Mark Friedman shares his vision for the arena and Sacramento's new downtown

Jeff vonKaenel

I have great memories from inside the venue once called Arco Arena. The Kings vs. Lakers playoffs and Eric Clapton concerts, among others. But I have no cherished memories from outside the big, nondescript building that is now called Sleep Train Arena.

Until hearing Mark Friedman talk about the architecture of the new Golden 1 Center, I had never given much thought to what goes outside an arena. And for good reason. The one in Natomas is a functional and forgettable building.

Its original function, lest we forget, was to allow already-rich people to buy inexpensive land in a flood plain, rezone it and convert it into valuable land. To make this ridiculous public policy possible, the owners of the flood plain had to bring a professional basketball team to Sacramento and build an arena. So, they did.

But now we are building a new arena, with a new function. And that function—besides having celebrated, too-tall men throw a leather ball into a small hoop—is to reinvigorate downtown.

Downtown Sacramento: full of empty buildings, a shopping center with few shoppers and an ever-decreasing number of stores. Downtown: a depressed, dreary place, and certainly not a draw for free-spending tourists.

The founder and president of Fulcrum Property and part owner of the Sacramento Kings, Friedman is tasked with being head visionary for the creation of the new downtown.

According to Friedman, it starts with the arena. And it can’t be an arena like the one formerly known as Arco. That was a building designed to be surrounded by a parking lot. This arena will be surrounded by a downtown. So, the question is: How to design an arena that flows into and enhances downtown?

Recently, I heard Friedman speak about the new arena. His vision was inspiring. He told us how the building will be sunk low into the ground, so it will fit better with downtown. He told us how the massive windows will connect the inside of the building and the outside. And these windows will open, saving energy and bringing in fresh air. Even those without tickets will be part of the action. It will be a signature landmark, like the Capitol or the Tower Bridge. I am excited to see it.

The arena discussion has been very polarizing for Sacramento. I do not believe that an arena can be the driving force for economic development, but neither do I believe the cost of the arena will drive the city into bankruptcy.

Developing new industries, improving our schools and providing homes for the homeless, among other issues, will have more impact upon our future than one athletic facility. If you doubt this, may I suggest you take a road trip to the beautiful ballparks in Detroit and Cleveland.

But our new arena will soon be here, and it sounds like the building itself will be very cool. Why not enjoy it?

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.