“This is bigger than basketball,” said Michael Tavares, one of the leaders of the group called (hash)Fans, which stands for Fund Arena Now Sacramento. “It’s about making Sacramento a destination.”
Opponents and proponents of the plan were allowed to speak for 2 minutes. Each side was granted 45 minutes, and those who couldn’t reach the lectern in the allotted time were allowed to stand in acknowledgement of their support afterward.
The more than 4-hour meeting brought out some animated speakers, including a man who wore a hard hat and sang a song to start construction soon, a young woman who started to cry while arguing other public works such as schools and parks were being ignored, and others just raised their voices and pounded their fists. Most, however, remained civilized.
Those against the plan argued it steers public money toward a private company, that sports arenas don’t produce enough _ or any _ economic benefit and that the project is being rushed. Some also asked for the plan to be put to a public vote.
“This city is on the verge of insolvency. As far as I know, we still technically qualify for bankruptcy under federal law,” said Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, who opposed the plan. She added the project “will scoop up every nickel and dime” left in the city’s budget.
Proponents echoed the mayor and city manager’s stances, trumpeting job creation and saying the economic loss if the Kings left would be even worse. In the end, those voices spoke to the majority.
The passage of the plan highlighted a turnaround for a town that once seemed assured of losing its only major professional sports team.
The Kings appeared determined to move to Anaheim last year before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena. At one point, Johnson seemed so certain the team was gone he called the process a “slow death” and compared the city’s efforts to keep the Kings a “Hail Mary.”
Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors last April, promising league owners the city would find a way to help finance a new arena to replace the team’s current outdated suburban facility. He also bought time by presenting more than $10 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses for this season.
The NBA’s relocation committee, headed by Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett _ who moved the team now known as the Thunder from Seattle in 2008 _ recommended that the league give the city a shot to follow through and handed down a March 1 deadline to come up with a plan to help finance an arena. Johnson delivered the agreement last Thursday _ on March 1, no less _ to send the plan to the City Council.
“A year ago, this was the longest of long shots,” Johnson said. “That’s one heck of a comeback.”
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP