “There are no state funds. We honor all of the state labor and wage laws. It just makes it a separate project from the university.”

Though details of the project remain scarce, those involved believe spectators and athletes will be pleased with the result.

Oregon track coach Robert Johnson hasn’t seen the latest designs but said he’s been told his team will get everything it asked for, including locker rooms, training facilities, meeting rooms and everything currently packed into the undersized Bower­man Building, which is also scheduled for demolition.

“This is going to be wonderful for the program, something that we’re going to be able to use for 365 days a year,” Johnson said. “It’s not, ‘We’re just building this for the world championships.’

“All throughout the process, from the beginning, they’ve reached out to us and asked us what we need to continue to be successful.”

If Johnson had one quibble, it was an oft-­revised timeline that originally called for the stadium to be finished in time for the 2017 track and field season. The current plan calls for construction to begin in July, run through the 2019 season and be completed by April 2020.

“I try not to let those things weigh you down because you have no control over those things because they’re out of your hands,” Johnson said. “But one thing I do see is there is light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully this thing is over and done with before we know it.”

No matter what the finished product looks like, Johnson is confident the new Hayward Field will have one thing in common with its former version.

“It’s the people. It’s not necessarily the place,” Johnson said. “Places change; it’s the people that make this place special.”

Bowerman’s spirit

Capturing the intimate feel of Hayward Field in a larger venue is one of the challenges facing designers of the new stadium.

Though the number of permanent seats is a matter of dispute, Oregon lists current capacity at 10,500. Original plans called for increasing permanent seating to 12,100, though the university says a final number has yet to be determined. The stadium would utilize temporary seating for events requiring more than 12,100 seats.

The ability to fill those seats for meets beyond the World Championships is a concern for those hoping to preserve Hayward Field’s unique atmosphere.

“When the magic is there, it’s incredible,” Jay Bowerman said. “You leave a facility half-empty, and no matter how excited the remaining fans are, it just doesn’t happen anymore.”

Though he’s concerned about the direction of the project, Bowerman said the friction hasn’t affected his relationship with Knight, whom he described as “a very dear friend, and very much a part of my family.” His worry is that by the time designs are released to the public, the tight timeline leading up to the 2021 World Championships will leave no opportunity for community input.

“Everybody recognizes that Phil Knight has pledged a lot of money toward this, and everybody’s concerned that we’re so far down the road that if anybody starts making waves, it’s going to jeopardize everything,” Bowerman said. “I have to say that yielding to power and influence out of fear, just out of principle, is not the right way to make decisions.”

University officials don’t deny that Hayward Field is about to undergo a massive transformation. They say the changes are in keeping with Bill Bowerman’s spirit of innovation, which defined his relationship with Knight and the company they founded together.

They hope that spirit will remain, even after Hayward Field comes down.

“I can’t imagine too many people care more about the legacy of Bill Bowerman and Hayward Field than Phil Knight,” Weinhold said.

“This place is the Carnegie Hall of track and field and even if it does cost more money to save parts of it, there should at the very least be a discussion.”