Ticket administrator Erin Palmer mingles with James Chew, a volunteer at the SSIP Food Closet of South Sacramento, before the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards NBA basketball game on Friday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Jose Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com
Ticket administrator Erin Palmer mingles with James Chew, a volunteer at the SSIP Food Closet of South Sacramento, before the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards NBA basketball game on Friday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Jose Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com

The Public Eye

Sacramento city suite at Golden 1 Center: Benefit or boondoggle?

By Brad Branan

bbranan@sacbee.com

March 11, 2017 11:00 AM

UPDATED March 13, 2017 06:35 AM

When Paul McCartney played at Golden 1 Center last October, he enchanted the guests in the city suite: 20 students and teachers from Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy, who were studying his music in anticipation of their own upcoming performance of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album.

The group was typical for Sacramento’s suite in the arena. Since the arena opened with two shows by McCartney, most of the people getting tickets have been affiliated with community groups, which supporters say was a primary goal of having a private box in Golden 1 Center.

Critics, including two City Council members, remain unconvinced. They note that community groups aren’t the only ones who have benefited; hundreds of tickets have been given to city officials and their friends.

The city obtained the suite as part of an agreement with the Sacramento Kings that included a $255 million payment by the city to assist in the arena’s construction. The city can distribute up to 25 tickets in the suite for each event at Golden 1. Two City Council members who voted against the suite agreement, Jeff Harris and Steve Hansen, say they would like to revisit it. They would like to sell the suite and use the money to pay off some of the bonds used to finance the city arena or use it for another city service.

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As of Friday afternoon, the city had reported awarding about 1,700 tickets to 79 events at Golden 1 Center, mostly for Kings games but also concerts by McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi and others, according to reports filed by the city. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission requires the reports, which include the donors and recipients of the tickets.

About three-fourths of the tickets were given to community organizations, such Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Girl Scouts, with the rest going to city employees and politicians or for economic development efforts.

Assistant City Manager John Dangberg, who helped negotiate the agreement, said City Council members emphasized the importance of making the arena available to all residents of the city through the suite.

Ticket administrator Erin Palmer says watching community groups take advantage of the suite has been the most rewarding part of her job, which includes distributing the city’s tickets and attending each event to make sure things go smoothly. Many of the guests have been children who otherwise wouldn’t see events such as Disney on Ice, she said.

After Palmer awarded 20 tickets to a Girl Scout troop from Carmichael, she received an email from the troop’s leader, Jenny Hawley.

“I told my Girl Scouts last night, at our meeting, about the Disney on Ice tickets, and they screamed and jumped all around,” Hawley wrote.

Hawley said later that the 12 Girl Scouts had a wonderful time at the Feb. 24 show, with several of them dressing up as various Disney princesses. She said some of the children’s families could not afford to buy the tickets.

The City Council approved a policy that says a third of the suite’s tickets would go to community groups, another third to economic development efforts, and the rest to city officials and politicians.

“I’m looking forward to utilizing these benefits for people who otherwise would not be able to go,” Vice Mayor Rick Jennings said at the time.

Palmer said community groups have received more tickets than planned simply because more of them have made requests than city officials and politicians. The city has promoted the suite and encouraged groups to apply for tickets on its website.

Tickets for economic development have fallen far short of expectations, with only 4 percent approved for that use so far. Palmer and Assistant City Clerk Wendy Klock-Johnson say leadership changes in the city’s economic development office and in the mayor’s office help explain why there have been fewer economic development efforts at the arena.

Craig Powell, a civic activist who opposed the city’s arena subsidy, said the potential payoff from selling the suite far outweighs its benefits. His watchdog group, Eye on Sacramento, last year estimated the suite’s value at $8 million over the life of the city’s 35-year agreement with the Kings, and said the city should have used that value to lower the amount of its construction subsidy for the sports facility.

Dangberg questioned the accuracy of Powell’s estimated suite value, although he did not have his own estimate. He also said it’s not clear the Kings would have accepted a deal that would have given the city credit for the cash value of the suite.

But council members Hansen and Harris said the city should be able to sell the suite now. “We should auction it off and put the money into parks and rec and other programs,” Hansen said.

Harris said he supported the arena subsidy because it will help the community. He said the same argument cannot be made for the suite. “I don’t think we can demonstrate it has enough value to justify the expense,” he said.

Harris and Hansen cited the cost of Palmer’s position. She is paid $86,000 a year plus benefits.

City Clerk Shirley Concolino, who hired Palmer, said she has done the job “exceptionally well.” In addition to distributing tickets and monitoring the suite, Palmer has to work with the Kings and make sure ticket donation reports are filed according to state regulations, she said.

Paul McCartney fans sing their favorite songs before concert at Golden 1 Center

Paul McCartney fans sing their favorite McCartney songs before the inaugural concert at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. Watch for the "When I Get Older" lady!

Hector Amezcua The Sacramento Bee