Ailene Voisin: Orlando arena a beacon for Sacramento

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

04/18/2013 7:45 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. – David Stern is here primarily to celebrate the Magic's decades-long arena ordeal that culminated in construction of the gorgeous, incomparable Amway Center, but the Kings keep crashing the party.

After officially tipping off All-Star Weekend at the Jam Session interactive event in front of thousands of screaming boys and girls Thursday at the Orange County Convention Center, the NBA commissioner – accompanied by prominent local politicians – worked the rope line like a presidential candidate.

Stern was asked about Orlando and its jewel of a downtown facility. He was asked about Jeremy Lin and the lockout. He was asked about Anaheim and Seattle as NBA markets. But he was asked most often about the Kings, his scheduled meeting with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the Maloofs and city representatives before Sunday's All-Star Game, and pressed about the March 1 timeline for an arena-financing resolution.

Stern uttered nary a word of breaking news. The talks are at the delicate stage, so that's no surprise. But the Kings are clearly on his mind and occupying an inordinate amount of his time. The vibe the commissioner delivered was powerful and unmistakable: The NBA wants the Kings to remain in Sacramento and is pushing more aggressively than ever to make that happen.

The fact this year's event is being held in another small market?

That a series of intense, last-minute negotiations were needed to salvage an Amway Center agreement that involved city and county representatives and required major contributions by the Magic's billionaire owner, Rich DeVos?

Coincidence? Perhaps.

But Stern isn't about to let an opportunity pass.

The similarities between Orlando and Sacramento, including market size (19th and 20th), repeated false starts and protracted arena negotiations, are simply too tempting.

"This is our way (an All-Star Weekend) of thanking everyone here," Stern said while walking toward the media gathering, where he was joined by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

"Sacramento is the equal or better than many of our franchises," Stern said. "It's a great city. Let's see if we can complete a deal. It would be an absolute shame if (an arena agreement) did not happen."

While there are substantial differences between the financing of the $380 million Amway Center and the proposed funding for an arena in Sacramento, the folks in Orlando deserve to strut a little bit this weekend. Their arena is widely regarded as the most impressive in the world.

The arena, on a corner of downtown that attaches to the entertainment district on Church Street, sits on 8.75 acres and offers nearly every modern amenity – except the massive parking lots more typical of arenas in suburban areas.

The glass and metal facade is spectacular and inviting, and once inside, the building is warm and functional with high-ceilinged foyers, expansive concourses and attractive interactive kiosks, along with a skybar and a wildly popular outdoor terrace.

Additionally, the seating configuration feels surprisingly cozy and is tailored toward a business community that boasts only one Fortune 500 company. There are 64 suites, 1,400 club seats, 68 loge boxes and 17 hospitality areas. And the acoustics offer a dramatic upgrade over the old TD Waterhouse Arena.

Local leaders are still gushing about the Feb. 12 appearance of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

"We said we could attract these types of events if we had a new building," said Allen Johnson, executive director of the city's venue department, "and we are. Five years ago, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Tulsa were getting bypassed. We couldn't compete, either. And people will have second thoughts and spend their money elsewhere if they don't enjoy coming to a venue."

The All-Star Weekend is expected to generate $80 million-$100 million for the local economy, with 50,000 visitors expected to pay for 27,000 hotel nights and frequent area restaurants, tourist attractions and the NBA events.

Officials with the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau also anticipate another gain: a major boost to the city's image.

"We've come into our own," said Gary Sain, CEO of Orlando's Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The last time the All-Star Game was here (1992), we were a small city. The biggest difference is the wonderful downtown atmosphere and the fact that we are a business destination now. And (Sunday), people will be watching from all over the world."

Not that an All-Star Game or an arena is the perfect antidote for all that ails a city or a franchise. Magic center Dwight Howard has asked to be traded to a larger market, preferably joining the New Jersey Nets next year in Brooklyn. Fans are both miffed and nervous.

And no one is thrilled about the lagging funding for the Performing Arts Center and Citrus Bowl Stadium, the two other elements in the three-tier, $1 billion agreement. Groundbreaking for the Arts Center was delayed until last June, and major renovations of the stadium have been tabled for the immediate future.

Yet while joining Stern at the Jam Session, Dyer, the Orlando mayor and the Amway Center's biggest booster from the beginning, beamed like someone whose child had just graduated from Harvard.

"Some people doubted that we could ever get this (arena) done," he said, "but I never did."


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