Sonoma lobbyist a face of effort to keep Kings in Sacramento
As Sacramento takes its last shot at keeping the Kings from moving to Seattle, Sonoma resident and power broker Darius Anderson has emerged as a key player in assembling the investor team behind a $448 million offer to buy the NBA franchise and build a new downtown sports arena.
The influential Sacramento lobbyist and associate of billionaire investor Ron Burkle recounted Wednesday how he became part of the investment group that last year bought Sacramento's aging Downtown Plaza mall with an eye toward making it the Kings' new home. He was the spokesman for the group at a City Council meeting this week.
Anderson said his role has been to pull together the team of investors hoping to purchase the team, build the sports and entertainment complex and revitalize downtown Sacramento in the process.
"Like every little kid, growing up I always dreamed about being a sports owner and being involved in professional sports," said Anderson, a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
This most recent development is not a winning shot for Sacramento. The city's proposal remains in competition with a well-financed bid from investors whose intent is to relocate the franchise to Seattle. NBA owners will decide which city gets the Kings at their meeting next month.
Anderson is a self-described "huge sports nut" and longtime Kings season-ticket holder who previously lived in Sacramento and has many close friends in the city. His Platinum Advisors, the fourth-largest lobbying firm in the state in 2012, is just blocks away from the mall on K Street.
Anderson said he didn't start out trying to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Two years ago, when it seemed likely the Maloof family would move the team to Anaheim, Anderson said he initially got a few investor friends together to try to bring a new franchise to Sacramento if the Kings left.
They raised about $35 million and Burkle was on board with that effort when Mayor Kevin Johnson outlined another game plan. Johnson, a former NBA star, said he wanted to find a way to keep the Kings in Sacramento. In 2011 he appealed to the NBA Board of Governors to give the city time to prepare options for doing so.
Johnson made an impassioned plea about the team's importance to the community, Anderson recalled. "Any owner that heard that speech could not have said no to the guy," Anderson said.
They won an extension from the NBA and the Maloofs agreed to stay another season. Johnson began pursuing the development of a new arena in the Sacramento Railyards area, a 240-acre redevelopment project on the site of the former Union Pacific rail yards.
Concerned that the rail yards project wouldn't be available quickly enough, Anderson turned his attention to the aging Westfield mall. Aware that sports arenas like the Staples Center in Los Angeles and AT&amp;T Park in San Francisco have been catalysts to revitalizing downtown areas, Anderson said he became convinced a Kings arena could provide an equally potent economic boost to stagnant downtown Sacramento.
He said took the concept to Todd Chapman at JMA Ventures, a San Francisco-based real estate investment and development company, and the deal closed in August of 2012. Anderson said he is an investor in the $22 million purchase.
They were working on a development plan for the property with Burkle, who "liked the real estate play," Anderson said, when the news came in January that the Maloofs had agreed to sell their majority state to a Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. The group reportedly struck a deal to acquire a 65 percent stake in the team for $341 million. "That forced our hand," Anderson said.