Workers say Golden 1 Center jobs improved their lives

The new Sacramento Kings arena has helped rejuvenate construction. Hundreds of permanent jobs have been created, too.
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The new Sacramento Kings arena has helped rejuvenate construction. Hundreds of permanent jobs have been created, too.
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Arena

Thousands find work building and staffing Golden 1 Center

By Dale Kasler

dkasler@sacbee.com

September 12, 2016 04:00 AM

Working on the construction crew at Golden 1 Center gave Tommy Harrison a fresh start after a stretch in prison. Sheet-metal worker Ben Allen, father of a young child, has been able to live at home instead of scrambling for work in the Bay Area.

For NaHyrah Sherrod, the chance to usher at Sacramento’s new downtown arena represents “light at the end of the tunnel” after a year of sporadic employment. And for Savone Mercado, a high school senior hired as a part-time barista, the arena is providing his first paid job.

It could be years before Sacramentans can judge whether the Kings’ new $556 million arena is an economic success, both for the city and the team. The city’s contribution to the project, a public subsidy of $255 million, remains controversial for many.

Less than a month before opening night, though, one thing is reasonably certain: Golden 1 Center has been, and will continue to be, a major generator of jobs – considerably more than predicted.

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The impact will be visible from the moment fans pour into the arena Oct. 4 for the inaugural event, a Paul McCartney concert. Golden 1 will employ as many as 2,000 workers on event nights, hundreds more than the Kings’ old venue, Sleep Train Arena. A major difference is Golden 1 will have far more workers serving food and drinks.

The arena also boosted the local construction industry, albeit temporarily. The emergence of Golden 1 Center from the ruins of the old Downtown Plaza provided new opportunities for people trying to get a foothold in a construction trade or to stop commuting long distances to find work.

Approximately 4,000 sheet-metal installers, electricians, plumbers and other construction workers have swarmed over the site since the fall 2014 groundbreaking, according to the Kings. The figure doesn’t include employees working off-site, fabricating steel or concrete or performing other chores.

It employed a lot of people and certainly has had an impact.

Economist Jeff Michael

While most workers have completed their duties at the arena, labor officials say many have found construction work elsewhere in Sacramento as the economy has picked up.

The volume of work that’s gone into building Golden 1 Center exceeds the predictions in an economic-impact study commissioned a year before work began by a political group tied to the Kings and Mayor Kevin Johnson. That study, conducted by Capitol Public Finance Group of Roseville, said the project would generate 3,100 construction jobs, about half of them on the arena site.

“It’s a big project,” said economist Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. “It definitely made a dent. It employed a lot of people and certainly has had an impact.”

The arena by itself hasn’t been enough to revive a construction industry that’s still laboring to recover from the collapse of the real estate market; construction employment in the region is 17,000 jobs short of its 2006 peak. But the arena has been part of the comeback. Since work began at Golden 1 Center, 9,000 construction jobs have been created in greater Sacramento, a growth rate of nearly 20 percent.

City officials say they’re pleased with the level of hiring on the arena project. General contractor Turner Construction is meeting a series of hiring goals aimed at delivering a healthy share of the work to small businesses and local subcontractors, according to reports submitted to the city. For instance, Turner said 74 percent of the work has gone to “local business entities” in the seven-county area, exceeding the goal of 60 percent.

In addition, the contractor said it has surpassed its goal of hiring 70 “priority” apprentice workers – veterans, ex-cons, homeless people, food-stamp recipients and others considered economically disadvantaged.

“We’re well on our way to exceeding the expectations,” said City Councilman Allen Warren, who co-chairs an advisory council that oversees construction hiring at the arena.

UOP’s Michael and others say the construction work generated by the arena alone isn’t the whole story. What matters is the development surge Golden 1 Center has sparked in downtown Sacramento as work on the arena nears completion.

Approximately 600 workers are building the Kings’ hotel tower and the surrounding retail development, Downtown Commons, and that figure is expected to grow. A $55 million mixed-use project is taking shape at Seventh and K streets. Just north of the arena, Kaiser Permanente is spending $40 million to create a medical office building out of a six-story tower that was seized by lenders following the real estate bust. More developments are in the planning stages.

“You’ve got all these other projects that are popping up around town,” said Dennis Canevari, president of Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council.

