Beyond blunder dome

One of the side effects of SN&R’s recent move into the great Del Paso mothership has been the unearthing of a great many journalistic artifacts. There, under the late Cretaceous layer of Manila file folders and skinny reporter’s notebooks, Bites found mysterious keys to forgotten locks, obscure local books and something called a Rolodex. Weird.

Among the ancient literature, Bites was happy to rediscover, Never Lose, a Decade of Sports and Politics in Sacramento, published in 1989 and written by Frank McCormack, one of the guys who originally brought the Kings to Sacramento and built the existing Arco Arena.

It’s a good read, documenting the adventures of the Sacramento Sports Association—including founding members McCormack and developer Gregg Lukenbill and a bunch of other local boys with mustaches and windbreakers—as they tangled with such dangerous foes as The Sacramento Bee, the Environmental Council of Sacramento and a cast of elected officials, like mayors Phil Isenberg and Anne Rudin, who were either unhelpful or openly hostile to the SSA’s arena efforts.

Then-City Councilwoman Anne Rudin is a sort of a foil to the SSA in “Never Lose,” insisting that development (and the arena) stay out of North Natomas. McCormack credits her with saying, “I frankly don’t care if we have a stadium or not in Sacramento.”

Such words would be absolute heresy today, when mayors spend loads of energy and political capital on the Kings. Today we must build an arena for a team that’s pointedly, ominously, not threatening to leave. Today mayors try entirely too hard to convince us not to call it an arena, but a “sports and entertainment center,” or that we need to think “inside and outside of the box,” whatever that means.

So Bites was curious: What happened to McCormack, and what would he make of the current push for a new Kings home?

“I live a somewhat monastic life,” McCormack told Bites by phone just before Christmas. “It’s very quiet. I have my animals and I have my wife. I live a very private life now.”

But he’s tracked the arena follies of the past decade or so, and McCormack isn’t impressed with plans to shoehorn an arena into the old rail yards, or into Cal Expo or Downtown Plaza. He doesn’t understand why the parties don’t just agree to build a new basketball arena next to Arco, on the land that McCormack and friends originally intended for a baseball stadium.

“The city’s got 100 acres there they got from us,” McCormack explained. “All this other stuff, it’s too grandiose.”

McCormack has watched the schemes come and go over the years.

Complicated development proposals, failed sales-tax ballot measures, possible swaps of public land for private profit. All seem to ignore the most important reality of pro sports in Sacramento. We like the sports fine, but not enough to pay the team’s mortgage.

“The taxpayers are not going to pay,” McCormack noted. “In all the discussions over the years, not once have they mentioned that we built two arenas at no cost to the taxpayers.”

Sure, Arco was one of the cheapest and smallest arenas built in its time. Twenty-one years later, it lacks the modern bells and whistles the current Kings owners, the Maloofs, need to make real money. But whose problem is that?

Maybe Mayor Kevin Johnson and his arena Dream Team of consultants and political fixers should track down a copy of McCormack’s book. Along with a great history lesson, they’ll find one surprisingly simple option for building an arena.

“If Kevin Johnson is serious about getting this done, he’ll tell the Maloofs to get off their butts and pay for it,” McCormack told Bites.

It’s worked before.