Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial notebook: New arena’s design is about more than architecture

The Sacramento Kings kicked off the season Wednesday night with lots of purple hoopla in a spruced-up Sleep Train Arena. But if you’re like me, you can’t help but think three years ahead, when a sparkling new arena is to open downtown. You’re looking at the early designs and just imagining your first game or concert there.

It’s great that team and city officials are thinking big and outside the box – literally.

As Kings officials showed off the drawings Tuesday to the City Council, they made clear that their ambitions go well beyond the usual, boring goals for a building this size. Besides being architecturally significant, environmentally responsible and fan friendly, they want the arena to become a year-round gathering spot for the central city, and to showcase what is special about Sacramento.

While months away from final decisions, Kings President Chris Granger says the new owners are “falling in love” with the idea of an indoor-outdoor venue. Instead of a “hermetically sealed” concrete box like many arenas, Sacramento’s would open to the outside – like a family room flowing into a porch or deck. Patrons at nearby bars and restaurants and passersby on the adjacent public plaza could peek inside.

When Granger asked for a show of hands in the council chambers for which of three concepts people liked best, the one with big video screens ringing the façade – making it look like a king’s crown – won the most support. Mayor Kevin Johnson liked it so much that he raised his right hand and twisted his body to raise his right foot, too.

It was smiles and applause all around. I couldn’t help but wonder: Will all the happy feelings last once hard choices have to be made?

Local developer Mark Friedman, a Kings minority owner leading the arena project, cautioned that “very, very tough challenges” lie ahead. To have all the bells and whistles, there could be difficult trade-offs to stay close to the projected $448 million price tag.

Picking the right design is more than an architectural exercise. As with other pro sports franchises, the image of the team will be determined by its home. More importantly, it is a chance to remake the identity of the entire city, both for ourselves and the outside world.

The arena will be plastered all over promotional materials to attract visitors and new businesses. As soon as the doors open, it will become a top tourist destination. When national TV comes to town to broadcast games, the arena’s glittering exterior will be what viewers see first.

“I want Sacramento to have the opportunity to fall in love with the team again,” said Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby.

What the arena looks like – what it feels like to be there – will go a long way in deciding whether that happens.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee