Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento arena plan is a rush job

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Outside Sacramento, one can find knowledgeable people who think it's a fool's errand for the city to be pursuing a last-minute arena deal to retain the Kings.

"I'm not sure what Sacramento is doing," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts and a leading authority on arena financing. "The offer (from Seattle) is considerably stronger."

NBA Commissioner David Stern tweaked Sacramento last week when he said Seattle would prevail in a bidding war for the Kings unless rich guys with local designs put up more dough – and fast.

Some locals took the blast of cold water with a smile, citing Stern's words as evidence he is on Sacramento's side. It's that kind of thinking that puts the city at risk – both financially and emotionally.

Stern is, as he has been throughout the Kings here-today-gone-tomorrow saga, squarely on the side of the NBA. That's his job. It's in his interest, the league's interest, to drive up the value of NBA franchises.

While Stern is engineering a bidding war, the linchpins of a Sacramento bid, business moguls Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle, are working strictly behind closed doors. The public is left on the sidelines, asked to root for a deal devoid of facts and yet facing an up or down vote from the NBA in mere weeks.

With upward of $200 million in public money at stake, it's only natural we want to hear more from City Manager John Shirey. But how much more can we really expect? He has been tasked with crafting a massive public financing deal in a matter of days – the kind of plan other cities have taken years to devise.

You would think these unsettling factors would inspire someone in Sacramento with political muscle to stand in opposition. Curiously, no. It's one of many strange factors in this Sacramento story.

The state capital does have legitimate interests in keeping its only major sports franchise and developing its downtown. And while research shows that arenas and stadiums often don't pay a rate of return for cities, Zimbalist adds a caveat: Arenas that are part of a larger development plan can create synergy if they are planned correctly.

An example relevant to Sacramento is Petco Park in San Diego, where the city put up $300 million of the $474 million stadium cost.

The payoff was that John Moores, former owner of the San Diego Padres, invested more than $400 million in development around the ballpark. A former San Diego skid row became a tourist attraction.

In that city, more than six years elapsed from conception to ballpark opening. That is time Sacramento doesn't have.

Eight weeks after learning the Kings were being sold to rich guys in Seattle, Shirey plans to make details of a complex financing plan for a downtown arena public during a hearing next week.

It's only one reason some think it a fool's errand.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.