The possible bidders who are lining up to keep the Kings in Sacramento deserve serious consideration from the NBA and the team's current owners.
The investment group that wants to take the Kings to Seattle is further along with its finances and new arena plans, but if given the chance, the Sacramento groups could catch up before other NBA owners decide whether to approve a sale, relocation or both.
As The Bee reported over the weekend, one group is led by Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness who bid unsuccessfully for the Golden State Warriors in 2010. Mastrov said he has reached out to the Kings majority owners, the Maloofs, and is interested in the city's plan for a new arena in the downtown railyard that the Maloofs walked away from last year.
Another group is linked to the new owners of Downtown Plaza, JMA Ventures, which proposes to build a new home for the Kings on the shopping center's site.
This idea is intriguing. It at least raises the possibility of solving two huge issues how to remake Downtown Plaza and where to put a new arena in one fell swoop.
While one previous study concluded that a Downtown Plaza arena would likely be too costly, and while the mayor's arena task force ranked the site behind the railyard in March 2010, Downtown Plaza is closer to existing development, has good transportation access and could do more to revitalize downtown. JMA says a new feasibility study by the firm that designed the new NBA arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., is bullish on the site. One big hurdle an uninterested owner in Westfield was cleared when JMA took control.
The ownership groups have to prove their financial muscle, and their proposals need to be fully developed and vetted. Nonetheless, it is encouraging that potential investors have stepped forward.
Dale Carlsen, founder of Sleep Train Mattress Centers Inc., whose company bought the naming rights to the current arena in Natomas, has expressed interest in playing a role. Ron Burkle, a Southern California grocery magnate who was interested in buying the team in 2011, is still in the mix, according to Mayor Kevin Johnson. NBA Commissioner David Stern named Burkle when he said last week that a local ownership group should get a fair shot.
What continues to be extremely discouraging is that the Maloofs refuse to say anything publicly, to even confirm they are talking to potential buyers, here or in Seattle. It's particularly infuriating because they may be getting exactly what they want a bidding war over their 53 percent share of the franchise.
That also presents a danger for Sacramento taxpayers. The $255 million public contribution in last year's deal for a $390 million arena must be the absolute maximum, not the starting point in any negotiations. The city proposed coming up with its share through its parking decks and on-street spaces downtown. Spending down that valuable asset for an arena may close the door to other civic projects, so the city has to make sure it's getting a fair deal.
Many in Sacramento are justifiably sick and tired of the Kings soap opera. They would not shed many tears if the team left.
But the Kings the only big-league sports franchise we have provide jobs, promote Sacramento internationally and have a role to play in the region's economic future.
It is well worth a little more angst to see if there's a plausible path to keep the Kings in Sacramento, with new, committed owners and without too much public expense.