City Beat

Natomas leaders want timeline for Sleep Train arena redevelopment

Sleep Train Arena and 100 more acres owned by Sacramento will be developed by the Kings. A plan is sought before the team moves to its new site.
Sleep Train Arena and 100 more acres owned by Sacramento will be developed by the Kings. A plan is sought before the team moves to its new site. Sacramento Bee file

Nearly two years after a new ownership group took control of the Sacramento Kings and Sleep Train Arena, the team is still working on a plan for the redevelopment of the North Natomas arena site once the franchise moves into a new downtown facility.

And that has some residents of North Natomas – including the area’s City Council member – growing antsy.

Kunal Merchant, the Kings’ vice president of strategic initiatives, told the City Council on Tuesday that the team planned to step up its outreach and analysis efforts to find a use for the nearly 200 acres surrounding Sleep Train Arena. He provided only preliminary concepts for the redevelopment of the land.

The team owns 84 acres in North Natomas and will receive 100 city-owned acres by next year as part of the city’s $255 million contribution to the downtown arena financing plan.

The Kings plan to leave Sleep Train Arena next fall and move into the new $477 million arena downtown. The team has played in North Natomas since 1985.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas, appeared unhappy with the lack of movement on the site.

“I don’t want to wait until 2016 and the team is gone and that engine is gone for Natomas before we have a plan for how we’re moving forward,” she said. “That is unacceptable.”

Ashby asked Merchant to develop a more structured timeline for the next steps, including the market analysis of what might work best for the site. “Natomas deserves a solid plan moving forward,” she said.

Councilman Jeff Harris, who represents South Natomas, said “a definitive timeline is essential.” He asked the Kings to focus on luring a medical complex to the site, “if it’s possible.”

Merchant told the council the preliminary concepts being discussed for the site include a major medical campus or hospital; a corporation or high-tech campus; a higher education campus; and a mixed-use development.

Merchant said in an interview that the team would have a planning team in place within a few weeks.

“I think we all have the same sense of urgency,” he said. “We’re 100 percent on board with what (Ashby) is saying.”

The team can’t build anything on the site until the federal government lifts a building moratorium that is in place until nearby levees are upgraded.

Many North Natomas residents told the City Council they wanted a hospital. Others advocated for a business complex. A few residents pitched the idea of building an amusement park on the land.

Ashby and former Councilman Steve Cohn made a public overture to Kaiser Permanente last year during a Natomas business luncheon. Ashby had said she met with Kaiser officials multiple times about the site.

Kaiser officials said at the time they were exploring the possibility of building a hospital somewhere in the Sacramento region, but were noncommittal about the North Natomas site. A hospital spokesman said Tuesday he had no update to provide on Kaiser’s plans.

Molly Fling, a board member of the Natomas Community Association, said neighborhood residents want a plan “that will be groundbreaking ready when it comes time to tear down (Sleep Train Arena).”

“We want something equivalent, or hopefully better, for both Natomas and the city,” she said.

Business leaders have long advocated for a new development that has as much economic impact on the area as the arena has for the past three decades.

“Most of this community was built around the arena, so we want to make sure the future growth is not stifled,” said Danielle Marshall, president of the Natomas Chamber of Commerce. “The jobs that the arena created and businesses that rely on that revenue will still be needed.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at

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