In April, Jim Weyermann, who would become president of the newly minted Santa Cruz Warriors, announced plans to re-brand the North Dakota Wizards and construct a new arena on a vacant lot near downtown Santa Cruz. Just six days ago, the team played its home opener in the Kaiser Permanente Arena on Front Street to a sold-out crowd of 2,500.
Getting a 30,000-square-foot building up in about 80 days -- even a temporary one with a canvas top -- is a feat many would have thought impossible in a town known for slow-paced, contentious development projects. Convincing city officials to loan $4 million to the project took the moxie of a determined salesman.
For the excitement the team stirred and for his doggedness to stick with an unlikely vision, the Sentinel staff has selected Weyermann and the Warriors as 2012 Newsmakers.
"He maintained an intensity required of this project and just kept at it and kept at it at a high level of energy that most people don't have the capacity for," said Councilman Don Lane, who served for most of 2012 as mayor.
A former Capitola resident now living in Santa Clara, Weyermann said he believed Santa Cruz was right for the team because there was an unmet need for professional sports "coupled with an incredibly strong basketball community that you wouldn't know if you hadn't lived here.
When City Hall first got wind of the plans in October 2011, Weyermann had been with the Golden State Warriors only for four months, having joined that June as vice president of new franchise development -- a title he still holds. He believed in the idea enough to start moving the team to California in 2012 even when push-and-pull over financial aspects threatened the deal.
The Warriors have since taken in nearly $1 million in total ticket sales, just $100,000 shy of projections for the entire 24-game season. The team is second in the 16-member league for season ticket revenue and sold $60,000 in merchandise in December alone, which is notable for a town with a long history of championing peace, not warriors.
"It's an indication that the identity is something that for the fans was easy for to accept," Weyermann said.
The 55-year-old veteran sports and entertainment executive is skilled at building a brand.
He was president of the San Jose Giants, a minor league baseball team connected to the San Francisco Giants, for six years before joining the Warriors -- a period that saw the Giants win four championships and set attendance and revenue records.
A LOT AT STAKE
Money is important to the Santa Cruz deal, for the city and the Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors are investing a lot in growing its own brand and improving its chances for a championship. Planning a big move to San Francisco is part of that, as was the development of the Santa Cruz team as a training ground for the big league, Weyermann said.
"There was a lot of pressure to validate the boldness of what the Warriors organization is selling," Weyermann said of the Santa Cruz deal.
Driving over Highway 17 frequently to attend to the Santa Cruz project, he turned to the same playlist of 63 tunes to relax. Appropriately for the former rock show producer, the list included The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" and Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorns."
The pressure was felt by the city, too.
As Lane pointed out during his closing remarks as mayor, City Manager Martín Bernal and his staff were also critical to sealing the deal. The project was Job No. 1 at City Hall for months.
Not only did the city and Warriors overcome disagreements about how to finance the plan, they handled late-hour neighborhood concerns about traffic and parking, hung on during a protracted lease process with Santa Cruz Seaside Co. and processed permits at unheard-of speed.
In many ways, the project is a statement about the changing dynamics of Santa Cruz politics.
Eager for economic development, the council demonstrated with a unanimous vote that city leaders are interested in trying new things -- new efforts to bring vitality to a town that, perhaps to a lesser extent each year, is still heavily dependent on tourism.
TIME WILL TELL
When approved by the City Council in September, the project was expected to cost $5.4 million, but cost overruns and delays are expected to push the cost past $6 million -- a cost largely born by the Warriors until agreements were finalized a month ago and city loan funds were made available.
As part of a seven-year deal, the city agreed to loan the Warriors $4.1 million in public trust funds -- money that is restricted to economic investment -- to be repaid through regular payments from the team, concessions revenue and other sources.
If the Warriors prove to be a success here, the city and team could negotiate for a more permanent site.
"We don't know what this is going to look like two years from now," Weyermann said. "But if the San Jose Giants and their 60-plus years are any indication of what you can build, it's my personal feeling that (the Warriors) could have that longevity here."
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports