Foon Rhee

Are community groups getting inside city’s arena suite?

Fans pay their respects to Urijah Faber from Sacramento after his victory in his last UFC bout at the Golden 1 Center on Dec. 17. Del Paso Youth Baseball got to use the city’s suite in the arena for the event.
Fans pay their respects to Urijah Faber from Sacramento after his victory in his last UFC bout at the Golden 1 Center on Dec. 17. Del Paso Youth Baseball got to use the city’s suite in the arena for the event. Special to The Bee

It’s early yet, but the number of ordinary people getting into the city’s suite at the Golden 1 Center is encouraging. Actually, it’s much better than I expected.

Through reports made public Monday for the arena’s first 11 weeks, cultural groups, nonprofits and other outside organizations received about 650 tickets with a face value, according to the city, of nearly $79,000.

Another 145 or so freebies with a value of about $46,000 were used by current and former city officials, public employees and volunteers at city agencies. And 25 tickets worth about $3,500 went to economic development prospects, according to my tally of the reports.

We’ll see if the distribution of tickets holds up as the Sacramento Kings season continues and as Mayor Darrell Steinberg takes over, but the city’s new suite czar deserves credit for inviting a wide range of community groups.

Erin Palmer says she plans to keep giving out as many suite seats as possible to nonprofits, charities and others, and try to match groups with the right event. For instance, the Sacramento State Jazz Singers saw Pentatonix, a Grammy-winning a cappella group whose songs they have performed.

The city just added a new online application form and more specifics to the suite policy for community groups, including requirements that they be a nonprofit for tax purposes and can provide concrete examples of their good works. It also clarifies that suite tickets can’t be auctioned, raffled off or transferred, and that starting Jan. 1, groups will be limited to 25 tickets per year.

It meant a lot to some of the groups that got suite invites so far.

The Ethel Hart Senior Center used 20 tickets to the Oct. 20 Jimmy Buffett concert to reward loyal volunteers. “They absolutely had a great time,” says Pat Goree-Richards, a wellness coordinator at the center who helped organize the event.

Make-A-Wish of Northeastern California and Northern Nevada gave 13 tickets to the Disney on Ice matinee on Nov. 5 to thank three families featured three days earlier at a thank-you event for donors. “They all loved it,” says Jessica Lehner, the group’s marketing and communications manager.

The total going to community groups may be skewed somewhat because of the early abundance of family-oriented events, including Disney on Ice. Those tickets also went to worthy recipients such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

The suite is also being used to recognize government agencies and reward public employees.

Twenty-five volunteers at the city’s Front Street Animal Shelter, which has been extremely busy lately with adoptions, saw Cirque du Soliel on Dec. 1. Councilman Jay Schenirer, chairman of the Regional Transit board, invited two dozen RT employees to the Nov. 23 Kings game against Oklahoma City. Vice Mayor Rick Jennings invited nine more RT employees to the Dec. 9 game vs. the New York Knicks. You think they all took light rail or buses, as the city has urged fans?

In coming months, Palmer expects more economic development opportunities to come up for the suite.

So hopefully there will be more events like a delegation from Chongqing in China and the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco being treated to the Nov. 18 Kings game with the L.A. Clippers. They shared the suite with city and state economic development officials, UC Davis Medical Center leaders and local business people. The city opened a trade office in 2013 in Chongqing, a bustling city of 30 million, and sends a delegation each year.

Tom Chan, CEO of General Produce in Sacramento, has been to Chongqing and was one of those in the suite. He says everyone had a great time, especially when Kings legend Peja Stojakovic, who toured China with the team in 2014, stopped by.

While the suite isn’t necessarily the right place to sign deals, the social setting can lay the groundwork. “A lot of it is about relationship building,” says Chan, whose company hopes to export cherries and other fruits to China.

The city’s 35-year arena lease with the Kings gives it use of a suite for all events except NBA playoff games (if that ever happens), NCAA tournament games and a few selected others. Instead of a center court suite called for in the deal, the city chose a corner spot with five more seats.

Under a policy approved by the City Council, the annual goal is for 40 percent of tickets to go to the mayor, council members and city officials, 30 percent to promote economic development and 30 percent for community groups. But Palmer has a lot of freedom to decide which people best promote the public purposes of the tickets.

She says everything has gone smoothly so far. No controversial groups have asked for suite tickets. And Palmer, who has chaperoned most events, said there has been no misbehavior inside the suite.

If only the same could be said about the concert stage. In case you were wondering, Sol Collective, a local arts group, was in the suite for the infamous Kanye West meltdown on Nov. 19. As a make-up, the group got to see a Cirque du Soleil performance on Dec. 4.

Even as the city’s suite goes pretty well, Palmer has another big issue on her plate. Under the arena lease, the city gets to hold as many as nine civic events and keep the profits. City and Kings officials have met on scheduling and costs the city would have to cover.

The policy on civic events, which won’t be ready for the council until early next year, has to be fair and inclusive. After all, these community events are another way for residents and taxpayers to get into the new arena, to make it the gathering place for all of Sacramento it is supposed to be.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to correct the value of suite tickets distributed to various categories of users.