Golden State’s SF arena on tar­get for sum­mer of 2019

Manteca Bulletin - - Front Page -

SAN FRAN­CISCO (AP) — stand­ing in the rain seven sto­ries above con­crete, con­struc­tion work­ers, steel and mud, Rick Welts is beam­ing at an arena project that is ab­so­lutely his baby.

“It’s real,” Welts says, wear­ing a bright yel­low jacket and hard hat for the work site tour. “It’s hap­pen­ing.”

Af­ter years in the mak­ing, too.

The chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Golden State War­riors has been en­trusted by team own­ers Joe La­cob and Pe­ter Gu­ber to be the un­of­fi­cial fore­man as Chase Cen­ter goes up in the Mis­sion Bay district of San Fran­cisco for a sched­uled open­ing of late sum­mer 2019. The goal is to build one of the top en­ter­tain­ment venues in the world, right up with The O2 in Lon­don and Madi­son Square Gar­den for at­tract­ing the best mu­sic shows.

Welts has been an NBA junkie since his early days grow­ing up in Seat­tle, where he got his start as a Su­per­Son­ics ball boy at 16. Later, he got the keys to the Seat­tle Cen­ter Coli­seum and, specif­i­cally, the laun­dry room.

Welts, who turned 65 in Jan­uary and is the first openly gay NBA ex­ec­u­tive, can lean not only on that time with the Son­ics but also his ex­pe­ri­ence in the league of­fice and with the Phoenix Suns to see what things work and don’t work when it comes to run­ning a fran­chise and build­ing an arena.

“I know his ex­pe­ri­ence in the league and the league of­fice has helped him im­mensely in un­der­stand­ing the busi­ness and how to op­er­ate a fran­chise,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr says. “But you can learn all that stuff, you have to have the per­sonal skills to make ev­ery­thing func­tion. I think that’s where Rick re­ally has it. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of his vast NBA ex­pe­ri­ence and just his hu­man­ity and his way with peo­ple.”

There have been more meet­ings than Welts can count, and when the num­ber 500 is thrown out as a guess, even that seems low to him.

“That was just last week,” he jokes.

“And get­ting it done in San Fran­cisco? Mis­sion im­pos­si­ble, right? And it’s hap­pen­ing,” Welts notes. While he’s not spend­ing his own money, his name has been signed to many a big check in this process.

The arena will be topped out in steel by Au­gust and have a roof by Hal­loween if all con­tin­ues to go on sched­ule. A tad su­per­sti­tious at times, Welts will knock his fist on a me­tal beam if nec­es­sary to keep it all on track.

Far be­low his ini­tial van­tage point, Welts stands in the slick mud at what even­tu­ally will be­come cen­ter court. He points to the side that will be a theater en­trance — so well thought out that those pa­trons ar­riv­ing for a play won’t nec­es­sar­ily know oth­er­wise that they’re in­side a bas­ket­ball arena.

“There’s noth­ing like ac­tu­ally see­ing it,” he says, “it brings it to life.”

Sure, Welts takes a lot of pride in watch­ing the arena get built, but quickly makes it clear, “We all do.”

“I go down there two or three days a week, just to look,” he says, grin­ning. “It’s in­spir­ing.”

Mod­est, ap­proach­able and down to earth, Welts never makes it about him. His fo­cus is first on all the peo­ple around him — the star play­ers and ev­ery­one else in the fran­chise, from the top to bot­tom, peo­ple in the com­mu­nity who have made sac­ri­fices and even the con­struc­tion crews work­ing long hours through that rainy day last month.

“This is it! This is great!” Welts de­clares, rais­ing his arms in the air and still smil­ing ear to ear on a dreary Bay Area day.

As All- Star week­end ap­proaches in Los An­ge­les, the War­riors hope they will be on the NBA’s list soon enough to host the show­case event. Golden State boasts four All- Stars again this year: Stephen Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Dray­mond Green and Klay Thomp­son.

“Well, he spear­headed the arena project and he’s had to do all the be­hind-the-scenes stuff with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. I’ve worked with Rick for 11 years now start­ing in ‘07 in Phoenix. He’s one of my fa­vorite peo­ple,” Kerr says. “He’s an un­be­liev­able leader be­cause he is in­clu­sive, he com­mu­ni­cates, he makes ev­ery­body feel good about their role in things. He is strong and sure of him­self with­out be­ing a know-it-all. So he’s got great qual­i­ties as a leader be­cause he’s re­ally just a good per­son to be around and makes you feel good about what you’re do­ing.”

The first six months start­ing Chase Cen­ter were spent dig­ging down three sto­ries to cre­ate area for park­ing, the main arena struc­ture and ad­ja­cent prac­tice fa­cil­ity.

By early next year, the build­ing will be done and in­te­rior work will be­gin.

Welts can’t wait, say­ing: “We’re right on sched­ule for open­ing the sum­mer of ‘19. No sur­prises so far, no is­sues with soil con­di­tions or any­thing that could re­ally de­lay the project. We’re track­ing re­ally well.”

“You see the growth and you see where he comes from. He worked his way up to this project,” says Du­rant, a key face in the project’s ground­break­ing last year . “He’s go­ing to make it the best for the play­ers and the fans and any­body that comes in there to per­form. Any­body that just wants to come into that arena, he’s go­ing to make it the best arena in the world. Grate­ful that I get to play for an or­ga­ni­za­tion with such high hopes and big dreams and peo­ple like Rick that are look­ing to push the cul­ture for­ward, as a cul­ture of bas­ket­ball and sports. He’s just a great ex­am­ple to look at.”

Welts first met La­cob and Gu­ber more than six years ago, spend­ing an af­ter­noon at La­cob’s home and hav­ing din­ner when the dis­cus­sion came up: “We think we would have a chance to move the War­riors back to San Fran­cisco.”

“I was like, ‘ Re­ally?’” Welts re­calls. “That more than any­thing else was like a ‘Wow’ for me. ... Imag­ine some­body say­ing, ‘OK, you’ve spent 40 years do­ing this now you can take ev­ery­thing you think you’ve ever learned about your busi­ness, your in­dus­try and given a unique form that will never be du­pli­cated and is go­ing to last for decades, and have a chance to do it your way and bet­ter than any­body’s ever done it.’ If you’re lucky, it’s a once-in-a-ca­reer kind of op­por­tu­nity. And ev­ery­body here feels that, be­cause ev­ery­body con­trib­utes to it.”

A ren­der­ing of the new Golden State War­riors Arena be­ing built near the San Fran­cisco water­front.

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