Finding a home for the home team: Four things to know about a new Santa Cruz Warriors permanent arena

The Sea Dubs have maximized the gameday vibe at KP Arena.
(Via Santa Cruz Warriors)

As downtown redevelopment inches closer to becoming a reality, there are still many questions about where the Warriors’ permanent arena will be built — and if the team will stay. Here’s what you need to know.

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Three years after the Santa Cruz Warriors hit the town in 2012, the team won the G League championship, the same year the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA championship of the Steph Curry era, beginning a dynastic stretch.

Now, in the flash of a decade, with successes and resets and after contending with COVID shutdowns, the team has all but outgrown its current stadium. As the redevelopment of Lower Pacific marches closer to becoming a reality, the Warriors seek a permanent home in Santa Cruz as Santa Cruz answers the question: Will the Warriors stay here?

Kaiser Permanente Arena — often referred to locally as KP Arena or simply KP — was always meant to be a temporary space for the team. Ten years into its estimated 15-year lifespan, the arena lacks vital resources including, but not limited to, an adequate locker room, a kitchen for concessions and facilities for training, physical therapy and strength and conditioning.

With the Warriors’ current lease ending in September 2023, expect the push to finalize a plan for a permanent home to continue heating up in the near future.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council will direct city planning staff to continue its work with the development of housing units and new public spaces in the Lower Pacific redevelopment area. That’s an area west of the San Lorenzo River that encompasses lower Front Street and lower Pacific Avenue where they meet Laurel Street. The new Warriors arena is an integral part of that plan.

The city planning staff is working from its own preferred scenario on how that redevelopment might play out. It is about to start the next phase of its work, directed by the council. That includes studying the environmental and other impacts of the proposed work, and will include an environmental impact report (EIR).

It’s been 10 years since the local Sea Dubs made a big splash in our little town. Kaiser Permanente Arena has been a...

Described as the “on-ramp” by Senior Planner Sarah Neuse, the meeting will serve as a catalyst.

“The direction from the city council will include components of street alignments, the creation of public spaces, and a place for the arena,” she told Lookout. “So, we’d want to study more than one location for that to make sure that we identify a successful site and a building form that the residential units will be placed into.”

There is a plan already called a preferred development scenario, conceived by the city planning staff. Given the area’s housing crisis, building new units is the project’s leading priority.

That plan currently includes:

  • a minimum of 1,800 housing units;
  • the permanent closure of Spruce Street east of Pacific Avenue;
  • a new open public space in the closed Spruce Street right-of-way;
  • more direct access among downtown, the Riverwalk and the beachfront;
  • options for the location of a permanent Santa Cruz Warriors arena.
A map of the city planning staff's preferred development scenario
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

More will become clear in the coming months, but here is what we know now.

There are two potential sites for a permanent Sea Dubs arena

The parcel of land KP Arena now sits on — parcel D on the accompanying map — is one of two potential spots for the permanent arena. The team needs additional space for the improved facilities, requiring construction to take over some of the adjacent property.

“The stadium would have to take some property south of the site to make room for the right-sized locker rooms, office spaces and practice area,” said Neuse. “Still, that site does have enough square footage in the right configuration to be a potential site.”

The other location is on parcel C1 just to the west of the current stadium, in the lot between Pacific Avenue, Front Street and Spruce Street. This parcel currently holds Pacific Blue Inn, Motion Pacific, Euphoric Styles, Firefly Coffee House and Lotts Auto Stereo. The city planning staff currently deems this the favored site.

“That’s the preferred location, moving west to that block across the street from the current site,” said Santa Cruz City Principal Planner Matt VanHua. “But we do understand the need for flexibility, so we will study both sides.”

The price will be high, but still uncertain

Discussions about the cost of a permanent arena are ongoing, but it is currently believed that the price of a new arena could be anywhere from $20 million to $50-60 million, according to city Director of Economic Development Bonnie Lipscomb.

This figure is subject to change depending on the scope and scale of the project as well as ownership structure and partnerships.

Interim playing sites are in discussion

There have been initial talks about a temporary playing space while a permanent arena is under construction, says Lipscomb.

Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy says these talks will become more specific as the redevelopment plan moves forward.

“We continue to work with the city and private sector on what a new arena development could look like,” he said. “Tuesday’s meeting is important because we need to start to understand what capabilities are able to be in order to put the project together.”

He added that the prospect of renewing the current lease for a short period of time is not off the table.

“Assuming the construction will take longer than the fall of 2023, we may discuss the possibility of renewing the lease in the current space until we can play in the new arena,” said Murphy.

The city is still a ways from finalizing a redevelopment plan

“This planning process is a multiyear process because of the way that we have to do environmental review, and this is a large project,” said Neuse. “At this point, the direction we want to get from the council is ‘What do we want to see happen here?’ so that we can go out and study it.”

Hearing from the city council the total number of housing units and what form the buildings will take are two of the biggest pieces to move forward.

“A couple hundred units in either way makes a big difference,” said Neuse. “The council’s going to need to decide what that number will be, and it will be pretty significant in terms of the way we would do the analysis.”

VanHua added that while city planning has a preferred recommended scenario, it will ultimately be up to the council to provide clear direction for the next phase.

City planning staff must anticipate environmental constraints, identify unforeseen issues and present a comprehensive plan.

“In about nine months to a year from now, we will have a draft of the whole downtown plan amendments and a draft of the EIR, which will go through a public hearing process and hopefully approved,” said Neuse. “Then we’ll have a document in place and projects can start to come in and apply with those new development allowances and standards.”