Sacramento’s proposed arena would be much more than a new home for the Kings. For the city and its taxpayers to reap the rewards of the substantial public investment, the arena must also drive the revitalization of downtown.
That’s why it’s entirely proper for city leaders to push so that the development being promised by the Kings happens as soon as possible. It’s also squarely in the Kings’ financial interest since it’s largely through development that the new ownership group would profit from its investment in the team and arena. On this, the fortunes of the city and the Kings coincide.
It’s crucial to clearly draw the distinction between two sets of properties.
One is the area immediately surrounding the arena site at Downtown Plaza. The ownership group proposes 1.5 million square feet of shops, residences and offices, plus a hotel, on the rest of the plaza, nearby privately owned parcels and the plot at Fourth and J streets that the city is giving the Kings. It makes perfect sense to develop these parcels first.
The proposal is under review by the city’s Planning Commission. Once the city grants any entitlements on the properties, likely in the spring, the normal deadline for paying all fees and obtaining building permits would be three years. It’s possible the city and Kings will negotiate a modest extension, in part to account for the disruption during the arena construction. But it would be a surprise if the entitlement clock goes much past five years.
Most likely, the development will be done in phases. City and Kings officials point to L.A. Live, which was built between 2007 and 2010 near Staples Center, and to the Power & Light District, which was developed over time after the Sprint Center in Kansas City opened in 2007.
The other group of properties is made up of other downtown parcels the city is giving the Kings as part of the arena deal. They are farther away from the arena site. Some are home to empty buildings; others have been vacant lots for years.
While it certainly isn’t in the city’s interest to have all that land languish for many more years, it would be wise to wait and see how the arena and ancillary development proceed and what the market shows is the best use of the parcels before making any firm plans. The absence of definite development deadlines should not be a deal breaker.
It is much more important to get this right – to have the right mix of development to make downtown attractive to residents, visitors and shoppers alike – than to rush to stay on an arbitrary schedule.
In the meantime, however, these outlying parcels should not be eyesores. As The Bee’s Ryan Lillis and Tony Bizjak reported over the weekend, the Kings would become one of the largest property owners in downtown. That comes with a responsibility to the community. The ownership group should voluntarily pledge to spruce up dilapidated buildings, and perhaps turn vacant lots into parks or green space.
City and Kings officials talk incessantly about being partners on the arena project. Rightly, they are focused first on the arena itself – finishing the environmental review, finalizing their development deal and confirming the financing plan, all probably in April. But the quality and speed of the related development will also determine how happy a partnership it really is.