In a stunning new twist on the Sacramento Kings saga, a group including the new owner of Downtown Plaza is proposing to buy the team and build a $400 million arena on the site of the troubled shopping center.
A source connected to the proposal said the group believes it would make a viable alternative to the Maloof family's potential sale of the team to a consortium planning to relocate the Kings to Seattle.
A source said the group includes other deep-pockets investors who have the ability to pull the deal together.
"We make the case to the NBA that we've got the funding," said the source, who insisted on anonymity.
The source said the group includes JMA Ventures, the San Francisco investment firm that bought Downtown Plaza last year at a bargain-basement price.
Any deal for the Kings would have to be approved by the NBA Board of Governors, and Sacramento officials are hoping to present a credible alternative to Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager who wants to buy the team and move it to Seattle.
On Thursday, NBA commissioner David Stern said it would be reasonable to give Sacramento bidders a shot at matching the Seattle bid. He specifically mentioned billionaire tycoon Ron Burkle as a potential bidder.
Burkle tried to buy the Kings two years ago, when the Maloofs were thinking of relocating to Anaheim, and was angrily turned down. But he has stayed in touch with Mayor Kevin Johnson.
The source, who insisted on anonymity, said AECOM - an architectural and engineering firm that designed the new NBA arena in Brooklyn - has already sketched arena plans for the Downtown Plaza site. "It's actually an ideal location, it can be built more quickly than the railyard," the source said.
AECOM already has operations in Sacramento.
The group is just the latest entrant in the escalating Kings sweepstakes. On Friday, wealthy Bay Area investor Mark Mastrov - who was a runner-up in the bidding for the Golden State Warriors two years ago - said he's interested in buying the troubled franchise and keeping it in Sacramento.
Johnson has vowed to come up with a "local" bid as a counter to the Maloofs' potential sale to a Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen. Various Internet reports have said the two are working on a deal between $500 million and $525 million.
Sacramento officials believe a local group could buy the team for considerably less than Hansen and still give the Maloofs just as much money. That's because the locals wouldn't have to fork over at least $100 million in moving costs, including the NBA's relocation fee and the immediate repayment of a debt to the city.
The Maloofs haven't publicly said the team is for sale, but sources say the family is now open to the idea after years of financial setbacks, including the loss of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. The Kings are on track to lose $7 million this year and are $200 million in debt, sources say.
The family, through spokesman Eric Rose, declined comment today on the situation.