For years, the city of Sacramento has maintained tight control on the number of billboards looming over local streets: For every new board built, one or two older ones must be knocked down.
Now, to seal a $477 million arena deal with the Kings, city officials are rewriting their sign ordinance to allow the team to build six new digital boards alongside freeways without eliminating any old billboards. The reason: The Kings don’t own any billboards that they could take down.
The City Council will be asked Tuesday to add a clause to its ordinance, saying any company that for pays at least 40 percent of the cost of a city-owned facility capable of hosting professional major-league sports, with at least 15,000 seats, can add up to six billboards to the city signboard population. The Kings are paying about 46 percent of the planned Downtown Plaza arena cost, according to deal documents. The city will own the arena. The Kings will operate it.
The billboard arrangement is part of the 2,000-plus pages of arena agreements and associated documents negotiated over the past year between the city and the Kings. A “yes” vote Tuesday by the council on those contracts will give the Kings the official OK to start construction prep work for the arena.
City officials acknowledged that they crafted the new sign-ordinance language not just for the Kings. It also allows future sports teams in Sacramento to put up changeable-display billboards without compensating by reducing the existing population of signs. Sacramento leaders have said they’d like to attract a Major League Soccer franchise.
The legal carve-out allows the Kings to offer team sponsors prime advertising space in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes daily on freeways throughout the city. Kings officials say they plan to package the billboard space with TV, radio, arena signage, and community promotions for team sponsors.
“We think (billboards) are great for our partners,” Kings President Chris Granger said.
Granger said the team does not need billboard revenues to help it finance its portion of the arena construction costs. But the signs will help the team promote arena events and downtown in general, including festivals and farmers markets in the plaza adjacent to the arena, he said.
There currently are six digital billboards along freeways in city limits. The Kings could double that number. Two existing billboards, at Cal Expo and California State University, Sacramento, are on state property.
Some city residents have complained about the deal, saying digital billboards cause light pollution and are a distraction.
“How are drivers supposed to keep their eyes on the freeway going 55 mph on up, and look at these huge, bright, obnoxious signs at the same time?” said Ginny Linn of Sacramento. “I would like to see them all disappear.”
City leaders said the city is not abandoning its efforts to keep a lid on the number of billboards in the city. The city ordinance will continue to require other companies to take down at least one billboard for every new billboard.
City officials said two Kings billboard sites will be on Business 80 at Sutter’s Landing Park and at Del Paso Regional Park/Haggin Oaks. Two others will be on Interstate 5, one near the airport and the other at the downtown railyard. Another site would at Highway 50 and I-5 near the Sacramento River. A sixth site may be on Highway 99 at Calvine Road.
City Councilman Steve Hansen said he opposed the sign at Sutter’s Landing, saying the site is already cluttered with billboards, and that the digital sign may take away from other billboard revenues the city intends to use to develop a regional park there.
City staff and the Planning Commission previously rejected a billboard site on I-5 near the city water tank at Meadowview Road. That site drew numerous protests from residents who said the sign’s changing lights would shine on their homes and yards.
The Kings have announced no time frame for building the signs.
The digital-signboard provisions have been among the most controversial aspects of the downtown arena deal. Deal critics say they represent a deal “sweetener” the city is offering the Kings without adequately accounting for their dollar value in the deal.
Craig Powell of the Eye on Sacramento watchdog group, a leading deal critic, contends the city’s portion of the arena deal is probably more than $300 million when potential billboard revenues are added, as well as the value of several thousand Downtown Plaza parking spaces the city is allowing the Kings to operate.
City officials say they disagree, contending the billboards sites are not worth what they have been in the past, and that the parking garage revenue the city is forgoing is minimal. City officials have not provided details on what they believe those asset values to be. Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said city consultants are finishing an analysis of the billboard and parking assets and will present those to the council in meeting background documents to be published this week.