What’s the pic? It’s a ramp leading to an underground service tunnel for the abandoned stadium next to ARCO Arena/Power Balance Pavilion. Overgrown with grass and trees, the foundation is practically invisible except for unfinished rebar columns sticking up from the concrete foundation.
The arena and its stillborn brother would never have come to fruition without the vision of Gregg Lukenbill, a developer who lured the NBA’s Kansas City Kings from the Midwest in 1985 with promises of a new arena and a growing community. The Kings played in a converted office building (ARCO Arena I) for three seasons before moving to their “permanent” home in the largely undeveloped Natomas area north of downtown along I-5. Even as the money game of owning a franchise passed Lukenbill by, he remained a cheerleader of the city, as well as a critic of both Sacramento politics and the Maloofs.
Lukenbill almost managed to lure teams from elsewhere in California as well. He lobbied hard to pull the Raiders from Los Angeles, as Al Davis entertained offers from numerous cities and played all of them off each other. The Sacramento Raiders plan would be based on a $120 million, 53,000-seat stadium next to ARCO Arena. Though it would’ve looked a lot like Anaheim Stadium in its football era, the stadium would’ve been different from either The Big A or Candlestick Park in that it would’ve been built first for football, and later baseball (43,000 capacity) if everything came together. The rising costs of competing in the major sports space eventually caught up with Lukenbill, who was not nearly as rich as many others entering the game, and tried to construct venues on the cheap – a practice that would become unsuitable once Camden Yards opened.
The big coup, though, would’ve been if Lukenbill had brought the Giants up I-80 to the Capitol. Bob Lurie’s ongoing dissatisfaction with The ‘Stick was well known, and Lukenbill was well poised to pounce on the opportunity. Just as the Giants are politically involved in the A’s stadium situation now, Lukenbill thrust himself into what the Giants were doing then by funding a mailer against Proposition P, the original China Basin ballpark plan championed by then-SF Mayor Art Agnos. Proposition P was defeated in 1989 in the wake of Loma Prieta, causing serious turmoil for the Giants over the next few years, while allowing San Jose and Santa Clara to enter the picture. Lukenbill was subpoenaed after the election, but nothing came of it.
Plans to bring the Giants (or any other baseball team) never gained much traction, and Davis turned his attention back to LA in short order. Still, it’s interesting to think about Sacramento having three major sports franchises in its midst: Kings, Raiders, Giants. Would Lurie or Davis have been satisfied with the stadium in the long run? Probably not. As the Kings, Giants, and others chose not to go to Sacramento, Lukenbill ran out of money and sold the arena to one of his co-owners and the Kings to Jim Thomas.
The greatest legacy of the failed stadium is a closed-off tunnel which leads north from the arena and connects the two. It’s only accessible from the bowels of the arena and has gotten some interesting uses over the years. It doesn’t quite have the flexibility of the Exhibit Hall setup at the Coliseum, yet it’s emblematic of Lukenbill’s vision: bold, big, and ultimately, unfinished.
Tomorrow: A (probably) final visit to ARCO.