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The Sacramento City Council decided Tuesday to move forward with all four teams vying to develop a new arena for the Sacramento Kings – for at least a little longer.
Following a motion by City Councilman Steve Cohn, all nine members of the council voted unanimously to schedule a hearing in two weeks for the teams to provide their qualifications and financing approaches directly to the council.
In doing so, they decided not to follow a recommendation made Friday by Mayor Kevin Johnson's arena task force that the city start working with just one team, led by Sacramento developer David Taylor and ICON Venue Group, a prominent Colorado sports facility developer.
Several council members said they had more questions that have to be addressed before they could make such a decision. Some initially expressed an interest in giving city staff a 90-day period to evaluate all four teams.
Assistant City Manager John Dangberg suggested a two-week time frame as an alternative and Cohn made the motion. They did so after the ICON-Taylor team and the CORE team indicated they wouldn't continue with the process if all four teams were kept in the game three more months. The Natomas Entertainment Sports Center Partners and the Convergence Team said they would.
"At some point, we really want to have our staff that we hired to work for us" evaluate the teams, City Councilman Kevin McCarty said.
City Councilman Rob Fong urged city staff to engage the Maloofs, who own the Kings, soon to determine what approach they'd support for building a sports and entertainment facility to replace Arco Arena, the Kings' current home.
Johnson led the meeting but remained silent during a public hearing and council discussion lasting more than two hours. He brought the ICON-Taylor team together after the Convergence Team, which then included Taylor, failed to produce a viable project on schedule last year.
ICON President and CEO Tim Romani asked the council to give his team 90 days to study the project's feasibility and to develop a proposal and financing plan.
Romani warned that the Kings are not "locked into" Sacramento, and representing team owners who decide to relocate is "a messy ordeal." He said he'd rather help find a solution so the Kings can stay in Sacramento. Right now, the team is playing in an arena that "pales in comparison to every other arena in the NBA," Romani said.
"It's a critical time for Sacramento if (you) want to keep the Kings," he said. "I can tell you this: I think the time for process is behind you. I think the time for results is right now."
In the second half of March, the Maloofs will have an option to get out of their lease at Arco, task force co-chair Chris Lehane said.
The task force gave the ICON-Taylor team a first-place ranking based on its experience. ICON has built more than 50 sports complexes throughout the world and is especially experienced in building NBA arenas, task force member Tom Friery told the council.
Natomas Chamber of Commerce President Ed Koop and several others from Natomas asked Johnson and the Council to reject the recommendation of the ICON-Taylor team.
About 400 people signed petitions in support of keeping the arena in Natomas. Koop countered comments that no economic development had sprung up around the arena. At least two dozen restaurants, hotels and other businesses have been opened near the arena, Koop said.
"We want the arena. We deserve the arena. And we've got a good plan," he said. "We're pretty confident you're going to (see) that Natomas makes the most sense."
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents Natomas and downtown, said the Arco site must be redeveloped in a way that would be as beneficial as having a new arena if the project is built downtown. The area's 80,000 residents can't just lose a facility that benefits the local economy so heavily, she said.
In 2006, Sacramento County residents voted against funding a new Kings arena in the downtown railyards. Three of the teams have proposed that site as a possible location.
Fong asked if the city and development teams will consider a new model to finance a new arena, given the state of economy. In most if not all current cases, an entity other than NBA teams build new arenas, however, the teams become the tenants and then benefit from all the revenue that comes in from operating the facility. That income could be used by developers to offset the cost of building the arena, he said later.
Sacramento will have to look at something other than a "classic" funding plan – and the task force recommended the ICON-Taylor team because its members were confident the team would "look outside the box," Lehane said.
The task force and all four teams have acknowledged there must be some public funding for a new arena, but what form that might take isn't agreed on or clear. The task force believes building a new arena downtown makes "the most sense," he said.
"This is ultimately a decision for this body," Lehane said.