City steps in to cut cost of Sacramento State graduation at Golden 1 Center

Graduates including Psychology major Ruth Chun Reyes, center, celebrate during the Sac State graduation ceremony at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Friday, December 16, 2016.
Graduates including Psychology major Ruth Chun Reyes, center, celebrate during the Sac State graduation ceremony at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Friday, December 16, 2016. rbenton@sacbee.com

The city of Sacramento has lowered Sacramento State’s spring graduation bill by $50,000 by donating three of the days allotted to it this year to hold civic events at Golden 1 Center.

The city’s contribution will erase the base fee charged by the Kings for the use of Golden 1 Center for six graduation ceremonies on May 19-20, as well as for setup the day before. The school must still pay “additional charges” for items like traffic management, camera operators, lighting and stagehands, which are estimated at $140,595.

The city decided to help after learning that the university would see its spring graduation bill rise to $190,595 – more than triple the cost of last year’s graduation at Sleep Train Arena, which closed in December.

Kings representatives have said that the new high-tech Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento is more costly to operate than Sleep Train Arena and that the organization is covering some of the costs itself.

“The exceptional generosity of both the Kings and the City will result in significant savings for Sacramento State while still allowing us to give our students the best graduation experience possible,” Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said in a prepared statement.

The university’s contract for Golden 1 Center was signed March 7 after five months of negotiation and mounting pressure from students frustrated that the university had yet to confirm a date or site for their big day. Students were particularly upset about not knowing how many guests they could invite to their graduations.

The city of Sacramento owns Golden 1 Center, and its lease with the Kings allows it free use of the arena for up to nine civic events. The city has the option to donate these days to nonprofits or community organizations. Sacramento State’s spring graduation will be the first such civic event at the new arena.

By letting the university use three of its free days, the city is not committing to doing the same thing next year, said Kelly Rivas, deputy chief of staff for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The university will have to get in line with other nonprofits if it wants to apply in the future.

The city is still hammering out an official policy on how the time designated for civic events will be used. It has until June 30 to donate or use the six days it has left this fiscal year, Rivas said.

The city’s contribution gets Sacramento State a bit closer to the $96,500 it had budgeted for the spring commencement ceremonies for its 5,300 graduating seniors. University officials will still need to find $44,095 to pay the bill.

“I’m pleased we could work this out,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a prepared statement. “(There is) nothing more civic than celebrating the next generation of leaders graduating. I hope our graduates continue to stay engaged and in Sacramento.”

University officials explored alternative locations, including Cal Expo, Memorial Auditorium, the Sacramento Convention Center and Raley Field, for the spring ceremony, but they all yielded fewer guest seats than Golden 1 Center, said Elisa Smith, Sacramento State spokeswoman.

It would have cost the university $217,000 to pay for labor and maintenance and to rent portable toilets to host a graduation at Hornet Field on campus, she said.

The university will continue to explore other options for next year, Smith said.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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