Kings arena: A decade of lost opportunities

6:22 PM, Apr 12, 2011   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - If the Kings leave Sacramento following the 2010-2011 season, it will mark the end of a decade of failed attempts by the city to plan and pay for a new arena.

Some believe the failures are largely the fault of an ownership family who didn't give it everything they had.

"They were never at the table, never being a champion in front of the public," said former city councilman Ray Treathway.

But there are others with inside knowledge of the situation who believe former city leaders, like Treathway, are primarily at fault for the arena letdowns.

"It's not the Maloofs' fault if the team moves, it's the city of Sacramento's fault," said Kings' minority owner Bob Cook.  In addition to owning seven percent of the team, Cook is also a third-generation Sacramento native.

He would love to point the finger somewhere else other than his hometown, but says he can't.

"If it had been done several years ago (building a new arena), we wouldn't be where we are now," said Cook.

Treathway said the city never stopped working hard to find a solution.

"It certainly wasn't from a lack of effort from both mayors in this tenure," Treathway said, referring to former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Treathway was still a year from being elected tothe city council in 2000 when then-city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Heather Fargo first began a public push for a new sports complex downtown.

At the time, the Kings were on a meteoric rise in the NBA, with several marquee players and a regularly-sold out ARCO Arena for home games.  With a quality team and fan excitement at a level unlike any other period during the team's time in Sacramento, hopes were high when the city and the Maloofs spent big money on a feasibility study for a new arena.

However, the first study in 2002 and  then another in 2003 ended with in stalemate: where would the money come from to build a new venue?

"None of the (plans) could break through the cost," said Treathway, who served on city council from 2001 to 2010.  "Who will pay for it, while protecting the city of Sacramento's taxpayer money?"

Fellow councilman Steve Cohn thought he and former City Manager Bob Thomas had a good idea in 2004: split the cost, half and half, between the city and the Maloofs.

The city council presented the idea at a meeting on July 22, 2004, without consulting the Maloof family.

After hearing the plan, Joe Maloof took the podium to address the council.  The meeting had already gone on for hours, and it was after midnight.

"For you or for anyone to come and give us this set of numbers without talking to us, or sitting down with us, is not acceptable to us," Maloof said.

After watching a tape of that face-off at City Hall, Treathway recalled the feeling of shock.

"I'd forgotten how harsh the words were, how quickly (Joe Maloof) wanted to dispel the city's attempt," said Treathway.

Joe and Gavin Maloof walked out of that meeting, showing clear signs of frustration.  Plans for a new arena seemed stuck in neutral.  However, only four months passed before hope re-ignited, when then-Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas helped spearhead a new idea.

Several Natomas property owners would be allowed to expedite their developments in the area in exchange for helping to pay for a new arena next to the old one.

No taxpayer dollars would be necessary.

"When you look back, I'm a little surprised someone hasn't brought this up before," said Blanas in November of 2004.

The Maloofs were onboard, as was NBA Commissioner David Stern.

"I guess what I would say is, I'm optimistic," said Stern in response to the plan.

But the optimism faded in early 2005 when the property owners couldn't get on the same page for the deal.  When the plan died, there was seemingly only one other place to look for money: the taxpayers.

In September of 2006, ballot measures Q and R were introduced. They called for a new tax on Sacramento County residents to help fund a new arena at the downtown railyards.

However, at the kickoff for the campaign to convince voters to approve the tax increase, Joe Maloof surprised many with his words, which he read from a prepared statement.

"If for some reason it can't happen at this site, we may have to consider alternative locations in Sacramento," Maloof said.

Q and R proponents saw their plan get overwhelmingly defeated at the polls, a loud and clear statement by county voters.

Two years passed.  The Kings started playing poorly, and the string of sellouts at ARCO Arena came to an end.  Time was clearly running out for an arena answer.

Talk of developing a venue at Cal Expo picked up steam in 2007.  David Stern liked that idea, too, but the same problem lingered: who would pay?

In 2010, the notion of financing a downtown venue by virtue of a three-way land swap between Cal Expo, ARCO Arena, and the railyards had some people excited. But it, too, died in part from the complications of financing and when Cal Expo directors voted against moving the California State Fair.

Bob Cook watched all of it with frustration.

"I think the Maloofs are frustrated," he said.  "I would like to criticize the family for wanting to move this team from Sacramento, but I can't do that, because I know what they've gone through."

Treathway defended city leaders,, saying they never stopped working hard. Their problem? he said: They didn't have a true partner in the Maloofs.

"We never really had them as champions: pull up the sleeves, tell me where you want us to be, how we can put this thing together," said Treathway.

After all the blown chances, Treathway has a difficult time even keeping track of all the ways his city could have solved the problem years ago.

When asked for a comment regarding the many attempts to build a new arena, the Maloofs declined comment.  Their spokesman said that because the team is in the process of exploring a possible move from Sacramento, the NBA does not want ownership talking with the media about any part of the situation.

Written and reported by Will Frampton,

Follow Will on Twitter.


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