By Lee Shappell
Wranglernews.com Executive Editor
I’s no secret that Arizona’s NHL hockey team has been skating on thin ice in Glendale for some time.
The Coyotes have been on a year-to-year lease at Gila River Arena since the city pulled the plug on a long-term arrangement five years ago.
Since then, the Coyotes have rattled their sabers about moving, gauging interest of East Valley municipalities – most notably Tempe and Scottsdale – in helping them land a new home much closer to the bulk of their fan base, which is not crazy about driving to Glendale a couple of nights a week to watch games.
Tempe listened carefully. It owns side-by-side parcels totaling 46 acres just south of the Salt River, at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive, that it deems “underutilized.”
Before Tempe could begin to formalize any arena plans with any entity, it had to put out a request for proposal. That went out in late July with an August deadline for response, which eventually was extended by two weeks. The RFP terms were Coyotes-friendly, and so it was no surprise on Sept. 2 when the RFP deadline finally passed that a developer working with the Coyotes, Bluebird Development, LLC, was the only respondent.
The Coyotes confirmed it in a statement that read, in part, “We are pleased to have submitted a proposal to the City of Tempe. As regulations surrounding the RFP process dictate, we cannot comment any further at this time, but we remain incredibly excited about this extraordinary opportunity.”
Alex Meruelo, the billionaire who bought the team two years ago, says he prefers to keep it in the Valley.
It didn’t take Glendale long after the Tempe news broke to terminate the team’s lease after the 2021-22 season, meaning that, come spring, the Coyotes could go perhaps three or four years without a permanent home – and that’s if it can come to terms relatively quickly with Tempe on the massive project. “Relatively quickly” could be several months. It then could take three years in a best-case scenario to build the sports arena and entertainment district with 1,000 residential units, 200,000 square feet of retail space as well as public space with other amenities – although several sources say a signed contract by year’s end would be no surprise.
That might be the easy part, because:
- The site would require cleanup before any construction can begin. It is unclear how long that could take.
- Before the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL settled on a new stadium in Glendale next door to the hockey arena, it proposed a stadium in the general neighborhood of the proposed hockey project. Phoenix slapped it down, saying it was too close to the flight path at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It is not known if Phoenix has given any assurance that it would agree to the Tempe location for a hockey arena, or if another battle looms.
- And then, there are the taxpayers. How much of the project would be funded by the hockey team and developer, and how much, if any, by the residents – like those who live in our South Tempe neighborhoods? At least one Tempe activist, Ron Pies, in a letter to the editor of Wrangler News, urged the city to step away and not get sucked into a deal that could cost it millions.
When Glendale pulled the plug on the Coyotes, team president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez released a statement, saying, “We are hopeful that they will reconsider a move that would primarily damage the small businesses and hard-working citizens of Glendale. We remain open to restarting good-faith negotiations with the City.
“Most importantly, the Coyotes are one hundred percent committed to finding a long-term arena solution here in Arizona, and nothing will shake our determination to do what is right for our organization, residents of the entire Valley and, most important, our fans.”
For that to happen, a Tempe panel, which could be aided by a third-party consultant, first will vet the Coyotes/Bluebird RFP response, looking at such things as economic impact, job creation, public benefit, neighborhood considerations and traffic impact.
The vetting team then will make a recommendation to Tempe City Council whether to move forward or not.
If the Council agrees to enter into exclusive negotiations, that would trigger what could be another lengthy process to reach a Development and Disposition Agreement.
Finally, if a DDA is successfully negotiated, City Council would vote in a public meeting to accept or reject it.
The Coyotes could be in downtown Phoenix or at Veterans Memorial Coliseum for several years while that plays out. Who knows? Perhaps Glendale will come back to the table with a short-term lease to keep the team. Or, in a worst-case pickle, it might be none of the above. Then what?
Either way, the ice on which the Coyotes skate isn’t getting any thicker. If the Tempe deal falls through, their future in the Valley could go with it.