Arena

Excavator tears through walls as demolition of Downtown Plaza begins

There’s probably no turning back now.

Downtown Plaza started coming down in chunks early Wednesday, the first visible sign of demolition as much of the moribund shopping mall is transformed into a new arena for the Sacramento Kings.

After nearly two weeks of prep work, demolition started a little after 7:30 a.m. A giant excavating machine started knocking down the exterior walls of Downtown Plaza’s southernmost building, at Fifth and L streets. Among its former tenants were Grebitus & Sons jewelers, a Morton’s steakhouse, LensCrafters and the Pre-Flite Lounge.

In contrast to the ceremonial kickoff Aug. 1, attended by Mayor Kevin Johnson and other dignitaries, only a small crowd witnessed the destruction of the building at Fifth and L. Reporters outnumbered regular spectators. Commuter traffic passed by on L Street, with some motorists barely pausing to watch the spectacle.

A few Kings employees were present. Kings President Chris Granger stopped by briefly, pronounced the start of demolition “exciting,” and moved on to a meeting.

Giant barriers erected inside the mall effectively muffled the racket from the demolition outside. Those strolling around the western end of the open-air mall, where several tenants are still in business, could barely hear the excavator clawing at the walls.

The Kings, who bought the mall earlier this year, have installed a webcam atop the still-open Macy’s building at the western edge of the mall. The webcam can be found at http://sacramentoesc.com/live

Kings officials say the new arena will start rising from the ground sometime this fall. The building is supposed to open in October 2016.

The $477 million project still faces a handful of legal obstacles, including a pair of lawsuits challenging the project under the California Environmental Quality Act. But officials with the team and the city have said they believe the project will continue without interruption.

Meanwhile, the Kings’ crusade to lift the once-downtrodden’s stature got a boost Wednesday. The team announced that Chairman Vivek Ranadive will be grand marshal at New York City’s India Day parade on Sunday. About 100,000 spectators are expected to attend the parade, which celebrates the independence of Ranadive’s home country. The NBA is a sponsor of the parade and Ranadive is the first India-born owner of an NBA team.

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