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Mayor: Get arena going

Originally published: 9/23/09

After learning that Arco Arena is considered unsuitable to host a major college basketball tournament, Mayor Kevin Johnson said Tuesday that Sacramento could lose the Kings if efforts for a new arena aren't stepped up.

"If we don't have a clear path to an arena in the not too distant future, then we as Sacramentans need to know that (the Kings) very well may look elsewhere," Johnson said.

The mayor made his statements after finding out the NCAA had bypassed Sacramento's bid to host the regional round of the men's basketball tournament. Arco Arena has hosted the money-making event four times since 1994.

Most recently, in 2007, fans filled the arena, and the event injected $4 million into the local economy, officials said.

Sacramento Sports Commission officials said they were told the city's bid to host tournament games through 2013 had been denied because of concerns over the conditions at Arco Arena.

"They said, 'I hope you will consider bidding in the future when you get your arena issues resolved,' " said John McCasey, executive director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, which filed the bid.

An emotional mayor said it was "staggering and mind-boggling" that Arco -- home of the NBA's Kings since 1988 -- is no longer considered suitable for big-time college basketball.

In response, Johnson said he wants to see a proposal to build a new arena at Cal Expo soon.

If one doesn't materialize -- and if the city doesn't start seriously considering alternate options for a new arena should the Cal Expo plan fall flat -- the threat of the Kings leaving town will become more real, according to the mayor.

It's unclear what, if anything, the mayor can do about pressuring the NBA and Cal Expo officials to come up with a plan.

Johnson said last week he'd like to see an arena proposal at Cal Expo take more solid form by the end of this year.

On Tuesday, however, he expressed a greater sense of urgency, and a desire to look for other sites and ideas for getting a new arena built.

"I don't have all the answers right now, but I will tell you this: When you look at Cal Expo as an option, the clock is ticking," he said.

"I've got to be more aggressive, and I've got to move the timeline up in terms of the arena," he added. "The timeline has to include an Option B, an Option C, and I haven't quite determined what we're going to do."

NBA representative John Moag, who is leading the NBA's three-year effort to build a new arena at Cal Expo, said he understands the mayor's frustration about the slowness of that effort.

"I think the mayor is expressing a sense of where we all are," Moag said. "We are in a bad economy in a state that doesn't have any money. Lending has dried up. We can't force developers to borrow money they can't get."

In meetings with Cal Expo and the NBA this summer, several major developers told officials here the arena development plan at Cal Expo makes sense but is not doable in the current economic climate.

Moag said he and the NBA have not given up hope, however, of getting an arena built at Cal Expo. "We are committed to this effort, and the Kings are committed to this effort, and we are staying with it until we get to the point where it is apparent it won't work."

He declined to discuss where the effort goes from here, or when the NBA and Kings might pull the plug, but said March of next year will be a critical date.

"The league has been very public about needing to see light at the end of the tunnel by around the first of March," he said. "I think it requires a developer on board by then. I think that is possible."

That timeline coincides with a March 1 deadline for teams to submit a relocation application to the league.

Brian May, deputy general manager of Cal Expo, said officials there would work quickly on its plan, "but at the end of the day, the deal has to be a good deal for Cal Expo."

As it has for many years, the downtown railyard remains in this conversation. Talks have been held in City Hall over how to build an arena on land owned by the city inside the railyard, although the mayor said those conversations have not been substantial.

The city is buying the lower 33 acres of the railyard, where there would be enough room for an arena. It would have to be designed to fit with a planned major transit center on that site.

Officials with Thomas Enterprises, the Atlanta development company that owns the 240-acre railyard site, said Tuesday they are very interested in seeing an arena built on their land.

"Absolutely," said company vice president Suheil Totah. "We remain very interested in siting an arena at the railyards. We think it would be a major boost for the redevelopment efforts there."

Totah said Johnson has asked him if Thomas is interested in an arena. "We've said yes, but we haven't had any dialogue with the city or the NBA."

"The big question, of course, is how do you finance an arena?" Totah said.

Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said the city continues to partner with Cal Expo and the NBA in hopes of getting an arena built at Cal Expo. That includes continually searching for new financing possibilities to see if they are usable at Cal Expo or at some other location if the Cal Expo project doesn't materialize, Dangberg said.

Johnson said he would discuss his ideas for the arena in the coming days and weeks, as building a new arena has now moved up on his list of priorities.

"I need to take a step back and look at the resources that I have and the capacity and figure out what I can move around because this needs to be a priority for our community," the mayor said.

HOW DOES ARCO COMPAREWhen the NCAA announced its sites for the 2011 through 2113 NCAA men's basketball tournament first- and second-round games, 21-year-old Arco Arena was left out. Arco, which seats 17,317 for basketball, has hosted NCAA men's games four times, most recently in 2007. Here's a look at the facilities Arco lost out to:

2011City / Arena / Built / CapacityDenver / Pepsi Center / 1999 / 19,155Tampa, Fla. / St. Pete Times Forum / 1995 / 20,500Tucson, Ariz.* / McKale Center / 1973 / 14,545Washington / Verizon Center / 1997 / 20,173Charlotte, N.C. / Time Warner Cable Arena / 2005 / 19,026Chicago / United Center / 1994 / 23,500Cleveland / Quicken Loans Arena / 1994 / 20,562Tulsa, Okla. / BOK Center / 2008 / 17,839

2012City / Arena / Built / CapacityAlbuquerque, N.M.* / The Pit / 1966 / 18,018Louisville, Ky.* / Louisville Arena / 2010 / 22,000Pittsburgh / Consol Energy Center / 2010 / 19,000Portland, Ore. / Rose Garden Arena / 1993 / 20,630Columbus, Ohio / Nationwide Arena / 2000 / 19,500Greensboro, N.C. / Greensboro Coliseum / 1959 / 23,500Nashville, Tenn. / Sommet Center / 1996 / 19,395Omaha, Neb. / Qwest Center 2006 / 17,560

2013City / Arena / Built / CapacityAuburn Hills, Mich. / Palace of Auburn Hills / 1988 / 22,076Lexington, Ky.* / Rupp Arena / 1976 / 23,500Salt Lake City / Energy Solutions Arena / 1991 / 19,911San Jose / HP Pavilion / 1993 / 19,500Austin, Texas* / Frank Erwin Center / 1977 / 16,755Dayton, Ohio* / UD Arena / 1969 / 13,435Kansas City, Mo. / Sprint Center / 2007 / 18,555Philadelphia / Wachovia Center / 1996 / 21,600

* -- Arena on or near college campus.

Sources: Arena Web sites.

-- Bill Bradley, Sports Editor

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085.