After a decade in Kaiser Permanente Arena, the Warriors are planning for a new downtown home. And they are already working with the Santa Cruz Symphony on how to create a place for hoops — and as many as 100 nights of arts and entertainment a year. What’s the vision — and the work ahead?
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Another Santa Cruz Warriors season is on the horizon — with the season and home opener set for Nov. 4 against the Ontario Clippers — and that gets a lot of locals excited. The G League affiliate of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors has made its home in Santa Cruz for a solid decade now, and for fans, it’s been a thrill ride. And that includes the Sea Dubs’ own league championship season in 2014-15.
But the Warriors are facing a reckoning in Santa Cruz, because — much like the downtown library, the farmers market, and many people in the local housing market — the team is looking for a long-term commitment to a place it can call home.
The team’s current home court, Kaiser Permanente Arena, is not as Permanente as its name suggests. Built exactly 10 years ago this fall and erected in about a day and a half (I exaggerate, but it was quick), KP Arena was always meant to be a temporary home until the day when a more substantial arena could be constructed. Well, here we are, a decade down the road and that day of reckoning is getting ever closer.
The City of Santa Cruz has a plan to get there. It’s called the Downtown Plan Expansion, and it involves aggressive development in the area south of Laurel Street where KP Arena now stands, and a specific plan to work with the Warriors to build a new arena.
That’s great and all, but there’s more to a life well lived than just basketball. The Sea Dubs could certainly get the same folks who make up their loyal home crowd to come out to the arena — and maybe even bring with them those benighted souls who don’t give a rip about basketball — for other reasons, whether it’s the symphony, Cirque du Soleil or the Doobie Brothers. It turns out the Warriors are totally down with the whole idea of a multipurpose arena.
That’s according to Chris Murphy, who is both the president of the Santa Cruz Warriors and the senior vice president of franchise development with the Golden State Warriors.
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Murphy is, first and foremost, about hoops, of course. But he also knows that a fabulous new 3,000-seat arena will not pay for itself — or “pencil out,” in developer jargon — by hosting only 30 or so basketball games a year. To his credit, Murphy has fully embraced the idea of a multipurpose arena.
“We actually envision whatever new home for the Warriors turns out to be,” he said, “as a multipurpose venue that has symphony concerts, other athletic events, comedy shows, performing arts, kind of a true multipurpose venue that Santa Cruz and really the whole Central Coast doesn’t have.”
But Murphy goes beyond the merely utilitarian argument. He said it’s just the right thing to do. “It just seems … weird to build a brand-new facility that wouldn’t also serve music and the arts.”
Yes, but maybe not quite as weird as continuing to depend on the 80-year-old Civic Auditorium to be the showcase performing-arts venue into the indefinite future. The Civic is a grand old show palace, but Santa Cruz has simply outgrown it.
Basketball and performing arts are two quite different animals, and any multipurpose venue accommodating those two activities seems like it would be an awkward fit. What performing-arts groups who’ve grown weary of “adapting” to a venue designed for something else long to hear is exactly what Murphy is willing to tell them: The basketball team is willing to make allowances.
“It may not be the perfect arena for basketball, or the perfect arena for the performing arts,” he said. “But we can find something collaboratively and work together on the design so it ends up being a great building for us both.”
The Warriors have already begun informal conversations with the Santa Cruz Symphony to act as a kind of co-tenant of the new arena. Among other things, that means that acoustics — the quality of sound — will be a fundamental design principle instead of an afterthought that has to be improved by after-the-fact mitigations. (Geez, it sounds like I’m piling on the poor old Civic.)
Any new arena is still years away, and though the general idea has broad support and the Downtown Plan Expansion is aggressively moving in that direction, there could be obstacles tomorrow that don’t exist today. (Think of the beleaguered library/mixed-use project, which could be derailed by Measure O in November.)
With an estimated capacity of roughly 3,000, the new arena will not be significantly larger than the Civic in terms of seating — because Santa Cruz is, despite its more grandiloquent opinions of itself, not a big city. We’re likely to never see Taylor Swift or Harry Styles in Santa Cruz no matter how sweet a venue is built for them.
But there’s still a middle tier of touring acts that might come to town with a new arena that wouldn’t consider it now, and that includes not only music, but stand-up comedy acts, touring theater performances, speakers and lecturers, circus or acrobatic acts, any number of things that might fill out — Murphy’s greatest hopes — 100-plus nights a year.
Imagine that kind of activity and diversity — and in downtown Santa Cruz. Imagine what that would do for that part of town, which is likely to be a nexus of new housing and new retail.
“We want in Santa Cruz what they have in San Francisco,” said Murphy, referencing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s gorgeous home, the Chase Center. “We want the Chase Center. But we’d want a mini Chase Center.”
At this point, there might be many true-blue, longtime Santa Cruzans running from the room in horror. If the luxury hotel at La Bahia, or the big new hotel at Laurel and Front, or the bold new library on Cedar Street doesn’t forever alter the character of funky old Santa Cruz, a mini Chase Center just might do the trick.
Financing, construction, design, programming — all those things are likely to be huge challenges for a new arena. But local political opposition could be an even bigger challenge, because, well, to paraphrase “Chinatown”: Forget it, Jake. It’s Santa Cruz.
The 2022 election is going to soon be in the rearview mirror, and the big changes that are enveloping Santa Cruz will adapt (or not) accordingly. Renderings of a new multipurpose arena will probably emerge by next summer. A year from now, you might see community forums at KP Arena where the plan for the new venue will be presented to audiences.
The shortcomings of the Civic are going to be at the center of the public debate. Basketball fans and concert lovers are going to have to find common cause and fight to bring the performing arts in Santa Cruz out of the FDR era.
“I think it’s very important for us,” said Murphy, “to get the community buy-in, and have their involvement and their opinions on some of the things they may want to see as part of a new arena development.”
Sure about that, Chris? As the new arena comes into focus, you might find that your basketball team isn’t the only warriors in Santa Cruz.