Arizona Coyotes to evaluate what's next for the franchise as 'no' votes lead entertainment district referenda

Officials with the Arizona Coyotes say the team's owners, along with the National Hockey League, will evaluate what's next for the NHL franchise after non-official voting results show the ‘no' votes in the lead for three ballot propositions related to a $2.1 billion hockey arena and entertainment district in the City of Tempe.

Renderings of the Tempe Entertainment District project, as released by the Arizona Coyotes in 2021, include proposed restaurants, shops and apartments on a 46-acre tract of land near Rio Salado and Priest Drive, not far from Loop 202.

The Coyotes had been leasing Gila River Arena on an annual basis since the Glendale City Council voted to opt-out of a multimillion-dollar long-term deal in 2016. Glendale announced in August 2021 that it will not renew its agreement with the franchise beyond the 2021-22 season. The Coyotes played their final game at Gila River Arena in late April 2022, and will play at Mullett Arena until at least the 2024-2025 NHL season.

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Renderings of the new Tempe Entertainment District, including a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes. (Arizona Coyotes)

Ongoing Updates

May 16, 2023

Non-official results show a lead for the ‘no’ votes for the three ballot propositions related to the Tempe Entertainment District.

Read More: 'No' votes ahead in Tempe Entertainment District propositions

April 17, 2023

Local non-profit, Grand Canyon Institute, which does economic analysis of many issues facing our state, finds that previous studies on the proposed Tempe Entertainment District oversold the project. 

The project, which would be home to a new Arizona Coyotes arena, would also have restaurants, retails, hotels, and office space. It would be built on a former landfill.

It will cost money to make this happen, so a Community Facilities District would be set up, and taxes would be diverted into it to pay for the money spent remediating the land and building infrastructure.

Those supporting the project say tax dollars from the project would far outpace the cost of the bond, including an Arizona State University analysis that found if anything, the project could exceed expectations.

Grand Canyon Institute found for every $2.70 cents sent to pay off the bills of fixing the land and infrastructure, the city would only get back $1 in new revenue. They said other studies have used highly speculative numbers.

Supporters have studies that claim it will create 6,000 jobs and $690 million in economic benefits for the city. Opponents have said it will disrupt neighbors and only shift funds around instead of generating new money.

The Grand Canyon Institute report says any positive impact on Tempe would be negligible.

Another key factor in the study – they say all this will really do, is shift concerts and events in the Valley. There’s a steady flow of how many concerts we received in the metro, so it will likely take performances away from Glendale and Phoenix, instead of creating new concerts.

Ballots have been sent out to Tempe residents and must be mailed back by May 16. Props. 301, 302, and 303 must all pass for the project to move forward. 

At the Tempe book store Changing Hands, Gayle Shanks says she knew it.

"The economics absolutely do not pencil out," she said. "They do not pencil out."

She says she was thrilled to read a new economic analysis by Grand Canyon institute.

"If I had run my business like that, spending $2.70 for a dollar, I would not be here today," she said.

She’s one of the Tempe residents that started receiving their mail-in ballots to vote on the district.

The Coyotes have fought hard, and the team's President, Xavier Gutierrez, says the team is paying for it.

"For the first time in the history of Arizona, and sports and entertainment venues will not be paid for by taxpayers and will not be guaranteed by taxpayers," Gutierrez said.

The Coyotes commissioned their own study Monday that found the economics are even better than previously thought, verifying the risk is on the team and developers, not on taxpayers.

Going after the Grand Canyon Institute analysis, the team said the "GCI Report ignores the economic and financial benefits of the entire district—in particular the retail, residential, office and practice facility."

Dave Wells with the institute says that’s because the focus is on the arena and that anyone could build the rest of it.

"You shouldn’t assume just because it’s a privately financed arena, and you provide it subsidies that it’s going to be an economic windfall for the city," Wells said.

Mar. 30, 2023

Phoenix's Director of Aviation Services is speaking out about their lawsuit, as mentioned below.

"What we're asking Tempe to do is to honor their commitment under the agreement they made with us over 30 years ago to address this issue," said Chad Makovsky.

Former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman is reacting to the lawsuit.

"Their lawsuit is a complete fabrication, and it is a political document, not a legal one," said Hallman. "They also agreed that multifamily residential could be built in that area, and that's exactly what's happening."

"We've never objected to the arena," said Makovsky. "The issue really is about Tempe putting homes right under the flight paths, right next to our airport."

"Extortion and bullying should be stopped. We need to stand against that kind of behavior," said Hallman.

Mar. 28, 2023

Officials with the City of Phoenix Aviation Department announced that they have filed a formal complaint against the City of Tempe with the Maricopa County Superior Court over the proposed entertainment district, due to alleged breach of contract.

