The head of the entertainment conglomerate that had planned to build a new arena for the Kings in Sacramento said Tuesday that his company is still interested in doing so if Mayor Kevin Johnson can assemble a new ownership bid to keep the team here.
AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, in Sacramento for an appearance at the Capitol, said the arena developer is definitely interested in pursuing an arena deal downtown, depending on how the Kings' ownership situation gets settled.
"We haven't changed our opinion about Sacramento or the arena," he said.
He added that NBA Commissioner David Stern and Johnson asked him to re-engage on the arena issue. He planned to meet with the mayor this week.
"To the commissioner's credit, I don't think he ever forgot about Sacramento," he said. He said Stern, whom he's known for decades, doesn't like to relocate franchises.
AEG pledged $59 million to the arena plan that was abandoned by the Kings last spring. "We are still committed to the same economic package," he said.
While a plan has emerged in recent days to build an arena at Downtown Plaza instead of the railyard, Leiweke said AEG will let the city take the lead on choosing a location.
The Maloof family has been negotiating to sell the team to a Seattle group. But in recent days, Johnson has countered by saying he is lining up rich investors who could buy the team and keep it here.
In order to have a shot at persuading the NBA to keep the team in Sacramento, Johnson said any viable counter-offer for the Kings would have to include a solid commitment for a new arena.
City officials had been unsure whether AEG, which put itself up for sale last fall, would still want to develop an arena in Sacramento.
Johnson, speaking at the annual State of Downtown breakfast Tuesday morning, said he first heard rumors in December that the Maloofs would receive an "outrageous number" of $525 million from the Seattle group, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer.
He said he received permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern over the weekend to appear before the NBA's Board of Governors to present his counter-offer to keep the Kings in town.
At least one deep-pockets investor has said he would buy the team and keep it in Sacramento: Mark Mastrov, a Bay Area financier who was a runner-up in the bidding for the Golden State Warriors in 2010.
Another potential bidder mentioned by Stern and Johnson in recent days is Ron Burkle, the Southern California grocery tycoon who tried to buy the Kings two years ago.
A further sign of Burkle's interest: His representatives recently looked into buying a 7 percent share of the team that is under the control of bankruptcy trustee David Flemmer, according to Flemmer.
Flemmer said he has also heard from Hansen's representatives. There's also "a local group" of investors that has shown interest, but he wouldn't identify them.
Flemmer is planning to auction off the 7 percent stake - formerly owned by Sacramento developer Bob Cook - in the next few months.
City officials are hearing from other potential bidders. "There has been a significant expression of real interest from entities that would have...the wherewithal to own and run an NBA team up to NBA standards," said mayoral adviser Chris Lehane, who was Johnson's point person on the arena push last spring.
VIDEO: AEG's Tim Leiweke, at the state Capitol with the Stanley Cup and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, talks about his company's interest in the Sacramento Kings and an arena project here.