Coyotes arena plan in Tempe rejected by voters; cloudy future

Greg WyshynskiESPNMay 17, 2023, 12:29 a.m. ET4 minute read

The Arizona Coyotes’ plan to build a new arena in Tempe as part of a $2.1 billion entertainment district was rejected by voters on Tuesday, and the team said its future “will be evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League” in the coming weeks. .

“The NHL is terribly disappointed with the results of the public referendums regarding the Coyotes’ proposed arena in Tempe,” league commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “We’re going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”

The Coyotes were looking to build a 16,000-seat arena and entertainment district on city-owned land at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive at the west end of Lake Tempe Town. It is a 46-acre lot located approximately two miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The total cost of the project was estimated at $2.1 billion, of which at least $1.9 billion was privately funded, and would have included two hotels, a 3,500-person theater and up to 1,995 units residential. The project was also to include a gaming component. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo owns the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada, and Sahara Las Vegas.

One of the team’s rallying cries for the project was “Landfill to Landmark”, as 1.5 million tonnes of waste would have been removed from the site at an estimated cost of $75 million.

The Coyotes needed voters to approve Propositions 301, 302, and 303 on a special ballot. These ballots were mailed to voters on April 19 and were returned until May 9. In-person voting took place until Tuesday for lost, spoiled or unreceived ballots.

Internally, the Coyotes had been optimistic about the incoming vote on Tuesday. When the first returns had 56% of voters selecting “no” on the ballot for all three proposals, they acknowledged that voters had rejected the plan.

“We are very disappointed that Tempe voters did not approve Propositions 301, 302 and 303,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said in a statement.

“While we want a different outcome, we remain grateful to everyone who volunteered their time and talent. The next step for the franchise will be assessed by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks.”

The Tempe Arena bid had significant supporters. In November, the Tempe City Council unanimously approved the Coyotes’ arena and entertainment district proposal. Four former Tempe mayors, as well as current Mayor Corey Woods, have endorsed the bid. Bettman also had the league’s support behind him.

“This is a privately funded project, and the club are ready to execute a 30-year no-removal agreement. All these things that say this club wants to be here, and frankly, the NHL wants the club to be here,” he said. said.

Those who opposed the project cited everything from the use of public funds to traffic congestion to a desire to develop the land in other ways. There were questions about Meruelo and the bitter split between the Coyotes and Glendale. The City of Phoenix also had ongoing litigation against planned residential units in the district, claiming it violated the 1994 intergovernmental agreement on noise abatement flight procedures.

The Tempe vote is another twist on the Coyotes’ trip to Arizona, where the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996.

There have been several ownership changes, including an infamous bankruptcy in 2009 that resulted in the NHL owning the team for a time. There have been times when relocating to Hamilton, Ontario; Winnipeg; and Seattle were about to happen.

The team originally played in Phoenix but called Glendale their home from 2003 until last season, when the city council failed to renew its arena lease. The Coyotes turned their attention to Tempe, which was much closer to where most of the team’s fans lived.

Pending approval and construction of a permanent home in Tempe, the Coyotes moved to Mullett Arena on the Arizona State campus, sharing it with the Sun Devils men’s hockey program. The NHL team has committed to playing at Mullett Arena for three seasons with an option for a fourth.

Mullett Arena seats approximately 5,000 hockey fans, by far the smallest capacity in the NHL. The team invested $19.7 million in additions to make the space NHL-ready, including NHL-quality locker rooms and practice facilities. The Coyotes had a better record at home (21-15-5) than on the road (7-25-9) this season.

The rejection of the Tempe Arena plan leaves the franchise with no concrete options for a new NHL-sized facility in the state. There has been speculation that the Coyotes could move if Draft Tempe fails, with Houston being the most speculated potential destination.

The fourth largest marketing area in the United States, Houston has a hockey-ready arena at the Toyota Center. The Coyotes already play in the Central Division, home of the Dallas Stars. But Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta controls the facility, meaning any NHL team playing there would be a tenant rather than reaping the benefits of its own building.

Atlanta, Quebec and Kansas City were also mentioned as potential destinations for future NHL teams.

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