It wasn’t a matter of if, it was when.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, known better as the stadium and arena operations giant AEG, acknowledged for the first time Friday that they might provide “assistance” to Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the Think Big Sacramento coalition in their quest for an arena, according to the Sac Bee.
AEG’s involvement with the arena initiative was about as secret as LeBron’s hairline, but without the illusion of a headband to try and hide it.
According to sources, that ‘assistance’ should come in the form of tens of millions of dollars of up-front money, assuming of course that AEG can come to terms with the City of Sacramento, the Kings, and the NBA.
In return they would get profits from operating the arena, and using the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon they could also see benefits from the fact that their partially-owned subsidiary, the ICON-David Taylor Group, is providing the logistical backbone for Think Big Sacramento and its proposals. Taylor, whose development company David Taylor Interests would like to build the arena, has also expressed interest in buying up properties located near the arena. And with AEG, Taylor, Darius Anderson, and many other committee members also having business interests near the arena, a mini-L.A. Live type project with the Kings as the epicenter is where the smart money is heading.
This public statement from AEG is just one of many baby steps the Think Big Sacramento coalition will take, as it otherwise sprints to cultivate a $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) that will keep its anchor tenant from leaving for Anaheim. KJ’s coalition has a self-imposed, though painfully realistic deadline of December 30th to get a funding plan approved so the city can meet the NBA’s deadline of March 1, 2012 to have funding in place.
The next test for the Think Big coalition will come today when the Sacramento City Council will either approve, table, or reject a $550,000 request for lawyers and consultants to be used to officially vet the project and negotiate with third parties such as the NBA and the Maloofs. The city council will also be asked to vote whether to give the ICON-David Taylor Group the authority to start negotiating on behalf of the city with operators.
Here’s betting that the operator is AEG.
As for Kings fans’ chances of keeping their team, Tuesday’s vote will be the first time the city council, who will ultimately decide the project’s fate, will be asked to part with cold, hard cash. If any of them are opposed to it, saying so before the city spends a half-million dollars would make some sense. With no real public opposition being shown by the council so far it is likely that they will approve the request, and see what numbers come through the pipeline and how the public reacts to them.
If the request is approved, negotiations will commence with the aforementioned parties to determine what level of private funding can be secured, and in turn what level of public funding will be needed. Sources from Think Big Sacramento are in agreement that a public vote to generate funds for an ESC would be an abject failure, so they don’t plan on using public funds that would trigger a public vote.
Because of this limitation they’ve taken a kitchen sink approach where everything from hotel fees, ticket surcharges, cell phone towers on the arena, and the sale of city lands have all come into play. Local kids have taken to selling lemonade to raise funds, and Think Big may just need it. But finding enough money to hit the magic number isn’t their only challenge. Making sure that the city council is comfortable voting ‘yes’ for a controversial measure is job No. 1.
So far, the Think Big coalition campaign has been run to a presidential degree, with traveling town hall meetings around the region and a media awareness campaign not seen before in arena politics. While there will always be skeptics and opponents of such a measure, you wouldn’t have known it by the last city council meeting where every public commenter was in support of an arena and no dissident voices could be found.
Today we’ll see if the first one shows up.