On how a new Sacramento Kings arena might impact low-income downtown

But what will revitalization mean for the neighborhood’s lower classes?

by Dave Kempa
June 6, 2013
News & Review

The west end of the K Street Mall certainly has its own flavor.

On a weekday afternoon, middle-aged and elderly Sacramentans, many of whom live in the nearby Sequoia, Marshall or Capitol Park hotel residences for low-wage earners, line the sidewalk of the 800 block, waiting for the light rail or simply chatting away the afternoon against the street’s new murals.

A block west, the Sacramento Downtown Plaza mall awaits partial destruction to make way for the proposed new Kings sports arena. When construction begins, many people hope the rest of the K Street corridor, which is now being branded as “The Kay,” will transform: new businesses taking over dusty, empty buildings; and nice restaurants and shops catering to arena clientele.

But what will this mean for the neighborhood’s lower-income residents? Will living expenses go up? Will residences like the Marshall Hotel or Hotel Sequoia still exist on a revitalized K Street as they do today, providing shelter for low-income residents? Or will the working class be displaced, pushed off the grid as revitalization cash flows in?

The Sacramento Housing Alliance began talking three weeks ago regarding the future of the neighborhood’s affordable housing. Its conclusion: More information is required.

“Our conversations are just beginning on this issue,” said SHA’s Tamie A. Dramer in an email, adding that the group will have more to say publicly once it has vetted the effects of new arenas in cities similar to Sacramento.

One obvious concern advocates are bringing to light is the future of the neighborhood’s beleaguered hotel residences. The Marshall Hotel, well-known for its troubles with code-enforcement regulations, rests against the proposed new arena site. Two blocks east of the Marshall is the Capitol Park Hotel for the elderly, and the Sequoia, of course, is located on K Street itself.

While housing advocates remain tight-lipped on the topic, Marshall Hotel partner Pete Noack talked to SN&R last month about the building’s future. “We’ve been talking to the city for a long, long time,” he said. “We do have plans.”

According to Noack, his group would like to do a historic rehabilitation of the hotel, “with a very good adaptive reuse of the property that will fit into what downtown needs and wants.”

It is unclear what that would mean for the hotel’s poorer residents. If, in fact, the building is remodeled in a way that does not serve the current occupants, it will be up to the city to ensure that at least 712 hotel-residence units remain in operation within city limits.

Apartments in the new 7th & H Street Housing Community will compensate for a few of the possible units lost, but as downtown property rates go up in the coming years, city officials will have to pay attention to how the Capitol Park and Sequoia hotels’ owners proceed with their properties.

According to Joe Donlin with Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, or SAJE, the impacts of a new arena can vary from city to city, though there is a sort of template on things to consider: There is often an immediate impact on land values, for instance, and in some cities, development can affect neighborhood housing.

“Then you have to ask about the jobs,” said Donlin. “Are they displacing any jobs that are important to the community? Are they replacing them with fewer jobs? Are they replacing them with lower-wage jobs?”

For example: As plans for downtown Los Angeles’ Staples Center—which houses the L.A. Lakers and Clippers, among other sports teams and events—solidified more than a decade ago, SAJE and dozens of other concerned organizations banded together. The group went toe-to-toe with Staples billionaire owners Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch in an effort to make sure working-class downtown Los Angeles residents were not adversely affected by the new arena.

In 2001, their coalition signed the Community Benefits Agreement with the arena company, which, according to SAJE’s website, “[required] the developers to include affordable housing, living wage jobs, local hiring, parks and more in their $1 billion, 4 million square foot LA Sports and Entertainment District.”

Would Sacramento benefit from a similar effort, organizing advocacy and labor to make sure that working-class residents are not displaced by the effects of arena development?

Sacramento historian William Burg certainly agrees that economic diversity is key to a healthy neighborhood, but he’s not convinced that a new arena will succeed in “revitalizing” downtown.

“It’s the same way they’ve been trying to revitalize downtown since 1960,” Burg said. He believes that it’s not suburban visitors that will reinvigorate the neighborhood, but a smarter approach to housing.

The central-city population has plummeted since 1950, and Burg said that the upcoming housing developments like those slated for the rail yards will do more for the area than any arena could.