Sacramento will be bursting at the seams Friday when as many as 30,000 college basketball fans hit downtown, filling hotels and restaurants – and also competing with downtown workers for limited parking spots.
The city’s sports commission is forecasting at least $5 million in direct economic impact from this weekend’s NCAA basketball games at the downtown Golden 1 Center arena. Fans are expected to come from Oregon, Los Angeles, Ohio, and as far east as Rhode Island, all of whom have teams competing in the year-end tournament.
One place those visitors will not have to spend money on Friday will be light rail. In an effort to reduce potential traffic problems downtown, Sacramento Regional Transit will offer free light rail for people with arena tickets on Friday. RT will have customer assistance employees at stations and downtown to guide first-timers.
City and Kings officials are encouraging arena attendees to use transit and ride-share services and to cycle and walk to the arena to avoid potential parking congestion.
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Traffic movement and parking around Golden 1 Center events has been smooth since the arena opened last fall. But previous major events at the arena have taken place at night or on weekends.
Both of Friday’s NCAA sessions (two games per session) will start during workday hours. Fans for the 11 a.m. session will arrive when many downtown parking garages and street meters are already occupied by downtown workers’ cars. The evening session begins at 4:30 p.m. when many of those same commuter cars will still be parked downtown.
City officials say Friday is generally the lightest commute day of the week, but said that tournament-goers should check the city’s GetHereSac.com website beforehand.
Downtown hotels are expected to be filled, prompting spillover to suburban hotels in such areas as Arden and Rancho Cordova.
“We are going to be pushing capacity,” said Mike Sophia, the director of the Sacramento Sports Commission. “The excitement is off the charts.”
Sophia estimated that 10,000 out-of-town fans, players, cheerleaders and others associated with the eight visiting college teams will be in town this weekend. At the same time, another 3,000 people will be attending a health leadership conference at the downtown convention center.
The free rides on Friday are among the free ride days RT has committed to offer this year, partly to reduce car congestion downtown, but mainly to introduce potential new riders to the system.
“It’s a way for us to partner with the Kings to move large volumes of people in and out of downtown,” RT spokeswoman Devra Selenis said. “This builds momentum for other large events coming to the region.”
“As Sacramento and Golden 1 Center take the national stage, we’re grateful Sacramento Regional Transit has generously offered a Free Ride Day to make sure transportation is a success on a monumental day for the city,” said Kings President Chris Granger.
The light rail and bus agency, however, will charge regular rates on Sunday, during the second and final day of NCAA basketball in Sacramento.
Light rail riders can use any of the agency’s 21 park-and-ride lots around the county. The trains drop riders off and pick them up a block from the arena, which is located at Fifth and K streets.