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Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Sacramento reaches tentative deal to keep Kings in town


SACRAMENTO, California — Building a new arena for the Sacramento Kings has never been closer to reality.

News photo
One more assist: Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, seen here speaking last week, has orchestrated a deal to build a new arena to keep the Kings in California's capital city. AP

The city, the Sacramento Kings and the NBA announced a tentative deal Monday to finance a new arena that would keep the team in California's capital for the long haul. The City Council will vote on the plan March 6.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, NBA commissioner David Stern and the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, emerged from three days of talks in Orlando, Florida, — where they had been negotiating during All-Star Weekend — to announce that the framework of a deal had been reached, giving fans some 4,800 km away in the Central Valley reason to cheer for a comeback story that fittingly came straight out of Fantasyland.

"I think when we left Sacramento and came to Orlando, you guys asked me how close were we. I thought it was a free throw — and you need to make two free throws," Johnson told reporters at a news conference at the Waldorf Astoria at Walt Disney World. "I think the city made the first free throw, and the Maloof family made the second free throw.

"It's game over."

Well, almost.

Under the proposed terms of the deal, the city will contribute $200-$250 million to the estimated $387 million arena, mostly by leasing out parking garages around the facility, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the full financing plan will not be made public until at least Thursday, said Sacramento also will create revenue through a ticket surcharge.

The Maloofs have agreed to contribute $75 million in upfront cash, which includes the sale of land around the team's current suburban arena, along with paying off a current $67 million loan to the city and contributing more over the course of the deal. Arena operator AEG also agreed to pay almost $60 million.

"I think it's great for our community," a tearful Gavin Maloof said. "I'm glad it's finally coming to an end after 13 years. It's been a long road."

The Kings almost moved to Anaheim, California, a year ago before Johnson and city leaders convinced the league to give Sacramento one last chance to help finance an arena. At one point, Johnson — a former NBA All-Star with the Phoenix Suns — even called the process a "slow death" and likened the city's efforts to a "Hail Mary."

Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors last April to give the city a final chance to come up with an arena plan. 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.

In the end, the deal was strong enough to convince the Maloofs to stay — pending the City Council's approval.

"This is a great day for Sacramento, a great day for the Maloof family, a great day for the NBA" Joe Maloof said. "I would like to thank the mayor for all of his hard work and efforts throughout the years and, of course, the commissioner for all of his support and everything he's done for the NBA. Our family is just so excited that we have the framework for a deal.

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