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Rejection of Ice Hockey Arena by Voters in Phoenix Suburb Fuels Speculation of NHL Team Move

Bynewsmagzines

May 18, 2023
An aerial view of the former Fiesta Mall site in Mesa, Arizona, that could become the new home of the Arizona Coyotes. (CoStar)


The future of professional ice hockey in Arizona is unclear after voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe rejected three ballot propositions this week that proposed building a new stadium for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

Propositions 301, 302 and 303 would have changed Tempe’s zoning laws to allow for the development of a massive entertainment district on a former landfill. The propositions would have also established new taxes to help pay for the district. 

The proposed ice hockey stadium was part of the proposed entertainment district. Tempe’s city council approved the project late last year, setting up the public vote on May 16.

The three propositions proposed a $2.1 billion entertainment district with a 16,000-seat and 650,000-square-foot arena, a 68,000-square-foot outdoor event plaza, practice facility and corporate headquarters for the Coyotes. Plans also included a 50,000-square-foot music venue, 200-room boutique hotel, nearly 2,000 multifamily units, retail and 177,000 square feet of office.

The entire project would have been built on 46 acres at the corner of Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. Bluebird Development, an affiliate of Meruelo Group and the Coyotes, would have been the project’s developer.

Arizona Coyotes President and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said the team plans to work with the NHL to figure out what happens next in light of the vote.

“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,” Gutierrez said in a statement.

“What is next for the franchise will be evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks,” Gutierrez said.

A spokesman with the Coyotes said the team plans to remain at Mullett Arena, a nearly 5,000-seat arena on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, for the 2023-24 NHL season. The Coyotes played its first season at Mullett Arena during the 2022-23 NHL season after playing nearly 20 years at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, another suburb of Phoenix.

“We can confirm that the Coyotes will play at Mullett Arena next season,” Rich Nairn, a spokesman with the Coyotes, told CoStar News in an email.

Mullett Arena is the smallest arena where a U.S. or Canadian team of the major five sports leagues plays its home games.

Nairn did not reply to CoStar News’ questions of whether the Coyotes would remain in Tempe or the greater Phoenix area beyond the 2023-24 NHL season.

Gutierrez told Coyotes season-ticket holders that the team has “started re-engaging with local officials and sites to solidify a new permanent home” in the Phoenix area, according to the Arizona Sports website.

The team is looking at the former Fiesta Mall in Mesa, Arizona, as a possible site, according to Arizona Sports. The mall has been vacant for several years and is being pitched as a redevelopment site by the city of Mesa.

“For years Mesa has supported the redevelopment of the Fiesta District,” the city of Mesa said in a statement this week. “Aside from being a key site for the District, Fiesta Mall is one of the most attractive pieces of urban real estate in the Valley today. It is massive, adjacent to three major highways and only 20 minutes from two major airports.”

Previously, ice hockey industry professionals have speculated that the Coyotes would be likely to relocate out of Arizona if the Tempe propositions failed. Houston has been mentioned as a city where the NHL would like to have a franchise. Houston is the largest city in the nation without a professional ice hockey team. Games would likely be played at Toyota Center in downtown Houston. Toyota Center is an NHL-ready stadium where the NBA’s Houston Rockets play.

The NHL has never had a presence in Houston but the city has been home to other professional ice hockey teams. The World Hockey Association, or WHA, had a franchise in Houston — the Aeros — in the 1970s. A second iteration of the Houston Aeros played in the International Hockey League and American Hockey League between 1994 and 2013.

Atlanta has also been mentioned as a possible future home for the Coyotes, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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