In a show of unity and optimism, Sacramento and the NBA say a deal is within reach on a new downtown arena for the Kings.
Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern issued an unusual joint statement Wednesday expressing confidence on the $387 million arena while outlining a hectic two-week calendar crammed with negotiations and other maneuverings. The parties will meet at the NBA All-Star Game this weekend.
The city and NBA said they hope to announce they have reached a financial "term sheet" by the league's March 1 deadline. The term sheet, essentially a non-binding framework, would go to a City Council vote March 6.
That's a week later than originally scheduled, but city officials said it's not a sign that negotiations are stalled. Rather, they said, it gives the City Council five days to digest the plan.
"We're really close to pulling this off," Johnson said at a City Hall press conference. "We're closer than we've ever been before."
In the statement, Stern called the negotiations "constructive" and added: "Our hope is that current momentum continues in a way that we're able to reach a deal by March 1 that makes sense for all parties."
The drama will escalate this weekend in Orlando, Fla., site of the NBA's All-Star Game. Johnson said he and a city delegation will travel to Orlando "to fully negotiate a deal" with Stern, his lieutenants and members of the Maloof family, the owners of the Kings.
The Maloofs have remained largely in the background as talks progressed the past few months, with Stern's top deputies negotiating on their behalf. Following the talks in Orlando, the mayor expects all sides to "cross every t and dot every i" before the deal is presented to the City Council.
The bulk of the city's contribution would come from a plan to privatize city parking operations, which could generate as much as $200 million in upfront cash.
Johnson said he's "very confident that we as the city are going to be able to do our part." But he acknowledged Sacramento is still scrambling to assemble its share of the funds. For instance, the city has asked Sacramento County for event-night revenue from three county parking lots near the proposed arena site in the vacant downtown railyard.
The county's lots "would help us cobble some dollars together, help close this gap," Johnson said.
In a letter to County Executive Brad Hudson on Wednesday, City Manager John Shirey said building the arena "depends on the county's participation."
Hudson's spokeswoman, Chris Andis, said the county will likely issue a response today. At least three county supervisors, Phil Serna, Don Nottoli and Jimmie Yee, said they would consider helping the city.
Along with a TV interview late Tuesday, the statement marked Stern's first extended comments about the Kings' future since last May, when he announced the league was giving Sacramento one last chance to build a new arena. At the time, the team was leaning toward relocating to Anaheim.
Stern's TV interview created confusion about the Kings' share of the financial package.
Without offering dollar figures, Stern said on NBA.com that the Kings have "agreed to a substantial contribution." But that would include the sum contributed by arena operator Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG, he said.
Johnson wouldn't discuss specifics, but said he and Stern both understand that the Kings' contribution is separate from AEG's. Sources have said AEG is in line to put in $50 million, while the Maloofs will be asked for $85 million. Both sums would be upfront.
The Maloofs declined to discuss their contribution in detail Wednesday.
"We're just waiting to hear back from the city," said co-owner Joe Maloof. "We'll do our fair share."
The term sheet, expected to be presented to the City Council on March 6, would be the strongest signal to date that the city is going ahead with an arena. Officials said the council also might vote that night to issue a request for proposals, a crucial step in the city's effort to privatize its parking operating operations.
Still, nothing would be binding until the city actually signs a deal with a private investor for the parking assets. That might not happen until summer, and could require another council vote.
City officials want to hammer out a deal as soon as possible. Seattle is making a push for a new arena capable of hosting an NBA franchise. Anaheim, which nearly lured the Kings away last spring, is spending millions to upgrade its arena with an eye toward the Kings.
But some members of the Sacramento City Council are afraid things are moving too quickly. Councilman Darrell Fong, who has been skeptical about the arena deal, said giving the council five days before voting isn't enough.
"How would you feel making a decision with five days?" Fong said. "To digest all that information and talk to constituents and get feedback from the variety of people I'd like to talk to, that is asking a lot. This is a conversation that should be taken over several months."
But Councilwoman Angelique Ashby noted that council members have been kept posted on the deal all along. "It is not like we are starting at ground zero," she said.
Stern has previously said the Kings would leave if there's no deal by March for a new arena. Asked late Tuesday about the what would happen if the deal faltered, the commissioner said, "We'll see. Here we go again."