Sacramento’s planned downtown arena looms less large

Sacramento’s planned downtown sports and entertainment arena just got more compact, shorter, and, according to its architect, better.

Responding to requests from city officials to give the arena’s front plaza on K Street more breathing room, and to eliminate pedestrian pinch points, designers say they will present plans to the city Planning and Design Commission tonight for a less bulky structure.

“It’s a tighter, better building,” lead architect Rob Rothblatt said. “We think the proportions are better. It just looks right.”

Representatives of Rothblatt’s firm, AECOM, the international architectural firm employed by the Sacramento Kings, will offer the latest arena and plaza iterations to the commission at City Hall for its approval. The commission will send its recommendations on the design to the City Council for a final review May 13.

Several members of the commission and other city officials previously said the building seemed to loom too heavily over the plaza planned at Fifth and K streets. Officials also said the building’s footprint created a tight squeeze for large groups of pedestrians entering the plaza at once.

Architects answered by knocking about 15 feet off the eight-story structure’s height, and eliminating most of the building’s outward slant of about 20 feet at the top. That gives the arena a more upright posture, Rothblatt said, helping it fit better in downtown’s tight confines.

Designers also shifted the building’s base to give the plaza 10 more feet of space. The design group accomplished those changes by lowering the building’s interior upper walkway, or concourse, and shifting the entire building closer to L Street, he said.

That move causes the building’s upper levels to protrude slightly over the L Street sidewalk. Rothblatt said he views the effect as positive, allowing people to see the building and be drawn to it as they walk along L Street.

“We think the personality of the building has not changed,” he said. “The perception is that the plaza is going to be much bigger, because the arena doesn’t overhang it anymore.”

The building maintains the see-through look it had when presented publicly in late January. Its distinctive silvery-white series of vertical panels of patterned glass, see-through aluminum and Sierra limestone, however, have each been reduced in width from 14 feet to 12 feet for balance as they curve around the building facade.

The building also retains its unique half-block-long front entry, dominated by five glass aircraft hangar doors that can fold upward to create a five-story opening. For some events, some ticketholders might be seated in the plaza outside the front opening. Kings President Chris Granger described the building as a blurring of the lines between indoor and outdoor.

The plaza and its entrances are roughly the size of nearby Cesar Chavez Plaza. City officials say the area will be a gathering point before, during and after arena events, but also will be usable as an event space on days when no events are taking place inside the building.

Architects made a few other plaza changes, including eliminating a planned sunken “bosque” or quiet area, and eliminating plans for a permanent grandstand-like structure. Those will be replaced by a slightly elevated sitting and standing area with trees and cafe-style tables, like “a Parisian gravel park,” Rothblatt said.

They are also suggesting that the city and the Kings consider commissioning a 40- to 60-foot tall sculpture to be placed at Fifth and K streets, a spot in the plaza that is visible for blocks around. Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission director Shelly Willis responded by saying the idea has merit. She called Fifth and K “an obvious site for a monumental public artwork because it would mark the place and help reinforce the entrance.” Her commission is tasked with setting up the process in the coming months to determine what public art will be commissioned for the arena area.

A city staff member who has reviewed the plaza design changes said he is pleased.

“We think it is a spectacular design,” Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said. “It provides for a pleasant experience if you are passing through, or if you are going to a game or visiting restaurants or stores.”

The changes only slightly reduce the overall square footage of the building, and do not reduce the number of seats, expected to be 17,500, designers said.

Kings officials declined to discuss the effect of the changes on the building’s $448 million price tag. AECOM’s Rothblatt, however, said architects have been instructed to keep the budget at its current level, and Kings’ president Granger previously said the budget will not top $448 million.

Under the deal being finalized between the city and Kings, the city will invest $258 million toward arena construction. The Kings are responsible for paying costs beyond that. The City Council is expected to review the deal, the financing plan, and the arena designs on May 13.

The Kings plan to begin demolition of the east end of Downtown Plaza soon after that. The portion of Downtown Plaza west of Fifth Street, which includes the main Macy’s building, will remain in place, with some expected alterations.

Architects made one other significant functional change in the building’s exterior – at the city’s request – moving the truck entrance off L Street. Trucks will now enter the hidden loading docks from a portion of Fifth Street that dips under K Street.

That change will allow more usable retail space along L Street between Fifth and Seventh streets, but still not enough to meet city standards for retail space along those blocks. Planning commissioners and numerous urban planners around Sacramento have said the L Street frontage is a critical area, and a weak point in the arena design.

The Kings plan currently calls for a restaurant along L Street, as well as an employee entrance, an administrative lobby, a box office and a VIP entrance. City staff members say they expect debate among planning commissioners about whether that flank of the arena will be lively enough.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee