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Coyotes Arena Season: Where do they go from here?

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Everything you never really wanted to know about the Coyotes arena drama, but sometimes ask anyway. 

Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona
RoseColoredFacts/Five For Howling

There’s an all too familiar feeling of unease lurking in the back of the mind for many Coyotes fans this off-season, or as it has come to be known, arena season. The team has extended their lease with Gila River Arena for the 2017-2018 season but after that, there are many questions to be answered.

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Are the Coyotes leaving Arizona?

According to statements by the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, and the majority owner of the Coyotes, Andrew Barroway: not until all other options are explored. Both have publicly stated that they would prefer to keep the team in Arizona, as long as it’s not in Glendale. However, neither said that the team would stay in Arizona no matter what; so if a viable arena deal in the East Valley can’t be found, then relocation isn’t off the table either. The good news is there are several in-state arena options that are available to the team if the right deal can be struck.

Why don’t the Coyotes just stay in Glendale?

There are two reasons for this: first is because the City of Glendale canceled the team’s arena deal and the second is because of location, location, location. The Glendale City Council decided to risk destroying their relationship with the Coyotes to try and negotiate a better arena deal for the city. Not long before the start of the 2015-2016 season, they canceled the arena deal just two years into the 15-year long agreement. Granted, no one knows if their claim of a conflict of interest is accurate because it never went to court. It did, however, mean that the Coyotes ownership had to cancel their bid for the 2018 World Junior Championships and didn’t bother to enter a bid for the arena management after that cancellation.

The bid for arena management that ended up being accepted by the City of Glendale happens to be with AEG, the same group that owns in-division rival the Los Angeles Kings, but that’s just fine. In addition, the arena is located 20 miles away from Downtown Phoenix and anywhere from 20 to 40 miles away from the majority of the team’s fan base.

The drive to Gila River Arena from East Valley towns like Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe can be very long during rush hour on weekdays.
RoseColoredFacts/Five For Howling

As Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports noted in an article, 62 percent of the Coyotes Lower-Level Season Ticket Holders and 53 percent of their Upper-Level Season Ticket Holders live in the East Valley. That’s a long way to drive at the best of times and even longer during rush hour traffic. During the hockey season, there are between one and three games held on weeknights where what should be a 45-minute drive takes almost two hours.

Are the Coyotes trying to build an arena using public funds?

Sort of. The Coyotes have worked with state legislators to try and get a bill passed that would allow what they are calling a Community Engagement District (CED) to be created. The bill (SB1149), would allow a municipality to designate an area of up to 30 acres as a special taxing district. This would allow the governing body of the district to issue bonds (which are essentially government loans) to develop the district and then half of the new sales tax revenues generated by the district would pay back the bond.

The Coyotes have committed $170 million toward the arena development and are looking for an additional $170 million from a bond. Another additional $55 million would be needed from the host city, though some portion of this may be real-estate related. Since the majority of funds from “the public” would be issued through bonds sales and real-estate, the arena legislation isn’t taking much, if any, money from the general fund.

In the current political and economic climate, public-private partnerships for arena deals just aren’t popular, which is why SB1149 doesn’t have the legislative support to even get on the agenda, let alone pass. The current legislative session is approaching adjournment and it looks like the bill won’t be passing this year. Unless something changes in the bill or the political winds shift, then SB1149 will likely never pass.

Won’t building a new arena hurt the City of Glendale?

The Glendale City Council doesn’t seem to think so, according to Vice Mayor Ian Hugh, new tenants and events could be scheduled to take the place of the 41 home games held each NHL season. Certainly that is something the entire council took into consideration before risking their partnership with the team, because not doing so and voting to cancel the lease anyway would’ve been the height of irresponsibility.

Why don’t the Coyotes go back to playing at the basketball arena?

The basketball arena, Talking Stick Resort Arena (TSRA), is centrally located in downtown Phoenix, is accessible by light rail surrounded by plenty of dining and accommodation options, but the biggest problem is that it is the basketball arena. In its current configuration, the arena has a significant portion of seats that block the view of the ice and even the goals. Also, playing at TSRA would mean that the Coyotes ownership would have to reach an arena management deal with Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, and at this time it appears Sarver is not willing to negotiate such a deal. At least the City of Phoenix itself is open to the idea and has included hockey as a part of the considerations in a study for remodeling the current arena.

Why hasn’t the ownership already made a deal with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community?

At first glance, building an arena on land owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) seems like a perfect idea. There’s plenty of land, it’s located in the East Valley, and public funding/approval wouldn’t be required, but nothing is ever that easy. One wrinkle in this plan is that the Coyotes ownership group already has a partnership with a tribal government, just not with the SRPMIC. After taking over the team the year before, the now minority owners negotiated a nine-year corporate partnership that includes naming rights with Gila River Casinos in 2014, as Fox Sports reported at the time. This group of casinos is owned and operated by the Gila River Indian Community, who just so happen to be a gambling and nightlife competitor with the SRPMIC. All three of the casinos operated by Gila River Casinos are major sponsors of every Coyotes broadcast. If the minority owners are bought out, it’s possible that the relationship with the tribes might be revisited.

So what are the possible new arena options?

Arizona State University’s (ASU) Karsten Golf Course was the proposed site of the new East Valley arena as it is close to Downton Tempe and not far from transit options. This would have been a great location. Unfortunately, ASU wasn’t able to go through with the deal. It also would have required SB1149 to pass, but for now, it’s a moot point.

Sloan Park is another option. It’s the current home of the Chicago Cubs during Spring Training and only minutes from the ASU campus. Close to Downtown Tempe and Downtown Mesa, this site would also require SB1149 to pass.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land near Loop 101 and Loop 202 on the opposite side of McClintock Dr. from Oceanside Ice Arena is another ideal spot. There’s a temporary soccer stadium there now for the Phoenix Rising FC, with plans for a permanent stadium if the soccer club’s bid for expansion to join Major League Soccer is accepted. Even if the permanent stadium is built, there is still a chance the Coyotes could strike a deal because that property is a huge tract of land.

A site near Salt River Fields/Scottsdale Pavilions, an area which hosts several large sections of land owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community also looks ideal. It was reported in late 2016 that a group was looking into building an arena there that could potentially house the Coyotes.

Talking Stick Resort Arena located in Downtown Phoenix, which is commuter and transit friendly is another option. The building isn’t currently designed for hockey, but if it could be remodeled, the potential is there. But, as mentioned above, only if the basketball team owner is willing to negotiate.

An extreme dark horse candidate, based solely on speculation, is the Gila River Indian Community. The Coyotes already have a partnership with this tribe and its land is located in the East Valley. The downside is that currently, the traffic situation is almost as bad as the one to Gila River Arena. There is a stronger case to be made for this area once the Loop 202 extension is completed, but that’s not scheduled to happen until the fall of 2019. If the team reevaluates its partnership with the Gila River Casinos, then this option becomes less likely.

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Regardless of whatever deal the Coyotes end up making with all the hurdles to be navigated one thing is certain, it’s going to take time. The moral of the story is arena deals are complicated and definitely take much longer than two weeks.