Mayor Kevin Johnson wanted the Sacramento City Council to send an unmistakable message to the NBA about the city's commitment to a new arena for the Kings.
He wound up getting a 7-2 vote and pronounced himself thrilled.
After more than three hours of impassioned pleas and debate, the council agreed late Tuesday to a nonbinding term sheet on a $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza. The city would contribute $258 million, most of it by borrowing against future revenue generated by downtown parking meters and garages.
It was the second time in a little more than a year that the council voted to build a new arena for the Kings. But while Tuesday night's vote brought a standing ovation and chants of "Sacramento!" from the Kings fans who packed council chambers for the vote, there was also a sobering realization that the Kings' fate has yet to be decided.
The arena proposal along with a bid to buy the team itself will be presented in New York on April 3 to a select committee of NBA owners, who will weigh Sacramento's plan alongside a competing offer from Seattle. All the owners will meet April 18 to vote on whether the team should stay or go.
"We're not jumping the gun yet. We know this is the next step we need to take," said Kings fan Troy Bedal, who showed up nearly an hour before the meeting to make sure he got a seat. "We're not getting ahead of ourselves."
Council members said they were swayed by the potential for a grand revival of downtown. Not only would the super-wealthy "whales" buy the Kings and build an arena, they have said they will build 1.5 million square feet of development on what's left of Downtown Plaza. That could generate additional development in the vicinity.
"We have four billionaires who've essentially said Sacramento is worthy," said Councilman Steve Hansen, who had initially urged the vote be postponed but now called the plan a good one. "This is our opportunity. This is our moment."
But the two council members who voted against the proposal, Kevin McCarty and Darrell Fong, said the plan amounted to an overly generous subsidy that could bring the city enormous misfortune if arena revenue doesn't pan out as projected. "The risk outweighs the rewards," said McCarty, who has consistently opposed the arena plan.
Sacramento lobbyist and power broker Darius Anderson, who helped put the investment team together, pledged that the Kings bidders would help transform the central city.
"We are 100 percent committed (to) doing what's right for this community," he told the council.
None of the investors Ron Burkle, Mark Mastrov, Vivek Ranadive and the latest members of the team, the Jacobs family of San Diego appeared at the council meeting.
Burkle, who is leading the development of the arena, and Mastrov, who is focusing on buying the team, were in Sacramento on Monday to lobby members of the council.
Anderson said in an interview that other investors may join the group eventually. In the meantime, he said he will go to New York with Burkle, Mastrov and Ranadive next week. Mayor Kevin Johnson will go as well.
"This is a good day for Sacramento," said Johnson, the former NBA star who has led the charge to keep the Kings from going to Seattle. "We are on track to do something very historic."
After the council meeting, he told a cheering crowd in the City Hall lobby, "We wanted a 7-2 vote to send a message."
He said he had immediately texted the voting results to NBA Commissioner David Stern, but the commissioner was apparently asleep. "Little does he know he's going to get a wake-up call," Johnson said.
The Kings' current owners, the Maloofs, made a deal in January to sell their 65 percent controlling interest to Seattle investors Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer for $341 million. The Burkle group on March 1 submitted a counteroffer to the NBA. The bid was deemed too low by Stern, but Johnson and other City Council members have said they've been assured the group would make its bid competitive with Seattle's.
Tuesday, though, was all about the arena an essential component to the bid. City staff members assured the council that the financing plan would expose the city to very little risk.
"I'm very, very confident," said City Treasurer Russ Fehr, who would oversee the parking bond sale. "There's very minimal risk to the city's general fund."
The city would borrow $212 million against future parking revenue. Much of the rest of the financing would come from donating city land worth $38 million to the investor group.
Fehr said the parking operations should generate plenty of cash to pay off the bonds. "We're not making assumptions that we would grow into our debt," he said.
City Manager John Shirey said the deal is significantly better for the city than the March 2012 deal negotiated with the Maloofs an agreement that was approved by the NBA but abandoned a month later by the family. That deal called for a new arena at the downtown railyard.
The new deal creates stronger guarantees for the city, offers less risk and offers the prospect of a stronger economic development spinoff because of the Downtown Plaza location.
And Shirey said the new deal has been made with "quality people with the wherewithal to live up" to their agreements.
But arena opponents, who were outnumbered by supporters, said the city was opening itself up to risk. They compared Sacramento to Stockton, which filed for bankruptcy protection last summer after spending tens of millions of dollars on arenas and other facilities.
Attorneys Patrick Soluri and Jeff Anderson repeated their vow to take the matter to a voter referendum, with Anderson saying they'd go to court "if necessary."
Julian Camacho, president of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, said, "This talk of whales is misleading. This feels like sharks circling the waters."
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.