Beyond ARCO: A Glimpse of one Possible Arena Future

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(Indianapolis, IN)
Thursday, November 10, 2005


The first thing that strikes you about the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis is that it’s a whole lot larger than ARCO Arena. The basketball court is the same regulation size, of course. But after that, just about everything about Conseco is bigger. It has a thousand more seats, an expansive lobby with public art, restaurants and lounges with a direct view of the main court or practice areas, three concourses on different levels, and more. 

 Ted Gaines, a Placer County Supervisor, says he likes Conseco’s amenities.  “From every area within the arena, you have better legroom, you have a good view of the game, it’s just more of a first class facility, and I think that’s what we need.” 

 Rancho Cordova city councilwoman Linda Budge says the arenas in Sacramento and Indianapolis reflect different eras.  “There’s a completely different structure to public spaces like the basketball arenas today than there was when ARCO was built. There’s so much concentration on wonderful big open public spaces.” 

 Budge also likes Conseco’s urban setting.  “This is very much a downtown facility, the same way ARCO could be a downtown facility. We need to fit it into our cityscape in downtown Sacramento, and we need to keep it on the light rail line.” 

 A lot of the difference between ARCO and the newer arena in Indianapolis is outside the main room where basketball is played.Rich Capp, vice president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, took the Sacramento delegation on a tour.  “This is our dock area. We can handle up to five semis at one time, or buses. For shows that travel, they can travel with as many as 18 semis.” 
“We host multiple events, football, hockey, stars on ice, circus, those type of events. Every seat in the building is designed with a sight line toward the basketball court.”

 David Hosley of public television station KVIE served on a commission that concluded ARCO Arena is nearly obsolete. He likes what he sees at Conseco. “ You understand that the concourses are much more commodious, and the skyboxes clearly are superior to the ones we have currently at ARCO.  So we got to see all of that up close. And I think that the people who have come on this trip now have a better understanding why there is a critical need to find a way to finance a new arena in the Sacramento region.”

 But a new arena is likely to cost around $400 million, and right now there’s no plan on the table, and no consensus on who should pay for construction. Spokesmen Maloof Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Sacramento Kings and ARCO Arena, declined to comment for this story.

Realistically, any arena plan that involves large amounts of tax money will generate lots of debate, and some potent opposition. Professor Bob Waste of Sacramento State says that politically, it was a lot easier for Indianapolis to build a new arena than it will be for Sacramento.  “In basketball terms, I think they made an easy two point lay up. We have an outside three point shot. Let me tell you why. In Indiana, you don’t have to have a two-thirds majority to support a tax, for those first seven things they used to pay for that. Second, they have Unigov, a consolidated city/county government. So their political landscape is a lot less complicated than ours. And the third thing is that they haven’t tried to do this three or four times, and left a muddy track record.”

 Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson takes the view that a new arena is not entirely about keeping the Kings, or even basketball in general.  “We ought to think about what it means to US. What does it mean to us to have a first class entertainment and sports facility? What does it mean to be able to attract the best in entertainers from around the country and around the world? We need world class facilities to do that. And so I think it’s really a question of ‘What’s it worth to us?’ as opposed to ‘What’s it worth to the Kings?’ And that’s something that often gets lost in this conversation.”

 It’s a conversation that will include some major value judgments. The question of whether or not to build a new arena is ultimately a regional decision. It will require a broad consensus, and involve hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention land use and transit impacts that will affect property values and traffic patterns for decades to come.