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Time is now for Sacramento, Golden 1 Center

Mayor Kevin Johnson, dignitaries cheer as Kings' owner cuts ribbon on new Golden 1 Center

Sacramento's new downtown arena officially opened for business Friday.
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Sacramento's new downtown arena officially opened for business Friday.

Sometimes you don’t know when your time has come until it has passed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Sacramento, which is exuding a sense that its moment is right now, thanks to the construction of a building that has changed the core of downtown and the mindset of a city.

They broke the champagne bottle across the bow of Golden 1 Center for the Paul McCartney concerts a few weeks ago. Now comes the reason they built the joint, which is to house an NBA team that will play its first regular-season game in the arena Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. But the creation of the most important building to go up in this town since the state Capitol isn’t so much about rock ’n’ roll or the Kings. The story instead is about a city long renowned as a sleepy state government outback that has embarked on creating a new identity.

Developmentally speaking, Sacramento had become a can’t-do town, probably because in recent decades it botched some of the bigger projects it undertook. It screwed up a chance to create its own French Quarter when it built a freeway along the historic riverfront. Meanwhile, it turned its grand entrance coming in from the Tower Bridge into a dead zone of cracker-box state office buildings.

If the city quit on itself, it took the near-loss of the town’s only professional sports franchise to get back in the game. Now the gales of dynamism are blowing across the grid, and the fun will be in watching what the city becomes.

We have a real chance as a community to create the city we want.

Chris Granger, Kings president

Chris Granger is the president of the Kings, and he’s been appointed wheelman by principal owner Vivek Ranadive to drive this thing. Granger is a terrific guy, and in that capacity he refuses to take credit for the success now upon us. He shares the celebration of basketball opening with everybody – the kids who sold lemonade to keep the Kings in town when it looked like the team was headed to Seattle, the construction workers who hoisted steel and poured concrete, the designers who qualified the place as the only green-certified LEED Platinum professional sports building in the world, the mayor of Sacramento who made the politics work, and his boss at Kings Inc. who came up with the vision that caught fire.

Granger, a former NBA executive vice president, had been the league’s point man in solving the Kings’ arena problem for nearly a decade before he joined the team three years ago. He saw the city’s failures, its reticence to act. Now, he sees “a new ambition in Sacramento .... a new confidence.” The rest of us can see it exploding everywhere – the new arena, in new restaurants and bars and breweries that open almost every week, and where you see young “Untuckits” discuss new ventures over coffee at Temple, and where you hear homegrown singers and songwriters creating a Sacramento sound every Wednesday during happy hour at the Torch Club.

“There are very few cities in the United States whose future is being written as we speak,” Granger said. “That’s not the case in Sacramento. We have a real chance as a community to create the city we want. You hear Vivek talk about it all the time – we talk about the next great American city, or about the communal fireplace and wanting to create a place that is full of diversity and art and music and sports and a place where people can gather and come together and have a real sense of community.

I hope it succeeds. It doesn’t serve anybody well for it to fail. I know it will be a success. I know the arena will be a success. I know the downtown mall will be a success. I know the fans will enjoy the experience.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, who opposed the city’s $255 million arena subsidy when he was on the City Council

“That community spirit exists in Sacramento, and I think what the Golden 1 Center proves is that when you layer that with new ambition and a new sense of what is possible, I think we can create a city that is different and better and is something that is more future-focused or aspirationally focused than what we’ve had in the past, and I think we all as a community are recognizing that moment is right now.”

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty sees all of this, too, but from the perspective of a former Sacramento City Council member who voted against the city’s $255 million subsidy of the arena and who rode his opposition into his current office. McCarty still has deep reservations about pubic subsidies for private interests, but he acknowledges the public’s excitement.

“I hope it succeeds,” McCarty said in an interview in his Capitol office. “It doesn’t serve anybody well for it to fail. I know it will be a success. I know the arena will be a success. I know the downtown mall will be a success. I know the fans will enjoy the experience.

“There’s a buzz, and I get that, and I respect that,” McCarty said.

It might take awhile, but hopefully they’ll fix the most serious glitch from the arena’s first month, and that is the restriction of the public from the public space around the arena on event nights. If you’re going to call it Downtown Commons, don’t privatize it.

Sacramento, of course, did not need an arena to become a great American city. But it got one anyway.

Like all sports arenas, this one will wear out someday, and you sure hope it won’t be outdated before it’s paid off. Ultimately, its legacy in Sacramento will not be found in itself, or even if it kick-starts an era of winning by the Kings. Instead, this project will be remembered for what it sparked in the city that embraced its own transformation.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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