Photo by Sal Ingram
The Santa Cruz Warriors will host their first home game on Dec. 23. Their stadium, now under construction on Front Street, could also be used for a variety of other events throughout the off-season.

It’s official — the Warriors are coming to Santa Cruz.

On Sept. 13, the Santa Cruz City Council approved the construction of an arena for the new Santa Cruz Warriors basketball team at the southern end of Front Street.

The Santa Cruz Warriors, an NBA Development League (D-League) team, are an affiliate of the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. A year after the project was proposed to the city of Santa Cruz in Dec. 2011, the Warriors will start their season this November. As a D-League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors will be a way for newly professional players to get some experience before moving up into the major leagues, or to allow injured major league players to recuperate.

On the south end of Front Street, bulldozers and excavators are leveling the earth and laying concrete foundations for the Warriors home stadium. If construction proceeds according to schedule, the arena will be complete in time for the Warriors’ first home game on Dec. 23.

Santa Cruz community supporters point to new opportunities for entertainment and the boost to the local economy that the Warriors arena is projected to provide. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, at the conclusion of the city council meeting on Sept. 13, which approved the construction of the $5.4 million arena, onlookers cheered.

Other residents, however, especially those living in the Beach Hill community that borders the construction site, are not as excited. Their fears include increased traffic, noise and crime.

“We certainly understand community concerns,” said Matt de Nesnera, the Warriors’ manager of public and community relations. “The community support we have seen and the enthusiasm behind it is exciting.”

The location for the new stadium was chosen because of the city’s long-standing hopes to connect the downtown area to the beach and boardwalk. Plans are in place to make year-long use of the stadium. The arena won’t be used exclusively for Warriors games, which take up only 24 nights of the year, but will also be used for trade shows, conventions and youth sports events.

While the boardwalk and local beaches provide a major source of entertainment and tourism in the summer, the boardwalk’s hours are limited once the summer season has ended. However, the Warriors will play from late November 2012 until early April 2013.

De Nesnera emphasizes a commitment to the Santa Cruz community, as well as to the desires and apprehensions of local residents.

“One of the most important things to remember about minor league sports is that it’s really about the community,” de Nesnera said. “We’re talking about an affordable, family-friendly environment. That’s something that really does fit in with the Santa Cruz vibe.”

On Oct. 14, the Warriors held open tryouts in Aptos with 68 prospective players competing for positions.

“We were so thrilled about the turnout, which was more than we ever expected,” de Nesnera said.

Up to five players can be invited to the Warriors’ training camp, whereas another 10 can be placed into the D-League pool for the Nov. 2 draft. Players will know within two weeks whether they made the cut.

Santa Cruz Mayor, Don Lane said the Warriors are an excellent fit for the Santa Cruz community and that the team is an effective way of drawing residents together.

“People are excited about sports in this community,” Lane said. “Whether it’s cycling or surfing or any sport you can think of.”

Lane discussed the benefit of the stadium to the Santa Cruz economy, explaining that while direct revenue will come from sales tax and employment opportunities, the stadium will also draw fans to restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Mayor Lane said that at community and city council meetings, the public opinion was “mostly a positive response.”

“Our predictions have moved beyond speculation because people are committed to spending money,” Lane said.

This commitment comes partly in the form of season tickets, many of which were already sold, two months before games are scheduled to begin.

Though many are optimistic regarding the Warriors’ potential, the project is not without its detractors. Both the city and the Warriors acknowledge the concerns of community members and said they are committed to resolving them.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Warriors will take precautions to alleviate potential problems, doing a few things like utilizing a parking system that uses many downtown lots to disperse traffic as well as banning the sale of noisemaking devices to avoid disturbing Beach Hill residents with high noise levels.

The Warriors would like to make connections with the UCSC campus and the Santa Cruz community. De Nesnera recently hosted an event on campus in which he reached out to UCSC athletes and informed them of the open tryouts.

“We’re striving to be grounded in the community and to provide opportunities that didn’t exist in this space before,” said de Nesnera at the on-campus event.

Student athletes are not the only ones who will be able to make use of the Warriors’ new location. UCSC student Scott McMahan, a third-year math major, agreed that he would be excited to attend Warriors’ games.

“If my friends are going, I’ll be there too,” McMahan said.

McMahan also said the project isn’t without its problems.

“The traffic might get pretty bad,” McMahan said. “Downtown is crowded enough as it is.”

De Nesnera emphasized the possibilities for using the new stadium for UCSC sporting events, including basketball and volleyball.

“We are looking to tap into the student body,” de Nesnera said. “[As well as] to put on a good show for you too.”