Editors Note: Alex is an undergraduate Geography student at DePaul University and has background experience in Urban Planning, Urban Studies, and Spatial Science. This is his take on issues that could arise with the planning of a new arena. If you have specific questions, please leave them for him in the comments below.
For the last decade, Coyotes fans have been pained by relocation jokes and threats alike, as a carousel of owners and NHL executives have taken turns floating the organization.
The team came into hard times during the early 2000’s, as their relationship with the ownership of the (then) America West Arena soured. Their old home was not built for hockey and the tough talks didn’t help.
So the team moved to Glendale, seeing a majority publicly-funded arena crafted just for them as Glendale hoped to create an ‘entertainment district’ in the middle of cotton fields.
Yet, that move exacerbated those financial issues and the carousel set in. Now the Coyotes have a seemingly committed owner in Andrew Barroway and if his talks are anything of a signal of the future, the Arizona Coyotes will continue to call Arizona home.
But, that all comes with a caveat.
Everything comes down to that new arena and it will most certainly take a move back to Downtown or to the East Valley to save the organization. As Mr. Barroway has previously said, “[we] will not stay in Glendale.” He knows most Coyotes fans lead blue collar lives in Scottsdale and the East Valley, and the long drive in rush hour to Glendale is running down the truly committed fans he has left as season ticket holders.
So, again, the location of the new stadium is critical, but fans can’t be too focused on a particular spot. And if they are focused on a particular place, they should temper that excitement with some perspective, particularly in an economic and urban planning sense.
Many Sun Belt teams have struggled by way of their location. The Hurricanes are outside of the city center and away from all other entertainment, with the exception of their neighbors in NC State’s football team. The Florida Panthers may be in a mall, but Sunrise is far away from South Beach and way off the path of tourists.
But others have been a roaring success, as is the case in Nashville and, when on a winning season, Anaheim. Nashville parked their home barn right on Broadway, across the street from some of the most famous country bars in the United States but most importantly, an established tourist and regional draw.
In Anaheim, the Ducks play just down the street from Disneyland which requires no further explanation. We all know the economic impact and anchorage that the Disney empire provides Anaheim.
Even the new kids on the block, the Vegas Golden Knights, made a play on their own name and capitalized on the Vegas Strip’s famous ‘golden nights.’ Even if hockey doesn’t make intense roots in the common Las Vegan, the draw of the Strip and accessibility for visiting fans will guarantee Vegas won’t ever have relocation issues.
The Arizona Coyotes need to take into account these economic successes and failures, along with their own. They are not the primary draw. They may bring in fans, but people won’t go to an ‘entertainment district 25 miles from downtown, a mall in a random suburb or another stadium’ in a stadium district. They can succeed in a well-known tourist locale, a place already floated by standing economic amenities or a place where an entertainment district has a more sustainable impact than Westgate.
Another angle the team and fans need to account for is sustainable urban planning values held by their prospective host municipalities. Fans have a tendency to find a spot that makes sense and hold onto it, but there is a planning process that goes into prepping a site before they even break ground.
The site may need to be rezoned, which requires public notification. If this property was previously a public amenity or borders a residential area, the increased vehicular and foot traffic may illicit opposition. If the city is asked to participate in the building by any means, there may be public push back and voters have some recent examples when it comes to local municipal spending habits, such as the case in Glendale. Moreover, large facilities are often mandated to have a specific amount of parking available so that street and private parking is not overly congested.
To draw these complications out further, this process can be dragged out for months or even years. Zoning and planning decisions do not happen overnight and arenas take even longer to fund, then put brick to mortar.
Every Coyotes fan has sought stability for a long time. Every free agent and roster player have looked at this organization and thought “When will they ever find a home that will make them successful?” Andrew Barroway has made it clear that “failure is not an option” and that there will be a new home for the team at least somewhere east of their current home.
But fans need to know this process will take time and there are a variety of things standing in their way. Barroway, new President Steve Patterson, and company will need to navigate the funding, land, and operating rights just like any other stadium venture, but must also navigate the intricacies of municipal zoning and planning codes, all the while providing a sustainable economic location for the franchise and its surrounding locale.
It is a tough task indeed, but if there is any team with the will and leadership to get this done right, it’s the Arizona Coyotes.