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David Aldridge

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson says a new arena for the Kings would provide 4,000 jobs for the city.
Jeff Carlick/NBAE via Getty Images

Keeping Kings in town tiny part of Johnson's new arena goal

Posted Sep 5 2011 11:17AM

Good morning. First, happy Labor Day. Second, an apology. There was no Morning Tip last week. There are a lot of reasons why, but basically, like so many millions of others, I got Irene'd last week. With so many people both on vacation and preparing for a once-in-50-years hurricane, I couldn't get the people I thought I would get to write the column. But that's not their fault; that's on me, and I apologize.

I'm happy that we're back on line this week with a guest Tipper, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. Some of you that remember Discmans and the career arc of Jean Claude Van Damme recall that KJ, as he was known then, used to play a little basketball back in the day. In a 12-year NBA career -- mostly with the Suns -- Johnson was one of the top point guards of the '90s, making three All-Star games, four All-NBA second teams and one highlight for the ages, dunking on Hakeem Olajuwon's bean in the 1994 Western Conference semis.

After retiring in 2000 -- he is still 18th all-time in assists with 6,711 -- Johnson ran a non-profit in Sacramento, his hometown, which created a successful charter school and other local businesses (though Johnson received some criticism for not keeping up many of the properties he owned; he has since sold many of them, and now the neighborhood is showing some signs of economic revival). In 2008, Johnson challenged the two-term incumbent mayor and won election with 57 percent of the vote. His first term as mayor seemed to coincide with the imminent departure of the Kings to Anaheim after the team had reached an agreement with that city to move there for the 2011-12 season. But questions about the viability of the plan were raised and Sacramento took advantage of the delay.

Grass roots organizers showed there was still local support to keep the team in town, and Johnson appeared before the NBA's Board of Governors, arguing that there was business support in the community to help fund a new arena that the team's owners, the Maloof Family, have been seeking without success for more than a decade. The league announced that the Kings would remain in Sacramento this coming season, giving the city one more year to come up with a plan -- and the money -- to build a new arena.

Kevin Johnson is working closely with Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof to keep the team in town.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

In this week's Tip, Johnson explains why keeping the Kings in Sacramento is vital for the city's future.

* * *

Let's get right to the point: it's not about basketball.

It's about jobs, which makes today -- Labor Day 2011 -- the perfect time to talk about the transformational project taking shape in Sacramento.

Jobs and economic development are why an unprecedented alliance of labor, business, political and community folks have united to build a new Entertainment and Sports Complex and make Northern California the permanent home of the Sacramento Kings. Nothing like this has ever been seen in Sacramento -- organized labor and groups like the chamber of commerce, state senators and assembly members, local elected officials, 100 percent aligned to create 4,000 jobs and pump billions of dollars into our regional economy.

The jobs will come from the Sacramento region and stay in the Sacramento region. This program is strictly local.

Beyond creating jobs, we are building a cultural events center that will serve the next generation. We are filling a void in our community, since it's become clear time is running out for Power Balance Pavilion, the former Arco Arena. Arco Arena was cheaply built with a limited lifespan when it was constructed in 1987. At the time, other arenas were costing two and three times the price of Arco Arena.

By the late 1990s, the Sacramento arena was becoming marginal, thanks to loading dock limitations, small kitchen facilities and the lack of premium and club seats. Most fans didn't know about the kitchens and loading docks. For them, the arena held fond memories of fun nights. The community's wake-up call finally came in late 2009, when the NCAA announced it would no longer hold the men's regional Final Four playoffs in Sacramento.

The regional playoffs were fan favorites, but it wasn't the fans that drove the NCAA's decision: it was the building, which the NCAA said was inadequate. That was the reailty check Sacramento needed. If our community couldn't provide a worthy stage for major college basketball, how could we hope to hang onto an NBA team?

In late October 2009, I made a speech informing the region we would have to build a new Entertainment and Sports Complex. The project would be a priority for the Sacramento region.

Those were difficult words to speak in 2009. Many political leaders in Sacramento were still reluctant to talk about a new civic center. They were haunted by a 2006 arena ballot measure that got clobbered by Sacramento County voters. For three years, no public official in Sacramento would risk political capital by talking about the need for a new facility, even though everybody knew the threat of losing the Kings was increasingly real.

The approach from the mayor's office was different. We began with the "Rules of the Game," which spelled out exactly how Sacramento would build a new complex: The taxpayers would come first, our city would not be used as leverage, we would negotiate on even terms and we would think in and out of the box.

Sacramento's 'Rules of the Game' have dictated how the city will go about financing a new arena.
Jeff Carlick/NBAE via Getty Images

Since that moment, Sacramento has followed the Rules. And as the negative repercussions of the economic recession have continued to overshadow our community, we have adapted the "Rules" to include the priority of creating jobs.

Much progress has been made since 2009. With the support of NBA commissioner David Stern and the Maloof family, the Sacramento community rallied to prevent the Kings from relocating to Anaheim. Mr. Stern and the Maloofs have made it clear they believe in Sacramento. They have given us until March 2012 to demonstrate we have the realistic ability to build a new Entertainment and Sports Complex and they are working alongside us to make it happen.

We appreciate the deadline and intend to honor it.

This week, our regional task force "Think BIG Sacramento" will release a major report on arena funding sources called the Nexus Report. The work will provide a menu of financial resources to support the new civic center, including private contributions, money from those who will benefit from the building and public support.

The regional support we have seen the past few months is remarkable. "Think BIG" is comprised of community leaders, elected officials, business owners and labor leaders from across six counties. For months, they have worked together in the trenches. In the upcoming months between now and the holidays, our "Think BIG" team will finalize the funding options. And from January to March, we will negotiate agreements with relevant parties as we prepare to break ground and pour concrete in Sacramento's downtown rail yards redevelopment site.

Some people will be counting the days until the first basketball game in the new pavilion. As for me, I will be savoring the image of cranes in our skies and 3,700 workers on the payrolls, building our future.


Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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