Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Sacramento building up momentum at last

Published: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 7:37 am

It's hard to notice with the possible departure of the Kings dominating the news, but Sacramento has a healthy dose of civic momentum going after years of dismal recession.

The 700 block of K Street – where a new generation of business owners is poised to transform boarded buildings into homes, theaters and restaurants – is finally springing to life.

Sacramento is quietly improving its aging water system. The city and West Sacramento are hurrying to finance new bridges over the Sacramento River, and work on a major transit center at the downtown railyard is grinding forward.

In that context, the city's drive to stop the Kings from moving to Seattle and to build a downtown arena is part of a sustained effort of self-determination in a state capital that's too often maligned for being stodgy and complacent.

Sacramento is doing what cities are supposed to – fighting to maintain assets and amenities while finding ways to fund new ones.

Officials have identified city parking revenues as a way to provide that financing. As The Bee's Ryan Lillis wrote last week: "A public subsidy will likely fund most of the arena. City officials have said the majority of that public contribution will come from the leveraging of downtown parking operations, most likely through revenue bonds backed by those assets."

The details of this plan will begin to emerge Thursday at the first of three public hearings ahead of a City Council vote March 26 on the arena-financing plan.

But here is my bet: Even if the bidding war for the team rigged by NBA Commissioner David Stern is won by Seattle's rich guys, Sacramento will push forward with its use of parking assets as collateral to fund development projects downtown.

Some critics snipe that Sacramento is wasting hours of staff time on a fool's errand to keep the Kings, but they're wrong.

City Treasurer Russ Fehr and City Manager John Shirey have found a funding source to keep the city's civic momentum going by funding future development – with or without the Kings.

With the city's general fund stretched to the limit and redevelopment money gone – usurped by the state – the parking revenue plan has financial significance far beyond the Kings.

We'll start to find out how it works on Thursday, about the only piece of the Kings/ arena saga we'll know for sure.

The business tycoons imported by Mayor Kevin Johnson to buy the team – Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle – continue to work in secrecy to prepare for an April 3 meeting with NBA owners where, presumably, we'll begin to learn about the long-term future of the Kings.

Whether Mastrov can meet Stern's price is unclear. The far more significant piece for Sacramento is Burkle's designs for building an arena at Downtown Plaza – and developing vacant buildings around the shopping center and in the heart of Sacramento's urban core.

Shirey is pushing for this deal, and working around the clock to make it happen, because Downtown Plaza is a dying mall.

An arena could be a perfect link with its next-door neighbor – the emerging 700 block of K Street.

Kipp Blewett, who built the stylish Citizen Hotel across from Cesar Chavez Plaza, told me that the next development cycle for Sacramento is finally on the horizon after years of recession. He said there is great interest among builders and developers he knows to capitalize on a new arena at Downtown Plaza.

While academic studies show that publicly financed sports facilities often don't bring a high rate of return for cities, they can be successful if they are part of a larger urban development plan.

The dynamics at work in Sacramento could make an arena work. But even without the Kings, there is a civic interest in bolstering the urban core.

"No matter what happens, the Downtown Plaza cannot be left behind in the next cycle," Blewett said. "It will clearly require a large-scale investment to be successful."

Sacramento may have found a way to make that investment happen. The city has supported the Kings politically and financially for more than a quarter-century.

Maybe the team leaves despite that support. But with or without the Kings, Sacramento is on a path of forward momentum.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.

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Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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