Will Warriors stay? Community input on downtown expansion will help decide whether they do and, if so, where

The Santa Cruz Warriors' home court at Kaiser Permanente Arena
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A temporary facility that has outlived its usefulness for the Santa Cruz Warriors and a city actively updating its downtown footprint has pushed a longstanding discussion to the forefront. The Kaiser Permanente Arena will host a drop-in event Wednesday night to show the community three different potential plans for use of the Warriors’ current site and other locations that a permanent arena could be built.

Will Santa Cruz Warriors basketball remain a part of the Santa Cruz experience?

Community input on the future of the land under the team’s 10-year-old temporary structure in downtown will ultimately contribute to whether the team stays or goes.

Originally built for the team back in 2012 under a seven-year lease, the Kaiser Permanente Arena has long-outlived its tenure and usefulness for the team. The city of Santa Cruz hopes to incorporate a more permanent structure into the area as it expands the city’s downtown for more housing and better commuter pathways — whether in the same immediate vicinity or elsewhere in the downtown zone.

Community members can see the current proposals and share their insights on the arena's next location this Wednesday evening.
(Courtesy of City of Santa Cruz)

Wednesday from 5-8 p.m., community members can see the plans currently in motion and provide feedback for the Downtown Plan Expansion Project. The drop-in event — hosted at Kaiser Permanente Arena — will give Santa Cruzans the chance to see three plans for the area south of Laurel Street, and answer questions regarding where the Warriors themselves could play in a permanent building eventually.

Senior planner Sarah Neuse told Lookout there are a few goals related to this revitalization plan, namely 1) creating more housing and 2) building a more direct thoroughfare between downtown, the San Lorenzo Riverwalk and the beachfront. The basketball team — which first came to town in October 2012 — is also a major component of the plan.

“Space for an arena is certainly a piece of [this plan], because we do see the Warriors as a major catalyst for downtown businesses,” she said. “We certainly want to work with the Warriors and make sure that whatever we write in the plan could work for them.”

Warriors President Chris Murphy noted that the plans for a permanent basketball arena have been in the works for at least five years, with the conversation “intensifying” two years ago, prior to pandemic shutdowns. But time is ticking for the team and the city to find a permanent solution — the arena only has a 15-year lifespan with its current setup.

“It’s been great to be in Santa Cruz. Our building is phenomenal on a game night from an experience standpoint, for our fans, and for our players because it’s packed, because it has the community support and people are able to have a great experience,” he said. “But if we’re talking about from a basketball development standpoint, there are some definite gaps in the quality that we need for this level.”

Building a permanent arena would allow the team to implement more extensive facilities for basketball training, physical therapy, and strength and conditioning, as well as a kitchen for the concessions team: “We don’t have a lot of infrastructure from the basketball side of things that are really needed.”

Despite the desire to stay in town, Murphy added that if it becomes clear that a permanent arena can’t be built, the Warriors will be forced to relocate.

“We need to find a permanent home, and we want to make a pathway and solution work in Santa Cruz,” he said. “But if it becomes evident that there is no viable solution aside from the current arena, we don’t really have much of a choice but to not play in Santa Cruz.”

Being part of a permanent facility that includes housing would fit well with the organization’s community mindset, Murphy said.

“To be able to do something in conjunction with a venue that might bring a significant amount of housing, and affordable housing as well, to downtown is a really exciting project that can help shape Santa Cruz for a long time to come,” he said.

That could mean finding another space in the city’s downtown for a new structure, as Neuse and the city planning department plan to build up more housing on the current arena’s parcel.

“This is a huge opportunity and more intense than what we have seen before in Santa Cruz,” she said of the scope of construction. “That’s what we want to hear from people — how far do we want to go with these plans?”

Community members can view the three current plan proposals and provide feedback this Wednesday evening.

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