August 4, 2013

Editorial: One shot to get city's arena design right

The arena planned for downtown Sacramento will not only be an entertainment venue and new home for the Kings. It will be a rare opportunity to fix past mistakes and reinvigorate downtown with a piece of architecture that reflects Sacramento's values.

The arena planned for downtown Sacramento will not only be an entertainment venue and new home for the Kings. It will be a rare opportunity to fix past mistakes and reinvigorate downtown with a piece of architecture that reflects Sacramento's values.

If there were no planned public subsidy involved with this project, the public would have little right to demand a seat at the table. But with $258 million in public funds involved – mostly from future parking revenue – the community needs to be a full partner in vetting possible designs. It should accept nothing less.

The arena is slated to open in August 2016 on a prime piece of real estate that is now home to Downtown Plaza. To reach its potential, it needs to be designed to accommodate a variety of events and be adaptable over time. It must be a venue that attracts fans and non-fans alike. It needs to tie seamlessly into Old Sacramento and K Street, where the city has already invested millions of dollars. The last thing Sacramento wants is a spaceship arena plunked down that is incongruous with the rest of downtown.

There are encouraging early signs that the Kings' new owners get it – that they understand the responsibility before them.

"The weight of this is not lost on me," new Kings President Chris Granger, who is in charge of day-to-day operations and the arena, told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board on Thursday. He called it a decision of generational impact.

Laying out his vision, he said the goal is nothing less than the world's most technologically advanced arena that is also environmentally sustainable and that celebrates what is uniquely Sacramento.

For instance, Granger says it would be "cool" if the design incorporated the Delta breeze and our outdoor lifestyle. That could mean large "windows" that would open, instead of doors, and let fans inside. Several early conceptual drawings submitted by potential architects also show balconies and rooftop gardens.

The team wants a building that is not just an arena, but a public space. That could mean an outdoor concourse that would be open year-round and would host movies and other events. Granger also recognizes there must be retail along parts of the streetscape, to ensure the site maintains its vitality even on nights when the arena is empty.

Granger says another guiding principle is to maximize the team's home-court advantage by making the arena as clamorous and compact as possible. That could mean a seating capacity less than the 18,500 mentioned so far.

While making clear the Kings don't want to copy any existing venue, Granger highlighted three highly regarded NBA arenas that he says fit the character of their communities: Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. While we have little regard for the monstrous "Barclays" logo that dominates the front of the Brooklyn arena, the others he mentioned have clearly been assets for their cities.

An NBA executive for 14 years, Granger will be working closely with Sacramento developer Mark Friedman, who is an investor in the team and who also envisions a vibrant town square – Sacramento's version of Times Square in New York or Union Square in San Francisco. Granger said the arena can anchor surrounding development, in similar fashion to L.A. Live, the sports and entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles that is anchored by Staples Center, home to the NBA Clippers and Lakers.

To design and build Sacramento's arena, the Kings are assembling a high-profile team with promising résumés. The overall project manager, ICON Venue Group, is well regarded and worked on the O2 arena in London and the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., among many others.

Last week, the Kings announced they had picked Turner Construction as the prime contractor. Turner built the Amway Center and is building the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara; key personnel are to transfer here next fall once ground is broken for the arena.

The next big hire, by mid-August, is the architect. Likely candidates include AECOM, which designed Barclays Center and is also working on the proposed waterfront arena in San Francisco for the Golden State Warriors. Another possibility is Populous, which designed the Amway Center and is involved in a proposed expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center.

Before a final arena design is approved by October, the team plans to give the public significant opportunities to have its say, including focus groups, surveys, perhaps even a design center where people off the street could take a look and weigh in. That's also encouraging.

Granger said the Kings ownership group is confident that the budget for the $448 million arena is sufficient to realize its vision, but says it is committed to cover any cost overruns that arise.

"We have enough money to do something spectacular," he said. If he keeps his pledge to involve the community, the collaboration could help make it spectacular.

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