When plans emerged earlier this year to replace the Downtown Plaza with a new arena for the Kings, some critics warned that Sacramento would be swapping one monolithic structure for another.
But as the Kings continue to offer glimpses into what a new arena might look like, team officials insist they have no intention of building a fortress.
“We want to figure out how to knit the street grid back together,” said developer Mark Friedman, a Kings minority owner tasked with taking a lead in the construction of the $448 million arena. “We can’t do that literally – (the arena) is bigger than any city block – but you can create the possibility of moving through the site.”
On Tuesday, during two briefings before Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Sacramento City Council, Friedman and Kings President Chris Granger presented a series of design concepts they said will blend the arena with the rest of downtown. Those design ideas were presented at a series of more than 30 open houses, forums and business sessions Granger and others have held in recent weeks.
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The design plans – and even the arena’s final price tag – won’t be finalized until next year at the earliest. The city’s contribution of $258 million, most of it from revenue bonds backed by parking operations, is capped.
That subsidy is the focus of a proposed June ballot measure that, if successful, would require voter approval of public contributions to sports facilities. Two groups are collecting signatures to qualify that measure for the ballot.
In the meantime, Kings officials are pushing ahead with the project, which they have described as a catalyst for downtown development. The plan also includes office, retail and entertainment venues at a revamped Downtown Plaza site; Friedman said the first stages of that work would likely involve shopping and a hotel.
Design experts said the Kings and the city should develop a plan for Downtown Plaza – a 6-square block facility on the western edge of downtown – that connects the area with the rest of the central city.
“You don’t want to create more of a fortress or a barrier,” said Gladys Cornell, chairwoman of the Urban Land Institute’s Sacramento branch. “Right now, it’s not a place where people automatically gather. You want it to activate the area, to become knitted into the context of the urban core.”
Granger and Friedman said the early design ideas are reaching for that goal. Friedman said the arena should “be the magnet that brings people downtown.”
“We want people to walk there at 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and enjoy being there,” he said.
Kings officials have talked about designing an “indoor/outdoor” arena facility with the flexibility to allow patrons to view arena events from seats inside the facility, at standing-room-only areas or from a grand outside plaza. The arena itself will likely sit 30 feet below street level, allowing pedestrians on the plaza to view events through a series of large windows.
Granger said the arena could have a high line park – much like the elevated green space in New York City that sits atop a former elevated rail line – that allows arena-goers to watch games from the outside. He said team officials want to take advantage of Sacramento’s weather by including an outdoor component to the arena.
“We want to blur the lines of whether you’re sitting inside the arena or you’re outside,” Granger said.
Pedestrian access will also be a focus. The team plans to open up K Street as it runs adjacent to the arena, seeking to create a stronger connection between the site and Old Sacramento. A plaza may also be built along what would be Sixth Street as it runs along the eastern edge of the arena in order to drive foot traffic from office buildings on L Street and Capitol Mall.
While current plans call for it to contain nearly 700,000 square feet of space, the arena will likely not be as large as other National Basketball Association facilities that have opened recently. Granger said no shows at Sleep Train Arena in the past three years have drawn more than 17,000 spectators and that just two have been attended by more than 16,000.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to build a big, giant building,” he said. However, he said standing room spots and seating outside could add thousands to the arena capacity, pushing it well beyond the 17,500 now being discussed.
“When we go to the (NBA) Finals, and we will get to the Finals, we know we can address (the need for more seating) to pump up the crowd,” he said.
As Granger and Friedman gave a presentation to the City Council during an evening meeting, purple lights adorned the Old City Hall building. Lights were scheduled to turn other city landmarks purple this week – including the state Capitol, the Tower Bridge and the Memorial Auditorium – to celebrate the Kings’ season-opening game tonight at Sleep Train Arena.
An afternoon presentation at the Citizen Hotel was attended by only a handful of residents, but a large crowd attended the evening session in the City Council chambers. All but one of the seven speakers who addressed the council voiced their approval of the design concepts and the arena progress.
“The world is watching,” said Robert Chase, president of the Central Valley chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who urged that the facility have modern, environmentally friendly features.
Other speakers asked that the arena be easily accessible by bicycle. Another speaker suggested the project include a “golden spike” art installation that honors Sacramento’s place in railroad history.
“The face of downtown will look different,” the mayor told his council colleagues, “and you guys will be part of something really, really significant.”
The council voted 7-1 to approve a set of goals for the project, including urging that the arena act as a catalyst for downtown growth, be an environmentally sustainable project and be “uniquely Sacramento.” Councilman Darrell Fong was the lone vote against those goals.