SANTA CRUZ -- On Tuesday, Kirk Lacob, director of basketball operations of the Golden State Warriors' NBA Development League team, got one step closer to ending his monthly commute to North Dakota.
The City Council on Tuesday gave a unanimous thumbs-up to exploring an agreement with the Oakland-based NBA franchise to bring the Dakota Wizards to town this fall under a new name in a temporary 34,000-square-foot tent-like structure between downtown and the beach. The 6-0 vote did not include Councilman Ryan Coonerty, who was absent.
The initial agreement would last five years, but team officials said they want to build a long-term relationship with the city, and possibly build a permanent facility if the team proves a draw for fans and tourists.
Wearing a blue T-shirt that said "Santa Cruz Basketball," Jim Weyermann, vice president of franchise development for the Warriors and president of the Dakota Wizards said, "There are brick-and-mortar solutions to our problem of moving to the Bay Area. We don't have to make it this hard to redevelop the development team to the Bay Area."
But, he said, the team wants to move to Santa Cruz, where there are no venues large enough, rather than use other facilities over the hill. He cited the potential in bringing a sport that is expected to bring new tax and lodging revenue for the city during the tourism doldrums months, as well as a venue that can be used by the university, youth sports and other
"We can be part of the energy and coalition the city already has moving," Weyermann said.
Lacob said the move would also provide local jobs for ticket takers and other such assignments, while allowing the city, which would own the facility, to maintain control over the labor trades employed in the building.
But getting the deal done will take hard work and speed. City and team officials hope to come back by May 8 with a plan to bring the team of 10-12 players for the season beginning this November and ending in April 2013.
The steel-reinforced structure at 140 Front St. would seat up to 3,200 people for games and 5,000 for concerts or other events. It would require a special temporary use permit, which the city would have to expedite in time for the basketball season to start, or at least by early December, Weyermann said.
The plan requires a lease arrangement with the lot's owner, the Seaside Co., which uses the lot for employees of its Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. City Manager Martín Bernal said the company is interested, but no hard negotiations have taken place.
The city would also have to put up the $2.5 million to $3 million initial cost as a loan through its investment portfolio or public trust funds. Bernal has suggested at least half of the investment could be recouped through new lodging tax, sales tax and rental revenues, while the team would repay the other half and invest $500,000 in equipment.
"We don't want to do anything that puts the city's general fund in jeopardy or have the city's general fund subsidize any other activity," Bernal said, noting labor concessions that have helped shrink an ongoing deficit. "We're not out of woods yet."
But Bernal said the opportunity gives the city a chance to test the viability of a larger facility.
Weyermann said Santa Cruz's willingness to invest in the idea is like "putting skin in the game," adding that, "This is a way of the community saying to any organization, 'We believe in this enough.'"
Councilman David Terrazas said, "It's not often we get the chance to build a public facility through a public-private partnership, but we just want to make sure we manage the risk responsibly."
Councilwoman Lynn Robinson said, "This is a community that has been needing and wanting something on this level for decades."
Many in the audience spoke in favor of the plan, saying they would like to use the facility, including representatives for UC Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Derby Girls.
James Page, assistant coach of the UCSC men's basketball team, said "the buzz is big" on campus. "The opportunity in front of us is tremendous."
Some raised concerns about the impact on the neighborhood and whether the facility will be carbon neutral in its energy use and the vehicle traffic it will create.
Barbara Dehays, a Leibrandt Avenue resident of 24 years, is worried about the impact on parking and suggested Beach Hill residents be given the chance to buy permit parking.
"People will want to park as close as they can to get to games," she said. "They are going to park in my neighborhood."
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter @jmbrownreports.