No love for Natomas?

Bites is agnostic about the Sacramento Kings and the prospect of building them a new arena. Now, if you live in Natomas—and holy crap, there are an awful lot of you now—it’s a little different story.

If not for the Kings, there wouldn’t be a North Natomas. The area was opened to development only as a concession to the developers who promised to bring the team here.

If Arco Arena goes dark, it’s going to hurt that community. The same will happen if the Kings were to actually decamp for the fantastical downtown arena we’ve been hearing so much about the last decade.

Despite the conventional wisdom, Bites doesn’t believe an arena will be all that revitalizing. Not compared to good public transportation and solid workaday infill projects that bring people to live in the central city, rather than just to visit and play and drink and throw up on everybody’s front stoop.

But yank the Kings out of North Natomas—a neighborhood literally built for an arena—and you will create an unnecessary giant hole in one neighborhood in order to fill a completely differently shaped giant hole in another neighborhood.

“If the arena is going to cost you $200 million more to put it somewhere else, that seems like a common-sense business decision,” said Ed Koop, president of the Natomas Chamber of Commerce.

Koop is supporting the Natomas ESC Partners, a consortium of development and construction companies with a proposal now before the (completely unofficial) Sacramento First arena task force created by Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The task force is supposed to submit an evaluation of four competing arena proposals to Sacramento City Council next week. These include a plan by downtown superdeveloper David Taylor, who is the leading voice for a downtown arena.

The Taylor team and another group called CORE say they don’t yet know how to finance the arena. Another plan—a hopeful reworking of the Gerry Kamilos’ Convergence land swap—seems dead in the water. Been there, done that (see “Keep your eye on the ball”; SN&R Feature; September 9, 2010).

The backers of the Natomas project say they know exactly how to finance an arena, and that there’s no public money involved. Not true, of course. The Natomas plan would have the city throw in the 100 acres of land it owns next to the current Arco Arena site. Much of the construction costs would be borne by personal seat licenses. Something called PILOT bonds would also be used to pay off the already existing Kings loan. (It gets a little esoteric here, but the plan would basically use public money—future property-tax revenue generated by the new arena site—to pay off the Maloofs’ current debt to the city.) The damn thing is, the Natomas plan might just be a bargain compared to the as-yet-undisclosed financial details of the other plans.

Still, Taylor’s team seems to have the inside track. It was Mayor Johnson who set up the meeting between Taylor and his partners, a construction company called Icon which has done several other NBA arenas.

And even though Taylor was also part of the earlier ill-fated Convergence proposal, the Sacramento First task force members gushed over Taylor at a recent meeting, even as they called his former partner Kamilos a loser.

“It does kind of feel like a David and Goliath thing,” said Koop.

But Natomas has an ally in City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who has said she’s open to the idea of a downtown arena, but has been quite protective of Natomas interests. She calls the Natomas site “shovel ready” and said she wants something of high value, whether it’s an arena, a hospital or a major university extension planned for the community. “I won’t allow a discussion to go forward without a discussion about that site,” she told Bites.

And if there’s going to be a public investment, Ashby noted, “Natomas is closest to the finish line.”