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Natomas residents push old Kings arena as zoo’s new home – but it’s not a simple play

What the Sacramento Zoo expansion could look like

Take a look at some of the exhibits and layout of a proposed Sacramento Zoo expansion and relocation.
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Take a look at some of the exhibits and layout of a proposed Sacramento Zoo expansion and relocation.

A growing grassroots neighborhood campaign in Natomas hopes to rally enough support to bring the Sacramento Zoo to the Sacramento Kings’ old haunt, redevelopment plans remain murky for Sleep Train Arena.

The Sacramento Zoo announced in October its plans to relocate from Land Park and construct a larger zoo. Since then, a Natomas-based group called We Want A Zoo has been hosting community events to drum up interest in repurposing Sleep Train Arena (formerly called Arco Arena) and land for the zoo.

“Our group is about the Kings and the city of Sacramento holding to a promise to the Natomas community that they made when the decision was made to keep the Kings and provide incentives for a downtown arena,” said the group’s founder, Brandy Tuzon-Boyd.

With the Sacramento City Council set to hear the zoo make its case for relocation next month, Sacramento Zoo officials have “very preliminarily” looked at Sleep Train Arena, said Elizabeth Stallard, president of the zoo’s board of trustees.

“It could be a terrific location, but one, it’s not our decision, and two, our priority is relocation,” Stallard said.

That decision lies with the Sacramento Kings, who still own the arena and the roughly 183 acres it sits on. Stallard said the move and construction will require a financial commitment from the city, which owns the zoo, though she said it’s too early to tell how much.

Among other things, the Kings are eying the property as the site of up to 2,017 housing units, according to a rezoning application submitted to the city in November.

As part of its agreement with the city to redevelop the largely unused arena site, the Kings would have to build something that “would have meaning to the community and add to the community,” Tuzon-Boyd said.

Since a building moratorium related to flood risks was lifted in Natomas in 2015, several housing projects have gotten underway, Tuzon-Boyd said.

“So while there is a housing shortage in Sacramento in general, for the most part in North Natomas we don’t see that there is an additional need for housing,” she said.

The Kings’ application suggests the redevelopment site could be used for “employment users, various market sector housing types, commercial, shopping, destination amenities, as well as a range of personal and professional services,” but does not go into specifics.

“We continue to work with the City to make progress towards a flexible master entitlement plan that is capable of adapting to a wide range of opportunities to benefit the region,” said the Kings in a statement.

The application also anticipates a future Sac RT light-rail station for the redevelopment site, as part of a goal nearly 30 years in the making to run light-rail trains from downtown to Sacramento International Airport.

“No movement” has been made by the Kings requesting a new light-rail station, said Sac RT spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, and the Green Line expansion remains in limbo until funding is secured.

Tuzon-Boyd remains optimistic that because the Kings have yet to present detailed or shovel-ready project plans, there is still time to convince the team and push city officials to advocate on their behalf.

Sacramento Zoo’s intention to move to a more spacious location was announced late last year, and was a pivot from previous plans for a $75 million renovation of its Land Park home.

“We can do more with more space,” Stallard said, adding that parking was also a frequent complaint from patrons. “Obviously a big focus of our concern is that we’ve lost a number of animals” over the years such as tigers and hippos that could not have been kept in the zoo’s 14-acre confines without risking accreditation.

Stallard cited other metropolitan zoos that have expanded with success, such as the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. It saw a 19 percent attendance increase in 2016 to nearly 1 million visitors after the expansion of an African Adventure exhibit.

Zoos in similar-size markets such as the Oregon Zoo in Portland and the Cincinnati Zoo are also in the midst of multimillion-dollar expansions.

Sacramento Zoo officials will present their case for moving out of Land Park before the Sacramento City Council on May 28. Tuzon-Boyd said We Want A Zoo will be in attendance to encourage the Kings and the city to “have a conversation” about “a project that is economically advantageous for everyone.”

This story was updated April 16 to include comments from the Sacramento Kings.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.


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