Jubilant officials emerged from a hearing at Sacramento City Hall on Thursday and proclaimed the region is further along in its quest to build a new sports and entertainment arena than it ever has been before.
But the region has seen other arena efforts take shape, only to implode. The sticking point once again will be financing how to pay for a new facility and how that cost will be divvied up between taxpayers and private sources, such as the Sacramento Kings.
Arena proponents hope to hammer out those key details over the next 100 days. That's the timetable set for a yet-to-be-formed regional commission that will be tasked with developing a financing plan for a $387 million arena. The facility is proposed for a city-owned slice of downtown property, in the vacant, sprawling expanse of Sacramento's former railyard.
Unveiled before a City Council chamber packed with Kings fans, business interests and elected officials, the arena proposal calls for a venue with more seats, more luxury suites and more frills than the Kings' current home, Power Balance Pavilion in Natomas.
Proponents of the plan say it would attract better entertainment acts than the current arena, help boost the Kings' bottom line and keep the team from leaving town.
"This has always been a daunting task, but today it seems a lot less daunting," said Councilman Rob Fong.
The development team behind the proposal which did the work for free at the city's request says it has drawn up a tentative list of financing options. But the group declined to release those options Thursday, saying it first wants to present them to the regional commission.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is expected to assemble that task force next week, inviting elected, business and labor leaders from across the six-county region.
The group will put together a financing plan based on how much the Kings' owners are willing to contribute and whether a third-party arena operator will provide its own investment, the development team said.
Thursday's presentation came less than a month after the Maloof family, who own the Kings, resisted overtures from Anaheim and decided to give Sacramento one more season to come up with a workable arena plan. If a plan is not in place by March 1, the team's owners have said they would again consider leaving.
At a festive afternoon news conference, flanked by a smiling Joe and Gavin Maloof, Johnson said he wants to see a solid plan long before their deadline.
The Maloofs changed the equation for a possible financing plan when they said recently they are open to accepting a different arrangement than they have at Power Balance Pavilion. The family said that it would be willing to act as a tenant in the new facility, rather than as the operator who controls programming and collects all the revenue.
In that case, the facility could be owned by a public entity and operated by a private company with expertise in arena management, similar to arrangements in Cleveland, Orlando, Fla., Portland, Ore., and San Antonio, according to a report submitted by the arena development group.
The chairman of that team, prolific downtown developer David Taylor, said the Maloofs' offer to consider being a tenant is "a huge deal, in my mind."
"Until now, the Kings had said they wanted all revenues (from the arena), and that was creating a barrier" to financing, Taylor said. "If we can figure out the right formula to bring in a third-party operator, we can grow the capital."
The Maloofs have also said they are willing to contribute funding for the project but have declined so far to say how much.
"We'll put in our fair share," Gavin Maloof told reporters Thursday.
The Maloofs have warned that they "are not going into this with a big checkbook," and said Thursday they are counting on public support.
"We need everyone's help," said Gavin Maloof. "We need every single county to come forward and to help in this effort. We need every city in this region to help out and come forward for this effort."
The collaborative tone stood in stark contrast to 2006, when a ballot measure that called for raising the county sales tax to fund a new arena failed overwhelmingly amid rancor between the Maloofs and city officials.
Johnson noted the difference, saying the brothers had texted and emailed him to say how pleased they have been with the latest arena efforts.
Thursday's council meeting provided another dramatic difference from 2006. Then, the cost of an arena in the railyard was pegged at $541 million. Taylor and Denver-based ICON Venue Group said they can guarantee a design that would not cost more than $387 million.
Taylor acknowledged the task ahead is tough.
"If we don't get it done, you know what? Bless them, (the Maloofs) have every right and every valid reason to find the best place for their business," Taylor said. "But I think we will be it."
The plans unveiled Thursday call for an arena somewhere in the middle of the NBA's range of facilities not as large as some mega-arenas built in recent years, but much bigger than Power Balance Pavilion.
Taylor and ICON Venue Group proposed an arena that would seat 18,594 for basketball games. That's nearly 1,300 more seats than Power Balance. The entire facility would stand at 675,000 square feet, roughly 1 1/2 times the size of Power Balance, and would also accommodate professional hockey.
The plan calls for 74 luxury suites more than double the number at the current arena an indication that the development team believes there is adequate corporate support in the region to purchase those suites.
Other significant upgrades include tripling the number of loading docks, seen as essential elements in attracting high-profile entertainment acts; a high-resolution HD LED scoreboard; and more lounges, team stores and concourses.