Voters 'decline to move Tempe Entertainment District forward,' according to city officials
TEMPE, Ariz. - Tempe city officials say a development project that includes a new home for the Arizona Coyotes "will not move forward," after preliminary results show the ‘no’ votes are ahead in three propositions related to the Tempe Entertainment District.
The vote, which only registered voters in Tempe took part in, was held after the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport expressed concerns about the residences that would be built as part of the project in the high-noise area under the airport’s flight path.
Here's what you should know about the failed vote, and what may be next for the Coyotes in Arizona.
What was the vote about?
In the election, voters in Tempe voted on three ballot measures: Propositions 301, 302 and 303.
The City of Tempe's website described what the proposition entailed.
- Proposition 301 deals with a Tempe City Council resolution on an amendment to its general plan, which re-zones about 34.43 acres of city-owned land at 53 South Priest Drive from ‘Commercial’ to ‘Mixed Use,' and also amending the Residential Density Map by marking the area as ‘High Density-Urban Core.,' meaning more than 65 dwelling units per acre can be built in the area.
- Proposition 302 deals with a Tempe City Ordinance that was passed by the city council, which deals with rezoning the area so that the project can be built.
- Proposition 303 deals with a Tempe City Ordinance that was also passed by the city council, which allows the city to sell the property that the Entertainment District was set to be built on to a company called Bluebird Development LLC at $25 per square foot.
All three ballot propositions needed to pass before the Tempe Entertainment District project could have moved forward.
What was the Tempe Entertainment District?
We first reported on the Tempe Entertainment District in 2021, when the plan was first released.
At the time, people connected with the proposed entertainment district state the district will include proposed restaurants, shops and apartments, in addition to a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes.
The plan has faced a number of obstacles even before the May 16 vote. The Coyotes thought they were in good standing with the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor before a legal filing in March sought to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land-use changes. It also asked to prohibit future residential considerations in an area the FAA says is incompatible with residential development due to its positioning under Sky Harbor flight paths.
The Coyotes countered by filing a $2.3 billion notice of claim against the city of Phoenix for alleged breach of contract.
What did proponents and opponents say about the project?
In the publicity pamphlet issued by Tempe city officials ahead of the election, proponents state the Tempe Entertainment District will have a positive effect on Tempe.
"This location is perfect, very close to freeway transportation. Importantly, another troublesome landfill would also be cleaned up," wrote Darlene R. Justus, in the pamphlet.
"A yes vote on all three will bring nearly 7,000 permanent jobs and, over time, $13.1 billion in spending to our community," wrote Michael Martin, in the pamphlet.
Opponents, however, attacked the deal for what they claim is a multimillion dollar tax break that will do little to improve the community.
"The Coyotes are asking the residents of Tempe for hundreds of millions (to start), so they may build another landmark in their honor. The empty arena in Glendale is landmark enough for anyone wanting to know which way to go on public subsidies for sports teams. Their call for another landmark needs to go in a landfill where it belongs." wrote Fitz Madrid, in the pamphlet.
Some also expressed concerns that the project could exacerbate the city's problem with housing costs.
"The cost of rent is sky high already, let alone with rising living expenses. It’s easy to imagine flocks of developers swooping into the neighborhood to capitalize and gentrify, all to cater to the high-dollar standards of the "Entertainment District." One of the few affordable rental pockets in Tempe is fading away, and this project will make life harder for many who reside in my neighborhood," wrote Maha Alshmmari, in the pamphlet.
What were the results for the election?
Unofficial figures released by Maricopa County officials at around 8:00 p.m. on May 16 show the "no" votes are ahead for all three measures.
According to unofficial results on May 17, the "no" votes are at 56% for Proposition 301, and 57% for Propositions 302 and 303.
The results listed above have not been certified: Tempe city officials say certification is scheduled to take place on June 1.
Click here for election results
What are officials saying about the vote?
The President and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes issued a statement following the vote. The statement reads:
"We are very disappointed Tempe voters did not approve Propositions 301, 302, and 303.
As Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said, it was the best sports deal in Arizona history. The Coyotes wish to thank everyone who supported our efforts and voted yes. So many community leaders stepped up and became our advocates and for that we are truly grateful.
We also wish to thank the countless volunteers who worked so hard to try and make the Tempe Entertainment District a reality and the Tempe City Council for their support as well. While we wanted a different outcome, we remain grateful to all those who volunteered their time and talent.
What is next for the franchise will be evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks."
National Hockey League
Meanwhile, the NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, also issued a statement on the vote.
"The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referenda regarding the Coyotes' arena project in Tempe," read the statement. "We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward."
