When Sacramento landed a coveted hosting berth for this month’s NCAA basketball tournament, officials hoped to wow visitors from around the country with a stylish new hotel, a high-definition multiplex cinema and a row of chic eateries – all within steps of the city’s Golden 1 Center arena.
Instead, when fans arrived last weekend for the arena’s national coming out party, few amenities were in place. Construction fences framed the arena plaza, including one blocking the largely demolished and vacant west end of the old Downtown Plaza, where rusting girders still stand.
Is Sacramento faltering on its promise of a new billion-dollar arena entertainment district downtown?
Not at all, city and team officials say. Though progress is slower than initially forecast, work on hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurant space around the arena is advancing faster than a look around might suggest, they say, with a new round of openings likely later this year.
Chief among them will be the 16-story Sawyer Hotel and condominium tower on the north side of the arena plaza. Kings’ president Chris Granger said the 250-room hotel is now about 70 percent finished and could open in August before the start of the next NBA basketball season.
The team plans to begin marketing the tower’s 45 upscale condominiums in April. That marketing campaign will include a walk-in mock-up of a condo unit in the Kings offices on J Street, similar to mockups the Kings used previously to sell arena luxury suites.
Granger said the Kings also likely will begin work within the month on a portion of the former Downtown Plaza just west of the arena, next to Macy’s, where a new cinema could be up and running in the fall.
Granger acknowledged some elements of the team’s Downtown Commons (DoCo) development are opening later than first planned, but said that is not a concern.
“It is a complicated site,” he said. “We feel great about the pace. This week is another milestone. The second (hotel) crane is coming down.”
Kings executives have said they are motivated financially to make DoCo happen soon. The team would rather make money off the property rather than have it sit on the sidelines. The Kings have told city officials they expect to earn revenues from the hotel, office and retail in DoCo that could help them pay off a refinanced version of a major loan the city gave the Kings in 1997.
Commercial real estate broker Ken Noack, Jr., a downtown retail specialist, has been watching the progress since the 2014 ground-breaking and said speed isn’t the main concern. Getting the right businesses signed up, including national newcomers to the region, is important, and that takes effort, he said.
“We are not a big metropolitan area,” Noack said. “We are entering into a different level than we have experienced before. It takes time from the standpoint being patient enough to bring the right complexion of retail tenants.”
The Kings and their partners have been tight-lipped about what businesses they talking with, but city officials say one of the focuses has been on “fashion retail” stores that do not already exist in Sacramento and that will complement Macy’s. That portion of the site also will house a new cinema complex, which could be open by the end of the year, and more eateries.
The development team expects to begin trucking in steel beams in the next month to bolster the bridge over Fifth Street for construction of new restaurant and retail spaces.
Granger said the Kings and their partners, JMA Ventures of San Francisco, “have become more ambitious in what we want to do. We don’t think small. As we talk to potential tenants, they may have ideas that are fantastic. We are constantly trying to innovate.”
“Those things make this closer to next season than we might have planned at the beginning,” Granger said. “But that is OK. All this is doing is making this a better project for everybody.”
Even as they work on Downtown Commons, the Kings have taken on another real estate project, a blighted, largely vacant block of K Street between Eighth and Ninth streets that the team is acquiring from the city. The team’s ownership group is expected to bring plans forward soon for the properties.
The Kings aren’t the only major player with projects that could bolster Sacramento’s pitch to land future NCAA tournaments and other major events.
Macy’s has constructed a new entrance facing the arena front doors on what once was a blank store wall. That entrance connects to the arena via a new bridge over Fifth Street. Macy’s officials said in an email to the Bee this week that they are excited about the ongoing transformation downtown and in the arena area.
Across J Street from the future Sawyer Hotel tower, Kaiser Permanente is refurbishing a six-story building into a multi-service medical complex that is expected to open in 2018, bringing a daily workforce and patients to the area.
On the arena’s east flank, local developers at D&S Development and CFY Development say they hope to finish building by this fall on a 137-unit apartment complex and string of stores and restaurants along the 700 block of K Street.
Soon, said CFY’s Ali Youssefi, the downtown “experience is going to be completely different.”