The plan to dock cruise ships in the Port of West Sacramento to accommodate fans for an NBA All-Star Game is full steam ahead.
Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas, who represents West Sacramento, sent a letter to the NBA earlier this month saying the inland port “is more than capable of handling enough ships to accommodate visitors for the All-Star Game.”
“With a 30-foot depth, the Port is equipped to handle regular dockings by large cargo ships, which will also be sufficient for medium-sized cruise ships,” Villegas wrote in the letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver told The Sacramento Bee on Thursday that the Kings are exploring the use of cruise ships as accommodations in their bid to land the 2020 All-Star Game. The NBA commissioner was attending the Kings’ first regular-season game at the new downtown arena, Golden 1 Center.
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While the league likes to put the game in its newest arenas, Silver said downtown Sacramento is thousands of hotel rooms short of the stock needed to host the event. The league generally looks for cities with at least 5,000 rooms close to the game site.
Steven Hammond, head of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Friday the central city has about 2,000 high-end hotel rooms that would meet the NBA’s criteria.
Hammond said the cruise ship plan floated by the Kings “is much more plausible” than the proposal made last year to partner with hotels in Napa Valley.
“You’re having people much closer to the activities,” Hammond said.
Even the addition of hotels currently being developed in downtown Sacramento, including the 250-room hotel the Kings will open next spring adjacent to Golden 1 Center, would leave the city short of the NBA’s 5,000-room minimum.
A 165-room Hyatt boutique hotel, proposed for the old Hotel Marshall site immediately east of the new downtown arena, could open by mid-2019, said co-developer Guneet Bajwa of Presidio Cos.
The NBA will likely make a decision on Sacramento’s all-star bid in 2018.
This wouldn’t be the first time cruise ships were used at a major sporting event. Jacksonville, Fla., was able to secure the right to host the Super Bowl in 2005 only after lining up five cruise ships to augment the region’s hotel supply.
Players and coaches of the Team USA men’s basketball team stayed on a luxury cruise ship while competing at this summer’s Rio Olympics. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was among the guests.
Using cruise ships for the All-Star Game in Sacramento “seems very reasonable,” said Monty Mathisen, managing editor of Cruise Industry News.
“It’s a very easy way to bring in additional hotel capacity,” he said.
With a depth of 30 feet, the West Sacramento venue should be able to accommodate all but the largest cruise ships, Mathisen said. He said 1,500- and 2,000-room ships that sail during the winter from Los Angeles and Long Beach could be chartered for a week by the Kings or the NBA.
Stewart Chiron, a Miami-based cruise industry expert, said the 1,300-cabin Grand Princess cruise ship that operates out of San Francisco is another possibility. “It’s very common for ships to be used as hotels,” but the cost of securing a cruise ship for a week or so would likely run in the millions of dollars, he said.
“You’re literally taking the ship out of service,” he said. “The good thing is there’s nothing on the books for 2020 yet (with the cruise lines), so it’s a very good thing they’re talking about it now.”
One major concern that will need to be addressed is providing security to the area where the ship is docked, Chiron said.
Villegas wrote that the Port of West Sacramento is “prepared to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security to assure a safe and secure environment for guests staying on these ships.”
“A corridor for passengers to check-in and move freely from the ship to (Golden 1 Center) will be created and staffed accordingly with security personnel,” Villegas wrote. “Buses, shuttles, taxis and ride-sharing services will also be able to provide safe and convenient transportation for guests to and from the Port.”
West Sacramento City Manager Martin Tuttle told the City Council at its Oct. 19 meeting that the city had been contacted by the Kings and the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau “about making the port available for a cruise ship that could serve a future All-Star Game.”
“That appears to be feasible, so we’re working with them,” he said.
The Port of West Sacramento, formerly known as the Port of Sacramento, is used mostly for shipping agricultural goods, such as rice and barley, along with heavy machinery. It is not equipped to handle container ships, the primary mode of ocean-going freight, and has struggled financially over the years.
Cruise ships would get to the port via the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel, a 43-mile canal built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1960s that allows ships to travel to landlocked Sacramento from San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. The channel is 30 feet deep, and previous plans, never executed, have called for dredging it deeper.
West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon said in an interview that the city of West Sacramento several years ago studied whether the Port of Sacramento could be used as a destination for a cruise ship excursion and found “it’s a feasible concept.”
“There were some issues like Homeland Security rules, but they were all resolvable,” he said. “We’ve done a fair amount of initial vetting. The Kings weren’t going to include something as a basis for their bid without knowing it’s for real.”