Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Kings’ custom-built new home quickly taking shape

Progress on new Kings arena

Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger updates the status of the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.
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Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger updates the status of the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.

Blink once, blink twice, blink three times. But nothing changes. Even on a day with blinding, blistering heat, the body of work – this Golden 1 Center sports and entertainment complex that encompasses four city blocks and remains in its skeletal stages – is not a mirage.

This is really happening.

The new arena that only the truest of true believers ever considered possible is being erected by the hour, growing up before our eyes, in communion with a community bursting with vegetables, fruits and fine wines, that embraces its Gold Rush history and its enduring Kings, and that pulled off two of the greatest upsets in professional sports history.

Anaheim went down first. Seattle went down last. The Lakers have to be next, right?

“This means so much to so many people here that the weight of the responsibility is palpable,” said Kings president Chris Granger, the point man for the $507 million complex transforming the feel and shape of downtown that will open in October 2016. “That’s why it’s such a big deal. It matters so much to this community.”

The process has been beyond exhausting, was almost two decades in the making and has included enough failed arena incarnations to keep developers and land use attorneys enjoying a cushy existence well into the afterlife.

But who’s counting? Who remembers Jim Thomas? Who cares about the Maloofs? This is happening, and it’s happening here.

During a private two-hour tour – with hard hats, security vests and closed-toe shoes a prerequisite and a vivid imagination recommended – Granger, who served as primary tour guide and was aided by project manager Bob Synhorst, answered questions most often asked by fans.

The arena will seat 17,500 for basketball games but could expand for concerts. Of the four levels, the lower bowl accounts for 36 rows and the most seats (10,000). The next level, the loft level, features 48 mini-suites designed to accommodate eight people each. The suite level includes 34 suites that can house up to 25 people each. The upper bowl has a capacity of 6,000, offers the cheap seats (starting at $12) and features a bar that extends around the building and provides unobstructed views of the court.

This means so much to so many people here that the weight of the responsibility is palpable.

Kings president Chris Granger

Granger said the seating is pitch perfect – not too steep, but close to the action – and the arena is 100 percent solar-powered, uses a cooling system that relies on recycled water and is configured to exploit the direction of the Delta breezes.

One unique aspect of the complex is a secondary stage that serves as an amphitheatre and outdoor plaza that can accommodate 5,000 to 10,000 patrons for concerts and other events. More than 13,000 parking spots are within a half-mile of the complex, all three light rail lines converge at Seventh and K streets, and the train station is two blocks away.

In terms of aesthetics, Granger cited Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as models: Both arenas reflect the charm and character of their communities.

“This arena can and should only exist in Sacramento,” he said, noting the X-shaped unique glass and steel exterior. “I wouldn’t want people to take this arena and put it in Brooklyn because it wouldn’t work there. But it works perfectly for us. This should be the place to go in Sacramento, irrespective of the arena. Farmers markets. Ice skating arena during the Christmas holidays. A jazz concert. While there is no question this is designed primarily for basketball, we’re very mindful of the concert element, which is one reason you can put a stage on either side of the building.”

In the grand scheme of things, the architects (AECOM), construction company (Turner) and project manager (ICON Venue Group) are thinking big. Those cowbells could become a chunk of history. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament already booked the first and second rounds of a regional for 2017, and Granger said the level of interest and number of inquiries are increasing.

“No question our story about the design, technology, and our sustainability is out there,” he said. “The number of calls has increased dramatically, and we’re out there working as hard as we can.”

The NCAAs? Should be a no-brainer. The Democratic National Convention? This is California. That’s another no-brainer. Motocross, tractor pulls, Disney on Ice, the circus, among other sports and entertainment offerings, are being heavily wooed. Hopefully, the WNBA returns for an encore.

On the walk back to the team’s nearby temporary office, Granger was asked about the opening act on opening night. With a laugh, he demurred, then solicited an opinion.

Paul McCartney gets my vote. The former Beatle created such a buzz about the closing of Candlestick Park that dozens of ticket holders were caught in gridlock and missed the concert. My niece and nephew suggested Taylor Swift, Drake, Jay-Z, Carrie Underwood, Mumford & Sons, to name a few. A few elderly neighbors mentioned Andrea Bocelli and Billy Joel.

But why deviate from the norm? It took almost 20 years to get that shovel into the ground, to discover gold in Sacramento’s own backyard after all those ill-fated explorations in Natomas, Cal Expo, the railyard, after one failed financing plan after another, after relocation threat after relocation threat. It took more than a village to rouse this community – mostly a mayor, a former NBA commissioner and an impassioned grass-roots campaign – so a one-night opening act seems woefully inadequate.

The grand opening should be celebrated with a week-long festival featuring nightly tributes to the past (McCartney, please) and an appreciation for the present, and for those local folks who experienced the relocation nightmare and continued to sing along. Tesla performed at a Save the Kings rally in Cesar Chavez Park. Cake belongs on stage. Mumbo Gumbo is a must. The Hip Hop Crew deserves a bow. And what about Chris Webster and Jackie Greene singing the national anthem on opening night?

When I moved here in 1997, colleagues warned me that the Kings would leave and that Sacramento would remain a sleepy little cowtown. They advised me to hit the road, to endure the I-80 gridlock to the Bay Area, for sports, entertainment, culture, concerts.

Imagine that. Now imagine this. The Kings are here, the arena is rising. Sacramento pulled off one of the game’s great escapes. And if DeMarcus Cousins behaves and performs to Olympic standards? Who knows? This could be the house that Boogie built.