Kings break ground on new downtown Sacramento arena

Local dignitaries gather for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new downtown arena in Sacramento on Wednesday.
Local dignitaries gather for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new downtown arena in Sacramento on Wednesday.

Dozens of construction workers stood in the background Wednesday as the Sacramento Kings officially kicked off construction of their $477million downtown arena.

The workers will take back center stage soon enough. With the groundbreaking ceremonies out of the way, and much of Downtown Plaza reduced to bare earth, the Kings and their general contractor will resume their all-out sprint to get the arena ready for the start of the 2016-17 basketball season. The on-site workforce, which totals around 60 employees now, will grow to a peak of 600 before the building opens.

Kings officials said they’re confident the project will be completed on time. “We’re still more than on pace for October ’16,” said team President Chris Granger after the ceremony.

The late-morning groundbreaking, attended by more than 200 community leaders, politicians, City Hall staffers and Kings owners, featured two of the men who figured most prominently in the arena project: Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive, who led the investor group that halted the team’s proposed move to Seattle, and Mayor Kevin Johnson, who championed the city’s $255million subsidy for the arena.

Also helping with the shovels was a group of young people linked in some way to the Kings, including children of an executive from general contractor Turner Construction and the young boys who gained a measure of fame a few years ago by opening a lemonade stand to help keep the Kings in town.

“Whoever thought a hole in the ground would look this cool?” the mayor said as the ceremony got underway. He then alluded to the years of missed chances and false starts that nearly cost the city its only major-league sports franchise: “Many people said this day was not supposed to happen. … Our community rose to the occasion.” Johnson pointedly thanked members of the City Council who voted 7-2 in favor of the arena subsidy.

City officials have been discussing a new arena in Sacramento for nearly 20 years, and among some in the crowd there was still a sense of disbelief that the project was finally being built. And as they looked around the construction site, many were struck at how quickly Downtown Plaza’s buildings came down in the three months since demolition began. About 80,000 tons of concrete and 4,000 tons of steel have been hauled away.

“After it didn’t go fast for years, now it’s off to the races,” Granger said.

The floor of the construction site is already at the level of the former underground parking garage. Granger said construction crews will drill down another 10 feet or so before building the foundation.

“People will see steel coming out of the ground right after the first of the year,” he said.

Although employment won’t exceed 600 on the construction site at one time, about 1,355 workers will work on-site at some point in the next two years, according to an economic analysis released by a political action committee launched by the mayor and the Kings. Another 1,781 construction jobs are expected to be created off-site.

Because the eastern half of the mall is already an active construction zone, the groundbreaking was an invitation-only event. About a quarter mile away, on a ramp at the edge of what’s left of Downtown Plaza, several dozen Kings fans stood at a railing and cheered. The event was also streamed on the Kings’ arena website, and Ranadive greeted fans in his native India and in China, where the Kings recently concluded a two-day exhibition series.

Ranadive promised the crowd that the 17,500-seat arena will be “one of the most iconic structures on the planet. … It’s going to put Sacramento on the world map.” He also vowed that “one day, there will be a championship banner” hanging from the rafters of the new arena.

The event took place hours before the Kings tipped off the NBA regular season against Golden State in what is expected to be their next-to-last year at aging Sleep Train Arena. While the new building is supposed to open in 2016, the NBA has given the Kings’ a one-year grace period to finish construction. If the arena doesn’t open by 2017, the league has the right to buy the Kings and move them out of town. That was a condition for allowing the Ranadive group to buy the team and keep it from leaving Sacramento.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916)321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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