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Could Sleep Train Arena serve as a convention center?

Sleep Train Arena may host some convention meetings. Photo taken July 2017.
Sleep Train Arena may host some convention meetings. Photo taken July 2017. Sacramento Bee

Sacramento city officials say they want to use Sleep Train Arena as a temporary convention center when the downtown convention center closes in 2019 for a major two-year expansion project.

The big Natomas facility, former home to the Sacramento Kings, has sat largely vacant for two years but is still in usable shape, officials say. It could be used to help hold onto some convention business the city might otherwise lose during construction.

There is one minor problem. The arena belongs to the Sacramento Kings, who haven’t yet decided whether they will tear it down to redevelop the site or find some other use for it.

Kings officials could not be reached Monday on their timetable for redevelopment of the Sleep Train area or whether they would allow the city to book conventions and meetings in their building. But the team has indicated they are open to any options.

The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to eliminate another hurdle. Three years ago, when the city and Kings teamed up to finance and build the Golden 1 Center downtown, the city required the Kings to sign a “non-compete” clause, agreeing the team would not use Sleep Train to host concerts, big sporting events or major meetings at Sleep Train that could be held at the downtown arena.

Desmond Parrington, the city’s convention center expansion project manager, said the city wanted to make sure the Kings used the new downtown arena to its full potential, thus protecting the city’s $255 million investment in Golden 1.

City officials will ask the council to temporarily waive that requirement. “It’s a good solution,” Parrington said. “We want to keep those meetings in the region and keep the economic benefit during construction.”

Parrington said the city is looking in particular at moving a series of large annual summer Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings to Sleep Train. The group has used Sleep Train in the past, he said. Summer is a busy concert season for Golden 1 Center, making that arena unavailable for the group’s events.

Parrington said the city has not yet decided on a convention center construction schedule. The likely plan, at the moment, is to close the center entirely in mid-2019 and to reopen late in 2020.

He said city staff will bring that option to the City Council in late November or December for discussion. That includes some initial construction during the first half of 2019 along 15th Street on the facility’s planned new east entrance. That initial work though can be done without impacting business in the center.

The most recent estimated cost for the renovation is $125 million, although that number likely will change as detailed construction plans are formulated.

The city also plans a yearlong, $84 million renovation of the adjacent Community Center Theater in 2019 and 2020. All theater events during that period are expected to be held a few blocks away at Memorial Auditorium. Memorial also is scheduled for $16 million in upgrades.

Convention center officials said they also are looking at moving some conventions to Golden 1 Center, Cal Expo, McClellan Business Park, and some hotels and meeting halls downtown.

“We likely will use all those facilities,” Visit Sacramento head Mike Testa said. “It depends on what works for each group.”

The goal, he said, is to provide adequate and convenient interim accommodations. “The last thing you want to do is jeopardize future business.”

While there have been lots of promises to redevelop the site, there has been little obvious progress. Top Kings executives are trying to offer a reassuring message to residents and business owners in Natomas.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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