Q&A: Assistant city manager John Dangberg on Sacramento arena

For the latest installment of Sactown Royalty's ongoing Q&A series about the new downtown arena, we caught up with Assistant City Manager John Dangberg. Dangberg is the city's project director for the arena.

The Sacramento Kings and the city of Sacramento are working toward breaking ground on a new downtown arena next year.

Most recently, the Sacramento City Council and the public viewed arena design concepts and the priorities for the project.

Some interesting ideas were floated around by Kings President Chris Granger, including an upper bowl in the form of a "horseshoe shape" connected by a sky bridge that could double as standing-room only seating. This, mixed with the indoor/outdoor concept of the facility and games and events being visible from the street as the court would be built below ground level, make it sound like Sacramento's future downtown gathering place will be pretty original.

Assistant City Manager John Dangberg recently spoke to Sactown Royalty about the design concepts and the timeline for the project's California Environmental Review process and construction. Dangberg said there is "great alignment" right now between the vision the city has and the vision the Kings have for the new arena, which is expected to cost $448 million. (The city will contribute $258 million, mostly by borrowing against the value of existing downtown parking assets and through bonds.)

Below are some excerpts from the interview.

We recently heard from the arena's developer, Mark Friedman, that the intent of this building is for it to be as big of a draw at 2 p.m. during the week as it is during a Kings games. Can you elaborate?

The broad concept is to really create a grand civic space and that is still being designed ... it's all about creating a very high-quality environment that allows the energy that can be created by millions of people per year coming to this space in downtown. It's designing a high-quality and enjoyable space where people will want to be, it's that simple. And a place where if there is something big happening in Sacramento, your first assumption is that it is going to be there. That is the place where big things happen in Sacramento from an entertainment perspective.

We've heard the concept of the horseshoe-shaped upper bowl in the new arena that will be connected by a sky bridge, and also the idea of fans possibly being greeted, by name, with signs on the exterior as they enter the arena. I know all of this is conceptual right now, but are there any aspects of the design that are set in stone at this point?

I think what is pretty well defined is the bowl, the lower bowl and upper bowl. There's some fine-tuning on those that, of course will happen, but sort of the general number of seats in the lower bowl [9,000], number of seats in the upper bowl, how you access those seats, that whole top-down access. So as you're coming into the facility, you never turn your back to the game, you are always walking down as you are going in. The concept is to have both the upper and lower bowls with that concept.

Certainly, the lower bowl, that will not change, there could be some modifications in the upper bowl, but I think that is pretty well defined. What still can move a little bit is sort of the oblong shape of the bowl and which direction it is facing - so where the main entry is, whether it is to the northwest or northeast. I think it is certainly going to be to the north and face the Plaza. But sort of that orientation may move.

Whether the practice facility is attached to or maybe slightly separated from the arena on the outside; there is still discussion around that. That stuff is getting pretty close to being nailed down.

How the L Street facade interfaces with L Street, that is really an important street for us not to turn our back to, and so we need to make sure that is appropriately addressed with active uses, and that is moving along well ...

You talked about the U-shaped upper bowl and the bridge, that is a concept we're all very committed to at this point, just the fine details.

What's not resolved yet is what the skin of the building will look like. The concepts that were flashed on the screen the other night [during the City Council meeting] are really to generate and stimulate discussion. As Chris [Granger] said, the building will not look like any of those particular elevations, that is really just to have two extremes and maybe one in the middle that will just promote a discussion and get people's input ...

I would expect that sometime in mid December, there will be concepts that are pretty nailed down for public review.

Can you comment on the amount of public input in this process so far (four focus groups, a city community meeting and several surveys by the city and the team)? Are you pleased with what the city has been able to be collect in terms of public input?

The input from the workshops has been very valuable. It's provided new ideas, it has supported many of the concepts that were hoped for and some of the aspirational goals that we and the Kings have had for the project. Not only the new stuff, but really sort of confirmation, for example, with sustainability. We just received an incredible amount of information and a whole number of new ideas to bring sustainability to the project ...

Some of the things, I think, are a little bit different than maybe in most cities. An example would be our community of bicycle advocates. That is really a big issue here in Sacramento and in this region. Bicycles are very important to people. And we have a very high bicycle commute population in the area, so it was pretty amazing across the board how much interest there was in making sure that this facility was bicycle-friendly.

We've heard that a first draft of the environmental impact report will be ready by the end of the year, is that reasonable?

Yes, that is also on schedule ... there will be a draft EIR by the end of the year.

That whole process should be wrapped up by next April, correct?

Correct. Everything is on track, in fact, we've moved up the schedule just a little bit by a week ... we were going to go to the city council to certify the environmental document April 1, and then it got moved to April 8, but we're back up to April 1 now.

So at the April 1 city council meeting, there will be a vote on it?

Yeah, and there will be many documents approved that night. It will be a very robust agenda, and under California environmental law we can't bind ourselves to a project until we've completed environmental analysis. And so the objective is to bring the environmental analysis and get it certified April 1. And once that is done, the next actions on the agenda will be to approve definitive documents and binding documents to move forward with the project.

And when can we expect construction to begin?

Financing will close for everyone after the definitive documents are approved and CEQA is approved. On the public side, we can't close on financing until after CEQA ... all of the financing has to wrap up following the April 1 decision, and demolition construction would likely start in June; and the latest July. And then move straight in to the foundations by September/October - right in there. And then you would start seeing things go vertical by the end of the year 2014.

There has been a lot made of the whole eminent domain issue with Macy's, can you update us on where things are at with that?

One, just to be clear, we have not gotten authority to pursue eminent domain. And the council has taken no action to pursue eminent domain, and really can't until Jan. 1 of this year, for legal reasons. SB 743 provided the ability to do that if we have to in January, but we will not be pursuing it any sooner than that, if we do at all.

I know the Fruit Building at 4th Street and some the abandoned buildings on 10th Street are currently in escrow downtown. I wanted to talk about some of the things that are happening around the future arena site.

There's a whole lot of land transactions and stuff that's going on and I absolutely believe that is driven by the overall impact of this project, but it is also supported by an improving economy. But I think really, what is happening here is people are seeing this as that tipping point for the downtown.

This project has such significance and has the opportunity to be such a game changer in downtown that people are investing in downtown. Some of these guys, as you have probably read, are firms that have been successful in San Diego around PETCO Park or been successful in China Basin with the Giants' stadium, and they see the same opportunities here for residential and hotel and other uses in the downtown.

So there's a lot going on right now in downtown.

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