Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento

Should public money be spent to subsidize sports arenas? It’s an old debate playing out in Sacramento. The City Council has approved a plan to build a new arena for the city’s pro basketball team, the Kings, using a $258 million taxpayer subsidy. Will the investment pay off in jobs, economic development and civic pride? Or will the city struggle to pay off the costs in the long run, as other cities that have built major arenas have in the past?

John Hyde, spokesperson for Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP), a group opposing the public subsidy
Tab Berg, member of Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, one of the citizen groups taking issue with the proposed arena subsidy
Victor Matheson, professor of economics specializing in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross
Micah Weinberg, senior policy advisor, Bay Area Council
Marcos Breton, columnist, Sacramento Bee

  • John

    Something doesn’t feel right about an organization comprised of multimillionaires asking for a public hand-out.

  • johnqeniac

    What about a special tax on each Sacramento child, inversely proportional to the income of his or her parents, to serve as collateral for loans to pay for the stadium. This will put them in perpetual indentured servitude to the putrid-rich owners and developers, who can then establish a thriving and lucrative slave market when the children-slaves come of age, which will grow the economy.

  • Bob Fry

    “Or will the city struggle to pay off the costs in the long run, as other cities that have built major arenas have in the past?”

    Why, yes, glad you asked. Sacramento’s leaders have for decades fallen over themselves making bad deals with billionaire sports owners in their adolescent infatuation with fame. Glad I moved to a nearby town that doesn’t force the taxpayers to be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize billionaires for a playground for the elite.

  • LF

    Why do so many complain that public welfare programs like food stamps are redistribution of income but these new big sports arenas are somehow for the common good? Both programs are paid for with taxpayer dollars. The arenas are not for the common good because not that many people cannot afford to attend the games and others aren’t even interested.

  • Karen Ivy

    Read your history again. The Romans didn’t discuss ANYTHING about the costs and benefits of building the Colosseum. The Colosseum was built by the Emperor Vespasian, and trust me, nobody argued with the Emperor about how he wanted to spend money.

    Sacramento has to make its own choices, of course, but I recommend you look at the history of the Oakland Coliseum. We taxpayers are still paying down the bonds that built it 20 years ago, and it’s a dump that everybody wants to leave.

  • Zbigniew

    Sacramento is the capitol of California. Why does anyone think giving money to billionaires who hire millionaires will enrich Sacramento civic pride? How about the city does something like an education zone run in concert with Cal State Sacto and the local community colleges and high schools?

  • Ehkzu

    Financial journalist David Cay Johnston carefully researched the financing of sports arenas for his book “Free lunch: how the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill).” He found that they were mostly enormous scams. He also points out that stadiums go in instead of something else–like a park–that could have vastly more public benefit to residents. “Revitalization” is a sucker punch of a word. The alternatives are never described or compared.

    Ask yourself what percentage of a city’s taxpayers EVER go to a game in one of these arenas?

    • betonit

      One study found that 75% of attendees at events at Sacramento’s current arena are from the wealthier suburbs and foothill communities. To say this arena is being built for the residents of Sacramento, most of whom are working class and can’t afford to go to arena events, is an insult.

  • Leo Garcia

    Let’s use the money towards school building and education so that our children will have a chance to afford tickets to watch these games. Don’t know much about basketball but if the tam has millions in their coffers and Is privately owned have them pay for it.

  • Lisa

    The project is being framed as “the city investing in it’s
    downtown recovery”.

    However, the trend that is being supported by this move is that the NBA can, once again, say that they can get new arenas built on the backs of the taxpayers in all of their other markets. This action feeds the NBA’s ability to extort (yes, extort) funding for their playgrounds or they’ll take their toys and go elsewhere. This isn’t just about
    Sacramento, this is about the NBA and all of it’s markets wherever there may be
    an arena that is considered “old” – which might mean 10 years old. The current arena is not even 30 years old, but the financial agreement currently under consideration will extend 40 years hence…

    The Sacramento voters rejected two propositions to fund construction of an arena, and now this end-run manages to get the tax payers to pay for an arena. Look around, I’ll bet
    the majority of people who support the expenditure don’t live within the city limits, which is where the funding is coming from.

    Don’t get me wrong, the arena, should it be built, should be downtown in order to capitalize on mass transit and to utilize downtown resources like restaurants and hotels.
    But the methodology used to get this deal is dirty, sneaky, and underhanded, and will make Sacramento look like bumpkins.

    If this deal is such a great financial investment, why aren’t the private investors making that investment without the burden of carrying the city along?

  • i_witness

    stockton used the parking revenue strategy for their downtown. have they not defaulted on their bonds?

  • Bob Fry

    30 years ago when I first moved to Sacto, the city leaders got tricked by Al Davis into bidding on the Oakland Raiders. Almost literally overnight the city found $100 million in tax dollars to pay their share. Al, of course, was only using Sacto as a foil to get a higher bid elsewhere…and he left for Los Angeles. I remember this because we in our area were complaining about the lack of a local library, which the city said repeatedly was too expensive.

    Later Sacto made a bad deal to get the Kings in town, and were on the hook for the (I think) $70 million Arco Arena. The Kings’ various owners mostly only paid interest, not principle, and the contract was such any owner could leave town and leave the taxpayers on the hook for the Arena.

    Now the leaders have screwed the city taxpayers again, and no public vote this time.

