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Sacramento City Council begins Kings arena debate

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POSTED March 6, 2012 8:02 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The Sacramento City Council has begun a critical meeting that will decide the future of the Sacramento Kings.

A year after the team almost moved to Anaheim, Sacramento's plan to help finance a new $391 million arena was a vote away from approval Tuesday night. The non-binding term sheet, signed off by the Kings and the NBA last week, would keep the team in Sacramento for at least another 30 years.

Under the agreement, the city would contribute $255.5 million to the project, mostly by leasing out parking garages around the facility. The Kings have agreed to pay $73.25 million and arena operator AEG would contribute $58.75 million. The remaining gap would be covered by a ticket surcharge, advertising around the facility, the sale of public lands and a sponsorship campaign to sell bricks and plaques around the complex, which would open for the 2015-16 season in the downtown rail yards.

The meeting began just after 6 p.m. local time in Sacramento.

City Manager John Shirey told the council that the decision would be "one of the toughest votes of your career" and implored members to approve the plan for the economic benefit, job creation and untold notoriety of remaining a major professional sports city, saying "there are only 30 of those (NBA) franchises in all the world and we happen to have one of them."

"The status quo is not really an option before you this evening," Shirey said. "If we do nothing, the Kings will likely leave Sacramento."

Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof walked into the jam-packed chamber just before the meeting to a light standing ovation. A line of residents snaked around City Hall and seemingly every TV truck and radio station in the Central Valley were broadcasting outside.

One fan wore an old Phoenix Suns jersey of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson — a former NBA All-Star — among the scores of Kings signs and jerseys in the crowd. A group of about 120 supporters of the plan wore white T-shirts with black letters that read "5 Votes," signifying the amount needed for approval from the nine-member council.

"This is bigger than basketball," said Michael Tavares, one of the leaders of the group called (hash)Fans, which stands for Fund the Arena Now Sacramento. "It's about making Sacramento a destination."

Those who opposed the arena plan seemed to be in the extreme minority.

One man, who asked not to be named, stood outside with a sign that read "Don't Let The Mayor Loot The City." A few dozen other opponents were sprinkled in the crowd of hundreds that swarmed downtown.

"We're on the verge of doing something very special," Johnson said before the meeting, later shaking hands with all those waiting to get inside. "We're finally at the point where we have one single vote, one moment in time to totally transform the downtown community and Sacramento for generations."

What a turnaround for town that once seemed assured of losing its only major professional sports team.

The Kings seemed determined to move to Anaheim last year before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena. At one point, Johnson even called the process a "slow death" and compared the city's efforts to keep the Kings a "Hail Mary."

All of it worked.

Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors last April, promising league owners the city would find a way to help finance a new arena to replace the team's current outdated suburban facility. 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.

The NBA's relocation committee, headed by Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett, who moved the team now known as the Thunder from Seattle in 2008, recommended that the league give the city a shot to follow through and handed down a March 1 deadline to come up with a plan to help finance an arena. Johnson delivered the agreement last Thursday — on March 1, no less — to send the plan to the City Council.

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