Play Big — and Smart

Let's get this arena plan moving

Back Commentary Mar 1, 2010 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

This month, Mayor Kevin Johnson’s Sacramento First Task Force will make recommendations as to how the city could get the most value from a proposed sports and entertainment complex.

Kudos to Johnson, who breathed new life into discussions about building an arena. He challenged potential developers and the public to think big and imagine Sacramento as home to a world-class facility to host the Sacramento Kings and much more. His challenge resulted in seven creative new proposals.

And praise to the 12-person task force — experts in financing, banking, development and construction — for establishing and following a clear, disciplined process for deciding which proposal (or combination of them) would best encourage economic growth.

For the past several months, the task force has been dissecting the new proposals plus the two already on the table. Five use a downtown site, a boon in terms of public transportation development: two near the downtown train depot, and three in other downtown locations. Others propose a riverfront location, a Cal Expo site and the existing Arco Arena area.

The devil is in the financial details. How we fund an expensive new arena has been the sticking point ever since the previous mayor called for proposals in 2004. Taxpayer funding seemed like a solution until 80 percent of voters said no to a 2006 ballot measure that would have increased sales tax to pay for a facility.

Private financing will be no easy task either. Yet at least one of the proposals claims to have funding secured from financiers who say they see plenty of potential in the Sacramento market, which has more than $82 billion in personal income.

The five proposals that put a new facility somewhere downtown — whether near the existing mall or in the emerging railyard complex — are the only ones worth considering.

First of all, we absolutely need to build such a complex close to public transportation, specifically to the city’s planned “intermodal” train, light-rail and bus center at the lower end of the railyards. Even conservative estimates say 20 to 25 percent of event-goers would use public transportation, at least initially.

Second, such a major entertainment venue must be part of an overall plan to bring life to the urban core of Sacramento. San Francisco took a blighted industrial zone, added then-Pac Bell Park and ended up with a new hip area of housing, retail, restaurants, outdoor spaces and, of course, public transportation. Los Angeles did much of the same with the Staples Center, now surrounded by a convention center, museum, movie theaters and more.

We can do the same, provided we’re willing to take the mayor’s challenge to imagine  Sacramento as a city where things are happening, people are living and visitors from throughout the region and beyond are coming to enjoy the urban amenities it offers.

We have an excellent set of proposals for a new entertainment complex and a solid process for judging which of them could most help the economic and social development of Sacramento and the region.

The time for politicking and posturing is over. Let’s pin down financial details, agree on a plan that pencils out and get moving.

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