NATOMAS (CBS13) — A tunnel found deep in the bowels of Sleep Train Arena would have changed the face of Sacramento.
Long before the Sacramento River Cats were a hit, developers swung for the fences where jackrabbits now roam on an expansive lot north of Sleep Train Arena.
It was the late 1980s when the Kings moved into a new building and the team’s ownership group at the time, led by Greg Luckenbill, wasn’t done building. His desire to take the momentum from putting the arena together known as Arco 2 poured into the property.
Greg Van Dusen remembers it well. He was part of the group that brought the Kings to Sacramento and played a key role, and had a bird’s-eye view of the grand plan.
From the air, it could have been the perfect complement to a brand-new basketball arena.
Developers dug deep, spending $16 million on the early stages of construction.
“We built the entire foundation–the dugouts, the operations—the kitchens all that kind of stuff underneath the storage–from foul pole right around home plate to foul pole,” he said.
“I gotta be honest, I didn’t even realize they spent $16 million on that,” said Sacramento Kings announcer Grant Napear. “When you think of $16 million back then, that’s staggering to me.”
Equally as staggering was the fact the stadium would me for more than baseball. The 53,000-seat dual-use stadium would have given Sacramento-area sports fans the venue of their dreams.
The city had dreams of luring the Raiders to Sacramento. Remember, it was the 1980s and Raiders owner Al Davis was looking to make a move.
“We spent well over a year negotiating with Al Davis,” Van Dusen said. “We negotiated and negotiated and it was a fascinating time for us.”
But just how serious were the Raiders? Napear was a young sportscaster who had just arrived in town and he had his doubt.
“Al was a master negotiator, and Al was going to use whatever leverage he wanted in Oakland and/or Los Angeles,” he said.
The Sacramento sports group was going to use whatever it took to let the big guys in charge of both the NFL and MLB know they meant business.
A sold-out crowd packed Arco Arena just to watch a Raiders game on TV. Fans also sent a message to MLB with The March On Baseball—an August 1987 road trip to Oakland Coliseum. It still holds the record with 22,000 people for the largest single group sale event in MLB history.
“It was a huge caravan and we stopped traffic and it was just crazy,” Van Dusen said. “We got their attention, but we didn’t get the team.”
The field of dreams stopped when the financial well ran dry and the prospects of attracting teams to play ball diminished.
What they did get done is still visible to the day, complete with the front steps to what would have been the grand entrance.
“If he had been able to been able to pull off bringing the Raiders to Sacramento, that would’ve been the biggest coup in the history of sports in America,” Napear said.
A tunnel underneath Sleep Train Arena would have led to the new venue, but it’s now a tunnel leading to nowhere.