The Sacramento Kings’ second season downtown at Golden 1 Center launches Wednesday night – and that means a half-million-plus visitors once again rubbing elbows in a fast-evolving urban core.
Here’s a rundown of what’s new in the arena district, also known as Downtown Commons or DoCo, as well as some tips on how to avoid a parking ticket, dodge traffic jams and find a place to eat.
New game time
Last year, Kings’ weeknight games started at 7:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time for downtown workers to vacate garages and streets before fans arrived. This year, the games begin at 7 p.m. and arena doors open at 5:30 p.m. That means commuters and fans may overlap on streets and in garages.
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City and Kings officials say it shouldn’t cause much traffic trouble. Early advice, though: Give yourself a few extra minutes to get there and park.
Traffic may be more congested this year as well because of a few construction projects blocking lanes.
The city has allowed the Kings to close Fifth Street where it dips below K through the end of the 2017 for construction. That street was a popular route last year for drivers using the Interstate 5 offramps at J Street to get to the parking garage at Third and L.
An alternate route is to make a right turn onto Third Street from the I-5 ramps at J Street, and go in the “back” entrance to that garage near the Holiday Inn. There may be backups there as well during peak arrival times.
More garages available
City officials say the smartest thing fans can do to find parking and avoid a street meter ticket is to reserve a spot beforehand in a garage. They’ve made that easy with the SacPark.org website and app.
A handful of additional private garages have joined the reservations list on SacPark this year. We counted 18 garages on the list last week for this Wednesday’s game.
Prices vary from $5 to $27 flat fee, generally based on the garage’s distance from the arena. One good bet: The $5 City Hall garage at 10th and I streets. It’s a nine-minute walk to the arena front entrance and takes you past the new La Cosecha by Mayahuel restaurant in Cesar Chavez Plaza.
Parking meter warning
There are some yellow curb zones that some crafty drivers parked at for free last year at night. The city is onto that. They plan to install parking meters at those zones at some point this year.
Parking meter warning #2
All meters around Golden 1 Center are active until 10 p.m. The tricky part is this: Meters within three blocks of the arena function differently depending on the type of event occurring in the arena.
If it’s an event expected to draw 15,000 or more, the meters go into “event mode” for those who park there several hours, but not for people parking for just an hour or two. For them, the regular $1.75 an hour rate applies. But arena-goers or anyone who stays longer than the meter maximum on those nights will pay an event flat fee of $18.75.
Remember, that’s just on the three blocks around the arena, and only on big event nights.
Otherwise, regular rates apply. Even those are a bit tricky, though, because the city has a tiered fee system now. If you park at a meter with a two-hour “limit,” you will pay $1.75 for each of the first two hours. If you choose to stay longer, you pay $3 for the third hour, and $3.75 an hour for any amount of time longer than that.
If you get the Parkmobile app, you can add time to your meter remotely.
When in doubt, check sidewalk signs for information. Also, make sure to look at the meter’s readout screen for information on what that meter’s rules are for that night.
SacRT light rail
SacRT will offer free rides to anyone with a ticket to the opening night game Wednesday, hoping to persuade more people that light rail is friendlier, cleaner and more convenient than some think.
The agency will post guides at some of its larger stations to help newcomers figure the system out.
The agency also is unveiling a new smartphone app this month called ZipPass. It replaces last year’s RideSacRT pass. You can transfer the dollar value on your old pass to the new one.
Uber and Lyft
Ride-sharing companies turned out to be popular last season, using dropoff and pickup zones a block from the arena, on both the north and south sides. Kings and city officials say they do not have numbers on how many people used them, but city officials say ride-sharing, often by groups of people, played a role last year in keeping a lid on traffic congestion.
No bike corral
Bicycle groups ran a free bike corral in Cesar Chavez Plaza last year. But not many people dropped their bikes off, and volunteers there didn’t like the location – too far from the arena.
So, for now, there is no formal monitored bike parking. The arena area has a handful of bike racks on its edges. Jim Brown of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates says his group is pushing the Kings for a corral site closer to the arena, but has not come to any agreement. Brown would like the bike corral to be on Capitol Mall.
Last year, the plaza before games was reserved just for Kings fans. This year, with the opening of the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel and upcoming openings of Echo & Rig steakhouse, Punch Bowl Social entertainment venue, Estelle’s Patisserie and a Häagen-Dazs outlet, the plaza will be more crowded at times with non-arena goers.
As a result, the Kings will move their security perimeter of metal detectors closer to the arena front doors. The Kings also plan to keep the two smaller, side entrances closed until a half hour before tipoff.
The west side of the plaza remains blocked with construction fencing as work continues on the theater complex, stores and restaurants planned for what is called West DoCo, the portion of the district near Macy’s.
That means there will be no direct K Street pedestrian route to the arena front doors from Old Sacramento. Kings officials say West DoCo construction will be far enough along, however, by the end of the 2017 for them to be able to reopen that access route.
Food and entertainment
A lot of new restaurants were announced last year, but only a few opened, notably El Rey, Malt & Mash and, belatedly, the often-jammed Sauced barbecue restaurant at Seventh and K streets.
More are on the way this year. Echo & Rig steakhouse will open in the coming months. Revival, a third-story pool deck, lounge and bar, opened last week. You get there via elevators in the lobby of the Kimpton Sawyer hotel. It serves small plates of food. You can rent a cabana, which allows non-hotel guests to use the pool. Cabana rentals require a $200 minimum fee for food and drink.
The Century nine-screen movie theater is expected to reopen toward the end of the year.
Inside the arena
The Kings this year are selling season pass tickets at a discount price of $15 a game to fans who want the arena experience but are willing to forgo the thing you typically get with a ticket – a seat.
The team created the “standing room only” pass because they noticed a lot of people last year hanging out in the Sierra Nevada Draught House sky bridge instead of sitting in their seats. They’re hoping some people will buy SRO tickets and hang out in the other upper-level standing area, Junction by Bud Lite, which was only lightly used last year.
Ghostly K Street
Those empty facades on the 700 block of K Street, a block from the arena, hide a fair bit of actual work.
The 137 apartments under construction on site – viewable from the alley between K and L – are nearly finished. Pre-leasing is expected to happen next month, and the first tenants would arrive in December, bringing more life to the area.
The restaurants and retail on that block, including a Jewish deli, are expected to start opening late next spring, developer Ali Youssefi says.