"The Phoenix Aviation Department does not object to a sports arena, restaurants, shops, and other compatible uses related to the proposed Tempe Entertainment District," said Phoenix Director of Aviation Services, Chad Makovsky, in a statement released on Mar. 28. "Today’s action is about ensuring Tempe lives up to its commitments to protecting our state’s largest economic engine – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the more than 57,000 employees and 44 million annual travelers who depend on the Airport, and the communities surrounding the Airport who depend on the long-standing agreement between our two cities."

According to City of Phoenix officials, the issue rests with a 1.2 square mile area of land adjacent to Sky Harbor that is located within the City of Tempe. Phoenix city officials said that they, along with Tempe city officials, agreed in 1994 that in exchange for Phoenix actively defending a modified flight path that follows the Salt River bottom, Tempe will not permit the development of homes under the modified flight path.

"Of course, Phoenix remains open, even during this litigation, 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," read a portion of Phoenix's statement.

We have reached out to officials with the City of Tempe for comment.

Jan. 5, 2023

The Tempe City Council voted to put the project to voters, by way of a special election on May 16.

Members of the city council made the vote after enough signatures were gathered to put the propositions on the ballot.

Nov. 29, 2022

The Tempe City Council held a public meeting at 6 p.m. to vote on the proposed Tempe Entertainment District going into the hands of voters and the motion was passed 7-0.

Tempe residents will be able to vote on this in May 2023.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in town to discuss the proposal.

"They're prepared to make a long-term commitment to this project and to the community," Bettman said. "I believe they're prepared to sign a 30-year non-relocation agreement and since this is being privately financed, I don't think that's an issue."

As for the public, they also got to weigh in.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, city leaders heard from those hired by the city to perform traffic studies, former Coyotes players, and commissioner Bettman. Dozens took the podium.

Many had the same arguments against the entertainment district that have been made known for months, like where funding is coming from, what traffic problems will result because of this, what this will do to the city of Tempe, public benefits and land use.

The 46-acre development would be home to restaurants, shops and apartments, along with the new hockey arena.

Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez has said from the beginning this would stimulate Tempe's economy claiming it would create about 7,000 jobs with a median salary of $50,000. Some living in Tempe, however, are opposed to what would become a massive construction site during the development phase and would leave parking, traffic and affordable housing problems in its wake.

Phoenix Sky Harbor is also becoming the loudest and largest critic, fighting the proposal that would have developed within 10,000 feet of one of its runways.

The airport says an agreement from the '90s between Phoenix and Tempe bans residential development under its flight paths. The Tempe Mayor himself has said this argument is not valid.

Commissioner Bettman addressed questions about tax breaks for this project. He called this an economic engine and that tax breaks would be discussed with the city as they would be with any other project of this magnitude.

"The team is playing without support in a temporary facility which is quite unusual at a major league level. I also would be remiss if I didn't thank Arizona State University for sharing Mullet Arena on a temporary basis with the Coyotes. Also in that regard, it shows Alex Meruelo's and Coyotes' commitment to Arizona and their passion for, and commitment, to seeing this project go forward," Bettman said.

Nov. 10, 2022

Further discussions over the project took place between members of the Tempe City Council.

The meeting was not about the project's approval. Rather, Tempe City Council members are voting on whether the project will be put to a public vote in May 2023. Ultimately, council members unanimously approved giving voters the final say about the project.

However, the council has to approve the project first.

"Having the public have a say on this was critically important, " said Mayor Corey Woods. "I’ve been on council now for ten and a half years. I’ve never had a project have this much public interest or public attention."

Coyotes officials are still expressing excitement over the project.

"We are excited," said Arizona Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez. "We have remained incredibly confident that this is the right project, the right deal, and we are the right team to get this done. We’d like to stay in Tempe."

The Council is set to have two other meetings on this proposal: Nov. 22 and Nov. 29.

Oct. 6, 2022

Residents in parts of Tempe received a flyer in the mail from the City of Phoenix. The flyer comes with a warning about airplanes flying overhead: it could be part of the new flight path for airplanes coming and going from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

According to the flyer, planes will be flying over the proposed development nearly every minute. The flyer also warns people to take action now.

In response, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said he is frustrated with how Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport officials are handling this.

"I just feel like I need to call it out," said Mayor Corey Woods. "I don't feel that this is an appropriate way to engage in an open and honest dialogue."

Read More: Tempe mayor criticizes flyers sent by Phoenix over proposed entertainment district's impact on flights

June 2, 2022

After nearly eight hours, the council voted 5-2 to proceed with negotiations with the Arizona Coyotes on their proposal.

Supporters of the plan, as well as opponents, met with the Tempe City Council to discuss the proposal.

