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Denver's mayor was in town Tuesday to talk about downtown arenas and the need for strong mayors — two subjects close to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's heart.
Building an arena downtown could help reinvigorate Sacramento's core, if the success of Colorado's capital city is an indication, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said during the Downtown Sacramento Partnership's annual State of Downtown Breakfast.
Last week, would-be Sacramento arena developers outlined seven proposals for a new "sports and entertainment center" in response to Johnson's request for such proposals. All but two were proposed to be built downtown. The same day, a Sacramento Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling that Johnson's "strong mayor" initiative should not be put on the June ballot.
The arena cannot be anywhere but downtown, partnership board Chairman Kipp Blewett said during his organization's 12th annual breakfast. Speaking to 572 people at the Memorial Auditorium, Blewett said he agrees with the Maloofs and National Basketball Association officials, who are saying they want an "urban" arena.
"Are we a city that can do big things? That question will be answered in the next cycle," Blewett said. "The next decade will look nothing like the last one. The success of this decade will not be defined by suburban sprawl."
Hickenlooper has gotten a lot of credit for Denver's renaissance since first being elected in 2003. He was recruited by Johnson and the business improvement district to speak at the event, just days after Hickenlooper announced he is running for governor of Colorado.
Calling Sacramento "almost a sister city" to Denver, he pointed out many similarities he sees between the two, such as their locations near mountains, campaigns to end homelessness and downtowns that contain a shopping plaza, convention center, and city and county administration buildings.
What Sacramento doesn't have is three sports centers downtown. Denver has Mile High Stadium, Pepsi Center and Coors Field. Downtown Denver's revitalization really took off after the first, Coors Field, was built in 1995 two blocks from Union Station, he said. Businesses like his brewpub, also nearby, saw their sales rocket, and a housing boom was launched.
"People saw downtown was a place they wanted to come," Hickenlooper said.
Another similarity between the two cities is that both are based on the "rugged individualism that opened up the West," he said. That spirit has sometimes meant the ones who got ahead were determined by how hard they worked and whether they're willing to collaborate.
Denver, with a population of nearly 600,000, has benefited by collaborating with neighboring suburbs and through Hickenlooper's desire to collaborate with other politicians, he said.
"You can't get that level of cooperation with a city manager-type system," he said. "You can't have a corporation run by a board of directors and the CEO has little power."
Having a strong mayor helped Denver win all three sports centers from the 'burbs, which mostly had the city manager form of government, he said. Denver played the suburbs against each other and got all three.
The strong mayor system also allowed Hickenlooper to hire experienced people who like to work on the cutting edge for his administration.
"That's one of the benefits of strong mayor. It allows you to bring in a talented group of people," he said. "They're able to inject energy and a large amount of entrepreneurship into a bureaucracy."
Calling Hickenlooper a role model, Johnson vowed during his remarks at the event that he and the Sacramento City Council will learn to collaborate more in coming months.
"We are going to work better together than we have ever worked," Johnson said. "We are going to put Sacramento first when it comes to moving forward."
Photos provided by Downtown Sacramento Partnership.