Seemingly out of nowhere, Downtown Plaza is being touted as a good site to build an arena for the Sacramento Kings. It’s kind of bizarre how this idea has taken on a life of its own as the threat of the Kings’ leaving Sacramento has intensified.
Can you imagine ripping up a wide swathe of downtown and turning it into a construction zone for a couple of years? The mall is surrounded by buildings north, south and east, and the freeway just to the west is always heavy with traffic. Daily commuters would face a bottleneck for a couple of years and fans would grapple with one every time they went to an event. Relatively little parking would be available in underground lots and light rail has a modest following in car-crazy Sacramento.
The railyard site just north of downtown, which Mayor Kevin Johnson touted for a year, was almost as bad in terms of future access, but its more open setting would have meant less daily headache for a commuters and less demolition mess with complicated infrastructure problems.
So why is Mayor Johnson now leading the parade for a bizarre mall arena?
Oops, he isn’t. The mayor, the fellow elected by voters to lead the city, is taking a back seat to billionaires, hailed as “whales” in the local media, who are trying to chart the course the city takes for the next 50 years. I suppose this isn’t too strange, given that Johnson failed to realize that the Kings could be bought for the right price.
Still, I find it unsettling to read in the Sacramento Bee that billionaire Ron Burkle has seen fit to discuss building a new Kings arena at Downtown Plaza during a recent closed-door meeting with NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Doesn’t it seem strange that an outside moneybags like Burkle feels comfortable trying to work a deal with the NBA regarding the future of Sacramento? Isn’t it odd that City Manager John Shirey, according to the same story, is now preparing to study how an arena could fit at the mall? How many thousands of dollars is he planning to spend this time for an arena feasibility study? Has he talked to the City Council? What are the views of council members?
You would think that the local media, which like to fancy themselves watchdogs of the public interest, would do some independent investigation into who’s running the city and who stands to benefit most from a Downtown Plaza arena.
Why is Burkle attracted to Downtown Plaza? What does fellow “whale” Mark Mastrov think? What game plan does JMA Venture, the mall’s owner, have? It has already commissioned its own arena study.
Unfortunately, the watchdog media seem obsessed with whale watching and arena fantasies. The headline in Sunday’s Bee read “Arena at Plaza possible win-win.”
The headline could as easily have said “Arena at Plaza possible lose-lose” if the Bee had wanted to ask some hard questions.