Sacramento, NBA work on Kings arena deal

February 22, 2012, 11:06 PM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sacramento’s last shot to remain an NBA city appears headed for another overtime.

NBA Commissioner David Stern and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced a joint work plan Wednesday for the two sides to reach an agreement to finance a new arena by the March 1 deadline. Johnson, Stern and the Maloof family, which owns the Sacramento Kings, will meet during this weekend’s All-Star festivities in Orlando, Fla.

If the final details are resolved in time, a term sheet will be announced March 1 and the Sacramento City Council will vote on the plan at its March 6 meeting, possibly avoiding the relocation talk that surrounded the team last spring when it almost moved to Anaheim.

"I feel very confident that we as a city are going to be able to do our part," Johnson said at a late afternoon news conference at City Hall with six council members standing behind him. "The city controls its own destiny."

The major sticking point in negotiations remains how much the Kings will contribute.

Under the proposed agreement, the city of Sacramento will raise about $190-$230 million by leasing out parking garages to private investors, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information, said another $75-$100 million is expected from the Kings and $40-$60 million from arena operator AEG.

The remaining gap will be covered by some combination of a ticket surcharge, advertising around the arena, allocating a portion of the city’s existing transient occupancy tax or a sale of three or four parcels of city land.

The final price tag for AEG depends largely on the team’s contribution.

The Kings’ portion would include upfront cash — the city had initially asked for $60 million — and donating back the land around the franchise’s current suburban Sacramento arena, estimated at about $25 million. AEG’s contribution will be impacted by the splits with the team in arena-related revenue.

Johnson and Stern still have some disagreement on how much, if any, of AEG’s portion is included in the Kings’ contribution. Major points for the city also include making sure rates don’t soar if the garages and street parking are sold to private investors, and getting Sacramento County’s agreement to use a parking garage near the arena site.

The two sides are making progress and hope to bridge the gap to finance the estimated $406 million arena, which would open for the 2015-16 season in the downtown Sacramento rail yards. The Kings nearly moved south to Anaheim last year, twice extending the relocation deadline and struggling to gain approval from league owners.

Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors last April to give the city a final chance to come up with an arena plan. He also bought time by presenting more than $10 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses for this season.

Despite attempts by Anaheim and Seattle to swoop in and lure the Kings, Stern said the league is making every attempt to keep the franchise in California’s capital.

"We appreciate the work of the City of Sacramento and (our) discussions have been constructive," Stern said in a statement. "Our hope is that current momentum continues in a way that we’re able to reach a deal by March 1 that makes sense for all parties."

Johnson described the discussions as having "great momentum," but disagreed with Stern on a key point: the portion of the arena cost that should be counted as coming from the Maloofs. Stern said in a TNT interview Tuesday that contributions from arena operator AEG should be included as part of the Maloofs’ share, but Johnson was adamant that the city hired AEG and the Maloofs’ contribution should be considered separately.

"This is where a feisty point guard and the commissioner get into a little bit of a spirited discussion," said Johnson, a former All-Star with the Phoenix Suns. He said he last talked to Stern after the city council meeting Tuesday night.

Word of the extended arena talks also reached the Kings before the team’s game at the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

"It’s good for the team and the city, the positive news of today," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "But for the basketball players, their focus is on the game."

Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof haven’t been involved in negotiations. The league is bargaining with Sacramento officials on the franchise’s behalf and will present the final proposal to the team.

Joel Litvin, president of league operations, and Harvey Benjamin, executive counsel for business and finance, are the NBA’s lead negotiators. Stern also has been receiving updates.

The NBA could force the Maloofs into bringing in investment partners or — as a last resort — even sell the team if the owners walk away from a plan that has the league’s approval.

Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle remains interested in buying the Kings. And Christopher Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, is also making proposals to bring an NBA team to Seattle — with eyes on the Kings if Sacramento’s latest plan collapses.

The Maloofs insist they’re not selling the team. A Kings spokesman said the team is refraining from comment until the NBA and the city complete a proposed plan.

At the very least, the latest development shows progress. A year ago, Sacramento "needed to sink a full court shot" to keep the Kings from relocating to Anaheim, Johnson said.

"Now I think we’re on the free throw line," he said. "Shaquille O’Neal is not shooting the free throws for us. We could go with Steve Nash."

Asked about his own shooting percentage, Johnson joked, "I could sink two if I had to."

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