Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Kings’ arena is the only real plan to revitalize downtown Sacramento

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

What’s the alternative to building an arena in downtown Sacramento?

There isn’t an alternative – not a real one, anyway. No competing project is being nudged out by the arena. No other prospective entrepreneur is committing millions of dollars to a section of downtown Sacramento that has been bleak for decades.

Only one serious bidder aims to do something at the dismal Downtown Plaza shopping mall – Vivek Ranadive and his team of owners with the Kings.

People can argue that Sacramento is investing too much – $258 million – in the arena project. They can claim the city is undervaluing the price of the land, though that’s in dispute.

What’s missing from the arena debate is an acknowledgment that there is no otherreal or tangible proposed deal between the Kings and Sacramento.

The prospect of the new arena transformed Tuesday’s annual gathering of downtown business owners at the State of Downtown breakfast at Memorial Auditorium. A sellout crowd swooned over renderings of the arena – and not only because the building seems dynamic and transformative. The arena represents the biggest news for downtown that anyone could remember.

“If they can build the arena, it shows that we take the future of our economy more seriously,” said Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration at Sacramento State. “... You have to offer diverse quality of life. Sports and entertainment are a part of that.”

Is $258 million a lot of money for the city to invest in remaking the Downtown Plaza? Yes. Are there risks involved in paying down the debt over the next decade? Yes. But what are the real consequences of spurning the deal? Losing the Kings, having Sleep Train Arena as a fading asset – and a dead downtown mall.

Where are the dynamic alternative-use proposals for a decaying downtown core? Past State of Downtown breakfasts were depressing events not nearly as well-attended as Tuesday’s gathering.

The current Kings ownership group paid more than $500 million to keep the team in Sacramento. The new owners propose to invest another $500 million in development around the arena. While some argue the city is giving them parcels of land appraised too low, the leading downtown developer in Sacramento argues that it’s just the opposite.

“I don’t believe the balance between residential rental rates and the cost of construction justifies paying much, if anything, for that land for that use,” said David Taylor, who does not have a financial stake in the Kings.

“From that angle, the city is making as good a deal as they can make, and perhaps making a better deal than the team is.”

The area downtown is a picture of inactivity, an urban disaster, a high-crime area. The arena deal changes this dynamic profoundly. It’s the real deal.

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