Old Sacramento business leaders fear arena impacts

Old Sacramento business leaders warned in a letter to the mayor and city officials last week that the proposed downtown arena could make it harder for people to get to the historic district, and could force businesses to close.

Representatives of the Old Sacramento Business Association contend the city and Kings aren’t doing enough to protect what the group called a vulnerable city asset, and that the district’s restaurants in particular may suffer because many diners typically arrive by 7 p.m., the same time that crowds of arena-goers would be arriving a few blocks away for Kings basketball games.

“Old Sacramento has very real existing transportation, parking and connectivity issues, which the construction and operation of the (arena) will amplify,” wrote Howard Skalet of Skalet Family Jewelers, chairman of the association board, and Chris McSwain, group executive director. The group represents 120 entities in Old Sacramento, most of them locally owned. Skalet and McSwain said the arena project draft Environmental Impact Report recently issued by the city and Kings doesn’t adequately address those issues. “The (report) incorrectly and unfairly shifts the responsibility for negative impacts to Old Sacramento from a nearly half-billion-dollar construction project to small, family-owned businesses.”

The letter states, however, that the group strongly supports the downtown arena. McSwain said Old Sacramento business owners want the added cultural life an arena would bring downtown.

In the letter, the group suggested the Kings move their night games from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to give people more time to get downtown to restaurants. It also asked the the city to add 300 valet parking spots in an adjacent garage for people headed to Old Sacramento, and is calling on the city and Kings to “substantially improve” lighting and safety in the K Street pedestrian freeway underpass between the proposed arena site and old town.

McSwain said the city needs to acknowledge the perception among some that the underpass, which connects the arena site to Old Sacramento, is unsafe. “The arena will have a great impact on Old Sacramento, if people will walk there,” he said.

Michael Ault, executive director of another property and business owners group, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said he welcomes the arena as a “game changer” downtown, even though it will require some adjustments.

“There will be impacts and changes that will be made to accommodate (many) more people coming down here,” Ault said. “We’re focused on the big picture of what this big development is going to bring us from standard of economic opportunities downtown.”

City official John Dangberg said the city is reviewing more than 70 public comments it received concerning the $448 million arena project, to be jointly financed by the city and Kings. He declined to comment on the letters, but said the city will take the comments into consideration when it prepares a final environmental report this spring, and will respond to all comments prior to a City Council vote on the environmental report’s conclusions. That vote is expected in early April.

Kings officials were noncommittal when asked about the request to switch games to 7:30 p.m. “We appreciate their engagement and remain committed to doing what is best for our fans and Sacramento,” Kings President Chris Granger said in an email. “Listening to ideas from the community has been integral to our process, and we will continue to do so as we finalize arena details.”

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