Commentary: Renovate Power Balance?

BY BILL BRADLEY
Special To
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

It was like something out of a really bad movie. Only you can’t make this stuff up.

In one day, Sacramento’s production of a new arena at the downtown railyard went from green-lighted to shut down. Strike the set.

This should make sense. Who knows better about making movies than the Maloof family, which runs their own entertainment production company, and pulled out of a handshake agreement with Sacramento?

Yet amid the dark clouds that you see normally see in a Steven Speilberg film Friday, some people saw a ray of sunshine of the failed arena.

That was when — before NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the railyard deal was dead — Kings co-owner George Maloof surprisingly mentioned the possibility of renovating Power Balance Pavilion.

Huh? Wasn’t that idea squashed by the owners themselves a decade ago?

Don’t get your hopes up. At all. It’s just a remake of an old film.

Friday’s events sounded more like a publicity stunt than a case of buyer’s remorse. This was the Kings taking the long way out the door to go to Anaheim or Seattle or Kansas City or Vancouver.

What’s going on is a delay tactic, like a movie that is pushed off the production schedule so often it doesn’t get made. This is another way to draw a season or two of hope and tickets from a fanbase that is continually being alienated from a once-cherished product.

The hole in George Maloof’s plot was huge. It already has been determined the crown jewel of Natomas is not fit for the NBA — and even less ready for a family event like an ice show. It is an outdated monolith of what arenas used to be.

A decade ago the Maloofs and the city hired separate architects to look at the arena formerly known as Arco. Both sides said in many ways that it can’t be done.

Remember, like a B movie, Arco was built on the cheap, opening in 1988 after being built for $40 million (that’s $78.6 in 2012 construction costs). It was a horror flick for teams coming to town during the Weber-Divac years, but those 50-victory seasons masked a facility that had severe structural problems.

You probably don’t want to hear them again, but here goes:

  • PBP needs wider concourses to be more useful — or a second concourse for the upper level — and to do either one the roof and the walls would have to be blow out and rebuilt. 
  • Many parts of the arena have wooden floorboards that wouldn’t pass code anywhere today.
  • One kitchen serves food for 17,000 fans, which means some hot food must often be trucked in. 
  • Speaking of trucking, the arena has two loading docks which make it a nightmare for circuses and exhibitions that normally require four.
  • Despite it being upgraded a few years ago, the sound system still doesn’t sound that great.
  • There’s no chance for a hockey team using the facility because it has one of the oldest ice-making machines in North America.
  • A bigger worry for any ice event is that the rink is built crossways along the basketball court, making any changeover take 15 hours rather than the three hours that process normally requires at major arenas.
  • And the tiny visitor locker rooms are still rumored to be without hot water often. That is if you want to call them locker rooms, which is one reason why Sacramento was crossed off the NCAA’s list of basketball tournament venues.

This list can go on and on. The bottom line is PBP is the worst major league sports arena in North America. Take it from someone who has been to nearly all of them.

Now, there is possibility that the Maloofs are completely sincere about staying in Natomas. Maybe they are thinking about renovating PBP. They would get to keep the land around the facility and that land equals the parking dollars that they would not receive at a downtown facility. They would be still manage the arena and not be the tenant. And, beginning next season, the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement will be more conducive for small market teams like the Kings to make money.

Maybe the Maloofs are thinking bigger. Remember, there was a proposal submitted for new facility at the Natomas site that was fully funded and used the infrastructure put in place when the city developed the Natomas area. (That plan was discounted in favor of downtown, and was cheaper.) Plus, next door to the building is the underground piping from that football/baseball stadium for the Raiders that was never built.

But let’s get a reality check here. The idea of renovating/refurbishing/rebuilding PBP or Arco Arena is unfeasible. Those architects said over and over that it would cost as much to build a new arena as it would to redo this one. The Maloofs can replace all of the seats they want with comfy ones but, there is no “Restaurant Impossible” for bad arenas. Lipstick on a bad arena still leaves it as a bad arena.

I’ve seen exit strategies in Minnesota (Timberwolves and the North Stars). I’ve seen teams jump to pastures they only thought were greener (Carolina Hurricanes and Phoenix Coyotes).

This long goodbye reads like the same script — with only the Timberwolves changing the screenplay 20 years ago when they tried to move to New Orleans. But in that case it was the NBA — and Stern — who pulled the plug. He still could. He could make it so miserable on the Maloofs that they want to sell. After all, he took a lot of potshots at them in his press conference Friday to announce the railyard deal was dead.

But this is an older version of Stern who is ready to ride off in to the sunset to end his film. We shouldn’t expect him to make this an action flick.

That brings us back to sequel after sequel of arena struggles in Sacramento. This just seems like one rewrite after another. And the franchise’s moving to another market seems like an all too predictable romantic comedy. 

Bill Bradley is the former Sports Editor of the Sacramento Bee. He currently runs 27×7.com and SacStateSports.com. He can be reached at [email protected].