  • Richard Seyman

    RE Talking “points” of this Forum program. Oklahoma City & Indianapolis share with Sacramento size and a sense of inferiority. But Sacramento has an added “disadvantage”– its proximity to San Francisco Bay Area, an urban destination unexcelled worldwide. The comparison cities are relatively in the middle of Nowhere, USA. Actually, instead of trying to “stand alone” as pro-sports-team location, Sacramento should be focus on its River that connects it to both the Sierra and the City by the Bay and its History. That’s what can make it a world-class destination– not our basketball team– even if they were winning. And they actually might win more game if they were playing in a city that had a grip on its real identify instead of being in the grip of an inferiority complex. Any new area should only be publicly funded by all the taxpayers of the SACOG counties, not by the City of Sacramento alone.

  • Susan Bush

    This forum is not democratic. You have not put on both sides of the argument, and the so-called other side, has not countered misinformation. Specifically the whole public cost is being born only by the citizens of the city of Sacramento, not the county or any other regional governing body. Another thing which should have been countere is that the Natomas area was not developed by the Kings or the Arco Arena, it was public money that went into that developement and a lot of it. We have a group gathering signature for a ballot measure. We have voted it down twice before.

    Susan Bush

    • Bob Fry

      Hear, Hear! The Arco Arena (I forget what it’s called now) was definitely built with public tax money involvement.

  • i_witness

    Also, look at the Oakland Coliseum area. In the middle of a metro area, it has not seen any related improvement in decades. How does the Sacto location proposed to avoid that mistake, what with all the other development pressures in the city?

  • Bob Fry

    Really, ONLY an NBA arena can revitalize Sacto downtown? I’ve had the privilege to travel in some foreign cities…NONE have an NBA or other sports arena downtown and they are great places. America lacks imagination as to what is a great downtown and how to get there.

  • i_witness

    FYI – I have been in Oklahoma during several basketball games – can’t get anywhere near downtown if you are going for other business, and the spillover revenue is hard to find. Just a few restaurants making money. People come and go quickly after the game.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Why wouldn’t we want both that the Kings stay AND that the city hammer out the best deal it can get? Why shouldn’t the public have a tough negotiator on its side?

    I’m surprised David Cay Johnston hasn’t been cited. He writes on how sports teams get handouts from cities at the public expense (and he’s on Bill Moyers regularly). Here’s a two minute interview that explains how the money flows.

    • Bob Fry

      That would assume the city, ultimately, has the guts to walk away from a poor deal and let the team go. They don’t! Kevin Johnson, Sacto Mayor and former NBA player, from day 1 placed his entire political career on keeping the Kings and getting a new arena.

  • i_witness

    Sacramento is a sprawling city. The Giants stadium is successful in part because it is in a dense MIXED USE neighborhood. There’s not a good mix in Sacto, and market residential development, which is key to a mixed use development, is virtually absent within a walking distance of the proposed site

  • Vicki

    I missed this segment but am thinking it was probably just a rehash of the new 49ers stadium being built on the city of Santa Clara’s dime.

    Oh wait, there was no outcry from the media.

  • Eugene

    You’re taking one revenue generating asset (parking), using it to invest in another revenue generating asset (arena) which will help redevelop downtown, boosting property values and tax revenue. Doesnt work that way with other programs unfortunately (schools, pools, etc.). Are there risks involved? Yes, of course. The alternative is a declining downtown and the loss of the opportunity for ancillary private investment in the area, as well as the loss of arena to host many activities.

    • Lisa

      If that’s true, then there should be no fear in having a vote. Right?

      • Eugene

        I dont know. Depends on if you think the representative democracy system works the best in these situations. A vote is not required in this case, but could be if enough people support it. I’m skeptical of the fact that the people primarily financing a vote are out of town interests, disgruntled contractors and those that are rigidly opposed to public financing of anything.

        • betonit

          The people primarily financing the advocacy of this deal are mostly out of towners and others who stand to gain financially from it. Those of us who oppose the deal actually live in Sacramento and support public financing of public services and infrastructure.

          • Eugene

            I’m sure there are people who oppose the deal for legitimate reasons, and that’s fine. But saying you support public services over the arena is a false dilemma. The financing mechanism only exists because of the new revenue stream from the project. Its a risk, but a calculated one. The people financing the vote? Chris Hansen (obviously not concerned with Sacramento), Construction workers (either they are bitter they didn’t get the bid, or are trying to use the vote to leverage a better contract for themselves), Chris Rufer (goes against his libertarian views of the world).

  • Mister Miracle Meter

    All this talk about paying off debt- they have a secret plan:

  • betonit

    The kings ownership group (KOG) turned down a private source of financing. The Kings franchise is entitled to NBA revenue sharing funds of around $16 million a year. This would finance a new arena with little public funds needed. But Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive’ told the NBA to keep that money. Why aren’t our politicians (and civic minded local media) demanding that the KOG get that money and use it to finance the arena?

    Sacramento city staff and coucilmembers have repeatedly withheld information from and lied to the public about the real costs of the various proposed arena deals. We can not trust them to be honest with the public on this deal.

    We need a public vote to make our city council and staff be honest with us about this deal. Download and sign the initiative petition here:

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    People that stand to benefit are already biased. Marcos is biased as are all journalists. They get free tickets and they get to keep their job reporting about a worthless team.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    If the City gets 5% of the ticket sales, it will take $300 Million in ticket sales to equal $15 Million a year to help the City recoup the parking fee revenue they are giving up. This area can NOT support that much in ticket sales. It’s100% impossible to capture that much ticket revenue. The Kings have only brought in $47 Mil in their best year, but lately they’ve been only bringing in less than $20 Million.

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