Coyotes’ deal to play at ASU solves part of the problem, but longer stay in Tempe may be tricky

The Arizona Coyotes have signed a contract to play through the 2024-25 season at Arizona State’s new 5,000-seat hockey arena, hoping in the interim to finalize a deal with Tempe to build an arena/mixed-use development near Loop 202 and Priest Drive. –National Hockey League photo

The Arizona Coyotes’ multi-year agreement last week with Arizona State University to play at ASU’s new multi-purpose arena beginning next season solves their short-term problem.

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Could it also be an indicator that negotiations are going well for the team with Tempe to build a mixed-use commercial development that includes an arena near Loop 202 and Priest Drive?

Would the National Hockey League team have signed such a deal with ASU in a 5,000-seat building, which includes significant outlay by the team to build additional locker rooms and support space, without reasonable assurance that its long-term home will be in Tempe?

Maybe, maybe not.

The Coyotes had few other options. Veterans Memorial Coliseum in downtown Phoenix has double the seating capacity of ASU’s new facility, but it’s old and lacks modern professional-quality amenities. The Phoenix Suns seemed to have no interest in putting up the Coyotes, even on a temporary basis, at Footprint Center. There was virtually no chance that the Coyotes and Glendale would set aside their differences and negotiate a short-term contract for the team to stay put in Gila River Arena.

The team was looking at being homeless at the end of the current season when their lease in Glendale expires. While Alex Meruelo, the billionaire who bought the team two years ago, says he prefers to keep it in the Valley, particularly on the East side where the bulk of the ticket base resides, the big question was, “Where?”

ASU bailed them out. The Coyotes will play all of their home games at the new ASU venue from this fall through the end of the 2024-25 NHL season with an option for 2025-26. ASU’s arena is scheduled to be completed early this fall. The Coyotes also will relocate their corporate offices to the East Valley in the second quarter of this year.

“This will be an incredible, intimate and exciting fan experience in a state-of-the-art new arena in a fantastic location in the heart of Tempe,” said Coyotes President & CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez. “We are very grateful to Dr. (Michael) Crow, the ASU administration, ASU Athletic Department, and the Arizona Board of Regents for agreeing to provide us with this temporary arena solution for our team as we continue our efforts to secure a long-term home for the Coyotes in the Valley.”

The agreement was approved on Feb. 10 by the Arizona Board of Regents.

“The National Hockey League thanks Arizona State University for its support of the Coyotes during this transition period and for what will be just its latest major commitment to growing our game in the Valley,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Having made the full-time transition to Division I just seven years ago, ASU hockey already has an NCAA Tournament appearance to its credit and now is moving into a new, state-of-the-art facility. Hockey is thriving in Tempe, and we are delighted that the Coyotes’ passionate fans will get to experience ASU’s on-campus energy while the club’s new arena is being built.”

The Coyotes also announced that the club is negotiating with Ice Den Scottsdale to make it their full-time practice facility. Ice Den Scottsdale was built in 1998 as the Coyotes’ primary practice rink. Since moving to Glendale in 2003, the Coyotes have continued to use the facility when Gila River Arena was unavailable due to concerts or other events.

The arena project at 202 and Priest is no slam dunk. While it would be privately financed, the city would be on the hook for infrastructure and other costs and might toss controversial GPLET incentives into the deal. That doesn’t sit well with many residents. A protest group has been formed.

It remains to be seen whether Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will give its blessing. Before the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL settled on a new stadium in Glendale, 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 the airport.

Tempe owns the side-by-side parcels totaling 46 acres just south of the Salt River, at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive, that it deems “underutilized.”

It 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.

The site would require multi-million-dollar cleanup before any construction can begin. It is unclear how long that could take.

Tempe is looking at such things as economic impact, job creation, public benefit, neighborhood considerations and traffic impact.

If City 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.

If the Tempe deal falls through, the Coyotes’ future in the Valley could go with it.

Ticket information for Coyotes 2022-23 NHL regular-season games at ASU’s new multi-purpose arena will be announced soon. Fans interested in ticket packages can call 480-563-PUCK or visit arizonacoyotes.com/asu.

 

Lee Shappell
Lee Shappell
Lee Shappell became a journalist because he didn’t become a rocket scientist! He exhausted the math courses available by his junior year in high school and earned early admission to Rice University, intending to take advantage of its relationship with the Johnson Space Center and become an aerospace engineer. But as a high school senior, needing a class to be eligible for sports with no more math available, he took student newspaper as a credit and was hooked. He studied journalism at the UofA and has been senior reporter, copy desk chief and managing editor at several Valley publications.

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