On the performing arts, the arena, and the struggle to find money

Proponents of the downtown arena maintain that the plan to spend at least $300 million in public money and assets on a new home for the Sacramento Kings won’t force spending cuts in other areas. But a city report on proposed financing for a remodeling of the Community Center Theater raises serious concerns.

The 2,400-seat facility is clearly an important community resource, serving as a home for the California Musical Theatre, the Sacramento Philharmonic, the Sacramento Ballet, the Sacramento Opera and touring acts, and it attracts 250,000 patrons per year. It hasn’t been remodeled since it opened in 1974, and the city is facing a judge’s order to improve access for the disabled. Arts groups are lobbying for a $50 million upgrade, which could be financed via bonds and repaid from hotel taxes, but a report from the City Treasurer’s Office advises postponing the project, partly because the city plans to use hotel taxes to finance the arena.

Also, some balk at the $50 million fix, arguing that an entirely new performing-arts center is needed—if only there was the money to pay for it.

In other words, the arena is already impacting the way the city addresses other budget priorities even before the project is built. That’s just one more reason the arena shouldn’t go forward without a public vote. Let’s put the project on the June 2014 ballot.