New Details on Arena Proposals Emerge, But Questions Remain

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Let’s start with the locations: Two groups want to build an arena at the Railyards development just north of downtown Sacramento. Two others are eyeing property at or near the Westfield Downtown Plaza. Another likes the riverfront Docks property, just south of downtown. There’s a proposal for the state fairgrounds – but not from the Cal Expo Board, which is currently in negotiations with the NBA. And finally, a group suggests land next door to the current Arco Arena site in Natomas.
Mayor Johnson says he’s excited to get so many proposals – especially when he would’ve been happy with just a few.
Johnson: “These are all locations that have been talked about in the past.  The difference is, developers are gonna be motivated to see if they can come up with a financing package that at the end of the day will keep taxpayers first and lead to a new arena.”
Of the seven groups that submitted proposals, only one is widely known to the general public: Railyards developer Thomas Enterprises. The other bids come from two Sacramento restaurateurs; a couple of local developers; a group of Natomas businesses hoping to keep the arena and its economic benefits nearby; and a longtime Kings fan who’s worked in the real estate and solar industries. Developer Rick Tripp heads up one of two groups interested in the Downtown Plaza.
Tripp: “…with the hopes that we can create an economic vibrancy downtown that hasn’t existed in past few years. I think something like an arena and a development on that scale can spur a complete renewal of the JKL corridor.”
But picking a location is the easy part. Political analyst Doug Elmets worked on the 2006 campaign for Measures Q and R, the arena tax measures rejected by voters. He’s skeptical about the people behind the proposals.
Elmets: “The only team that has really managed to do a large-scale in-fill project or a large-scale project is Thomas Enterprises. The rest are people that are hoping their proposals become viable, and if in fact they are, making a much larger project out of it – in terms of inviting more people to be part of it.”
And even Thomas Enterprises recently filed for bankruptcy protection on several other projects, though not the Railyards.
That’s why Elmets says the most important question out there for every single proposal is how to pay for it. After all, he says, most of the people who submitted bids don’t have the financial wherewithal to pull off such a complex project on their own.
Elmets: “The reality of the situation is, there may be no there there. On the other hand, there may be there there. But we just don’t know.”
And we won’t find out until next month. The task force is hosting an open house on January 14th for each group to explain its proposal to the public.