City Beat

Soccer tournaments. A movie studio. Amazon. Ideas abound for Sleep Train Arena.

Instead of spending large chunks of their weekends driving to youth soccer tournaments hours away, families in Sacramento could soon have a much closer option.

A large athletic field complex is one of several flashy ideas being considered for the 184 acres surrounding the former Sleep Train Arena in North Natomas.

Another concept under recent discussion involved a major investor luring a movie studio to the site. City officials are cautious about that idea – which has been mentioned locally many times over the years – but said it could make sense to a company like Netflix or Amazon seeking to produce its own content.

Speaking of Amazon, the former arena site is likely one of the few areas in the city large enough to accommodate the company if Sacramento beats the odds and lands Amazon’s second North American headquarters. The company announced last week it was accepting bids from major cities to attract a 50,000-employee complex, and Sacramento officials are assembling their proposal.

It will likely be weeks, if not months, before detailed plans emerge for the Sleep Train land. And any new use for the major infill site owned by the Sacramento Kings has to fit one key parameter: It must meet City Hall’s definition of a major job creator. There could be a recreational, housing or entertainment element to whatever goes there, but the City Council likely will not approve such a project unless a large portion of the plan also includes a large employer.

“In my humble opinion, the anchor tenant – the high-wage job generator – has to be first,” said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas. “If we have an opportunity to bring in a hospital or a tech company or some industry that provides the types of jobs we’re looking for, then we can talk about other parts of the project and how we move forward.”

It’s been nearly a year since Sleep Train Arena hosted its final event. While it may seem that not a lot of progress has been made, Ashby and the Kings both said they are setting up the site for quick redevelopment.

Earlier this year, the Kings and city officials negotiated a deal to refinance a 1997 city loan tied to Sleep Train Arena. The Kings continue to pay down that debt, but by refinancing the deal the team’s annual payments dropped by about $3 million. With less debt tied to the land, it could become more attractive to investors.

At the same time, the city, the Kings and Regional Transit are working on a plan to alter the route of a proposed light-rail line through North Natomas to directly serve the arena site. Doing so would entice major employers to give stronger consideration to the area, Ashby said.

Ashby and others have ruled out some proposals. An auto mall is off the table, as is a cluster of more than a dozen hotels. Ashby said she also won’t accept the site being completely covered in housing or retail.

The Kings are developing a master plan that will lay out the specific uses for the site, but gave no timetable of when they expect to finish. The vacant arena could remain standing.

“Each week, we continue an open dialogue about Natomas development with city leadership, stakeholder teams, and potential partners interested in making a positive impact on Natomas and the city,” said John Rinehart, Kings president of business operations, in a statement. “We’ll continue to engage with people who have interesting ideas for the site, while working toward a general plan that supports Natomas with high-wage jobs, public spaces, transit and mixed-use facilities.”

Mike Testa, president and CEO of the Visit Sacramento tourism and convention agency, said a 12- to 16-field sports complex would attract thousands to the region for soccer, rugby and lacrosse tournaments. The facility could also host large music festivals, and Testa said festival organizers from around the country are eager to hold shows in Sacramento but have limited options.

Next month’s Aftershock rock festival in Discovery Park is expected to draw nearly 50,000 over two days, but that festival and others could seat thousands more in a larger venue such as the sports field complex under consideration at Sleep Train Arena.

“When an anchor tenant is secured that provides good jobs to that area, there are other uses we could look at for the site,” Testa said.

Louis Stewart, chief innovation officer in Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s office, said a representative from a private equity group met this month with city officials to express interest in developing a movie studio in Sacramento. Stewart said the Sleep Train site “excited” the investor, whom Stewart did not name.

Asked if he considered the investor’s plans serious, Stewart said, “I don’t know if they would have come to me if they didn’t think they had a shot of doing it.”

Stewart said the Sleep Train land should be “super intriguing” to technology businesses. The Kings are considered one of the more tech-savvy organizations in professional sports, and North Natomas is close to both downtown and Sacramento International Airport.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis