The Arizona Coyotes’ future in the state appeared to be in trouble in May. Residents of Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, voted down a series of three referendums which would have allowed developers to build a $2.3 billion entertainment district, including a new ice hockey arena for the Coyotes.
Without a big-league venue in the works and already holding its games at Mullett Arena — Arizona State’s small 5k capacity facility, the Coyotes seemed likely to relocate as it had been hemorrhaging money for years. A “terribly disappointed” Gary Bettman released a statement after the vote that said the league would “review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”
Fast forward three months and neither the Coyotes nor NHL have quit on Arizona, tripling down on their efforts to stay in the desert. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo executed a letter of intent this week to buy a parcel of land in northwest Mesa.
The news was first reported by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, who added that the team is looking at multiple other sites to purchase land as well.
The Coyotes confirmed the news in a release on Wednesday.
“We can confirm that Coyotes Owner, Chairman & Governor Alex Meruelo has executed a Letter of Intent to purchase a parcel of land located in Mesa, Arizona to be the potential site for a sports arena and entertainment district for the Club. The Coyotes remain committed to building the first privately funded sports facility in Arizona history and ensuring the Valley as the Club’s permanent home. In addition to this property in Mesa, the Club will continue to explore other potential sites in the East Valley.
“We appreciate the tremendous support that we have received from many communities, elected officials, and community leaders who have expressed their desire to see the Coyotes remain in the Valley permanently. We would also like to thank NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly for their steadfast support of the Club’s efforts to find a permanent arena solution, and for their recognition that Arizona is a tremendous hockey market.
An arena in northwest Mesa would be within half an hour of Coyotes fans located in Pheonix, Tempe, and Scottsdale. Unlike in Tempe, the Yotes would not require a vote from the public to build an arena.
“I think referendums have proven to be very difficult, not just for us,” Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez said in June. “You look at the backlash that certain other sports teams are having, it’s very clear that there is a narrative that this isn’t what really the public wants to approve via a vote. And so we’re looking at other options.”
If Meruelo is successful, the project would be the first entirely privately-funded sports arena in state history.
The Coyotes have played in three different facilities since first arriving to Arizona in 1996. They first shared the America West Arena (now Footprint Center) with the Phenix Suns until 2003, moving to Glendale’s Gila River Arena (now Desert Diamond Arena) from 2003 to 2022.
The move to Mullett Arena came after an acrimonious breakup with the city of Glendale, who owns Gila River Arena. Following missed payments and stalled negotiations between the Coyotes and Glendale in August 2021, the city announced they would not renew the Coyotes’ year-to-year lease, forcing the team to find a new home before the 2022-23 season.
The issue of missed payments came to a head that December, when the city threatened to lock the Coyotes out unless they paid over $1.3 million in back taxes. The Coyotes did so and remained in Gila River through the end of the 2021-22 season.
Once their final lease was up in Glendale, the Coyotes jumped to Mullett Arena as they hoped to complete their building plans in Tempe by the time it ended. The team has two years remaining on that contract with ASU.
After the Tempe vote failed, Houston was the most speculated potential new home for the Coyotes as the city already has a hockey-ready arena in Toyota Center — the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Houston is the fourth most populous city in the United States. Salt Lake City was also a rumored option.
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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