José Luis Villegas /

Mayor Kevin Johnson urges Sacramento to back a new arena at his State of the City address Wednesday night.

Editorial: Mayor Johnson states his case on downtown arena

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 - 12:00 am

Last year, Mayor Kevin Johnson turned his State of the City address into a pep rally to keep the Kings from leaving Sacramento. This year, he used it as a platform to make a passionate sales pitch for the planned new downtown arena.

The glitzy entertainment aside, the mayor was not completely convincing, and he painted a narrow and rosy portrait of Sacramento and its future.

While he briefly mentioned beefing up public safety, shoring up city finances and supporting the arts during his 50-minute speech Wednesday evening, Johnson didn’t announce any big new initiatives or lay out a grand vision. Nor did he recognize the risk of focusing so much on the arena.

He declared that 2014 will be “a year of groundbreakings” around the city – including parks, housing, a highway interchange and the new home of the B Street Theatre – and the “granddaddy” of them all would be the arena. He vowed that nothing would stop shovels from hitting dirt in September at the arena’s Downtown Plaza site. That’s a bold statement given the lawsuit to force a citywide vote on sports facility subsidies that could delay or derail the project, plus another legal fight over a key parcel.

Johnson argued that taxpayers will get a great return on their investment of at least $258 million in the arena. According to his math, it’s $6 for every $1 in city money, but that’s based on very optimistic economic impact projections and counts all the development near the arena that the Kings’ new owners have pledged.

The benefits to the community will be broad-based, he promised. He pointed out that local firms are supposed to get many of the construction contracts, and announced a new apprenticeship program for 70 people, including veterans, ex-offenders and others in need of work. Once the arena opens, there will be jobs for local youths and a showcase for local artists and local food. Already, the Kings are donating as much as $100,000 to local reading and literacy programs from deposits made through March 3 for 2014-15 season tickets.

That’s all good, but Johnson and other city leaders can’t lose sight of the many other priorities beyond the arena, no matter how iconic its design.

The mayor has remade the State of the City speech. After button-down business luncheons his first four years in office, he opened the last two to the general public and held them in the evening at Memorial Auditorium.

It is now more of a performance. Wednesday night featured an R&B band with a horn section, slick videos and flashing lights, and the Kings public address announcer acting as emcee. The star of the show is Johnson, who is good at appealing to civic pride. “This is our year … . Go Sacramento!” he shouted at the end of the speech.

It was easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm. Yet, as Johnson has learned as mayor, he will be judged by results.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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