Bringing a minor league professional basketball team to Santa Cruz marks another shift in the city’s posture toward commercial enterprise.
It may have taken the City Council most of Tuesday night to finalize the deal moving a Golden State Warriors developmental league team from North Dakota to the Beach Area, but that’s mostly because some financial details had changed.
From the moment the Warriors organization proposed the move, it was greeted with enthusiasm, along with the due diligence we’re glad to see from local government. The still unnamed team (our choice — “The Big Dippers,” in recognition of the Beach Boardwalk’s famous ride and late San Francisco Warrior great Wilt Chamberlain pictured above) is not, of course, the only professional sports endeavor to favor local shores and hills.Earlier this month, a stage of the Amgen Tour of California professional cycling event rolled down the coast, through the Santa Cruz Mountains and toward the Cabrillo College finish line.
Next November’s O’Neill Coldwater Classic surf contest at Steamer Lane will be upgraded to top-tier status on the pro surfing tour.
Professional volleyball used to make a stop at Main Beach. Major golf tournaments are amateur here, but with PGA events close by in the Monterey Peninsula. Disc golf, kayaking, windsurfing, kite surfing, mountain biking — the list goes on and on of events often offering prize money, that want to be staged in our county.
Now pro basketball. The Warriors organization, under new ownership, is clearly on the move. Hours before the Santa Cruz City Council started final considerations on shifting the minor league team here, the team’s top brass staged a press conference to announce plans to move back to San Francisco from Oakland, in 2017.
Local basketball fans, however, will get to enjoy D-league games starting late next fall. So is it a good deal? The council agreed to make a significant commitment to bring the erstwhile Dakota Wizards from Bismarck, N.D.: A $3.5 million loan to build a 30,000-square-foot tent-like arena on Front Street that will seat 2,725 spectators for the team’s 25 annual games from December to April. It will also seat 4,000 for offseason concerts. The city loan, at 3 percent interest, was $1 million more than initially discussed — a reflection of increased construction costs, according to Warriors’ officials. The term is 15 years, although the city and the Warriors agreed to split the balance after five years, which is how long the agreement is set up for — or seven years if the agreement continues. The team also will pay for $500,000 in equipment costs and other capital expenses.
The city wisely set up a panel to examine the financial implications. County Treasurer and former state legislator Fred Keeley was on that panel and told the council Tuesday night the deal will not expose the city to undue financial liability.
The council also hired a consultant to report back on parking, traffic flows and neighborhood disruptions on game days or nights. That report came back positive.
It’s encouraging how quickly the city moved — the Warriors approached the city less than two months ago. Of course, there was good reason to expedite approval, since it will bring in badly needed revenue — about $100,000 in lodging and admission taxes plus sales tax on purchases made by fans.
Santa Cruz, over the years, developed a reputation, perhaps unfair, of being a town known for what it didn’t want. Even the relationship with UC Santa Cruz was rocky for decades, becoming more cooperative only in recent years.
Santa Cruz also has had a sometimes ambivalent relationship with its other economic engine: tourism.
There are still a couple of baskets that haven’t been made. The city continues to negotiate with the Seaside Co., owner of the Boardwalk, to lease the Front Street parking lot where the temporary arena will be located. There are also some permitting and planning issues to work out.
But now with the new Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center set to open in July, plus the imminent arrival of the basketball team, the city has shown a willingness to put up a winning shot.