That the City Council is close to approving the financial terms for a new downtown sports arena is a kind of miracle of achievement in Sacramento.
And no, the use of the term miracle is not hyperbole.
This is the city where opposing and blocking projects big and small is a regional pastime. This is where obstructionists rail about corporate interests when the corporate community is pint sized compared to other big cities in California.
This where construction cranes you see around town are pretty much working on hospitals and not much else.
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This where too many people prefer that big plots of earth remain vacant – that Sacramento remain the quiet place they imagined it to be 40 years ago.
In truth, Sacramento remains the place where it’s still too hard to do business. What ails Sacramento more than anything is a depressed tax base. Sacramento lacks major amenities to make the city and region more attractive to investors.
For all these reasons and more, keeping the Kings and building the arena were logical steps despite the pushback from opponents.
Prior to this project, the naysayers usually won in this town – either with a lawsuit or by controlling enough trembling politicians. It still happens on too many other projects, but that’s a column for another day.
Mayor Kevin Johnson deserves credit for being a major force behind getting the arena financing plan to a vote on Tuesday – a vote expected to pass with ease.
But this is much bigger than any one person.
The arena is moving forward because supporters in business, labor, politics – and everyday fans and residents – had varied reasons for wanting this project to happen.
Those on the other side could never answer fundamental questions honestly or realistically: If not the arena for a dying section of downtown, then what? If you let the Kings leave, what do you do to replace them?
Who else besides the new Kings owners was proposing any kind of sizable investment in downtown Sacramento?
What about the dreary Marshall Hotel being converted from flophouse to boutique hotel – just down the street from where the new arena will sit? What of the faded Fruit Building, which sits just behind where the arena will sit, being purchased and renovated in order to be attractive for new tenants once the arena opens in 2016?
What about downtown Sacramento experiencing something it hasn’t enjoyed in years – momentum?
The downtown railyard, one of several failed destination sites for a new arena, looks to be purchased by a local developer – Larry Kelly – after years of setbacks and delays.
Two blocks from the arena, there is a proposal to build 25-story apartment towers, the largest in the region.
It wouldn’t be Sacramento unless there was opposition to the towers – and there is – but the proposed project represents the first large downtown housing application since the Great Recession.
“That is what we are looking for, people with discretionary income, the creative class, people with resources to be part of this downtown momentum,” Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Partnership, told The Bee’s Tony Bizjak.
“The arena itself is a great project, but we’ve got to be about more complementary use. We have to do a better job of building more residential, and more variety of retail, something more than just restaurants.”
This is the larger truth about the downtown arena: It’s the biggest, most expensive and most time-consuming piece of a downtown revival – but it’s not the only piece.
It’s necessary to fill the hole of a dead Downtown Plaza and to enliven a dismal stretch that connects to the K Street Mall and Old Sacramento, but it will only be transformative as part of a larger downtown strategy.
Right after approval on Tuesday, the new Kings owners are poised to spend $90 million in the first few months of construction – after already spending $36 million to buy much of the Downtown Plaza. The group led by Vivek Ranadive spent more than $500 million to buy the Kings and pledged to spend that much to develop the area around the arena.
The amount the city is spending – $255 million – has been the focus of controversy, with opponents calling that money a “subsidy.”
It’s actually an investment. It kept the team in Sacramento and is putting an arena in the Downtown Plaza. It helps maintain control over Sleep Train Arena and the land around it – while also signaling to other potential investors that downtown Sacramento is open for business.
Opponents say the city’s slice of the arena is too big, an opinion to which they are entitled. But this is what it cost to get this done – and it makes sense for Sacramento to do it.
To those who are not opposed, the looming arena vote on Tuesday is a shot in the arm. At a Thursday night event hosted by Valley Vision, a nonprofit focused on economic, environmental and social issues, attendees were brimming with enthusiasm over the arena.
The project signifies actual movement after years of economic stagnation in Sacramento. It’s a win over do-nothing negativity – and it’s hard to believe it’s really happening here.