It has been obvious for three years that there needs to be a real plan for redeveloping the Sleep Train Arena site in North Natomas once the new downtown arena opens in 2016.
So Natomas leaders, business owners and residents have reason to be nervous that the effort isn’t further along, at least publicly. Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas, expressed those concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting and pressed the Kings for a more definite timetable.
The city certainly doesn’t want a bustling downtown around the new arena – and barren land where the old one stood for 30 years.
That isn’t going to happen, the Kings promise.
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Kunal Merchant, the team’s vice president of strategic initiatives, told a member of The Bee’s editorial board Wednesday that the Kings are “fully committed” to a timeline that has “shovels in the ground” in Natomas by the time the new arena opens in October 2016.
The Kings own Sleep Train Arena and the 84-acre site, and will gain control of 100 adjacent city-owned acres by next year as part of the city’s contribution of at least $255 million to the new arena.
In their defense, the Kings owners have been rather busy since taking over in 2013 – keeping the team in Sacramento, putting the deal together for the new arena and working on surrounding development downtown.
Progress also has been sluggish because flood-prone Natomas has been under strict development limits until levees are strengthened. Congress authorized the project last year, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is slated to lift the building restrictions as soon as June.
While there has been no official decision, it’s almost certain that Sleep Train Arena will be torn down because there’s a non-compete clause with the new arena and because the building is three decades old. With roads and other infrastructure in place, it is a prime site that should attract the kind of “transformational” reuse the Kings pledge. It’s in the team’s best interest as well to generate income from the land.
There already are ideas floating out there, most notably a hospital. Merchant told the council that preliminary concepts also include a corporate headquarters, a higher education campus or a mixed-use development.
The Kings plan to do a deeper market analysis and site study to see what might work best. The findings would steer talks with potential redevelopment partners, as well as meetings with community leaders and residents. The goal is to have a project application by early 2016.
Whatever the plan turns out to be, it must proceed apace. In the excitement over the new arena, Natomas can’t be left out in the cold.