Examining ARCO: Inside an Aging Arena

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, November 9, 2005


Last week, a Disney ice show visited ARCO Arena, and I was there, along with several thousand of kids, many of whom had souvenier noisemakers.           
            (Music, rising, “The Bare Necessities). 
The lyrics of the song couldn’t be more fitting, because a growing number of people feel that ARCO Arena provides only the bare necessities as a venue, especially for pro basketball. 

 But most fans who go to events at ARCO are satisfied with things just the way they are, and don’t see any point in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build something new. Especially the fans who’ve lived in Sacramento for a long time, and haven’t seen other arenas in other cities. “Ahh, it’s fine to me. I don’t come every game, I’m not a season ticket holder. But I don’t have a problem with it.”
            “I think this one is still good enough.”
            “It seems to be housing all the activities and the events that come here. I think it would be a waste of the community money to build a new one.” 

 However, if you talk with a fan who’s moved here recently from another city, you get a different view.   “It’s definitely starting to become a dated arena. A new arena really can revitalize the city, as San Jose Arena did for San Jose."

 I also spoke with a UC Davis student from Los Angeles. He’s used to attending games at the Staples Center, a $330 million venue that opened in 1999. He’s not impressed with ARCO.  “Looking at the standards of construction, in comparison with the Staples Center, you basically sat back and think, Wow, this is pretty crappy.” 

 The facts are that ARCO is one of the oldest and smallest arenas used by an NBA team. ARCO was built seventeen years ago for $40 million dollars, at a time when cities like Detroit and Milwaukee built bigger arenas for $70 to $90 million dollars. Another 18 cities built NBA arenas in the ‘90s, and seven more have opened since 2000. 

 Matt Mahood, president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, says that ARCO simply doesn’t measure up.  “The folks that built it, they did a great job getting it built, because it needed to get done.  But they did it in a hurry, and on the cheap. So a lot of the systems and the mechanisms that were actually in the facility when it was built are now becoming obsolete.”

 ARCO has small locker rooms, limited dining space, a cramped concourse, and a leaky roof that’s more than 12 years past its five-year warranty. And there are problems that affect an ice show, like the one that visited last week. Matt Mahood.  “The ice making piping is built right into the foundation of the concrete slab. Really, when they have a leak, the floor has got to be jackhammered and repaired. Right now, it takes more than two days to make a sheet of ice at ARCO Arena. So ARCO Arena could never support a hockey team.”

 Architect Brad Schrock designs and evaluates sports facilities all over the country. He says that ARCO’s core infrastructure has seen better days.  “You know, right now, the Kings have maintenance agreements with a lot of companies to keep things kind of, you know, on life support. And that’s the best way to characterize it, I think.” 

Schrock also points out that at ARCO, you’ll see plywood flooring in the stands.  “This is the only building in the NBA that has wood treads and risers.” 

 It’s impossible to speak with any certainty about alternatives to ARCO, because there’s currently no viable plan on the table for a new arena. However, a new arena is likely to cost $375 to $400 million. And this gets to the core of a delicate situation. For homeowners, choosing the time to expand and upgrade can be a largely personal decision. However, there are thirty NBA teams, and at least 32 or 33 cities that would like to have one. And eventually, one of those cities will probably make an offer to Maloof Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns both ARCO Arena and the Sacramento Kings.  Company spokesman declined to be interviewed for this story. But according to Mark Kreidler, sports columnist with the Sacramento Bee, keeping an NBA franchise over the long haul is a competitive thing.   “Clearly, if there is no new arena, the Kings will leave town. That’s axiomatic. That would be true for any franchise in any city. At some point, you’ve got to build a new place, or you’re moving on.”

 Is a new arena worth all that money? And who should pay for it? There are tradeoffs any way you go. Mark Kreidler.
“If there’s no momentum on a new arena, particularly as it involves taxpayer money, and taxpayers step up and say ‘Absolutely not,’ and the team leaves, and you want to fill the void, you’ll have to build a new arena to get a new team. If you declare that sports have that value, that it’s something that you value as a community or as a region, then you have to go ahead and make the up front investment. It’s either pay now, or pay later. Otherwise, no sports.”

Matt Mahood. “We’ve heard from the Kings ownership that ARCO Arena is obsolete, and they need a new arena. And the NBA wants a new arena in Sacramento. So the clock is ticking, and the ticking is becoming a little bit faster, and a little bit louder, so we really need to put together a plan now.”