New Kings arena draws fan attention – and new opponent

Still three years away from its planned opening, Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena is drawing attention from fans for several innovative design ideas, but also drew a potentially tough new opponent Tuesday.

Speaking at a series of recent public arena planning workshops, Kings President Chris Granger dropped the surprise news that the $448 million Downtown Plaza facility may have far fewer seats than originally proposed, possibly fewer than at old Sleep Train Arena, but could pack more patrons in, nonetheless, by offering special standing-room-only ticket sections and a dramatic outdoor plaza seating area.

Even as Kings officials continued refining the arena concept, the movement to challenge the arena subsidy gained momentum of its own: Tuesday a new group announced it would oppose the city’s plan to contribute a $258 million subsidy.

The group, calling itself Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, is getting support from nonunion contractors angry because they’ve been effectively locked out of bidding on the new arena. The nonunion contractors expect to contribute $15,000 to $25,000 initially to the effort, said Eric Christen, a member of the new committee and leader of nonunion builders pushing for a piece of the construction project.

Community activist Craig Powell, president of the watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, said Voters for a Fair Arena Deal will gather signatures for the petition drive launched earlier this year by Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, or STOP. But Powell said his group will operate separately and isn’t opposed to a public subsidy for an arena.

“What we are in favor of is an arena subsidy we can afford,” Powell said. Powell contends that the city, under the current plan, would be putting up more than the advertised $258 million investment to help build the arena.

Powell said he believes STOP is close to gathering enough signatures to put the subsidy issue on next June’s ballot but has been hampered “big time” by controversy, including the recent disclosure that much of its funding came from the financier who wanted to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle.

Under a plan negotiated this spring between the city and the Kings, the city would own the arena, but the Kings would operate it for basketball games, concerts and other events. The two subsidy opposition groups, which will work mainly at arm’s length from each other, have until mid-December to gather 22,000 signatures from registered voters living in the city of Sacramento to put the issue on the June 2014 ballot.

Kings and city officials, meanwhile, say they are pushing ahead with plans for the arena, which they plan to open in October 2016. City officials declined to comment on the anti-arena effort, saying they are focused on the planning work.

That includes recent discussions by the Kings about reducing the number of seats in the new facility from the previously anticipated 18,500. Kings president Granger said his planning group has not yet decided exactly how many seats the new arena would have, but said, “I’d be surprised if we have more than 17,500.”

Sleep Train, with 17,317 seats, is among the smallest arenas in the National Basketball Association. Most NBA arenas have seating numbers ranging from 18,000 to 20,000. Notably, though, the league’s newest arena, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, has only 17,732, the first arena in years to be built with fewer than 18,000 seats.

Granger said the team and its architecture firm, AECOM, believe limited seating would create intimacy and allow designers to add elements no other arena has. That doesn’t mean there would be fewer fans, he said. The Kings are talking about offering a number of standing-room-only tickets for fans to watch the game in open areas behind the arena’s lower seating bowl or on what officials say would be a dramatic “bridgeway” over one end of the arena, offering bar seating, couches, and a railing overlooking the event floor.

Overall, the new arena is expected to be 50 percent larger in square footage than Sleep Train, allowing event-goers more leg room, wider seats, and wider concourses.

Team officials say they may publish as many as five arena design concepts sometime in the coming months for public review. “We’ll get people and the NBA to weigh in,” Granger said.

He and other Kings officials have said they want the building to be the most technologically advanced in the world.

At one end of the arena, the Kings say they envision a glass wall that slides open onto a plaza at Sixth and K streets, making the arena an indoor-outdoor facility. Ticket buyers for some events, such as concerts, would be able to sit in the plaza with a view of the stage through the open glass wall, as well as via video screens in the plaza. The outdoor area could boost arena capacity by thousands for some events, Kings officials said.

The design could allow some people to attend events at lower prices, even while the team ratchets up its money-making machine inside with more luxury suites, loge seating, VIP lounges and other amenities. Team officials say they have not yet determined pricing levels of standing-room or plaza tickets.

In an effort to amplify crowd noise at the new arena, Granger said the team’s architects are looking at ways of replicating the echo-chamber effect at Sleep Train, where spectators ramp up the noise by stomping on hollow wood flooring in some sections.

The team also is looking at eliminating the wall that often separates the concourse from the event floor in arenas so event-goers can watch the action while in the concourse buying food and beverages. Granger said the new owners plan technology that allows fans to see replays from more than one camera angle immediately on their smartphones.

City officials said they agree with the plan to limit seating.

“The Kings have done their market studies and focus groups on market demand and needs,” Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said. “We’re very pleased with the way the design is going. It’s the quality and feel of the arena that is going to drive success.”

Granger offered the insights into the arena-planning process during a series of invitation-only workshops last week soliciting public ideas about what the arena should look and feel like. The workshop invitees were chosen from several thousand people who had responded to an online survey asking what they wanted to see in the new arena. The city is continuing to solicit arena opinions through Friday at its Envision Sacramento website, www.envisionsacramento.com.

Ideas offered up by fans include touch screens at seats for ordering food, speakers built into seats, a rooftop viewing area, a small-group performance auditorium, ramped up mass transit, play areas for children, and wait areas for adults whose young teens are attending concerts.

The arena design will require the city or team to buy the former Macy’s men’s store building. Negotiations on that are underway, Dangberg said. Macy’s recently moved its men’s merchandise back to the original Macy’s two blocks to the west.