For a quarter century, Sacramento sports fans have been driving to an arena in the middle of a parking lot in North Natomas. To get there, they've whizzed along a series of freeways and wide thoroughfares.
If the latest plan to build a new arena in town is successful, that experience will change dramatically.
The proposal for a $387 million arena at the downtown railyard lacks a substantial parking structure, and planners are counting on 20 percent of event-goers to take light rail. Those who drove would likely need to park their cars at existing downtown garages at least a few blocks away from the arena and hoof it through city streets.
All those fans in cars could cause gridlock on downtown streets before and after events, some downtown workers worry. Another concern: Will daytime commuters have vacated those garages and cleared local freeways before weeknight basketball fans arrive?
Despite such logistical hurdles, urban design experts and many fans who attend events at Power Balance Pavilion say a downtown arena is an idea whose time has come if the surrounding area is planned properly.
That means well-lit, pleasant sidewalks connecting parking areas and the arena. It also means placing light rail access close to the front door of the facility, which the current proposal does.
And it also means giving fans places to go and see outside the arena hopefully prompting more than a few to show up early and stay late, sampling bars, restaurants and night spots in Old Sacramento and nearby.
For now, there isn't much on the blocks surrounding the proposed railyard location. But people who have visited downtown venues in other cities or frequent events in downtown Sacramento say they see the possibilities for a lively urban district here.
"I think people are looking for that place where they can share experiences as a community, and you're going to be challenged to do that at a suburban arena," said Greg Hayes, who lives in Sierra Oaks, works downtown and attends a handful of Kings games each year.
A task force of elected, labor and business leaders named Monday by Mayor Kevin Johnson will explore how to finance the project. The group will hold its first public meeting on Thursday, during which it will discuss ways that public and private finances can be combined for a project.
While the funding method for a new arena hasn't been determined, city officials are convinced downtown is the right spot to build it.
Sacramento Assistant City Manager John Dangberg is convening a task force to look at among other things the opportunities and potential pitfalls of dropping a massive structure into an already partially built-up urban area.
The group's study list: parking, pedestrian connections, neighborhood traffic, historic preservation of nearby buildings and the arena's compatibility with surrounding structures such as the train depot, planned shops in the railyard development and nearby courthouses.
With an estimated 8,200 parking spaces within a four-block radius, making the walk a pleasant one is a key challenge. It may not be easy, and it may take years.
Some fans will be quick to judge, especially those from the suburbs who are used to the Natomas arena experience, said Bob Dean, managing director of Grubb & Ellis, a commercial real estate company. If the downtown experience turns out to be favorable from the get-go, fans will be won over, he said.
But if it isn't, they may not come back.
"You don't get a second chance," Dean said.
Fans and urban activists point to other cities where downtown arenas create festive atmospheres on nearby streets and mass transit.
In Portland, where the NBA's Trail Blazers play in the Rose Garden near downtown, "the train is crowded, but after wins, it's fun," said Adam Foster, a Sacramento native now attending Portland State University.
David Mogavero, a Sacramento architect and planner, sees that possibly happening here, too.
"Sports are a great opportunity to build community and, with our transit system, to build community ethos," he said. "If you're on the subways of Boston or New York (after sporting events), people are celebrating. It's a camaraderie that comes with mass transit."
City officials are hoping to create the same atmosphere on the sidewalks around the new arena.
Teri Duarte, the executive director of WALKSacramento, said a five-block walk takes little more than five minutes. It can take that long now to walk through the parking lot at Power Balance Pavilion.
"People are used to having to walk through unpleasant areas like parking lots," she said. "But if we design our cities to be appealing and safe for walking, people will actually enjoy it."