Sacramento Kings eye reuse of Sleep Train Arena land in Natomas

Aerial view of Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Thursday, January 23, 2014.
Aerial view of Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

The Sacramento Kings aren’t leaving Sleep Train Arena in Natomas to make their big move downtown for another 10 months, but proposals already are coming in from developers to build on the 185-acre site. So far, the Kings are turning them down.

None represents the type of cutting-edge concept the Kings and Natomas leaders are looking for, said team President Chris Granger. He plans to deliver that message to the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night during a public briefing on the Kings development activities in Natomas and at the new arena’s downtown construction site.

“We are going to say no 10 times before we say yes to something,” Granger said. “Our shared goal is to do something that makes a difference. That happens with high-value jobs, with something that is reflective of our region’s strength.”

Granger said construction is on schedule for the new Golden 1 Center downtown. The arena’s glass hangar front doors will be installed in the next few weeks. Interior work will continue through winter. Crews will build two levels of new parking this winter underneath the arena’s plaza and under a planned multi-use hotel tower at Fifth and J streets.

The hotel tower is scheduled for completion in spring 2017, several months behind the arena’s October 2016 opening. Granger said the Kings hope portions of the building on the plaza level will be usable when the arena opens. “We don’t anticipate any obstacles to fans walking through the plaza,” he said.

With the downtown work well underway, Granger said, the Kings’ owners have “ramped up” efforts in the last several months to put together a master plan for redevelopment of their land in North Natomas. The arena, which has hosted Kings games, concerts and other events since 1988, sits on 185 acres in the heart of that community. The site is about the size of 80 downtown blocks, far bigger than the downtown arena site, and represents a major opportunity and challenge.

As part of the 2014 downtown arena deal, the city will give the Kings the 100 acres it owns adjacent to the Kings’ 85 acres, and will help expedite reuse of the site at its “highest and best use” after the team moves downtown. The Kings, in turn, have agreed to “create a conceptual plan for the development ... as soon as reasonably practicable and consistent with market conditions,” according to the deal terms.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas, and others on the council say they do not want to see the site languish unused for years after the team leaves. Earlier this year, Ashby criticized the Kings for not doing enough to move forward with redevelopment. In response, Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive said the owners hoped to “have chosen a path” by the end of 2015.

The team is working with the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council on marketing the site, and is tapping the Kings’ ownership’s connections in Silicon Valley. “We have access to key decision makers across a variety of industries,” Granger said. “We are leveraging those contacts to see who might want to spend more time in Sacramento.”

The future development could include commercial sites, residential areas, public parks, research and educational use, he said. Users could be biotech companies, or entities involved in the life sciences, or companies involved in sustainability issues or agriculture-related research. “Everyone might want a slightly different (site planning) twist. We want to understand a range of options.”

Granger declined to say who has approached the Kings and what concepts the Kings have turned down, but he indicated the group is not likely to sell to developers who simply want to build a housing subdivision or put up an auto mall.

He also declined to offer a time frame for redevelopment of the site. “We have our own economic incentives to get it moving, to have a set of anchor tenants secured as soon as possible,” he said.

Ashby, who said she is pleased the Kings are not jumping at the first overtures, suspects the site will land a high-technology industry use. “What we are looking for here is job generators, an economic driver for the region,” she said. “I think there will be a tech theme to whatever happens.”

Barry Broome, head of the Greater Sacramento group, said the site is well-located next to a major freeway and near the airport for a regional corporate center and is big enough to house as many as 10,000 jobs. He said the Kings should move quickly on plans so the site can be vetted and ready to go if a big company or companies want to move in. Broome said the city should be willing to invest in new infrastructure, such as streets and sewers.

“We want to make sure the infrastructure has to be put in to attract major employers,” he said. “That is going to take money from the city.”

The 2014 agreement between the Kings and the city says the Kings are responsible for costs on the site, including cost of demolishing Sleep Train Arena and other buildings, if need be. The agreement does not reference infrastructure costs. Typically, those costs are paid for by the property owners through various development impact fees. Ashby said the city can partner in helping push the project forward, such as by expediting rezones for the property.

The Kings and Sacramento Regional Transit also recently have begun looking into building a light-rail train station on the site, on a line that would run between downtown and the Sacramento International Airport.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak