Rancho Cordova hotels sponsor big sports center

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 - 6:39 am

Sixteen hotels in Rancho Cordova have stepped out of their traditional hospitality role to lease and sponsor a 71,000-square-foot indoor amateur sports "event center" in a bid to increase tourism and hotel occupancy.

The Rancho Cordova Event Center, under renovation, is the product of Rancho Cordova Travel and Tourism, a group created by the hotels' 3-year-old business improvement district.

The backers intend to draw participants and their families from a broad geographic area to compete in national qualifying tournaments and a range of other events, tentatively as early as March 23.

Those will include weekend basketball, volleyball, karate, futsal, tae kwon do, gymnastics and more. Some will be tourneys sanctioned by the Pacific Amateur Athletic Union, along with activities held by other groups, organizers say.

The building has space for eight mobile basketball courts or up to 11 volleyball courts and is being leased by the hotel group. It is to be run under an agreement with Matt Williams, chief executive officer of Jam On It Basketball Academy in Reno and governor of Pacific AAU.

"We'll open it up to everyone," Williams said. "We want people to consider Rancho instead of the Bay Area, instead of going up to Oregon."

Already, Williams said, he has groups lined up for tentative events into June.

On Tuesday night, the Rancho Cordova City Council gave the project a green light, voting unanimously to allow off-site parking at the Sacramento Marriott Rancho Cordova to meet the overflow demand for up to 1,500 visitors on each weekend tournament day.

The council also agreed to permit recreational uses in the building at 2561 Mercantile Drive. The site is a former La-Z-Boy Furniture warehouse and part of an industrial neighborhood.

Officials say the metropolitan area can sustain another large indoor sports venue.

Royce Browning, general manager of the 70,000- square-foot Hardwood Palace in Rocklin, said 90 percent of his business – typically seven days a week – is focused on basketball, with youth tournaments on weekends.

With permanent basketball courts, he said, "we're sold out every night, Monday through Friday."

The Hardwood Palace also operates 50 weekends a year.

"Every single weekend, we have 3,000 people. Teams come from Redding, Oregon, the Bay Area, Nevada and Fresno north," he said.

The privately owned business also works closely with area hotels to help coordinate large bookings.

In Rancho Cordova, council members on Tuesday talked about the positives linked to the event center, citing quality of life and economic gains.

Williams estimated the center will produce a $4.5 million economic impact for the area, employing 60 to 80 people on weekends.

There will be tax benefits, too. A goal of the travel and tourism group is to boost weekend stays in the city's 16 hotels by 14,000 room bookings annually.

That would help the city, which imposes a hotel room tax equal to 12 percent of room rates. In fiscal year 2008, just as the economy began its swoon, the room tax produced $2.5 million in annual city revenue. But in the ensuing two years, proceeds fell by more than 25 percent.

It would take the city's 2010 annexation of 1.2 square miles of industrial and retail property – which included the Marriott and three other hotels – to regain that lost tax ground.

There were concerns voiced Tuesday about the plan.

The owner of four industrial buildings near the center site urged the council to more fully examine the parking plan and site traffic before giving approval.

"We would like to see the project go forward," said Mark Pirie of FJM Investments of San Francisco, the buildings' owner. "We just want to see it done properly."

As motorists bound for events park at adjacent businesses on weekends, Pirie said, his tenants may opt to relocate rather than tolerate the disruption.

The organizers are planning 125 parking stalls on the event center site and another 160 spaces accessible via a three-minute shuttle ride to the Marriott.

The council, in approving the project, adopted a list of conditions proposed by Mayor Linda Budge, including one that called for a parking management plan and a six-month review of operations and their effect on neighboring businesses.

But the council was unified in its enthusiasm for the project and how it might enhance the city's profile.

The city, in fact, has actively promoted many city business activities, with officials taking seats on the boards of some local entities such as the chamber of commerce.

A city department head also holds a seat on the hotels' travel and tourism board, along with a member of the chamber.

"I think it would be a draw for people to come to Rancho Cordova to enjoy themselves," said Councilman Robert McGarvey said of the event center, "and they may say, 'You know, this may be a good place to live.'"

The atypical bid by hoteliers to open an event center is a sign of today's heightened economic stakes.

Historically, business improvement districts have tended to focus on marketing and promotions and campaigns to ensure clean, safe and aesthetically pleasing commercial areas.

Josiah Kitonga, chairman of the Rancho Cordova Travel and Tourism board, agrees that creating a facility for tourism "might be stepping a little outside the box."

But he called the project "an amazing opportunity" from the perspective of hotel patronage and for the community.

The tourism board spent months reviewing various projects, and the event center "is the biggest venture thus far."

Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a nonprofit whose aim is to improve Sacramento's central business district, said those historic limits are evolving with the disappearance of redevelopment agencies and the decline of public dollars for civic improvements.

Tourism districts, he said, now are by necessity becoming more creative.

"They're saying, 'This is what we need and how we can fund it,'" Ault said.

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