Anaheim mayor calls Honda Center upgrade 'fan-tastic'
Ducks and Honda Center owners Henry and Susan Samueli were joined by Anaheim city leaders Wednesday in a ground-breaking ceremony for the $20-million Grand Terrace project, described as the most extensive upgrade in the venue's history and another sign of the city's still-strong interest in enticing the NBA's Sacramento Kings to move south.
"We can envision a day fans will attend NHL hockey, concerts and NBA basketball games here," Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said at a ceremony complete with hard hats for guests, shovels in the ground and Ducks mascot Wild Wing at the wheel of a bulldozer.
"It will be fan-tastic," Tait added, a reference to the dated NBA ad campaign that some in the crowd missed, causing the mayor to explain, "That's supposed to be funny."
Anaheim is awaiting a March 1 deadline that Kings' owners have for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to reveal a financing plan for a new arena in the state capital.
The NBA last year asked Kings owners the Maloof brothers to delay a decision on moving south for a year, allowing Sacramento officials more time to produce an arena plan. The move came after Anaheim last March approved a $75-million bond plan that would improve the Honda Center and provide a $50-million loan to the team's owners.
Anaheim was to merely act as an escrow broker in that now-expired deal, with the $75 million actually coming from the Samuelis.
Tait said Wednesday that if a similar deal comes about, the city will stay out of it, after being subjected to criticism by some who were confused about its involvement in the Samueli loan, thinking it was a typical bond deal, which it was not.
Sacramento officials did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about that city's ability to meet the March 1 deadline.
[Updated, 3:12 p.m.] The 15,000-square-foot Grand Terrace project is to face Katella Avenue and open in early 2013. It is to include an expanded team store, a new sports-themed restaurant, indoor and outdoor entertainment space and an 80-foot bar. Eighty percent of the 1,000 memberships to an exclusive area of Grand Terrace have already been sold, Anaheim Arena Management officials said.
Henry Samueli said that for now he's "just waiting and standing on the sidelines" of the Sacramento situation. "If they need to come to us in the future," he said, "they have our phone number."
He added that the "vision" of bringing an NBA team to Anaheim "hasn't changed," regardless of the year's wait or even Seattle's newly professed interest in going after the Kings, having lost the team that is now the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We're absolutely convinced the market and region can support [the NBA]," Samueli said.
That's Anaheim's major point: No matter what building Sacramento can produce, it can't match a potential audience of 3 million in Orange County, an additional 4 million in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and fans with train access from San Diego.
Upgrading the 19-year-old Honda Center affirms that strength, said the arena's chairman, Michael Schulman.
"We needed to do that to make our fans' experience the most worthwhile it can be," Schulman said. "We've studied every arena in the country. To make ours fresh, we needed to add these things: the private club, the restaurant, the expanded team store."
Schulman said arena officials will move quickly to address new basketball locker rooms should the momentum for an NBA move to Anaheim increase to reality.
"This represents the future of Anaheim," Tait said. "I know the Honda Center is NBA-ready."
-- Lance Pugmire
Photo: Fans play hockey prior to the game between the Ducks and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Honda Center on Jan. 8. Credit: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images