Tempe leaders heard from developers, airport officials, and dozens of other in-person speakers. Hundreds more wrote comments during the meeting.

During the meeting, the team representing the Coyotes presented more details about the project. They say the project, when built, will attract millions to Tempe. It would be the sixth-largest retail project in the country and provide $215 million in tax revenue.

Former Coyotes player Shane Doan says the move could make the team, along with Tempe, a staple NFL franchise.

"I think it's a sport that reveals character and teaches us that it's not about you. It's a huge advantage for the club as a whole, but I also think it gives us an opportunity that professional sports provides to help the community, and help the area," said Doan.

Opponents, however, say the development, as currently planned, would be built 9,800 feet away from a run at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. In previous meetings, airport officials brought up plenty of concerns, including the height of the buildings. Since then, they say the project organizers have agreed to work with them on that.

The issue now, however, is the noise. They say they don’t want the apartments built because they would be in a ‘high impact’ noise area the planes would be flying over, very close to the apartments, and that would go against previous land-use measures preventing residences so close to the airport.

"You can't build people's houses under the very place we promised to fly the airplanes," said J. Cabou, an outside counsel for the City of Phoenix. "They would be very, very unhappy."

The team said the arena would be funded by private investors but would seek city sales tax revenues to help pay for $200 million in additional costs, including infrastructure work.

"I was the mayor when we built Tempe Town Lake, and I think this is the kind of project that really meets the aspiration potential for the Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe," said former Tempe Mayor Neil Guliano.

The Coyotes were the only ones who put in a proposal for the tract of land in question in 2021.

"They seem to understand that the days of taxpayers shoveling out cash so sports teams and billionaires can build arenas are over, and I think that’s a good thing," said Coyotes fan Trey Terry.

"Cautiously optimistic is how I’d put it," said Alexi Rentzis, a longtime Coyotes fan. "If they get the deal, I’m like, great! They’re not leaving."

The vote doesn't mean anything is finalized yet - only that the city can continue negotiations on the project.

May 20, 2022

We received an e-mail from Sky Harbor officials that contains information they say provides context and clarification following the board meeting.

In the e-mail, officials said the Aviation Department's presentation provided responses to previous questions from the Aviation Board, and that the content was based on the most recent information provided by the developer.

"While the [Tempe Entertainment District] developer’s presentation claims that the Aviation Department’s crane analysis was ‘fabricated,’ the Aviation Department’s presentation was actually based on information provided by the developer. No corrections or changes were requested after Phoenix Aviation staff’s analysis was presented at the April 21 Board meeting, which has been publicly available on since that date," a portion of the e-mail read.

Aviation officials also said the presentation given by developers "provided information not previously shared with the City of Phoenix Aviation Department."

"Sky Harbor officials learned for the first time in the meeting that the developer plans to lower the project’s top construction crane height to 165 feet and has committed to the tallest crane being up no longer than 21 days. The Airport is pleased that the developer has listened to concerns about crane heights from the Airport and the airlines that serve it and is encouraged to see this change to the plan," a portion of the e-mail read.

Aviation officials, however, said the developers "did not accurately address the most important obstacle – the planned residential high rise building which violates an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between Phoenix and Tempe."

"That agreement prohibits residential units from being built in the high noise impacted areas along the Salt River. In exchange, airlines departing to the east follow a flight path that protects other Tempe neighborhoods from excessive noise," read a portion of the e-mail.

The IGA, according to aviation officials, is based on an FAA study that includes measures "specifically created to prevent residential in the noise impacted area where [Tempe Entertainment District] is proposed."

"The developer’s presentation is misleading, as it uses a table from the introduction to the study chapter of the Part 150 Plan. That table is not part of the Plan for land use along the Salt River Corridor," aviation officials wrote. "The foremost experts in Part 150 studies, the Federal Aviation Administration, previously wrote a letter to Tempe that explained their serious concern about this proposed development, clearly stating that residential development on this parcel is incompatible. City of Phoenix Director of Aviation Services Chad Makovsky made this point and more in his closing statement to the Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board."

May 19, 2022

On May 19, 2022, developers presented their project plans to the Aviation Board.

While no decisions were made during the meeting, both sides presented plenty of data about airport operations.

Some take issue with the fact that the district, as planned, would be built within 10,000 feet of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport's center runway. Critics say the construction could cause runway delays, and impact pilots' line of sight. They also brought up noise concerns for residents in the area.

Developers, meanwhile, say they have met with airport technical teams. They also say cranes are lower than 40 feet in height, and that the height of their buildings have been reduced, after concerns were raised in previous meetings.

Some of the board have asked both sides to work collaboratively because the studies had such different results.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.