Build your own arena

The new Kings home needs to shop local

Say what you will about public subsidies, sports arenas, Mayor Kevin Johnson’s priorities, the Kings transitional defense, DeMarcus Cousins’ body language, Slamson’s ferociousness—whatever: Last week’s Long Live the Kings rally at downtown’s Cesar Chavez Plaza was pretty cool. As it better had been, given that two local concert promoters insisted the price tag was north of $250,000.


But worry not, fellow taxpayers: A spokesman with the Sacramento Kings didn’t have a figure for the night’s total cost, but said that the NBA was picking up the bill.

Fans began lining up on J Street to enter the park as early as 3 p.m., even though the show tipped off at 5 p.m. The NBA brought in multiple building-high big screens; plus a mammoth stage; a VIP area for Chris Webber, millionaires and local politicos (and some TV and radio media); and food and beer (the latter operated by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership).

Organizers estimated 15,000 attendees. City police said around 10,000. Both those numbers seem high, but I’ll tell you this: It was the busiest I’d ever seen Cesar Chavez (the only other event that rivaled it was maybe that one time Deftones played Concerts in the Park).

Webber and new Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé garnered massive applause, but the mayor took first place for loudest reception. I’d never seen K.J. so pumped—he was Ryan Seacrest-meets-Howard Dean. Host, hype man, hollerer: It was definitely the K.J. show.

Ranadivé even started calling him “Gov. Kevin Johnson.” And then, “President Johnson.” (There are now “K.J. for Governor” T-shirts making the rounds.)

So, yes, there was some good ol’ fashioned political posturing, and also a mad dash to hawk Kings season tickets. But there’s a time to kill the vibe, and last week’s event was not that moment.

A week later, however, it’s OK: Let’s discuss the NBA-ification of downtown Sacramento.

The good news about the new arena is that everyone agrees it shouldn’t be a box. The hope is to avoid the proverbial “black hole” syndrome, i.e., an arena lets nothing escape and goes dark some 200 days a year.

Local developer Mark Friedman, who’s never built an arena but will give it the old college try with downtown’s complex, told The Sacramento Bee this past weekend that he envisions the next Kings home as more of a gathering place—&#;agrave; la “Times Square, San Francisco’s Union Square, or Boston’s Faneuil Hall.”

New York’s hub is too seizure-inducing, obviously, and all three places are too tourist-trappy for my tastes. But I get his vision: This arena needs to be open, welcoming.

It should also be local.

Friedman, Ranadivé and everyone else with a grip on downtown’s future won’t need to look far for ideas. A block away, developers Ali Youssefi and Bay Miry hope to break ground on the 700 block of K Street this year, and are planning a destination that will appeal to both out-of-towners and urban dwellers.

The two are partnering with popular Midtown-downtown business owners—Shady Lady Saloon, Insight Coffee Roasters, Ace of Spades, Magpie Cafe, LowBrau, et al.—on new projects up and down the block. These are the kind of restaurants, bars, clubs and coffeehouses that suburbanites love, but grid dwellers uphold, a mix that’s vital to the success of the new arena.

The city’s vision of the downtown arena as an L.A. Live, complete with the mayor’s preferred bowling-alley outfit Lucky Strike, won’t vibe with those who already live, eat and breathe on the grid. This central-city cadre wants authentic and inspired places with strong local connections at Friedman’s new arena town square.

Not California Pizza Kitchen.