May 23, 2012

Ailene Voisin: Warriors' arena plan stings

This latest example of arena envy strikes close to home – too close to home.

This latest example of arena envy strikes close to home – too close to home.

Based on the odometer in my vehicle, the distance between downtown Sacramento and AT&T Park is 82 miles, give or take a few traffic detours. Subtract a half-mile or so, and you arrive at Piers 30-32, the proposed future home of the Warriors.

Nice. No, stunning.

But they had to do this now? They couldn't have waited for the wounds to heal and the bruises to disappear? For Commissioner David Stern and the Maloofs to offer some clarity regarding the capital city's own NBA franchise and at least hint at a future beyond next season?

Arena envy. It hurts.

Almost three months after Stern, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Maloofs reached a tentative agreement on a $391 million sports and entertainment complex for the downtown railyards – and almost four weeks after the deal officially died an ugly, excruciating death – Stern, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber announced plans for a $500 million waterfront arena that would be completed in 2017.

"Absolutely, they have the money to do it," Stern assured reporters attending the Tuesday morning news conference at the site.

Equally significant: Lacob and Guber, the Los Angeles-based billionaires who purchased the Warriors two summers ago for a league-record $450 million, are privately financing the deal.

Under terms of the proposal that was thin on details, the owners will absorb the estimated $500 million construction cost and spend an additional $75 million to $100 million to repair the crumbling 13-acre pier site. The city will lease the land to the Warriors, free of charge. But the proposal requires no new taxes and doesn't touch the general fund.

Based on Sacramento's recent experiences, which were surely monitored by our sophisticated neighbors to the west, one suspects that in the several months preceding Tuesday's announcement the parties actually met on numerous occasions and did the following: sat across a table and negotiated; looked each other in the eyes; opened their mouths and occasionally uttered at least a few words; and, most importantly, agreed to present a united front.

Otherwise this project has no chance. Arena and stadium deals throughout the country are complex and often frustrating. In environmentally conscious and regulation-saturated California, arena deals can be impossible, the process routinely killing, stalling or discouraging projects.

The breathtaking site of the proposed Warriors arena – on acreage that juts into the bay in a neighborhood of high-rise condominiums and high-end businesses with phenomenal views – virtually assures some lusty opposition.

Warriors fans in Oakland won't be thrilled, either, even though they've had almost two years to prepare. Lacob and Guber have been transparent about their intentions from the beginning. When they bought the team from maligned owner Chris Cohan in July 2010, they held their introductory news conference in San Francisco. When Jerry West was named a consultant? San Francisco. When Mark Jackson was introduced as head coach? San Francisco.

Even if this proposal fails, the owners are more likely to reconsider a location near AT&T Park – even though it would require input and an ongoing relationship with the Giants – than revisit locations in Oakland, because of the more lucrative corporate opportunities and the undeniable cachet of operating in one of America's most physically appealing cities.

"We intend to build the most spectacular arena in the country, for all Bay Area residents," Lacob said. "An architecturally significant building on truly an iconic site. It doesn't get any better than this."

Lacob gets no argument here, especially if he's picking up the tab. That said, he might want to look east at least one more time before making any more playoff guarantees. (The Warriors are in the draft lottery, not the playoffs.) Charlotte has a stunning new building and the worst assemblage of talent in recent NBA history.

And while the larger markets in the NBA benefit from inherent financial advantages, the two best teams this season represent two of the NBA's smallest markets: San Antonio and Oklahoma City are 36th and 44th, respectively, in the Nielsen designated market area rankings.

What that should remind us is this: Owners with deep pockets build the pretty buildings, but competent, creative management and superior coaching are at the root of success.

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