Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin: No stopping Sacramento now

Published: Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 - 7:54 pm

So close. So close now. When the City Council approved the city’s $255 million investment in the proposed downtown sports and entertainment complex late Tuesday evening, you could almost reach out and touch the shovel. You could see the wrecking ball swinging in the Delta breeze. You could envision the concerts, the festivals, the activity and, of course, a place for the Kings to call home.


Sacramento held its coming-out party.

The deal that has been more than a decade in the making is moving forward with the force of a bulldozer and the speed of a bullet train. Momentum is a ferocious, unrelenting beast. The group of arena opponents hoping to initiate a last-ditch effort to quash the public-private partnership should probably save their time and money and move on to other important issues, say, like pressing to ensure that local workers and longtime arena employees share in the benefits and are afforded jobs, jobs, jobs, which are expected to be abundant and diverse.

“I am working on this project for a biotech, biomed corridor along Stockton Boulevard, trying to figure out how we can take advantage of the research going on at UC Davis and other health sectors,” Councilman Jay Schenirer said Wednesday. “How do we do technology transfer? Telemedicine? We’re a national leader in that area. And I was meeting with someone recently who works with venture capitalists in this field and he said, ‘Since Vivek Ranadive bought the Kings, people in the Bay Area are starting to talk about the potential of Sacramento.’ While we can’t measure that yet, the opportunities are there, and really exciting.”

Change isn’t coming; change is here. On his next visit, Phil Jackson won’t recognize the place. His favorite California cowtown is being transformed into a sophisticated one-size-fits-all community, a region where farm and fork soon will share the neighborhood with a facility that dramatically alters the face and feel of downtown. The eyesore known as the Downtown Plaza is nearing non-existence, and this is a good thing.

Of course there is risk. Anyone who believes otherwise probably never dabbled in the stock market or took out a mortgage.

Throughout this arena ordeal that has been ongoing since 1996, several of the industry’s leading authorities on the economic benefits and/or risks have been quoted and referenced extensively in this column and elsewhere in The Bee. (The list is surprisingly small and contributes mightily to the concept of recycling). Some are academics who speak with authority but sound as if they have never ventured beyond their ivory tower. Others are so eager to become involved with the Next New Building/Ballpark project, they do everything but email their résumés.

But the time to elicit often-conflicting opinions is over. This arena will be built because this has to happen. Because this is everything Mayor Kevin Johnson and several council members said it is – momentous, transformational, epic, defining, historical. And because a perfect storm ended the drought.

The mayor is a former NBA All-Star, a point guard whose signature move was scoring a layup, getting knocked to the floor, then bouncing back up and converting the free throw.

The council currently consists of members who consistently (7-2 votes) endorse the deal.

The community that repeatedly has been subjected to threats of franchise relocation, starting with former owner Jim Thomas in 1996 and continuing with the Maloofs on numerous occasions during the final five or six years of their stewardship, has remained resolute and committed, and welcoming to Ranadive and his partners.

And these are serious, determined investors. Among the lingering impressions from Tuesday’s council meeting and the festive aftermath are these: Ranadive, seated in the front row throughout the 31/2-hour proceedings, leaning forward and listening intently; minority owner Mark Mastrov holding up his cellphone and recording the moment when the 7-2 votes were announced; and dignified minority partner Raj Bhathal, always content to remain in the background, relating his improbable but crucial involvement with the Kings.

“(Former Commissioner) David Stern called me one day,” Bhathal said, smiling, “but I was mad at him. I tried to buy New Orleans and the team went to Tom Benson. But then we talked and … here I am.”

And here they stay.

Finally. Here they stay.

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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