Residents welcome the idea of a basketball arena and crowds
Seth Horn is looking forward to the Golden State Warriors Development League team playing at 140 Front St., about a block from his house on Spruce Street in Santa Cruz. He feels that the cause of many issues he sees in the neighborhood is that there is neither enough foot traffic nor attention paid to the area between Beach and Laurel streets.
“I deal with drunks and crackheads and pick up people’s beer bottles every day in front of my house,” says Horn. “If we had more public traffic down on South Pacific [Avenue] it would be less shady, and less of a hideaway for drug dealers.”
He feels that the neighborhood is neglected compared to the Boardwalk area and other more developed parts of downtown.
Spruce Street is in line of sight to the parking lot where the new basketball tent facility is set to be up and running before the season opener in November. In May, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a $3.5 million loan to the Warriors organization to build the arena and move their D-league team—currently the Bismarck Wizards—from North Dakota to Santa Cruz.
However, team officials and the City of Santa Cruz must hurdle about three to five years worth of planning in about six months to make that happen, says Scott Collins, assistant city manager.
“We are working at the speed of business,” he says. “We wouldn’t move forward if we weren’t hitting our benchmarks.”
The list of to dos is lengthy, and Collins says prioritizing will be key to having the site ready to welcome up to 2,700 fans in the fall. The city’s first priority is identifying about 1,000 available parking spaces downtown to satisfy that sized crowd.
The Warriors Vice President Of New Franchise Development Jim Weyermann says that the city approving their loan got the ball rolling in the right direction, but his organization will be hard at work through opening season and beyond.
“We have various teams working on projects such as traffic management and public safety which include city, rire and police staff,” Weyermann writes in an email to Good Times. “Our country figured out how to put a man on the moon. We can certainly figure out how to build this facility with minimal impacts to the surrounding area.”
City staff is also investigating traffic flow changes such as possibly restricting access to Laurel Street Extension while keeping it open to residents. The road runs along the San Lorenzo River from Front Street to Third Street and is a popular local route to skirt downtown traffic.
The $3.5 million loan agreement will make the city a partial owner, allowing the community to schedule events in the basketball off-season without renting it from the team. After seven annual payments of $250,000 from the Warriors the team and the city will split the remainder, which should be $1.75 million. Collins expects events held there would include art shows, plays, athletic events and possibly concerts.
Collins says this is not topping their priority list yet, but is excited the city will be able to schedule events in the tent. During performances not requiring a basketball court-sized floor space, it will seat about 4,000 people, making it the largest indoor venue in the county.
“We are looking at what potential a 4,000-seat facility could bring as far as concerts and given that it s a tent what that could handle,” says Collins. “We’re looking into everything down to how many layers of material tent will need to keep down the noise.”
He expects it will be at least three to four years before concerts are being scheduled. There will be several chances in that time for residents to speak up about what they want and don’t want the space used for.
But the idea of noise doesn’t faze future arena neighbor Horn. He can hear the Boardwalk from his house in the summer, and says people treat Spruce Street as a “pregame” drinking spot to play loud music most of the year.
“The police put a lot of attention into the more touristy parts of downtown, just two blocks away,” he says. “Maybe if a lot of people were coming down here they would put more energy here.”
He points out that there are only two streetlights near his end of the block. He hopes that the team coming in would light up the issues of his street both literally and in the conscience of city residents.
The new Walgreens opening up around the corner and the former Avenue bar being replaced by a new sports bar/restaurant gives him hope that the tide is changing in the neighborhood. He says the fact that the Avenue bar is being taken over by the owner of Surf City Billiards is a good sign for the future.
“Surf City is a classy joint, so if their owners are involved it sounds like it could be a good thing,” says Horn.
UC Santa Cruz student and Spruce Street resident Natalie Rubenstein also favors the arena moving in a block away.
“It might be fun to walk down the street to see a game or a show, and to have that many people coming through,” she says.
Weyermann handling the Warriors side of the operation also gives the city reason to believe the team will be successful in Santa Cruz. From 2005-11 he was CEO of the Minor League Baseball San Jose Giants. Four of those six years, the team broke attendance records. This helped ease concerns that the team might not get a strong following in Santa Cruz and eventually leave without their tent in tow.
He oozes confidence that the partnership will be good for both sides.
“Creating a vibrant use by the families of Santa Cruz during the [tourist] off season, the results will include boosting local revenues in downtown and creating community programming during the winter months,” his writes via email. “There is no way that this project will create more challenges than what the city has already solved in handling the millions of tourist to the area every year.”