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A public opinion poll delivered to the City Council Thursday shows support for both the downtown arena and several public funding options.
That poll came in with 33 days remaining in the Think Big Sacramento committee’s 100-day timeline to come up with a “menu of options” for financing an entertainment and sports complex, said Kunal Merchant, chief of staff to Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Paul Maslin, of the public opinion research and strategy organization Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, said his company did more than 700 phone interviews with residents of Sacramento, Sacramento County, El Dorado County, Placer County and Yuba County. The polls were completed two weeks ago.
The findings, he said, showed that about two thirds of those interviewed support the downtown Sacramento arena proposal, with most citing job creation and economic development as reasons.
The margin of error for the poll was about 3.5 percent.
“Almost 90 percent of voters had some knowledge of the proposal before the survey,” he said, adding that that number is very high for a local issue.
The poll also found that 75 percent of respondents said they preferred having a public/private partnership to fund the arena rather than not having a downtown arena at all.
“Economic concerns are front-and-center,” he said during his report to the council, adding that political party affiliation had no bearing on the issue, with Republicans, Democrats and those who decline to state their affiliation all supporting the proposal by a two-thirds majority.
Numerous funding options showed approval from levels of more than 70 percent to just over 50 percent.
“We rarely find any funding source for any major project that gets a majority (positive) response,” Maslin said.
Maslin added after his presentation to the council that the level of support is some of the highest he’s seen, noting that his firm has previously worked with a football stadium and a baseball stadium in Detroit, which required ballot measures to pass, and a regional effort for an airport in Denver in which several suburban areas agreed to give up land for a regional airport.
Funding sources that got widespread support included digital billboards, mounting a cell tower on top of the building and selling naming rights.
Other funding methods, though still showing support, were not as enthusiastically supported: Those included parking revenue from existing city parking garages that would otherwise be less-than-full during events, sales tax applied to goods sold within the arena and a $2 fee to all tickets to events in the arena.
A tax on hotels to fund the arena showed a 51 percent approval.
“We have about a dozen or more of these funding devices that have a majority of support,” Maslin said, noting that any specific taxes are “tougher to sell.”
The idea of charging a toll on drivers passing though the region received very little support.
“I think there is some momentum building,” he said. “There’s a lot of support for a lot of different ways to build it.”
Merchant told the City Council that a lot of progress has been made since July 2, noting the four-county bus tour and the approval of the arena by multiple local chambers of commerce.
“We have all (funding) options on the table at this point,” he said. “By the 100th day (just after Labor Day), we want to have a menu of options to present to the mayor and council.”
Merchant said that no funding decisions have been made at this point.
Councilman Kevin McCarty said he is concerned that the approval to use city land might have been overrode by people living outside Sacramento, but Maslin said there was no significant difference between the groups surveyed.
McCarty also said he was surprised to see approval of a hotel tax and ticket fees because, typically, voters prefer for others – such as the National Basketball Association or basketball players – to pay for arenas.
Cellphone and billboard ideas are innovative, McCarty added, but he said he sees logistical issues with both, since cell tower revenues – about $20,000 per tower per year – currently go into the city’s general fund or council discretionary funds, and there are already contracts on the books for digital billboards that might preclude their revenues going to the arena.
Another issue he brought up was with one of the other funding sources that has been talked about over the past few months – selling city land. He said he is not sure that putting any revenues from selling city property toward an arena is the best idea, when those funds could also go to the general fund, of which a large part is spent on public safety and parks.
Johnson said after the meeting in a press conference that McCarty asked some good questions that need to be considered, but he is happy to see the high level of support from the community.
“Overall, it just showed there is such strong support in the city and county and region if we approach it the right way,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, but I think that was a good first down for us.”
Two town hall meetings will be held next week for arena-related issues. The first will be held at 6 p.m. Monday night at the Amtrak station at Fourth and I streets and will include a site overview and address how the arena and intermodal transit facility will work together.
The second town hall meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Natomas Charter School, 4600 Blackrock Drive, and will focus on the future of Natomas when the downtown arena is finished.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.