Ailene Voisin: Arco builders want to renovate arena

05/09/2012 12:00 AM

12/18/2012 12:09 AM

Let's call them the original dream team, this group of local architects and engineers and businessmen that accomplished something amazing 25 years ago, only to fade into the area's major league sports background.

Arco I? That was them.

Arco II? That was them, too.

But now that the downtown railyard plan and all those other arena plans have died an agonizing economic death because someone – say, the Kings' co-owners – lack the deep pockets to close the deal, the builders of the Kings' first two homes are campaigning to construct a third.

"We're asking for 90 days," said Rann Haight, the original architect of the arenas constructed in Natomas in 1985 and 1988. "We know the building better than anybody. We think that's enough time to note the deficiencies in the building, come up with a schedule of how long it would take to address them, while continuing to play in the current building."

Along with determining the extent of the Maloofs' interest in renovating the existing structure – which they have broached repeatedly in the aftermath of the ill-fated railyard deal – the critical issue is the one that has doomed every previous arena incarnation: Who pays for a renovation estimated to cost between $100 million and $125 million?

None of the members of the group that includes structural engineer Gerardo Calvillo, Sierra Central Credit Union CEO John Cassidy and longtime sports marketing spokesman Greg Van Dusen would offer specifics about financing sources.

The NBA's $7 million contribution to the aborted railyard project is no longer available. Mayor Kevin Johnson also has expressed opposition to the use of city funds toward a Power Balance Pavilion renovation.

Nonetheless, there remains a small and significant segment of the political and business community that has long embraced the notion of renovating the current arena as a viable alternative to the $391 million railyard project.

"The prospect of renovating the existing Natomas arena is something I suggested months ago," Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said Tuesday, "and something I sense the league and owners might be more supportive of today than in the past."

Throughout the various arena incarnations of this past decade, Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have repeatedly cited the advantages of remaining at their current site because they own the land and the building and operate the facility.

At both the Honda Center in Anaheim, where they almost moved last year, and a proposed downtown arena in Sacramento, they would have relinquished ownership and operating control, becoming mere tenants.

Several sources close to the Maloofs believe this was a major sticking point in both arrangements, given the family's diminished financial empire. After the Maloofs sold their beer and liquor distributorships, and 98 percent of the Palms casino in Las Vegas, the Kings are easily their most identifiable asset.

On Tuesday, Joe Maloof said the family remains "receptive to anything that makes sense and isn't going to cripple us or the city."

Asked specifically about the Haight-Calvillo group, he acknowledged recent talks with Cassidy and an ongoing intrigue with the Natomas site. Additionally, he anticipated receiving multiple bids.

"The majority of our fans love where we're at right now," he said. "They love the location. It just makes sense. We own the 182 acres with the city. A new arena is in the future, but give us seven, eight years at Power Balance Pavilion."

A year ago, the Haight-Calvillo group met with the Maloofs and was told the family was pursuing a new arena. The group continued to meet and refine its renderings and, according to Calvillo, had to swallow hard when representatives of the railyard deal claimed the arena wasn't worthy of renovation.

"I really don't understand the basis for that," Calvillo said. "Why didn't they come ask us?"

Haight, who jokingly said he has been observing the failed arena efforts for years with a "Will Design for Food" sign hanging from his neck, offered a few interesting insights into his group's proposal.

The approach is "a la carte," with the price rising with each addition.

Fan proximity to the court remains paramount; he cited this as one of Power Balance Pavilion's unique and sustainable assets.

Construction would include expanding the exterior by placing a new "skin" around the building, with the roof remaining intact.

Suites, club seats and a third level would be accessed by escalators and elevators; the 17,317 capacity would be expanded by approximately 1,000 to 1,500 seats.

The Kings' schedule would not be interrupted. The major interior renovations would take place during the offseason, with the entire project lasting approximately two years.

On and on it goes

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