After more than a decade of failed attempts and a near-exodus of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, the Sacramento City Council approved a deal in May 2013 to build a new Entertainment & Sports Complex in Downtown Sacramento. Arguably the most significant project to be planned in Sacramento for more than 20 years, the $447 million arena was put on a fast track for implementation with a scheduled opening date in the fall of 2016. The schedule reflected a requirement by the NBA Board of Governors that the Arena be open no later than 2017 in order for the Kings to remain in Sacramento.

In early July of 2013, within weeks of the Council decision, City staff and the Kings’ management team retained ESA and Fehr & Peers to prepare the EIR for the project. The team was tasked with completing a Draft EIR for release by mid-December and a Final EIR for certification by April of 2014 so site demolition can begin in May of 2014.

The site for the new arena is a failing 1.2 million square foot shopping center, with 50% retail vacancy rates, located in the heart of downtown Sacramento. The project includes a 17,500 seat NBA arena and 1.5 million square feet of office, retail, hotel, and theater uses. The site is at the terminus of three different light rail lines.

Fehr & Peers prepared both the transportation section of the EIR and a Transportation Management Plan (TMP) that described how the system would be managed during arena events. Challenges for the Fehr & Peers’ project team included the following.

  • Lack of a site plan (the project architect was hired in August)
  • Lack of a parking plan
  • Need to identify mode share and trip distribution for a downtown arena
  • Need to credit existing shopping center trips

The following summarizes some of the innovative approaches the team took to solving the above challenges, and meeting the deadline for releasing a Draft EIR.

To identify a distribution for the new downtown arena, the project team began by reviewing zip code data for current season ticket holders. It quickly became clear that this data was not ideal because it represented the location where season tickets were mailed, not necessarily where pre-game trips originate and post-game trips are destined.  Staff able to successfully “mine” cell phone data for weeknight games at the existing Sleep Train Arena site and link trips to/from Traffic Analysis Zones in the regional model. The data showed a high share of pre-game trips originating from employment centers around the region (people traveling to the games from work) and a high share of post-game trips being destined to more suburban residential areas (people returning home).

To determine a mode share and assign trips to each of the modes, Kwasi led an effort to create new zones in the regional travel model. Because the arena project will rely on the abundance of unused nearby parking (about 12,500 vacant spaces on weeknights within ½ mile of the site), and only provide about 1,000 parking spaces on-site for premium ticket holders, the modeling needed to reflect the fact that attendees would parking at multiple facilities.

To determine where parking would be available, the project team surveyed all major parking facilities within ½ mile of the arena site. The team also worked with City staff to distribute a survey to all nearby parking facility owners/operators to determine if they would make their facilities available to event attendees.

Developing a transit mode share for the project was challenging for multiple reasons. Major entertainment venues in the Sacramento region are currently located in suburban or rural areas where transit is not available or very limited, so there was not a comparable local proxy for the downtown arena. Sacramento Regional Transit (RT) staff wanted the City and Kings to implement a “transit surcharge” on all tickets, pass those funds on to RT, and allow all ticket holders to then ride free before and after events. The US Airways Arena, home to the Phoenix Suns, has a similar program with Metro Transit. The Kings have not yet committed to such a surcharge (note that similar discussions are ongoing for the planned Golden State Warriors Arena in San Francisco that we are working on) because they have already committed to a $5 ticket surcharge to help fund arena construction. Given the short time line for completing the Draft EIR, the team decided to prepare transit ridership forecasts assuming standard fares and estimated an opening day transit share of 7% and a build-out share of 11%.

The team used our MXD+ tool to estimate trip generation for the 1.5 million square foot mixed use portion of the project. The team also used it to estimate trip generation for the existing 1.2 million square foot Downtown Plaza shopping center to be demolished, based on occupied space. The team applied the net growth in trips, or the difference between these two totals, to represent the increase in travel for the Existing plus Project assessment.

By using the regional travel demand model to develop traffic forecasts, the team was able to compare VMT for a sold-out Kings Game at the ESC and at Sleep Train Arena. This analysis proved critical in determining the project’s compliance with Senate Bill (SB) 743, which among other objectives, provides additional legal defensibility against injunctions that could otherwise halt arena construction. Our analysis found that the project (i.e., playing games at the ESC versus Sleep Train) would reduce the VMT per basketball attendee by more than 20 percent, which exceeds the 15 percent threshold under SB 743.

The team developed light rail transit ridership estimates (at the maximum load points) for pre-game and post-game conditions. These estimates were then compared to system capacity to determine impacts. The transit evaluation also considered access to trains including ticket purchases, loading, and passenger queuing.

Based on the modeling and analysis described above, the team evaluated pedestrian traffic levels at the major project gateways and intersection crossings adjacent to the arena. The pedestrian analysis was refined several times as the site plan changed. The team’s early analysis actually influenced subsequent site plan revisions including the design of a large plaza near the primary arena entry/exit and the adjacent pedestrian gateways.

High-quality graphics were prepared by our Visual Communications staff to illustrate some of the more complex analysis results.  We used ArcGIS for the majority of the graphics with a little Photoshop for some of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) chapter graphics.

The team used the ULI Shared Use parking methodology (and our internal spreadsheet) to estimate the needed parking supply for the project.  In conjunction with the project architect and city staff, our staff attended numerous briefings with representatives of several city departments (DOT, planning, environmental, police, etc.), multiple transit providers, air district staff, and the local bicycle advocacy organization to discuss the project and associated environmental analysis. The purpose of these meetings was to address as many issues as possible prior to the release of the Draft EIR.