Project Arena, Part III: Sacramento’s big vote

This is the final installment in a three-part series on the entertainment and sports complex effort in Sacramento.  Disclaimer: These are my observations on how the arena project is progressing based on recent and past events, as well as my discussions with various figures in Sacramento business, sports and politics.

The Sacramento Kings host the Utah Jazz on February 28th, but most fans will likely keep tabs on a more important contest inside City Hall.

Sacramento’s nine council members will review a term sheet stating roughly what the city, an arena operator and the NBA/Kings will pay to construct a new arena in California’s capital.

The NBA’s contributions and how the city replenishes its general fund following the loss of yearly parking revenue are the term sheet’s most important concerns.  All other factors can be addressed down the line.

However with just a week to go, both issues are not yet ready to go before council.

Mayor Kevin Johnson still appears to be negotiating with NBA Commissioner David Stern and may not have a term sheet ready for council review until Monday. It would be in Johnson’s best interest to get that and the plan to backfill the general fund before then. Typically, council receives an agenda report the Thursday before an upcoming meeting.

Even with timing a bit nerve-wracking for arena supporters, expect the measure to pass if the plans are recommended by city manager John Shirey.

Predicting the vote

Angelique Ashby won her District 1 seat with an endorsement from the mayor. She wants the team to stay. Yes

Sandy Sheedy could surprise people on her exit tour, but it is unlikely. The District 2 representative said last week she is a Kings fan and added she wants to revitalize downtown, but has yet to show any support of using public money for an arena. No.

Steve Cohn and the mayor appear to have a deal. Can’t prove it, but the two have spent an awful lot of time at each other’s press conferences lately. Cohn is also pro-business and a major reason midtown thrived in the last decade. Yes

Rob King Fong is the smartest council member Sacramento has. He is not petty enough to put personal feelings or disagreements in front of what is best for the city. The District 4 representative also stood behind the 2006 arena effort despite his reservations. Fong knows that Sacramento desperately needs something to repair downtown. Yes

Jay Schenirer is a wild card, though he likely will approve a workable deal. Going on track record alone, the District 5 rep has voted “yes” consistently on the arena proposal, but any hiccups could spook him. In fairness, Schenirer does believe the city can serve parks, help the homeless and build an arena. Schenirer said during a December meeting that it is not an “either or” option. Yes

Kevin McCarty is expected to run for State Assembly in 2014. The political game is on full display and with each vote, the District 6 representative has toed the line.  If the arena gets built, he can say he was on the council that got it passed.  Should it fail to become the economic engine proponents tout, McCarty can equally say he voted against it at some point. Why he votes yes: Senator Darrell Steinberg (an arena supporter and co-chair of the Think Big Committee) as well as the Labor Council (another arena supporter and Think Big member), are both part of McCarty’s reelection campaign for the District 6 council seat. He won’t vote no this time. Yes

Darrell Fong does not want to use any public money. Some political heavy hitters have even been called in to help sway Fong. The man from District 7 is a former police officer; he has heard all types of pleas in his three decades in the public sector. They haven’t worked then and they won’t work now. No

Bonnie Pannell appeared furious over the strong mayor push a few weeks ago and Johnson lost arena support because of it. The District 8 representative may say yes again, but I am not sure a psychic hotline could help me on this guess. No

Mayor Kevin Johnson. No need for explanation. Yes

Prediction: The vote passes 6-3.

Arena negotiations at All-Star weekend?

Phone conversations never quite have the impact or resolve that come with face-to-face meetings.

That is why Johnson and Commissioner Stern will meet in Orlando during All-Star weekend to hash out more details of an arena financing plan.

As Cowbell Kingdom first reported, the city wants at least $80-million upfront from the league/Maloofs. However, that means rent payments will likely be much lower. Those two figures are likely the center of negotiations.

Expect some resolution to come before the All-Star Game Sunday.

Closing thoughts

Johnson appears to be on the brink of making good on his promise he made last April to get a “critical path” in place by March 1st 2012.  His work in the last year has to impress Stern. It not only tells the poker face commissioner, but also the rest of the NBA’s owners, that Sacramento is serious about keeping the Kings.

Even though a passing vote is likely on February 28th, fans should not celebrate quite yet. The yes vote should serve on similar grounds as a team making it into the postseason.

There is much work ahead on the potential parking lease deal that will unfold in the coming months.

A championship is a new arena for Sacramento.

Wait until the first shovel hits the dirt before popping the champagne.

Weekly contributor/columnist Rob McAllister is a reporter for KFBK Radio in Sacramento.  You can follow him on Twitter.

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About: Rob McAllister

Rob McAllister is a contributor to Cowbell Kingdom, specializing in features, commentary and arena coverage. He is a reporter for CBS 13 TV in Sacramento and was the first to break news of the Maloofs’ negotiations to move the Kings to Anaheim.