Formally unveiling drawings of the new Sacramento Kings arena Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Johnson said he’s confident a measure challenging the city’s $258 million subsidy for the project will be kept off the ballot.
In his first extensive comments since the city clerk last week rejected petitions submitted by Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, the mayor said he believes the courts would dismiss any legal challenge of the clerk’s decision.
“Our city attorney feels very good about our case,” Johnson told reporters after addressing the annual State of Downtown breakfast at Memorial Auditorium. “In all probability we would prevail in court.”
In a speech to about 800 community leaders, the mayor defended the city’s subsidy and said it “will leverage an estimated $1 billion in private investment” in the downtown area. Besides building a $448 million arena, Kings executives say they will build another 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use development adjacent to the arena. The arena would occupy a portion of Downtown Plaza, which the team purchased last week.
Johnson presented the arena drawings on a giant screen and declared, “It’s big, it’s bold, it’s audacious an iconic space.”
The City Council is scheduled to finalize a development agreement with the Kings this spring, but STOP has submitted petitions demanding a public vote in June on sports facilities subsidies. City Clerk Shirley Concolino tossed out the petitions, saying the wording was legally flawed. Subsidy opponents have indicated they will sue the city to overturn her decision.
“We’re prepared for it,” the mayor said.
STOP’s lawyer, Brad Hertz, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday but has previously said the flaws in the petitions were minor and the taxpayers’ group would have a strong case in court.
On Tuesday, the executive managing the arena development urged the community to come together behind the arena effort.
Referring to STOP and its leaders, Tim Romani of ICON Venue Group told the downtown audience: “We need to listen to them, we need to hear them but in the end, this arena will get built.”
Romani said Sacramento’s city-owned arena can spark a downtown revival comparable to other ICON-managed arena projects in Los Angeles, Denver and Kansas City. Vast portions of downtown Denver were a wasteland before the city built new facilities for basketball, hockey, football and baseball starting in the mid-1990s, said Romani, the event’s keynote speaker.
In Sacramento, “you’ve actually got better bones than Denver did,” he said. He said a key is making downtown safe as a place to live. “It’s got to be work-live-play,” Romani said. “It has to be more than just work.” The Kings’ plan for the development next to the arena includes apartment units along with a hotel, office building and retail complex.
Romani acknowledged that not every arena creates an immediate spark. An ICON-managed arena project in Newark, N.J., hasn’t yet borne fruit as an economic catalyst, he said, but he believes that will happen eventually.
Separately, the Kings told season ticket holders Tuesday that prices will go up next season. The news was disclosed in emails about the arena design.
Several season ticket holders said they were informed their tickets will go up 9 percent. Team President Chris Granger said in an interview that some tickets won’t go up at all, and others will go up anywhere between $1 and $50 a game.
He said it’s the first increase in five years and is justified by the rise in attendance at Sleep Train Arena this season. Attendance is up 17 percent, according to ESPN.com.
“The prices will still be lower than they were in 2008,” said Granger. “It’s just time to recalibrate our pricing.” He said the team closely monitors the secondary resale market for Kings tickets, which has been very strong.
Granger said the increases include a 5 percent surcharge to accelerate repayment of the $62 million debt the Kings owe the city. The team’s new owners inherited the debt and agreed to the accelerated repayment as part of the “term sheet” outlining the subsidy for the new arena. The surcharges went into effect in September but until now have been imposed mainly on single-event tickets, not Kings season tickets, said team spokesman Adam Keigwin.
Granger was one of several Kings executives at the downtown breakfast, including General Manager Pete D’Alessandro. The mayor noted that Kings officials in earlier years tended to skip the event. The team was purchased last spring by a group led by Silicon Valley tech executive Vivek Ranadive, who prevented the Kings from making a planned move to Seattle.