Now that the Arizona Coyotes have reached an agreement with Tempe City Council to continue negotiations for a new arena and entertainment district in suburban Phoenix, their team president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez says the next challenge is to clear up misconceptions about what is in development — and how the team plans to pay for it.
“The biggest [hurdle] honestly, so that people understand the project,” Gutierrez told ESPN on Wednesday. “There was a transparency clause that really forbade us from speaking publicly. [before a June 2 hearing]. We’ve been a secret for so many months, and now we’re putting people at ease. We say: “We will pay for all this.” And we have [been met with] some skepticism about it, but that’s really what we’re suggesting.”
Coyotes leadership presented their $1.7 billion project to Tempe City Council in an eight-hour marathon that included comments from over 100 citizens and the inclusion of over 220 written statements ahead of a 5–2 vote in favor of the team.
The Coyotes are looking for more than just an arena and training facility to be their permanent home. Their application includes a 46-acre site currently used as a landfill, as well as hotels, apartments, shops and other outposts that Gutierrez insists will benefit the entire community.
But, as Gutierrez is well aware, there are doubts about the Coyotes’ ability to financially handle this without outside help. In December 2021, Gila River Arena served the team with a contract termination notice for more than $1.3 million in unpaid taxes, which the team settled, and the Coyotes are consistently among the NHL’s lowest earners.
Gutierrez insists they are not looking for handouts to make Tempe’s idea a reality.
“It will be privately funded,” he said. “We will invest. In fact, we will buy land. And then we asked the city to issue bonds with only land and real estate as collateral, so that the taxpayers would never be in danger. We would love to create the first privately funded entertainment district in Arizona’s history.”
Starting this project from scratch on a whim would give the Coyotes a home for a long time to come. The Coyotes’ lease at Gila River Arena expires June 30, and for the next three seasons they will play in a 5,000-seat stadium still under construction in Arizona.
Even the consent of the city council does not mean that the Coyotes are close to a breakthrough. There are months of negotiations between the city and developers, as well as public meetings and public forums.
“We have respected this process with the city of Tempe and what they need to be comfortable with,” Gutiérrez said. “We told them that we would like to make a decision in the fall. We would like to start reclaiming this land and building the first phase which will include our new arena, training facility and a couple of other targets. We have no control over this and we are going to work with the city to create a truly meaningful partnership.”
There are also questions about noise, traffic, and how the new property will impact local businesses. Coyotes are taking a grassroots approach to solving some of these problems.
“We have to make sure we get out and we’re having these conversations with this level of education saying, ‘Hey, this is how we solve problems,'” Gutierrez said.
This dialogue will take place during a Coyotes game in Arizona. Gutiérrez said construction should be completed in September or October.
The Coyotes had to invest about $30 million to complete an NHL-envisioned addition with the necessary locker room and medical equipment not typically found in college venues. Gutierrez said the addition won’t be completed when the NHL opens the 2022-23 season in October, but the Coyotes plan to host games at some point this month.
Gutierrez declined to comment specifically on ticket sales for the Coyotes’ games in Arizona, but said they were going “incredibly well” and promised more details soon.
Whatever the Coyotes have up their sleeves, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stands by them firmly. Bettman previously said that if the Tempe project is approved, it will ensure that the Coyotes will not be allowed to move for 30 years and that the arena will host the All-Star Game and the NHL Draft.
In a release to the media on Wednesday, Bettman confirmed that it’s not “unprecedented” for NHL clubs to temporarily play in smaller venues if there’s a bigger picture.
“You do what you have to do if you believe in the market for the long term,” Bettman said. “Obviously there is some work to be done before we can take the shovel into the ground. [in Tempe]. But more reports I get [it sounds like] everyone is doing what they need to do it as efficiently as possible.”