City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

March 6, 2012
Mayor: Sacramento 'on the verge of doing something very special' with arena vote

With the City Council expected to approve a non-binding financial plan for a new downtown sports arena tonight, Mayor Kevin Johnson told reporters this morning that "we're on the verge of doing something very special."

"We're finally at the point where we have one single vote, one moment in time to totally transform the downtown community and Sacramento for generations," he said.

The council is expected to approve a "term sheet" for a $391 million arena. The city has proposed contributing 65 percent of the project cost, mostly through either leasing or borrowing against downtown parking.

The Kings and arena operator AEG have agreed to chip in $132 million to the project.

Johnson said he was comfortable with the public contribution, saying "we knew we would have to be partners" and that the private contribution "rivals any other commitment made in recent years" to arenas in other cities.

The city's contribution is in line with what other cities have put into arenas in recent years. Several arenas have been built with smaller contributions from sports teams than what the Kings have agreed to pay.

Dennis Howard, a University of Oregon sports business professor, told The Bee's Dale Kasler that arenas built since 2005 have averaged a 65 percent funding contribution from the public.

A decade ago, cities were putting up between 75 to 100 percent of arena costs. That's shrunk somewhat, as cities' budgets were hammered by the recession and taxpayers became less sympathetic to sports teams' demands, said Michael Mondello, a sports management professor at Florida State University.

Mondello is among the critics who question why local governments help pay for sports facilities at all. "Public subsidies of sports stadiums is bad policy," Mondello said. "What is Sacramento sacrificing in terms of other infrastructure improvements and police safety?"

Locally, Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of Sacramento's arena plan. Earlier today, she sent a report compiled by her office to her colleagues on the City Council - but not the mayor - questioning the arena project.

Most notably, Sheedy's report stated that downtown stadiums do not spark economic development in urban cores, that money spent at arenas is generally taken away from other places and that it is impossible to measure whether keeping the Kings would have any impact on civic pride in Sacramento. The report cited the work of several economists and previously published reports on arena projects.

The mayor said it was Sheedy's "prerogative" to release as much information she thinks is helpful prior to the council debate. But, he said, "I think at this point, it is very clear we have a win-win."

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at rlillis@sacbee.com

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