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In what Mayor Kevin Johnson called an unprecedented event, 14 chambers of commerce from the Sacramento region announced Thursday that they support an entertainment and sports complex in downtown Sacramento.
Johnson said the backing of the regional business community, which came after a four-county bus trip for Think Big Sacramento, is a commitment to the promise he made to the National Basketball Association earlier this year in New York City that Sacramento is an NBA city and can build a new arena.
“I did not sell Sacramento, I sold our region,” he said, adding that a common commitment to a downtown sports and entertainment complex will provide a more vibrant community.
The major obstacle facing the Think Big Sacramento coalition is developing a financing plan for the $386 million arena, something that was expected from the ICON-Taylor arena development team but was not a part of the report released after a nearly four-month feasibility study.
Johnson said he is confident that a workable public/private partnership will be in place before the end of this year, in time to meet the March 1, 2012 deadline to make serious efforts to build a new arena.
“We don’t want to be in the same situation year after year, and we know that March deadline is coming up. It’ll be here before we know it,” Johnson said, adding that he is confident the self-imposed deadline of having financing options in place by mid-September will be met.
“Then, in subsequent months, the rest of September, October and November, we believe we will have a critical path of a public/private partnership ... all before the end of the year. That’s our goal,” he said.
He alluded to creative funding models and “outside-the-box” thinking on the financing, but he did not give any specifics on funding options, except to address the question of a sales tax.
“No one here wants to do a sales tax,” he said. “We didn’t take it off the table, but we knew that would not fly. We learned that in 2006.”
Martha Lofgren, interim CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the Metro Chamber has supported the idea of a downtown arena since at least 2004, and she said regional funding is the only method that makes sense.
“One agency, one local agency can’t do this alone,” she said. “There has to be a regional effort to fund a regional sports and entertainment center.”
She added that a downtown arena will benefit the whole region, not just Sacramento.
“If there’s one thing I think we as a region need right now, it’s an economic catalyst,” she said. “We need to move forward, get the financial picture in place and get the momentum going.”
The independent report released late last month claims that the region will benefit from $7 billion in economic activity over 30 years and create 4,000 jobs.
Some in the community have been skeptical of those numbers and the actual economic effect from an arena, but Lofgren said she believes the numbers are accurate.
“You need to know this is a very thoughtful process that has led up to the announcement today of the support from all of the regional chambers,” she said, adding that the business community has had since the beginning of June to check out and verify the numbers.
Willie Pelote, assistant director for the Political Action Department of the California chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME International), said that as a representative of labor, he also believes the numbers are accurate.
“I think the mayor and his team have been very thorough in making sure that they do the research that’s necessary so when they say something to the public, the public can go and check it out,” he said. “That’s why I think the region’s going to buy into this concept ... we’re looking at job creation.”
He added that he is “very comfortable” with what the finance committee – headed by former Sacramento Treasurer Tom Friery – is doing to make sure it is not being built on the backs of taxpayers.
Other chambers of commerce supporting the downtown arena are the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, Citrus Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, Folsom Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce, Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce, Roseville Chamber of Commerce, Slavic-American Chamber of Commerce and the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce.
Pelote said he expects a similar showing of support from labor organizations in the coming weeks.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.