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Anaheim’s economics luring Kings, mayor says

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Mayor Kevin Johnson on Thursday sounded resigned to the idea Sacramento may soon lose its professional basketball team.

A day after his first conversation with the Sacramento Kings’ owners in more than a month, Johnson said Anaheim and its city-owned arena, the Honda Center, have this city beaten on too many fronts.

Anaheim has a lucrative TV market and the Walt Disney Company’s Disneyland and other Fortune 500 companies that can buy sponsorships and luxury boxes and suites – critical revenue streams for basketball teams, in addition to ticket sales. Sacramento’s economy is struggling and its arena is outdated, he said.

"It’s a business decision and the economics of Anaheim are better than the economics for them at this state here in Sacramento," Johnson said in a late-afternoon press conference at City Hall. "They are fully exploring their options, which appears to be Anaheim."

Johnson has been trying to meet with the Maloof brothers, who own a majority share of the Sacramento Kings, since Feb. 19 during National Basketball Association All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, when NBA Commissioner David Stern confirmed rumors the Maloofs have been talking with Anaheim officials about a possible move.

The Maloofs also made it clear during the discussion with Johnson before Wednesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers that they will not sell their interests in the Kings.

The Maloofs aren’t willing to negotiate a deal for the Kings to stay in Sacramento or share any financial documents about Kings and Arco Arena revenue unless a deal in Anaheim falls through, Johnson said.

"I do not think Sacramento can influence the outcome of their decision," he said. "I’m OK with that. I think we’re all OK with that. It’s a decision they’re going to have to make."

During a phone call with the mayor Wednesday, NBA Commissioner David Stern encouraged Johnson to continue to "fight" for the Kings – but said he’d support the Maloofs when they make a case to move to Anaheim to other team owners during the NBA Board of Governors meeting April 14-15. 

On Tuesday, the NBA board extended the Kings’ deadline to file a relocation request to April 18.

Bracing for the likelihood the Sacramento Kings will be leaving town, business leaders said in a separate press conference Thursday that the time is right for the region to pull together to get a new sports and entertainment center built downtown.

Downtown redevelopment and the region’s $2.4 billion convention and tourism industry and other businesses would benefit by having a state-of-the art facility downtown, said Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau President Steve Hammond.

"This is about so much more than the Kings," said Downtown Sacramento Partnership Executive Director Michael Ault at a morning press conference inside the Sacramento Convention Center. "There are too many examples of urban centers …. where these facilities have been catalysts."

In a rare joint press conference, Ault, Hammond and Sacramento Metro Chamber President Matt Mahood threw their support behind an arena effort led by Johnson – who until now has been the lone leader addressing the unfolding situation involving a possible Kings departure.

An arena and events center can be expected to draw 3 million visitors to at least 225 events each year, they said.

Leaders from 14 business chambers throughout the area recently met and agreed to collaborate to determine what type of arena and event center is needed and how to get it built. The community must "prepare itself" that public investment will be needed, Mahood said.

Hammond quickly added that efforts to fund the facility must include "opportunities" for the businesses that would benefit and that business leaders couldn’t expect all the funding to come from taxes.

Just what that would mean – whether it might be businesses buying luxury suites at a new arena or some other type of funding – is uncertain. Business leaders are awaiting a list of financing options being put together by a development team, they said.

The Sacramento area has lost several major conventions, primarily religious conventions, that would have brought 10,000 to 15,000 visitors to the area because there isn’t a big enough facility near downtown’s hotels. Those visitors would stay at hotels, eat at restaurants and spend money in other ways, Hammond said.

The six-county region’s 2 million residents would benefit by having a facility that could accommodate much more than just professional basketball, which Arco Arena was built for. A newer and bigger facility could handle the kinds of events and concerts that residents must drive to the Bay Area for, such as hockey games and big concerts, they said.

Leaders of the ICON-Taylor development team told Johnson after Stern confirmed rumors about the Kings’ possible move to Anaheim they would use financial data from comparable NBA markets to prepare a financial analysis for building an arena.

The Maloofs agreed to communicate more quickly and openly with Johnson and the city in the future. They’ll make sure he’s one of the first to know once a decision about a move has been made.

"They told me if they do decide they don’t want to be here, they’ll let me know immediately," Johnson said.

Kings officials declined to comment Thursday.

Videos by Brandon Darnell. Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt. 

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