SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson led the City Council in approving a $477 million arena for the Kings NBA franchise late Tuesday and immediately hailed the project for raising the city's profile.
The council voted 7-2 on the package during a late-night meeting that caps off Sacramento's yearlong tussle to keep the team from moving to Seattle. Johnson, a former three-time NBA All-Star, declared "Long live the Kings" after the final vote, and the chamber erupted in cheers along with team owners.
"We made a comeback for the ages and in doing so, I feel like we unleashed the very best that Sacramento has to offer," Johnson said. Construction on the crown-shaped sports facility will break ground this summer and open in time for the 2016-17 season. According to the team, the 17,500-seat arena will be slightly larger than the Kings' current aging facility and will feature a see-through entrance and a silver exterior with diamond-shaped windows.
Under the 35-year deal, the city would be responsible for a $223 million subsidy, much of it financed through a parking revenue bond. The city also is transferring $32 million worth of land and allowing the team to operate six digital billboards.
In return, the Kings would contribute $254 million to construct the arena and develop surrounding land with a hotel, office tower and shopping. Kings President Chris Granger opened the meeting by calling it a historic day for the team and Sacramento region, saying the arena would serve as a hub for economic development. The project would bring 11,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, he said.
"This is certainly bigger than basketball," Granger said. "But it doesn't just end there. At the very core, this project is about community." Opponents including Patrick Soluri, a Sacramento attorney, vowed to continue to fight the city's subsidy. A petition drive had failed to qualify for the ballot.
"The mayor and City Council no longer represent the interests of ordinary citizens," Soluri said. "Cronyism is running rampant, subsidies for the super-wealthy are handed out at the expense of working-class people and basic municipal services."
The NBA had told the city that it must open the arena by 2017 or risk losing the Kings. Former Kings owners George, Joe and Gavin Maloof considered moving the team to Las Vegas, Anaheim and Virginia Beach, Virginia, until announcing an agreement that called for investor Chris Hansen to buy the team and move it to Seattle.
Johnson led the city in a fight to keep the Kings and got the City Council to approve a plan for a new arena. The Maloofs then sold the Kings to a group led by TIBCO Software Chairman Vivek Ranadive. On Tuesday, the council approved a financing plan that allows for construction on the new sports and entertainment complex to replace an aging shopping mall a few blocks from the Capitol. The Kings have played in Sacramento since 1985 and currently play in the 26-year-old Sleep Train Arena, in the city's north end.
"Just the speculation that an entertainment and sports complex was going to be approved has already helped improve the health of our downtown core," said Scott VandenBerg, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Sacramento and chairman of the board of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Council members who opposed the deal said that the project's economic benefits are overstated and fear the city isn't getting enough from a public subsidy. Councilman Darrell Fong said the arena adds too much debt. The city will pay an estimated $21.9 million a year in debt service that would be paid through lease payments from the Kings and a projected increase in parking revenue.
"I know my vote won't stop this deal," Fong said. "Believe me, I hope I'm proven wrong." A majority, however, hailed Tuesday as a pivotal moment for elevating the city's reputation. "It's not just about a venue for entertainment and sports; it's about the type of life that people get to have when they choose to live in our region," said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby.
The team sponsored a rally outside City Hall to show support for the project, drawing hundreds of fans, many of them dressed in purple, the team's color.