NEW YORK CITY - It lasted about 90 minutes, but Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said the meeting he had with NBA Commissioner David Stern was a big step in the process.
"I think he's pleased," Johnson said in an interview inside the NBA offices. "I think he appreciates our tenacity, he's watched this play in Sacramento and I don't think he's been optimistic over the past ten years. But I think this time he's seen a steady commitment."
Johnson was happy to travel to New York City on Friday to deliver the good news that the Sacramento City Council voted to begin the process of privatizing city parking. It's a move that could create up to $250 million in up-front cash.
He's optimistic, but not claiming victory yet.
"It's going to be hard, I don't want anybody to think we're out of the woods," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, when you play in the second half, the third and fourth quarter these quarters are a lot tougher than the beginning. So believe it or not the toughest work is really ahead."
The big news was what most expected. AEG, the arena operator giant, has crossed the line from interested in Sacramento to a key player in the discussions.
AEG president Tim Leiweke was also in New York for the meeting.
"They're going to do everything they can to be an equity investor and that's important," Johnson said. "We've got the NBA and the Maloofs on one hand, you have us, the city on the public side and now we have an operator that's willing to look at being a private equity investor, that starts to put more people in it and that's very important."
Building a new entertainment and sports complex could cost anywhere between $387 and $400 million. Johnson said the difference will be an additional parking lot.
And what about the Maloofs thinking the March 1st deadline is flexible? Johnson said even if there is wiggle room, the City will ignore it.
"We don't want to get caught up on whether it's March 1st, 7th, 5th, 10th," Johnson said. "We want a plan that the community and the council feels good about prior to the March 1st deadline."
The NBA has told the Maloofs it will allow a relocation if plans for a new arena aren't finalized by then.
Johnson has received some criticism for not allowing taxpayers a vote in the arena process; some accused him of intentionally skating around them fearing a "No" vote.
Johnson, however, said the city council was elected to made decisions like those concerning the arena.
"If you're talking about doing something legislative or you're talking about a tax, 100 percent we should go to the taxpayers," Johnson said. "But we as council get elected to make choices with dollars and investment, this falls within our purview."
By Nick Monacelli, firstname.lastname@example.org