Canevari has seen the impact in the hiring hall of his own union, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104. Three years ago, he had as many as 150 union members out of work. Now that list has been whittled to practically nothing, and sometimes there’s a shortage of workers.

Ben Allen’s work at the arena has given him a front-row seat for the resurrection of the Sacramento construction industry.

I take my kids back there and show them some of the duct work that I’ve done.

Tommy Harrison, sheet-metal worker

A foreman who’s been a sheet-metal worker since 2003, the Orangevale resident went to work on the arena in May 2015. He’d spent the previous three years bouncing around construction jobs in the Bay Area because there was hardly any work in Sacramento.

“I missed the first three years of my daughter’s life, basically, because I was on the road,” said Allen, 45. “This job gave me the opportunity to come back home.”

Allen makes $42 an hour plus benefits working on fire-safety systems in the arena ventilation ducts. When his work is done in early October, he said he fully expects to find a sheet-metal job somewhere in the area.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “They’ll find me a home. We’re on the upswing.”

Tommy Harrison is an example of construction workers who’ve succeeded in latching on at other job sites as construction winds down at Golden 1 Center.

After serving time at Pelican Bay State Prison on drug charges, the 48-year-old Elk Grove resident became a sheet-metal apprentice. He went to work for Acco Engineered Systems at the arena in June 2015, installing heating and ventilation ducts for around $20 an hour.

“I remember the first bolt I put up, a very proud day,” said Harrison, one of the more than 70 priority apprentices hired for the project. “I remember the first piece of duct I hung.”

When Harrison was let go from the arena project nine months ago, the layoff lasted only a few days. He quickly found work at Lawson Mechanical, another HVAC contractor in Sacramento. But he will always credit the arena for providing opportunity after prison.

“It gave me a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride,” he said. “I take my kids back there and show them some of the duct work that I’ve done.”

About the time the last of the construction workers leave the arena, NaHyrah Sherrod, the usher, will show up.

Getting hired as an usher at Golden 1 Center capped a difficult period for the Sacramento woman, who moved from Wisconsin about a year ago.

“I went through a lot of struggles, a lot of pain,” said Sherrod, 24, who said she worked at a Dollar Tree store and was a parking-lot attendant for a while at Raley Field.

She declined to say how much she’ll be paid, but added: “It’s a very positive step in the right direction. Coming from nothing, it’s a lot.”

Sherrod will have plenty of company around the arena. While part-time employment will fluctuate considerably from event to event, as many as 2,000 workers will be on site when the Kings are in town or other events are on tap. At Sleep Train, staffing levels topped out at around 1,500.

The big difference: Legends, the company hired by the Kings to run food and drink concessions at Golden 1, expects to employ nearly twice as many part-time workers as Levy Restaurants, the contractor in charge of food at Sleep Train Arena. That will translate into about 400 additional workers on most event nights.

“We’re not finding ways to cut corners,” said Nicole Jeter West, chief marketing officer at Legends. “It goes to our level of service … . It takes people, it takes manpower.”

Legends wouldn’t discuss salary levels. But Chris Rak, president of Local 49 of Unite Here, the union that represents full-time food-service employees at Sleep Train Arena, said most of the workers there earn $10.25 to $14 an hour.

West said Legends has hired many of the 373 full-time food-service employees from Sleep Train Arena, who received their layoff notices in July. What’s yet to be determined is whether the full-time workers will continue to be unionized, as they were at Sleep Train.

“I know there are discussions going on” regarding union representation, she said. She wouldn’t comment further, and Rak declined to discuss the union’s status at Golden 1.

Part-time food-concession workers say they’re excited to work at Golden 1 Center. Among them is the barista Savone Mercado, one of about 80 arena employees hired through Juma Ventures, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged young people find work.

Mercado will make gourmet coffee drinks for concertgoers and Kings fans. The pay isn’t much, $10.50 an hour, and the work is limited to probably six to eight hours a week, but Mercado isn’t complaining.

“I don’t have any experience at work. This is going to be my first job,” said Mercado, a senior at American Legion High School in Oak Park. “This is a big thing for me, personally.”

The new Golden 1 Center is part of a larger development that the Kings owners have dubbed Downtown Commons, or DoCo. One of the first structures is a 16-story hotel going up next to the arena.

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Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler