On the same day that the Golden State Warriors announced their own impending move from Oakland to San Francisco in 2017, the Santa Cruz City Council took colossal steps toward welcoming the Warriors' D-League affiliate to Santa Cruz.
The team, currently called the Dakota Wizards, is set to move from Bismarck to Santa Cruz in a temporary building to be built on the empty lot at 140 Front St., thanks to a unanimous vote by the council. The season will run December to April with concert availability during the off-season.
"Whatever happens tonight, it's important to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work that's been done," Mayor Don Lane said before city staff gave its recommendation.
City Manager Martin Bernal and Assistant City Manager Tina Shull recommended that the council move forward with the project based on many factors, the majority being monetary.
Bernal's Powerpoint presentation argued that professional basketball in Santa Cruz "may serve as a catalyst for revitalization in the area between the beach and downtown."
Shull presented data from financial analysis as well as traffic, parking and noise studies that the city has completed over the last month. While the noise study was not conclusive, "no major traffic impacts are predicted because of the parking distribution across the city," Shull said.
People are expected to use the downtown lots and garages as parking for the basketball games and events at the new arena. Shull said that within 1,600 feet of the location, there are 2,218 parking spots both off and on the street. Bernal also noted that there is an undeveloped lot on Pacific Avenue that could easily be made into extra parking.
The temporary tent-like arena will be 30,000 square feet with a 2,725-person capacity for basketball and 4,000-person capacity for concerts. The property is owned by the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, but the building will be owned by the City of Santa Cruz.
To get the project off the ground, the city will loan the Warriors $3.5 million from its Public Trust Fund, which the Warriors will pay back with three percent interest over 15 years. The deal between the city and the Warriors is initially for five years with a possible two-year renewal after that. But the five-year period is really meant as a test run to see if the city can sustain a permanent sports and performing arts structure in the downtown area.
The Warriors will manage the arena for the first year, with the city having the opportunity to take over in year two. Regardless of management, the city will have the rights to 30 days each year to use the arena for other events.
Shull said that construction could feasibly begin in July.
Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley agreed with the city staff's recommendation to move forward with the project.
"We believe that the loan term is a good term," he said. "Three percent is a very good return on your investment."
But despite the extensive financial studies, some citizens who spoke at the meeting were not in favor of the idea, several citing parking as a key issue. However, in total, more public speakers voiced support for the building than opposition against it.
"I'm absolutely excited that this is even on the table," Eric Sanders said. "As a father of a child in this community, we need more safe events and better places for people to go. Sports is a wonderful place for children to grow."
Dakota Wizards President Jim Weyermann spoke enthusiastically about the team, the facility and what they could mean for Santa Cruz.
"This is the first temporary facility that's ever been used for professional basketball in the country," he said. "[General Manager Kirk Lacob] and I believe that Santa Cruz, in its soul, can be the best minor league market in the country."
Weyermann also estimated that the club would bring in over a million dollars in ticket sales in the first year alone.
Although it took nearly four hours of presentation and deliberation, the council ultimately agreed with Weyermann's stance on the project.
"There is a risk, but there's so much potential upside for us and the Warriors," Mayor Lane said. "They see some potential in the community that we already knew existed and it's really validating for us. ... By the end of the year, there really will be a great celebration in the community about achieving something really special."
Between now and December, there is a ton of work to be completed to make all the talk a reality. And the council stipulated in its motion Tuesday that the Warriors come up with a contingency plan on the off chance that the arena is not completed in time. Stay tuned to Patch to keep up with all the latest developments with this story.
What do you think about the council's decision? Are you excited to have a new pro team in town? Tell us in the comments!