City Beat

Kings, Live Nation and SMG could run Sacramento public entertainment venues

The Memorial Auditorium, slightly lit in purple on Tuesday night, October 29, 2013. Various buildings and store fronts in Sacramento were lit in purple in support of the Sacramento Kings and the opening of the NBA season.
The Memorial Auditorium, slightly lit in purple on Tuesday night, October 29, 2013. Various buildings and store fronts in Sacramento were lit in purple in support of the Sacramento Kings and the opening of the NBA season.

The city of Sacramento wants some familiar names to help bolster downtown’s entertainment and convention district.

The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to have city staff negotiate with the Sacramento Kings, concert promoter Live Nation and global convention center operator SMG on a deal that would permit those groups to run the Sacramento Convention Center, Community Center Theater and Memorial Auditorium.

Those three facilities – all within a few blocks of one another – are currently operated by the city’s Department of Convention and Cultural Services. By handing over control to a private operator, the city hopes “to increase the number of events and attendance across all three facilities and further augment downtown’s role as a destination for arts, entertainment and culture in our region and beyond,” according to a city staff report.

The city doesn’t have a final operation plan from the three companies and will seek a more formal proposal during talks. Negotiations are expected to take three months.

Some downtown interests and those in the entertainment industry have a perception that the Community Center Theater and Memorial Auditorium have too many “dark” nights when there are no acts at the venues. Fran Halbakken, an assistant city manager, said there is some truth to that.

“We do believe there is some uplift we can bring to the facilities,” she said. “All three of the facilities (including the convention center) have some upside so we just need to explore the best ways to improve the utilization.”

The city has been looking for a vibrant “middle-size facility” to book acts that can’t fill Golden 1 Center, but can attract crowds beyond what venues like R Street’s Ace of Spades can handle, Halbakken said. The Community Center Theater holds around 2,300, while Ace of Spades has capacity for 1,000.

Kings president of business operations John Rinehart said the team was “thrilled” for the opportunity “to continue to energize downtown, similar to the success of Golden 1 Center.”

“With world-class partners Live Nation and SMG, we’ll create a robust entertainment calendar at three venues that have tremendous potential,” he said in a text message. “Downtown’s historic venues will come alive with diverse and leading acts, including artists from our own backyard. And together, we’ll activate the Convention Center to bring millions of guests to the region while supporting our travel and tourism economy.”

About 70 unionized city employees currently work at the three facilities. Steve Crouch, director of public employees for Local 39, the union representing about 50 of those workers, said his organizations is “really concerned” about privatizing the facilities and is hopeful the employees will be moved to other positions within the city.

“We have 50 people over there that have good jobs and benefits and retirements,” Crouch said. “Our goal is to preserve those folks’ jobs, maybe not there, but we don’t want to see them lose their jobs.”

Significant public investment is being made into all three venues.

The City Council recently approved a renovation of the Convention Center that will add about 20,000 square feet to the complex, along with new lobbies, a kitchen, a community plaza and an outdoor amphitheater between the center and the Community Center Theater. The final price tag is expected to be around $120 million and work should begin next year.

Last fall, the council approved an $83 million renovation of the Community Center Theater. The council also approved a $16 million upgrade of Memorial Auditorium so that facility can be used for shows during the Community Center Theater’s renovation.

Most of the money will come from a tax the city collects on hotel rooms.

Under the agreement the city wants to negotiate, SMG would operate Sacramento’s convention facility and Community Center Theater. The company manages the Moscone Center in San Francisco and many other convention centers.

Live Nation, which runs the Ace of Spades music venue on R Street and Toyota Amphitheater in Wheatland, would have control of Memorial Auditorium. The Kings would “handle community engagement and outreach as well as marketing and sponsorships,” according to the city staff report.