An artist’s rendering of a luxury suite at the Golden 1 Center. Sacramento Kings
An artist’s rendering of a luxury suite at the Golden 1 Center. Sacramento Kings

Foon Rhee

Associate editor, editorial writer and Viewpoints editor

Foon Rhee

Community heroes, not politicians, should get dibs on city’s arena suite

By Foon Rhee

June 09, 2016 02:00 PM

In all the hoopla and prep work to open Sacramento’s sparkling new arena, I’m very curious about a couple of issues besides parking and traffic:

Who gets to use the city’s luxury suite? And what kinds of civic events will the city hold at the Golden 1 Center?

The swanky suite shouldn’t be reserved just for politicians or bigwigs. This is a golden perk that is much better used to reward good students or community heroes. Or how about something completely out-of-the-box – like picking taxpayers through some sort of lottery?

Taxpayers, after all, are putting in $255 million of the $535 million to build the arena. We deserve a good return on the investment, and the civic events and luxury suite are the most concrete payoffs.

Under the 35-year arena lease with the Kings, City Hall gets the free use of one full-sized suite for all events except NBA playoff games (if that ever happens), the NCAA Tournament and a few other kinds of events that are still being negotiated.

Seats in the suite will be hot tickets, especially since the deal stipulates that the city’s box is in a primo spot between the free-throw lines of the basketball court.

The arena boasts 34 full-size suites with room for as many as 25 people, and 48 smaller “loft-size” suites with eight seats. The lofts are one level above the main concourse, and the suites are one level above that. The Kings won’t say how much they cost to rent, but all were snapped up by last July by corporations, lobbyists and others.

And the suites will be, well, sweet. While they aren’t finished yet, the team gave me an artist’s rendering and a quick tour in the arena. For hard-core fans, there are sunken seats at the front. Behind, there is plenty of room to mingle around a table that will be piled high with farm-to-fork food. There are TVs on each side wall, where fans can watch the game or anything else.

So conceivably, city officials could attend a Kings game on a Tuesday night and still monitor the City Council meeting on public access cable. I’m not saying they would, but they could.

While City Council members started discussing the suite soon after they approved the arena deal in May 2014, there’s still no policy for its use. It hasn’t been an issue at Sleep Train Arena because the city has never leased a suite there.

John Dangberg, the assistant city manager who is the point person on the arena, says an existing policy on free tickets is being updated to include the suite and will go before the City Council, probably in August. He says the intent – as under the current policy – is to use the suite to support nonprofit fundraising, promote city programs, boost economic development and acknowledge exemplary residents and employees.

That sounds right. For example, invitations could be given to city workers who go the extra mile to serve customers or who come up with money-saving ideas. Or the city could honor volunteers who clean up parks or help youth programs. It could even use the suite to lure applicants for hard-to-fill seats on unpaid advisory boards.

The policy will also likely allow limited use by council members and city officials, but they will have to comply with state laws and regulations, including public disclosure, Dangberg says.

The use of the suite by politicians and public officials should be very limited, or it’s going to look bad.

Come to think of it, Mayor Kevin Johnson and Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg could set a good example by pledging not to hog the suite. Steinberg just got elected, so he hasn’t given it much thought. Johnson’s office says he’s waiting for the staff proposal, which should incorporate “best practices” from other cities.

Under the 2009 policy, comp tickets received by the city because it owns the facility – like those for the arena suite – have to be requested by city officials from the City Manager’s Office, which distributes them and puts a value on them. They have to be disclosed on forms the city posts online for public review.

After looking through those filings going back to late 2013, I can tell you that officials are attending rather mundane events such as assorted fundraisers for charities, awards dinners and the like. The most expensive tickets were $500 for an Urban League unity ball in 2015 and a Roberts Family Development Center dinner in 2014.

One public purpose of free tickets is for officials to “monitor and evaluate” city-owned venues. How many city officials will suddenly feel the urge to check out the new arena? Just wondering.

The arena lease also gives City Hall the right to hold as many as nine civic events a year there, as long as they don’t conflict with Kings games or other events. The city can sell tickets and keep the proceeds after expenses, or give them to charity.

These are valuable opportunities that the city can’t afford to waste. Dangberg told me there are some events under consideration, but none has been announced and he doesn’t expect many will be money-makers.

There needs to be a clear, open and fair process for how these events are selected and scheduled. The same groups shouldn’t get dibs every year. If given the chance, I’m sure nonprofits and community groups could come up with plenty of creative ideas for events that would boost Sacramento.

I have one suggestion: the police academy graduation. I went to one last December at Memorial Auditorium, which was nice. But at the arena, with its state-of-the-art video screen, the graduation would be amazing.

There’s a lot to decide on the luxury suite and civic events. The City Council should give the public plenty of time to weigh in before approving policies well before the Golden 1 Center opens Oct. 4 with two shows by Paul McCartney.

Time is starting to run short. After finishing the city budget, the council goes on recess from June 26 to July 9. This is too important to leave to the last minute.

And I don’t know about you, but when I go to the new arena, I’ll be sure to see who’s in the suite all of us helped pay for.

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