Marcos Breton: Now's the time to detect land mines in arena deal

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

It's not over yet.

Despite the high- fiving going on all over Sacramento, there is still no legally binding agreement with detailed points between Sacramento, the Kings and developers seeking to build a downtown arena.

There is a "framework" for a deal, of which we know little. There was a photo op celebrating a tentative agreement between Mayor Kevin Johnson, the Kings owners and NBA Commissioner David Stern. There is good reason for Johnson to feel proud for getting to this point.

You know what KJ has shown? He doesn't need a ballot initiative to grant him powers to be a "strong mayor." He's been a strong mayor by stopping the Kings from relocating and leading a community effort behind the idea of an arena that would lift a dead spot in downtown and secure the future of the Kings.

In doing so, KJ has been charismatic, shrewd and inclusive.

If KJ adopted this attitude on every city and regional issue, there would be no stopping him.

But is this arena deal done? No way. In fact, we've reached a dangerous portion of this saga because while almost everyone is celebrating and thinks it's over, we still don't know what "it" is.

Quite frankly, this is where cities such as Sacramento can get in huge trouble by agreeing to as-yet- undefined deal points that risk financial exposure.

We need specifics. How is the revenue at the new arena going to be split? How will the city replace the $9 million in parking revenue that will be funneled into the arena? Shouldn't someone raise concerns about the viability of Kings owners who already had a lot of debt and seemingly will take on even more to remain Kings owners? Going forward, do the Maloofs have the capacity to put a good product on the floor?

That's a significant question, because a ticket surcharge will help pay for the arena, but if people don't buy tickets, how do you pay for the arena? And who is on the hook if people don't buy tickets because the Kings are still in last place in 2015, when the new arena is scheduled to open?

With the right terms, an arena could be great for Sacramento. On Monday, I stood in the downtown railyard, in the spot where a new arena would go, and was reminded how wasteful it's been to let the gigantic railyard property sit empty all these years.

That piece of dirt is a symbol of a city – and a region – that could be more than it is.

But we'll never reach that potential unless KJ, City Manager John Shirey and the media pay close attention to the details.

The city has to be willing to assume some risk for a bigger payoff.

But protecting the general fund and identifying and avoiding the hidden land mines of concealed costs and odious lease points?

That job remains far from complete.

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