Developer David Taylor is expected to present a downtown-Sacramento arena funding plan this week, but don’t expect any resolution soon to the nagging problem of how to keep the Sacramento Kings (NBA) in town.
Budgets in the city and county of Sacramento are bleeding. City cops could get pink slips, and there will be those who rail at politicians for considering an entertainment venue when public services are getting whacked.
Raising questions about civic priorities is legitimate and healthy.
But in Sacramento, those questions are too often posed by groups driven by self-interest.
Let’s face it. In Sacramento, we block things from happening like nobody’s business.
Indeed, opposing things like arena funding is an art form for many: we shouldn’t use public money to pamper billionaire owners and millionaire owners, in bad times it’s best to spend on basic services rather than build cathedrals to sport, pro sports are not economic drivers, etc.
But there are cases when those making the anti-arena arguments do change their tunes when presented with reality: new arenas can work as economic-development tools and generate income both for investors and municipalities. Witness Sprint Center, the Kansas City masterpiece that’s both turning a profit and keeping money in town without a pro-sports tenant. Kansas City Star editorialist Barbara Shelly was part of a group that almost smothered the newborn arena in its crib before more forward-thinking folks pushed through a plan that included car-rental taxes as part of the mix:
Believers envisioned a new arena that would awaken Kansas City’s downtown, preserve its status as a college basketball hub, bring the best music and entertainment acts to town and maybe become home to an NBA or NHL franchise.
Naysayers, of which I was one, recoiled at the cost. Two hundred million dollars for an arena with no committed tenant, while the needs of city neighborhoods grew more acute by the day? It seemed preposterous….
In a coup that silenced all but the most hard core of the naysayers, Kansas City built a $276 million arena without raising taxes for residents or assuming any risk for operating losses. Its story involves a great deal of luck, but it could point to a way forward for Sacramento and other cities.
Shelly is more than a little grudging in her acknowledgement that Sprint Center has been an overwhelming success: she prefers to attribute success to luck rather than careful planning. Those who actually live in the real business world know there’s no such thing as luck when it comes to $276 million in spending: informed planning and conservative financial projections are why Sprint Center is turning a profit and putting money back into Kansas City’s coffers. An arena does not need an NHL or NBA team to be successful, and the sooner Sacramento realizes that fact, the sooner a workable arena-funding plan can be achieved.
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