Joe Benvenuti, a prominent developer and visionary entrepreneur who helped bring the Sacramento Kings to town and built Arco Arena and downtown landmarks, died Wednesday. He was 91.
He had been in declining health since a stroke in October, said his son Gary.
Benvenuti, who started building duplexes in the Town and Country neighborhood after World War II, was one of Sacramento's leading developers for more than 60 years. His company, JB Management, owns more than 13 million square feet of commercial and industrial buildings.
He also made his mark with elite projects that reshaped the city's skyline. He opened the high-end Hyatt Regency Sacramento hotel with partners Gregg Lukenbill and Bob Cook in 1988. He gave the capital its first high-rise with Renaissance Tower - a formidable 28-story, dark-glass edifice that became known as the "Darth Vader" building - on K Street Mall in 1989.
He partnered with Lukenbill to land a National Basketball Association team. They brought the Kansas City Kings to Sacramento in 1985 and persuaded the City Council to let them build Arco Arena in undeveloped North Natomas.
Benvenuti later sold his controlling stake in the team but retained 15 percent ownership. The Maloof family, which bought a majority interest in 1999, praised him Wednesday as "a vital member of the Sacramento Kings family and a pillar in the community for more than 60 years."
In a telephone interview, George Maloof said Benvenuti's role in bringing the Kings to Sacramento gave him a special relationship with the team. "He was more than just a partner," he said. "We've always cared about Joe and respected his opinion not just as a partner, but as a friend."
Joseph Benvenuti was born in 1920 to Italian immigrants in Hamilton, Ontario, and grew up in East Rutherford, N.J. The fourth of 16 children in his family, he began shining shoes at age 5 and later left school to help support his younger siblings.
He married Nancy Capizzano in 1942 and served in the Army in Europe during World War II. He worked loading and delivering imported foods to Italian immigrants in the New York City area before following an elder brother to California from New York in 1949.
He rented a home in Sacramento on El Camino Avenue near Morse Avenue and began building and selling duplexes, then single-family homes near Del Paso Country Club before he met entrepreneur Buzz Oates at a church service. With a handshake deal, the two men forged a longtime partnership developing industrial buildings and "a lasting friendship," Gary Benvenuti said.
Benvenuti had four children with his wife, who died in 2010. He donated generously to local charities and supported efforts to build schools and water systems in African villages, his son said.
Lukenbill recalled him as "a visionary who had extraordinary guts to invest in things that most businessmen would have shied away from."
"He worked diligently on projects that helped improve the lives of people and the community. That's what people will remember him for most," he said.