Opportunities such as those presented by Measures Q and R don’t come around often. A yes vote on Nov. 7 for these initiatives will provide funds for the railyards’ redevelopment, a new arena and $600 million in community funding through a quarter-cent sales tax for a 15-year period.
In 1988, I wrote a column in this magazine announcing that, finally, our riverfront was being developed. The long wait was over, or so I thought. New pilings were being pounded into the water and Old Sacramento’s riverfront promenade was being expanded. How exciting, I wrote. But how naive I was to think that the dream of a developed riverfront was being achieved! Only one restaurant pad ended up being built (upon which Rio City Cafe now operates), and that was it. Soon the economy slowed and progress abated for well over a decade.
As that experience shows, infrastructure development and progress can be painfully slow, especially in California, where Proposition 13 restraints and high costs abound. Those of us who have lived in Sacramento awhile can recall projects proposed and proclaimed, only to fade away as economies ebb. A few got under way, but most lie idle.
Imagine what Q and R’s passage will make possible: More than 2 million people coming downtown to the railyards’ entertainment district each year, many via light rail, to attend concerts, conventions and more. Imagine the transformation of our staid downtown into a more vibrant core&emdash;it would become a people magnet similar to Phoenix, whose arts community reported a 20 percent increase in visitors within a year of the new entertainment complex opening.
Not only is the need for Q and R clear, the timing is right. Our region will gain a needed sports and entertainment facility, redevelop a historic site downtown, while also providing $600 million in funding to address significant community needs. These funds will enable local jurisdictions to improve their communities as they determine: for education, parks, road improvements, senior care, child safety, however they deem the funding best spent. Q’s passage results in the city of Sacramento receiving about $200 million; Citrus Heights, $40 million; Elk Grove, $55 million; Folsom, $60 million; Rancho Cordova, $30 million; and the unincorporated area of Sacramento County, $200 million.
In 2004, I spent five months as chairman of the Arena Task Force, a combined effort by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. Our mission was simple in purpose, though challenging: We were asked to determine if there was a need for a new entertainment and sports facility in Sacramento, and whether it should require some public funding.
Our 20-strong committee represented the combined memberships of more than 3,000 businesses, the great majority of which are small. Collectively, we spent hundreds of hours searching for answers to the questions. We heard from experts in a variety of fields, and solicited input from city and county officials both inside and outside of Sacramento. At the end of the process, we were unanimous in our recommendations, which were, first, there definitely is a need for a new entertainment and sports facility in Sacramento. Independent studies support the fact that Arco Arena is at the end of its useful life. Leaky roofs interrupting events there add testimony, as do concerts and other performances that bypass Sacramento for better-equipped venues. Please note that the need we determined for a facility was not for owners of any given team, but for our community. Such a resource would enable our residents to enjoy the full spectrum of entertainment available today. Note also that the city of Sacramento would own the facility&emdash;no one else.
On the second issue, our finding was that some public financing for such a facility is appropriate and required. That we reached consensus on the latter point surprised many, given our group’s collective disdain for taxes. In June 2004, we presented our findings to our respective boards, the press and various other entities, including the Sacramento City Council.
While our group did not weigh in on where the arena should be located, the process opened my eyes to the crucial role entertainment centers play in transforming and revitalizing downtown areas. Examples abound and include Memphis, San Jose, Detroit, Denver, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Sacramento’s downtown, the metropolitan center of the six-county region, needs more than an aging Downtown Plaza and Old Sacramento to stay vital. By rebuilding our historic railyards with an entertainment complex and a regional transit hub, the resultant development will re-establish Sacramento as the heart of the region. It will pay for itself through increased tax revenues and attract an estimated $3 to $5 billion in private investment to the surrounding area.
When I grew up in San Jose decades ago, the Civic Auditorium was the heart of the entertainment world for the community. In the 1950s, my mom took my brothers and me to see Hugh O’Brien, star of the television show Wyatt Earp there. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, I attended basketball tournaments, Fleetwood Mac concerts and much more there. But by the end of the century, the Civic Auditorium was old and the community decided to replace it. And they did, with a major complex, the HP Pavilion, that revitalized the downtown area. Within a year or two of the new pavilion being built, world-class performers booked it regularly, and more than $1 billion worth of new investment sprouted up around it (including Adobe’s 200 million headquarters). It is time for Sacramento to do the same. Although TV stars from old Westerns may not book it, the stars our children and their children want to see, will.
Measures Q and R on the ballot provide a rare chance to finally transform the historic 240-plus acre railyards into an exciting regional center anchored by a state-of-the-art entertainment facility. Arco Arena is old, and there is no guarantee it will remain open. By voting in favor of measures Q and R, we can not only create a new cultural hub for the next half-century, but also allocate about $600 million for communities in Sacramento County to spend to improve their citizens’ lives. It’s an unprecedented opportunity. I urge you to vote yes on Measures Q and R.