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2011 recap: The fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento

The question of whether Sacramento will get a new sports arena heated up this year, as Sacramento Kings owners threatened to relocate the team to Anaheim and potential arena sites – such as a land swap with Cal Expo – came and went.

Despite an emotional rollercoaster ride for Kings fans this year, supporters of the team refused to throw up their hands in defeat. Here’s what 2011 looked like from the bleachers.

As plans for a land swap between the state fairgrounds at Cal Expo and the current Natomas arena site fell through, a task force appointed by Mayor Kevin Johnson recommended that Sacramento developer group ICON-Taylor explore the viability of building an arena in the downtown area.

Business leaders from the Natomas Chamber of Commerce wanted the City Council to reject the task force recommendation, saying they felt Natomas was “fighting an uphill battle” against losing the then-named Arco Arena as the Kings’ home turf.

The owners of the Sacramento Kings, the Maloof family, confirmed suspicions that they were considering relocating the team to Anaheim by requesting a filing extension with the NBA to give the owners until at least April 14 – the day after the Kings season ended – to make a decision.

The NBA granted an extension to 5 p.m. May 2, and Kings fans went into overdrive to convince the Maloofs that the team should stay put.

Between a grassroots “Here We Stay” campaign, “painting the town purple” and sold-out games, there was little question of the importance Sacramentans placed on keeping the Kings in town.

Still, negotiations between the Maloofs and the city of Anaheim seemed to be well under way – until problems with financing emerged.

Anaheim was reportedly making plans to issue $75 million in lease revenue bonds to entice the team to move, but Sacramento city officials intervened, saying that the Maloofs would first have to repay $77 million in bond debt to Sacramento.

A private group successfully halted the issuance of the Anaheim bonds, and Billionaire Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle stepped up with plans to buy the Sacramento Kings from the Maloofs to keep the team in Sacramento.

Just before the final filing deadline to officially request relocating the team, an NBA relocation committee came to town and took over the Kings offices to study the possibility of keeping the Kings in Sacramento. The committee was welcomed with open arms – and plenty of purple.

At almost the same time, tribal leaders from Thunder Valley Casino pledged $1 million toward the effort to stop the Kings from moving to Anaheim, bringing the total of business pledges to keep the Kings in Sacramento to more than $10 million.

In addition to business interests, retired Kings player Chris Webber pledged his support – along with additional financial backing from private investors – to keep the effort going.

Finally, on the day of the filing deadline, the Maloofs announced they would not move the Kings out of Sacramento – this year.

The question of an adequate arena was still open, however, and NBA officials said they would support the team moving next year if a new arena could not be built to replace the Kings’ current facility, Power Balance Pavilion.

After a huge push for ticket sales to the next season, the Maloofs asked Johnson to stand in for them at the NBA draft lottery in New Jersey.

In June, with four months before the start of the 2011-12 basketball season, Kings supporters got down to business formulating a plan for a new arena – this time, with the help of a coalition of interested parties from business, sports, finance and development sectors.

The coalition – called the “Think Big” committee – worked on a self-imposed 100-day deadline to come up with a “menu of options” for financing a new entertainment and sports complex to be built at the railyards site downtown.

The Think Big committee released a series of reports over the 100-day period that discussed financing options including strategic use of public land, user fees and leasing the city’s parking system.

Two opinion polls surfaced – one commissioned by the Think Big committee and one by City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy – to gauge public support of a new sports and entertainment complex. Despite the opposing results of the polls, Johnson and members of the Think Big committee continue to pursue a plan to build an arena and keep the Kings in Sacramento.

The latest aspect of the financing plan – leasing the city’s parking system to a private operator for an up-front lump payment to get construction under way – is in the earliest stages.

What’s next for the Kings and the city of Sacramento?

2012 promises fervent action on the part of supporters, developers and the entire Think Big committee to have a solid arena plan in place before the March 1 deadline for Kings’ owners to once again attempt to relocate the team.

Meanwhile, Kings fans are filling seats for games, staying positive and hanging on for the final loop-de-loop of this wild ride.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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