Tony Bizjak

Back-seat Driver: Would new Sacramento arena shove transit center aside?

Published: Monday, May. 30, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:24 pm

As they rush to plan a new arena for the Sacramento Kings and major concerts, are city officials putting a long-planned downtown transit center at risk?

Plans unveiled last week for an 18,000-seat arena on city land behind the downtown depot have some transit advocates worried.

The drawings show the big oval-shaped arena plunked down right where the city is preparing to put a new train complex. It's as if the transit center had been squashed by a flying saucer.

Is there room to squeeze the arena and the transit project on the same site? If not, does the transit center go someplace else? Where?

City transportation head Jerry Way and Councilman Steve Cohn said they are not sounding the alarm but acknowledge the arena design poses serious questions about the future of the transit complex.

A new transit center in the railyard has long been one of the city's top priority civic projects. It would replace the current train depot, and include room for possible bullet trains in the future.

Transportation chief Way says the next 100 days will be crucial. That is when city and regional officials will look at details about how to build a sports and entertainment facility, including what it means for the transit center. "We'll drill into the details and see how we can shoehorn this in there."

An arena proposal last year indicated an arena and transit center could be merged into one joint-use building. That has worked in other cities, giving train and transit users easy access to the entertainment facility.

But the detailed drawings shown to city officials last week make no accommodations for a transit center. Developer David Taylor, one of the architects of the arena proposal, said his group and city officials are committed nevertheless to figuring out the transit center puzzle in the next few months.

A joint facility is possible, he said, but may be difficult because there are restrictions on the use of government transportation funds.

If the transit center doesn't fit on the site, the city may be forced to give an estimated $21 million or more in Measure A transportation sales tax funds back to regional authorities – at least temporarily.

The city was allocated that money to help buy the depot-area site to build the transit center.

The city, however, retains rights to that money. It can reclaim the funds, for instance, to buy another parcel of land for a transit center, officials say. But land options are limited.

On the plus side, the new arena, as drawn, melds well with plans for light rail. It's oriented so that a light-rail stop sits just outside the front door. That rail line would connect to North Sacramento, south Sacramento, Folsom, and possibly eventually to the airport, giving thousands of ticket buyers front-door service to concerts and ballgames.

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