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Volume 24 No. 137


The city of Sacramento's light-rail operator "made a bid this week for a bigger piece of the action" in the city's proposed downtown arena for the NBA Kings, asking team officials to "impose a surcharge on arena event tickets to help pay for more trains and transit security before and after events," according to a front-page piece by Tony Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. Sacramento Regional Transit officials believe that the funding boost "could bulk up the transit system to attract" as much as 20% of Kings fans, up from the 7% that the Kings and city officials projected earlier this week. Transit officials said that they also would "like to see arena tickets double as transit boarding passes." Regional Transit GM & CEO Mike Wiley said that he "hasn't discussed a specific amount with the Kings, but an RT analysis suggests a 50-cent ticket surcharge could bring in the money needed to provide solid service for arena events." Bizjak reports early analysis "suggests the majority of people using alternative modes will come on light rail." Kings President Chris Granger said that it is "premature to discuss what arrangements the team might make with RT." The Kings also are "conducting focus group discussions to see what fans want." They "already have agreed" to a 5% ticket surcharge at the new arena and "likely will be cautious about layering additional fees and charges on event tickets." Sacramento Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said that increased light-rail usage "would not compromise the city's plans to use future downtown parking revenue to finance its portion of the downtown arena costs" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 12/19).

TRAFFIC JAM? A SACRAMENTO BEE states the city's environmental impact report for the new arena "should calm fears that Sacramento's proposed downtown arena would create a traffic nightmare." The drafted report "concludes that the downtown street grid, which accommodates 100,000 weekday commuters, can also handle fans going to Kings games, concerts and other arena events." In addition, 10-15% of patrons are "expected to walk or take bus or light rail to the arena at Downtown Plaza." But there are "a couple of caution signs." For weeknight events, there would be an "overlap between workers leaving late from the office and fans arriving early." Still, the "generally positive assessment ... should not make officials complacent." To "avoid any problems, they need to look for ways to encourage the use of public transit and to shield midtown and other nearby neighborhoods from additional vehicles" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 12/18).

The city of Detroit is "on the verge of settling a long-standing debt it says is owed" by Red Wings Owner the Ilitch family so it "can move forward with a plan to build a new hockey arena near downtown," according to Guillen & Helms of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. City officials said that the Ilitches "could owe the bankrupt city" up to $80M in payments "tied to cable TV revenues, which were included in a 1980 amendment to the Red Wings' original lease of Joe Louis Arena before the Ilitches bought the team" in '82. City records show that it is "unknown whether the Ilitches ever have paid the city anything related to such revenues." It also is not clear "how much of an effort the city has made over the past 30 years to assess and collect any money." But now Detroit is "expected to offer a settlement" of about $6M "to resolve the cable TV issue and a variety of other unpaid bills" at the arena. Olympia Entertainment, which is owned by the Ilitch family, "has maintained through the years that the city is not entitled to any cable TV money." The company told the city in '07, "Olympia has neither sold any such rights nor has it received any money for the sale of such rights." Olympia's position has "made it difficult for the city to calculate how much it believes the company owes." The settlement of the debt, "including any outstanding payments for playing" in Joe Louis Arena, is "expected to be discussed" during a City Council public hearing tomorrow. Some cities "tried to extract such revenues in leases of publicly owned or financed arenas decades ago, but the practice fell out of favor because of deep disputes about what exactly the teams had to pay" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/19).

TAX SAVINGS: In Detroit, Christine Macdonald reports the Ilitch family of companies "saved nearly" $1.8M off yearly tax bills "by appealing city assessments" over the last three years. The Illitch companies "won appeals on assessments on 42 properties." Most were downtown parking lots, but others "included two parcels in the Motor City Casino complex and the vacant United Artists building" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/19).

Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, Calif., will undergo a $3M upgrade in order to "host an expanded slate of thoroughbred races," according to a front-page piece by Andrew Edwards of the Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM. Los Alamitos spokesperson Brad McKinzie said that outside of its "signature quarter horse races," the course is "limited to relatively low-stakes thoroughbred races." Edwards notes the expansion will make it possible for the track to "host five weeks of higher-stakes thoroughbred races, which will be spread across next July and December." McKinzie said that the project "would not be taking place if Hollywood Park were not scheduled for closure after the end of its season this Sunday." He added that construction is "likely to be completed by Jan. 20." Edwards notes the work "mostly involves grading a new track." It will give Los Alamitos "new opportunities to attract bettors to the more prestigious world of thoroughbred racing." But former Santa Anita Park VP/Marketing Allen Gutterman said that "getting people to go to the racetrack -- any racetrack -- has become a difficult feat." There is "a sense even among the track's operators that the trend from on-site betting to online betting is irreversible." McKinzie said that business at Los Alamitos is "flat relative to the pace of betting at the track last year." Edwards writes the big challenge for operators is "getting bettors to watch a race in person when one can bet at multiple tracks from home." The popularity of online wagering means only some 12% of "bets made on a given race program is wagered by people present at the track" (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 12/19).