Editorials

Here’s why slimmed-down Sacramento Convention Center expansion is smarter

Supporters cheer as Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the California Democratic Convention at the Sacramento Convention Center on May 20. The City Council votes Tuesday on a plan to expand the center.
Supporters cheer as Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the California Democratic Convention at the Sacramento Convention Center on May 20. The City Council votes Tuesday on a plan to expand the center. rbenton@sacbee.com

If you could expand the Sacramento Convention Center and still have some money left over for other tourist destinations, why wouldn’t you?

The City Council should give the go-ahead Tuesday for the smarter, slimmed-down plan.

While it isn’t as big as proposed last year, there wasn’t enough proof for sinking all $170 million available into the project was the city’s best investment.

The new plan, estimated to cost between $90 million and $125 million, would still do a lot and fix some of the biggest flaws. It increases exhibit space and meeting rooms, adds a new kitchen and lobbies and creates a 205,000 square-foot building that is far more flexible and can host events closer together.

Also, it adds a public plaza – including an amphitheatre – that ties the center more closely with the neighboring Community Center Theater, scheduled for an $83 million renovation of its own.

The city would get the cash by borrowing against hotel tax revenues. If all goes as scheduled, construction would begin in March 2018 and end in late 2020. The city also plans a second phase to add a new 40,000-square-foot ballroom and is looking to team up with a developer to build a 300- to 400-room hotel next to the expanded center.

And this plan still leaves at least $50 million – and as much as $80 million – for other projects to attract visitors. Mayor Darrell Steinberg hopes the city money will be multiplied three or four times with private and other public money.

The council is to start discussing the Destination Sacramento fund in August. Steinberg, who has floated an aquarium or observation deck as possible projects, says he’s particularly interested in revitalizing Sacramento’s riverfront.

The mayor deserves credit for this new and improved plan. At his urging, the council last October delayed a decision until he took office. Once he did, he and Councilman Steve Hansen led a series of meetings with business people, city officials and others. That process has brought business and downtown leaders and Visit Sacramento on board.

Steinberg is right that Sacramento could be much more of a destination than a way station between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Tuesday’s vote could be key step.

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