Why not Arco?
Natomas makeover could solve Kings arena problem
In the round-ball roulette of keeping a professional basketball team, the process for cities goes like this: Pony up for a new facility with the latest amenities or their team might move to (pick one) Kansas City, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Seattle, Norfolk.
The Sacramento Kings are the latest NBA team to take part in this high-stakes game of chance, and for hometown fans, the process is not going well. In September, the latest new arena proposal all but collapsed. And the Kings appear to be back to square one, which, in this case, is their outdated home court, Arco Arena.
So why not Arco? Or at least a new and improved Arco?
Mayor Kevin Johnson floated this idea in a September blog post, when he wrote options could include “even the renovation of Arco arena.”
Bill Crockett, an architect and national director of sports for Ellerbe Becket, said an Arco retrofit has possibilities, but there are market realities to consider as well.
“I am a believer in sustainability and extending the life of buildings,” he said. “But there are a couple of things about Arco that aren’t right for the NBA.”
In particular, Crockett cited its layout and location. “Arco has only one main public concourse, and most arenas have at least four levels of circulation with access to restrooms, concessions and private levels of suites and club suites,” he said. In addition, Arco has only 17,317 seats for basketball. In the NBA, Crockett said, teams want arenas with at least 18,000 seats.
This could change. “We could take a big saw and slice through [Arco Arena] like a salami,” Crockett said, pointing to Oracle Arena in Oakland. Built in 1966, Oracle is the Golden State Warriors’ home court and received a massive interior renovation in 1997.
“But at Arco, there are bigger issues than just the building,” Crockett told SN&R.
In particular, the suburban location of the arena bucks the trend of urban, sport-specific facilities. In a 1986 article on the first Arco, just east of the current one, Sports Illustrated described the area as “surrounded as it is by acres of rice fields and farmland, the building’s brightly lighted corporate logo makes it look at night like a gigantic last-chance filling station.”
The current Natomas site is near shopping centers and housing, but the location is still suburban and isolated, with Arco surrounded by vast, uninviting parking lots. (At one time there were also plans to build 65,000-seat baseball and football stadium next door to Arco.)
In today’s NBA, the ideal is to have an arena be an urban showcase, one that is easily accessible to public transit, shops and housing, while also providing access for fans and shoppers at team merchandise stores. The league also likes arenas to have such things as NBA-only locker rooms.
The prototype of this “next-generation” facility is one that just opened in Orlando, Fla. Built for a total cost of $480 million, the arena is the home court of the Orlando Magic and is part of a massive project to revitalize downtown Orlando. The Orlando project also includes a neighboring performing-arts center.
This echoes comments by Sacramento officials that a new Kings arena is not just about basketball, despite the discussions of what qualifies as an NBA-caliber arena. Joaquin McPeek, spokesman for Mayor Johnson, told SN&R the mayor wants to protect taxpayers, but is also is committed to building a new sports and entertainment center in whatever form that takes.
In his blog post, Mayor Johnson added, “The city must work to create an entertainment and sports complex that becomes an economic and cultural engine for our city, providing jobs and vibrancy, and creating an opportunity for the Kings to operate successfully.”
For the Kings, this means a new building.
“Refurbishing the current Arco Arena is not an option. … We need a new facility that can compete within the NBA,” Matina Kolokotronis, president of business operations for the Kings, stressed in an e-mail to SN&R, reiterating points she has made elsewhere.
There have been several efforts to build such a facility already.
Their latest effort was a plan for a site just north of downtown. The plan, known as Convergence, called for construction of an arena on old rail yards, with Cal Expo moving to the Arco site, and the Kings selling the Cal Expo grounds to pay for a new building. The Cal Expo board of directors, however, rejected the plan in September. (Project developers will return to the Sacramento City Council with other ideas October 26.) After the defeat, NBA Commissioner David Stern also removed himself from his unusual three-year commitment to help Sacramento get a new arena.
So for now, in a depressed economy, the 22-year-old Arco Arena is home for the Kings. The place is homely and cramped, and according to ESPN, one in four of its concessions have health-code violations.
Crockett said the cost of a renovation would be almost as much as a new building, although it would generate about 500 to 600 construction jobs.
In Sacramento, voters have also shown reluctance to pass ballot initiatives to help finance arena costs. Oklahoma City, for instance, voted for a temporary 1 cent sales tax to adapt its arena for the NBA. The Seattle SuperSonics then relocated there in 2008—where they became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
By way of comparison, the Ford Center in Oklahoma has more than 3,300 club suites; Arco has more than 400, and 30 luxury suites. In the calculus of the NBA, the high-end suites help bankroll high-end team salaries.
Even if Arco were to add more seats, suites and receive a renovation, there is also the question of where to house the Kings during that time. According to Crockett, arena renovations take at least two years and possibly longer if work is halted during basketball season.
All of this makes for a complicated, expensive process, with much at stake.
For the NBA, Sacramento provides the 20th largest media market in the country, and a generally devoted fan base stretching from the Oregon border to the Central Valley.
For Sacramento, an arena provides a home to a major sports team and, as stressed by city officials, a site for other events from concerts to NCAA tournaments. A major league sports team also raises the profile of the city. In the 1986 article, Sports Illustrated described the newly arrived Kings as the biggest thing to hit Sacramento since the 1848 gold rush, with the city “seeking an identity beyond the summer heat and the meandering progress of the state Legislature.” (Some things don’t change.)
Given all these chips on the table, Crockett says an Arco redesign is not too far outside the box.
“Major overhauls built to attract a professional tenant are not unusual,” he said, while stressing it helps to make buildings as flexible as possible.
“There are definitely buildings that become economically obsolete early in life,” he said. “But a multi-purpose Arco could be redesigned for a minimum of 30 to 50 years.”