It’s early afternoon on a Saturday in March, and much of downtown Sacramento, Calif., appears to still be waking up. But as the clouds part and the sun warms the still-chilly streets and office towers, one area of town is already hopping: the Golden 1 Center, the new home of the Sacramento Kings.
Although the NBA team has recently traded away its star player, DeMarcus Cousins (practically guaranteeing an 11th-consecutive losing season), the day’s game is sold out. People crowd the entrance plaza and angle for selfies with the site’s multicolored, 18-foot-tall Jeff Koons installation, Coloring Book # (Number) 4, an abstracted silhouette of a piglet.
Occupying the six-block site of a former shopping mall, the Golden 1 Center represents a big departure from its predecessor, Sleep Train Arena (formerly Arco Arena), at the city’s northern edge, but in more ways than location.
Sleep Train Arena looked like a Brutalist prison. Completed in 1988, the largely solid concrete box was surrounded by a sea of parking lots and vacant land. The $558.2 million Golden 1 Center, which was completed last fall, combines the indoors and outdoors into one collective space, with help from an expansive north-facing glass curtainwall that brings gusts of Sacramento’s famed delta breeze inside via a succession of airplane-hangar doors.
Kings president Chris Granger is thrilled to have created a gathering place for the city. “The building is very extroverted,” he says. “The concept is to drive social interaction and connect the building to Sacramento life. It’s a civic amenity.”
If the goal for the Golden 1 Center was to blur the indoors and outdoors, “you couldn’t pick a building type that’s worse suited,” says arena designer and AECOM principal Rob Rothblatt, AIA, who is based in New York. That’s because sports arenas are notoriously opaque. “It’s an introverted building type we used for extroverted purposes,” Rothblatt says. “That tension makes it interesting.”
Most NBA arenas are black boxes inside, giving them the flexibility to host a variety of events. But AECOM opted to welcome the daylight indoors. Along with its curtainwall façade, several multistory glazed entrances occur along the 630,000-square-foot building’s perimeter while faceted, perforated-metal cladding—meant to evoke the Sierra Nevada mountain range—allows in more light through vertical glazed openings.
Because the lower half of the two-tiered bowl is in-ground, the natural light entering at these openings can penetrate deep into the arena itself, beyond the concourse. Fans congregate in one spot in particular: a bridge formed by the upper concourse as it passes in front of the large main entry. “When the doors are open, you’re almost unsure if you’re inside or outside,” Rothblatt says. “In one direction, you’re looking out at the glass wall and the plaza. If you turn around, you’re looking out at the court.”
The Golden 1 Center is unprecedented in its building systems as well. It is the first U.S. arena of its size to use a displacement ventilation system, and the first to receive approval from the NBA to incorporate fresh air into its supply air during a game—something typically restricted due to concerns that abrupt changes in outdoor temperature and humidity could affect player safety by, for example, creating condensation on the court. The displacement ventilation system allays these firms by directing fresh air upward from floor openings under the seating, instead of pumping forced air down into the arena from overhead diffusers.
“The system itself makes sense intuitively,” says Alastair MacGregor, AECOM’s vice president of high-performance buildings. “Why cool the whole volume of the space when you can cool the space around the people?”
Displaced ventilation also offers greater efficiency and flexibility. “When you’ve got a monster truck rally in an arena, [the facilities team] ordinarily has to take breaks and exhaust the smoke,” he says. Because the system is continuously circulating fresh air, “we don’t have that issue,” MacGregor says. And, unlike a forced-air system, “you don’t wind up with an arena that’s super cold when you arrive and hot when you leave, or with hot and cold spots,” he says. “You don’t have to pre-cool the building, so you’re actually able to have two events in a day.” The lower bowl can also be conditioned independently for an event.
Perhaps most relevant to the everyday attendee is that the arena’s conditioning can be crowd-sourced. An in-game app allows audience members—all 17,000 of them—to input whether they’re hot, cold, or comfortable in real time, allowing building facilities to assess audience comfort quickly. While the ASHRAE 55 standard defines acceptable thermal comfort as 80 percent occupant satisfaction, MacGregor says, data received during a recent event at the center revealed fewer than 100 negative scores: “It was less than 1 percent of the audience.”
As the first LEED Platinum–certified NBA arena, the Golden 1 Center is expected to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 24 percent from that of Sleep Train Arena. Its downtown location alone has has cut average miles traveled per attendee by 20 percent and travel-related greenhouse gas emissions per attendee by 36 percent.
The arena is powered entirely by solar energy, sourced from a 1.2-megawatt array on its rooftop and an 11-megawatt solar farm 40 miles away. It also uses 45 percent less water than what state code requires, and 30 percent less energy than the baseline set by the stringent California Title 24 requirements. Measures such as locally sourcing 90 percent of its food help.
The green measures were not just a demonstration of the franchise’s or its fans’ values, but also good financial investments. “We essentially locked in our energy prices for 20 years,” Granger says. “At the beginning of the deal, it’s a little more expensive [than the market rate for electricity], but we think by, maybe, year seven, it switches in our favor for the remainder of the deal.”
A common controversy facing major stadium projects is whether their host cities should contribute to their construction costs. Golden 1 Center received about $225 million in funding—just under half of its total cost—from the City of Sacramento. Rather than using general funds, the city created a new parking district from a large multiblock radius around the arena in which metered parking now applies into the evening hours and at higher rates. “It’s the incremental activity generated by the arena itself that pays for the arena,” explains Mark Friedman, president of local developer Fulcrum Property and a minority owner of the Kings. “That’s a revenue stream that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. It made the building pay for itself.”
Although paying for street parking into the night may be an annoyance for fans, Sacramento Bee columnist Andy Furillo (who has covered the Kings and local politics extensively) says the arena has “had a hugely positive impact in a part of town that really needed it. There’s construction all around the place.” According to the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, employment in the area has grown by 38 percent since 2005 and office vacancies have dropped to a five-year low.
Many of the new businesses are chains and, as rents have increased, “some interesting local businesses have been priced out,” Furillo laments. However, he adds that the eastern edge of the arena, which had as recently as a decade ago been “a disaster of street walkers and crack dealers” is now teeming with bars and restaurants.
The city’s upswing began in 2009, when many people priced out of the Bay Area began relocating to Sacramento, but Furillo notes that the pace of change is now noticeably different. “Things were happening on a slower cook, so to speak,” he says. What the arena has done “has just been an explosion.”