City of Tempe
"Tempe voters have spoken and we respect their voices. Our unanimous vote in November 2022 to move the Tempe Entertainment District forward, after months of due diligence and negotiations, showed our enthusiasm for this project and our belief that it was in the best interests of the community. Enough residents did not share our view and we accept this result.
The Arizona Coyotes have been good partners in this effort. We believe Alex Meruelo, Xavier Gutierrez and the whole organization have put forward their best for our community and for this proposal. We are grateful for the resounding community support from past Mayors and City Councils, from the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, Tempe Tourism, the Black Chamber of Arizona and so many more.
It’s time to move forward. Above all, we as Tempe residents are neighbors and friends who can determine where we will go next. This fall we will offer public input opportunities to begin creating a path forward for this important property."
Tempe Mayor Corey Woods
"Tonight I am grateful for all the community members who got engaged and expressed their views about the Tempe Entertainment District at the ballot box. This is why we as a City Council were determined to put these matters before voters so they could have their say. As Tempeans, we are united in our passion for this amazing city and I believe we will move forward together."
City of Phoenix
Officials with the Phoenix Aviation Department also issued a statement following the vote, which reads:
"The Phoenix Aviation Department has been consistent that it has no objection to a sports arena, restaurants, shops, and other compatible uses related to the Tempe Entertainment District. However, the residential units included in the project, along with other similar multi-family housing projects recently approved by Tempe, violate a 1994 agreement between our cities which protects residents from living in a high-noise area under Sky Harbor’s flight path.
The outcome of the election does not change Tempe’s obligations contained in the 1994 agreement. As neighboring cities that mutually benefit from Sky Harbor, Phoenix understood that Tempe was open to a reasonable compromise that would serve to protect the airport, the communities around the airport, and allow these developments to proceed. That compromise was, at Tempe’s request, reduced to a simple document that would have amended the IGA to allow current projects to proceed, while also restating Tempe’s commitment to prohibit future residential development within the high noise area.
We hope Tempe will now take the necessary actions to resolve this dispute. Phoenix remains open to a solution that honors the integrity of the 1994 agreement between our two cities and continues to protect the Airport and the residents who live near it."
What's next for the Arizona Coyotes?
As mentioned above, officials with both the Arizona Coyotes and the NHL both state that they are going to ‘review what the options might be going forward.’
On May 17, it was reported that the Coyotes will play their home games in the 2023-2024 NHL season at Arizona State University's Mullett Arena.
Despite the announcement, a degree of uncertainty still hangs over the team's future, as the Tempe Entertainment District was supposed to be the Coyotes' fourth home since they moved to Arizona.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Coyotes played in Canada's Manitoba province as the Winnipeg Jets prior to their move to the Phoenix area. After they moved to Arizona, the Coyotes shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. The arena, then called America West Arena, is now known as Footprint Center.
In 2003, the Coyotes moved to Glendale’s Gila River Arena, but the team has had a troubled time in the West Valley.
In 2009, then-team owner Jerry Moyes took the Coyotes into bankruptcy, and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie put in a bid to purchase the team, with the intention of moving it to Hamilton, Ontario.
The NHL, wanting to keep the team in Arizona, put in a counter-bid, and a Phoenix judge ruled the team could not be sold to Balsillie to circumvent the NHL’s relocation rules.
The NHL ran the Coyotes for four seasons and the financial constraints took a toll, leading in part to a seven-year playoff drought.
A new ownership group brought new hope in 2013, but turmoil surfaced again in 2015, when the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term, multimillion-dollar lease agreement. The Coyotes then leased Gila River Arena on an annual basis until Glendale announced it was terminating the deal after the 2021-22 season.
The franchise found a temporary solution, working out a deal to share Arizona State’s Mullett Arena for three seasons. The Mullett has a capacity of 5,000 and is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.
What are people saying about the team's future?
Coyotes fans say they are hopeful the team will secure a venue in the Phoenix area.
"I think it needs to be in Phoenix or in Scottsdale, and they'll tap into the greater market," said Cola Francescho.
Arizona State Senator T.J. Shope (R) said he is hoping talks will start up to bring the team back to Downtown Phoenix.
"You have a brand-new owner with the Suns. The previous owner was not willing to go ahead and work on reconfiguring hockey into – the rebuilt Footprint Center, but I think other options are out there," said State Sen. Shope, who the 16th Legislative District, which covers a small portion of Maricopa County outside of the Phoenix area, as well as a large portion of Pinal County, including Casa Grande, and a portion of Pima County.
A spokesperson for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said the mayor supports efforts to keep the Coyotes playing within the Phoenix area.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.