Sacramento to vote on $477 million arena after long struggle to find new home for NBA's Kings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento’s city council is expected to vote Tuesday night on a $477 million downtown arena for the Kings, capping off a lengthy struggle to keep the NBA franchise and build it a new home.

The outcome is uncertain, although a majority of the nine-member council has consistently voted to support various aspects of the arena planning process. Much of the credit for keeping the Kings in California’s capital has gone to Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former three-time NBA All-Star who maintains strong connections to the league.

The team sponsored a rally outside City Hall to show support for the project, drawing hundreds of fans, many of them dressed in purple, the team’s colour. The Kings have played in Sacramento since 1985 and currently play in the 26-year-old Sleep Train Arena, in the city’s north end.

Greg Boehl, 28, was one of the first to line up outside the building for one of 200 seats inside the council chamber. Wearing a Kings hat, shirt and purple party beads, Boehl said he was excited to show support for the team.

“I’m just a fan, a season ticketholder and proud resident of Sacramento that wants to see the city grow,” he said.

At the start of the meeting, Kings President Chris Granger called it a historic day for the team and Sacramento region, saying the arena would serve as a hub for economic development. The project would bring 11,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, he said.

“This is bigger than basketball,” Granger said. “And it is. This is about jobs.”

The plan before the City Council provides details on financing and construction of the new sports and entertainment complex, which would replace an aging shopping mall a few blocks from the state capitol.

Critics unsuccessfully tried to block the city’s subsidy with a petition drive that failed to qualify for the ballot. They said the city is taking on more risk than it can afford and has hidden the full amount of the public subsidy.

Craig Powell, president of Eye on Sacramento, a local public interest group, said the city has bent over backward for the team. The project won’t revitalize the area as the team and city suggest, he said.

“We are deeply troubled with the fact that the city has done everything in its power to deprive the voters of a chance to decide whether the city should run up $300 million of debt for a civic amenity,” he said.

Council members who have opposed the deal also said that the project’s economic benefits to the city are overstated.

The arena plans call for a 35-year lease agreement between the city and the Kings. The city would be responsible for a $223 million subsidy, much of it financed through a bond backed by the city’s parking revenue. The city would pay an estimated $21.9 million a year in debt service that would be paid through lease payments from the Kings and a projected increase in parking revenue.

The city also is transferring $32 million worth of land and allowing the team to operate six digital billboards.

In return, the Kings would replace the shopping centre and build a crown-like sports facility at the western gateway to the city near the Sacramento River. According to the team, the 17,500-seat arena will be slightly larger than the Kings’ current home and will feature a see-through entrance and a silver exterior with diamond-shaped windows. A key element includes four-story-high windows that will fold upward to create an indoor-outdoor amphitheatre.

The Kings are expected to contribute $254 million, which includes plans to develop the adjacent property with a hotel, office tower and shopping.

If the council approves the deal, the Kings are scheduled to break ground this summer and open the arena in October 2016, in time for the 2016-17 season.

The NBA had told the city that it must open the arena by 2017 or risk losing the Kings. Former Kings owners George, Joe and Gavin Maloof considered moving the team to Las Vegas, Anaheim and Virginia Beach, Virginia, until announcing an agreement that called for investor Chris Hansen to buy the team and move it to Seattle.

Johnson led the city in a fight to keep the Kings and got the City Council to approve a plan for a new arena. The Maloofs then sold the Kings to a group led by TIBCO Software Chairman Vivek Ranadive.