With two championships in one year, the franchise considers some radical possibilities for their future in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz’s Jim Weyermann had a lot to celebrate when he rode in the Golden State Warriors’ victory parade in Oakland last Friday. The Warriors organization he joined four years ago under the new ownership of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber just won its first NBA title in 40 years, defeating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.
Their victory comes less than two months after the Santa Cruz Warriors, of which Weyermann is president, won their first D-League championship, clinching a sweep of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at a sold-out Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz on April 26. The Warriors are the first franchise in NBA history to win both titles in the same year.
It may seem like the ultimate vindication of some controversial decisions by the Warriors’ management, not the least of which was to relocate their D-League team to Santa Cruz in 2012, constructing the 2,500-seat temporary arena in just 78 days. But now the question is: where will they find a permanent home? And some of the ideas they’re throwing around are their most radical yet.
That could mean that the bond that’s been built between the Warriors organization and the city is likely to be tested in the next two years, with the current three-way contract between the Warriors, the City of Santa Cruz and the Seaside Company for the existing arena expiring in 2017. The timing of this year’s championship is especially interesting since it comes as the city just hired a consulting firm, Victus Advisors, to conduct a three-month feasibility study which will “establish the feasibility and benefits of a permanent arena facility in Santa Cruz … from both a capital cost and operations perspective” before the contract is re-negotiated.
“Now that you’re winning from the minor league up through the top, you have this organizational validation of the road you chose four years ago,” says Weyermann of the Warriors’ success. “You know how many people laughed at us when we started this trip four years ago?”
But Weyermann, who admits his drive to get the temporary arena done created plenty of fireworks with city staff the first time around, is wary of the feasibility study.
“There’s one way to approach this, which is the way the city knows—here’s the process, here’s how we go through it—which is kind of the track they’re on. And there’s the way the Warriors would approach it, which is the way we’ve approached building our whole business, which is know what you want the end result to look like, and build toward that.”
For one thing, he’s not convinced there needs to be a permanent arena, at least in the sense of a permanent building.
“Why brick and mortar?” he asks. “I mean, if we took a look at the fabrication we’ve done down there, we can do it for a third of the cost, and make it mobile. What happens if the world changes in 10 years and we want to move it?”
He’s also concerned that without a larger, community-based discussion beyond a consulting study, radical but potentially interesting ideas will get shuffled aside.
“There’s a lot of complexity to the situation right now in terms of what road you want to go down. I’m not speaking out of school, I had this conversation with Martín [Bernal, city manager] and Bonnie [Lipscomb, executive director of the city’s Economic Development Department] earlier in the week: if the feasibility study looks at brick and mortar traditional financing packages, we’re wasting our time. We’re just absolutely wasting our time. This city can’t support a commercial–run arena,” says Weyermann.
Some of the ideas the Warriors would like to see looked at are indeed radical, even when it comes to site selection. “One idea that’s been raised, not publicly, is the Trader Joe’s site. The reason I love the Trader Joe’s site is it ties into the Abbott Square development, it ties us into the MAH across the street,” he says. “What if it went all the way down and created the first levee development? What if we put the first restaurant on the river?”
Michelle Williams, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Arts Council, has been working on San Lorenzo River revitalization, most recently with the Ebb & Flow event, and knows how significant it is for the Warriors to even raise the issue of the river.
“I think it would be extraordinary,” says Williams. “If they have the courage and foresight to do it, they’re going to be early adopters.”
“There’s not a model in a commercial venture, but the arts have shown us the way,” says Weyermann of how some of these less conventional ideas could be approached. “What you would be looking at in terms of your economic package would be much more of a nonprofit model. You get Netflix to build the kids’ physical fitness center in the building. We go get Looker to build this piece out over here. You see what I’m saying? So your collaborators are not commercial venture-oriented ROI people. Your collaborators are saying ‘We’re going to make this a better place for the community.’ It’s not been done, so it’s kind of foreign to [the city’s] process.”
Bernal, the city manager, doesn’t think the Warriors’ strategy is as different from Weyermann’s as he thinks, but he admits it’s a lot slower.
“I think there’s a natural tension between government bureaucracy and the business community,” says Bernal. He knows how frustrating the process—including the feasibility study—can be for an organization with a vision like the Warriors. And he saw the first time around how Weyermann can make things happen that other people would consider improbable, if not impossible.
“I have to give Jim a lot of credit. He really pushed us,” says Bernal. “It wouldn’t have happened without him. He’s very gung ho, very move forward. He can get emotional—he admits it all the time. But we have a great relationship personally.”
There may be a deeper—but at the same time, easily fixed—concern for the Warriors, too: the feasibility study seems to question whether the Warriors do have value to the city, something Weyermann believes should be clear to “anybody who’s been here on game day, who’s watched 2,000 people walk down from the restaurants.”
Lipscomb of the EDD says that isn’t an issue. “We already know the community loves the Warriors. We all love the Warriors,” she says. “We think they’ve been a great success.”
What the study will do, she says, is begin to untangle the complicated details of some of these ideas.
“It’s not that we’re naysayers,” Lipscomb says of the city staff. “I think our minds immediately go to ‘is that feasible?’ But we get excited about the possibilities, too.”
Bernal points out that the city, too, had to make the current arena its highest priority in order to get it done the first time around. Weyermann remembers, and he does have faith in the Warriors’ relationship with Santa Cruz—literally.
“In a way, the Santa Cruz project had divine intervention,” says Weyermann. “You’re going to think I’m crazy. But there’s no logical explanation for how it got done. There isn’t. It just needed so much love in the last three weeks that it looked like it was going to be impossible. Then the extraordinary happened,” he says. “This building doesn’t get built without the state guy clearing his desk for us. It doesn’t get built without Martín sending the building inspectors down who were on site with the architect and the contractor while we were changing the designs, pouring the concrete at the same time, and the inspectors stamping it. We had to get this incredible level of cooperation. We had to get so much help from key people in the community.”
For Weyermann, it wasn’t these last glittering weeks of championships and awards that made him feel the Santa Cruz Warriors had proved themselves—it was Santa Cruz’s darkest days.
Specifically, it was when the arena became a gathering place for the community to mourn the loss of Sergeant Butch Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler, the first SCPD officers to be killed in the line of duty. On March 25, 2013, at a halftime ceremony attended by city leaders, hundreds of local law enforcement officers and emergency responders, and an arena filled with local fans, jerseys bearing the two officers’ names and badge numbers were put on permanent display.
“The moment that I felt we had succeeded in the vision that we had to build a new village green was the night that we unveiled the officer badges in the building,” says Weyermann. “That was the validation of everything that we had said we wanted to be. We wanted to be a place where the community could gather—not only when we’re happy, but also when we’re sad. Every time I go into that building and I see those jerseys, it reminds me of the power of that night. As a community, yes, we love our basketball team, and we like coming together and doing that, but that bonds us forever. That is the spiritual validation of where we are.”
PHOTO: Like their NBA counterparts, the Santa Cruz Warriors won a championship this year. SANTA CRUZ WARRIORS