Let me tell you a story about a city by a river, a city that is one of the smallest to host a professional sports franchise, where budgets have been slashed, and fans were being held hostage by cheapskate ownership.
Welcome to, in so many ways, Sacramento's real sister city, Cincinnati, Ohio.
But what's happened there could be a model for Sacramento. Not that long ago, the Reds and Bengals had the worst owners in sports in Marge Schott and Mike Brown. The good news is that Marge sold the team and then died, and Mike Brown seems to be committed to trying to win.
In 1996, Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is) passed a 1/2-cent sales tax increase for the purpose of building new venues for the Reds and Bengals. There was a great deal of opposition from voters, but ultimately, as many people would put it, the people caved to relocation threats. Two years later, ground was broken for Paul Brown Stadium, and it was opened in time for the start of the 2000 NFL season. That same month, ground was broken for the Great American Ball Park, and it was ready opening day for the 2003 season.
Fast forward to now, 16 years after the tax increase, and nearly ten years after both venues opened for business. What's the verdict? A complete downtown Renaissance. (link opens in new window)
An area plagued by crime, adjacent to Over-The-Rhine (I do not fear death, but Over-The-Rhine used to scare the hell out of me), scarred by a couple of centuries of trade and manufacturing, a large tract in the middle of downtown referred to disparagingly as "The Mud Pit" has begun to bear fruit, in the form of hotels, restaurants, luxury high-rise apartments, bars, brand new green space, and...
An economic kick in the city's ass to the tune of $92 million a year. By the time the ongoing development between the two venues is completed ($600 million dollars worth, in a compact area), the estimated impact is estimated to be around $276 million per year. What on earth would a cash-strapped city want with a quarter-billion dollars?
The sad fact of the matter is this can't really be dumped entirely on the owners. Ownership in Cincinnati refused to kick down for the cost of the new venues that they demanded. So the people of the county sucked it up, dug down, and now own two shiny new money magnets that dump millions into the general fund every year, and that's not even counting the added tax revenue gained by people spending money in the county every time they go downtown for a game. Reds fan Mike Willis comments in the Yahoo article:
''What used to happen is you'd park at the game, walk to the game, get your food and all your stuff there, watch the game, and then you'd go get in your car and drive home,'' said Willis, who has been going to Reds games since he was a kid and now blogs about the team.
''But not anymore,'' said Willis, who now takes his wife to get a bite to eat near the stadium before the game and likes to stick around afterward.
Or to put it in simpler terms, "Ka-ching! KA-CHINGKA-CHINGKA-CHING!"
Believe me, I am loathe to do anything that will make the Maloofs even enough money to live indoors, but if this is going to get done, it is going to be the people of Sacramento County who pay the freight.
If it was only about a complex, I'd be less inclined to play along, but when you have a mammoth urban infill area as ripe for development as the rail yards, the arena is ultimately secondary.
The Maloofs aren't going to sell, because they're business-class morons, and at this point, they have to be getting some satisfaction in sticking it to the people who they believe have turned on them for no reason they can understand. There is no white knight. There isn't even a dark knight, due to my ongoing legal problems with DC Comics.
I don't know how Sacramento County is going to convince a provincial and short-sighted population with a terminal case of backwater-itis to light the fuse on an economic rocket to the moon, but if they fail to do so, we will see the Kings disappear, and more importantly, push back potential development of the rail yards by decades.
We don't have to change the Maloofs' minds, we have to change those of our neighbors.