For a brief, shining moment

He couldn’t go into detail, not just now. Certainly not over the phone. Suffice it to say, Jeremiah Jackson had ample reason to believe the Kings professional basketball franchise wasn’t going to leave Sacramento. Not based on what went on at the closed-door discussion he had just wrapped up.

It was late February, the weekend of the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game in Orlando. There, Jackson and his boss, Kevin Johnson, met with both league brass and the Maloofs, the family that owned the Kings. The Maloofs wanted to relocate the Kings to a different US city.

As a pro sports team, the Sacramento Kings are a cellar-dweller—perennially in non-contention. Still, the California capital, where the Kings moved in 1985, is a great basketball town and the Kings have a diehard fan-base there. For their part, the Maloofs mini-dynasty wanted a state-of-the-art arena, even if it took a tax hike. That sentiment didn’t sit well with voters. Neither did the ersatz Las Vegas glamour attached to the Maloof name. As a result, the family was clamouring to get the Kings out of Sacramento, out of the ageing Power Balance Pavilion, and into a better stadium someplace else.

But Jackson, a trusted Johnson lieutenant, had an ace up his sleeve. If Sacramento leased on-street parking, it would generate enough upfront cash to get the Maloofs their stadium. Harvard-educated and politically adroit, Jackson knew about privatised parking. It had been done before—even if foisted on an ultimately resentful Chicago public. This time, it would be done right and for a specific end – a new stadium.

The Maloofs heard him out, and then gave their OK. The handshake agreement left Jackson exuberant.

“Let’s put it like this,” Jackson said from Orlando. “[The parking concession] was a cornerstone here”.

But it wasn’t to be. 

WIN-WIN

Had it gone through, the Sacramento parking deal would seemingly have been a rare win-win proposition. Cash-strapped Sacramento needed a stadium to stop the Kings from departing. Privatised parking, on the other hand, has an image problem in America.

When it isn’t getting shot down in Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, privatised parking is living down its negative reputation from a 2008 agreement that ended with Chicago leasing its 36-meter parking system for $1.5 billion to a consortium led by Morgan Stanley Infrastructure (MSI), which is estimated to earn $11 billion over a 75-year lease. 

Jackson- who met  Johnson (himself an NBA great with the Phoenix Suns) at Harvard Business School – considered Chicago, as well as L.A. and Pittsburgh (an object lesson in how not to promote a parking concession). He led Think Big Sacramento, a platform to promote leased parking. Think Big relied on populist appeal and took care not to frame parking as an “asset” that would be mortgaged to mend a budget crisis, as in Chicago.

With Think Big, Jackson researched and laid out the parking deal: a public-private partnership (PPP) offering a 7,200-space garage parking lease and a 5,500 on-street parking package that could net Sacramento $250 million to $300 million upfront, which would in turn be put toward a new stadium, estimated to cost from $380 million to $400 million.

The lump sum would leave the Maloofs on the hook for a mere $75 million, with arena operator AEG also contributing $60 million. The projected stadium would be open in 2015—a fully equipped complex that could host not just basketball but across-the-board entertainment.

Bidding opened and an imbroglio ensued. MSI and The Carlyle Group demonstrated interest, while in print Jackson verbally attacked hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who lobbied to bring the Kings to Seattle. But by late March, a month after All-Star Weekend, the NBA, the Maloofs and the city had all signed off on the deal.

If the announcement was a win for Sacramento, it was equally important for privatised parking. The deal had civilian, rather than government, support. But the celebration was short-lived: the Maloofs backed out, taking from Sacramento its sole professional sporting franchise. 

As of press time, the family is considering relocating the Kings to Anaheim, California, and whether or not the PPP would have succeeded is now a moot point.

Jackson did not respond to a request for comment.