Suns owner Sarver eyeing new arena in quest to return team to prominence

Suns owner Robert Sarver addresses the need to renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena or find a new home. (Photo by John Arlia/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver confirmed Wednesday that the franchise is actively pursuing options to either renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena or leave its current home altogether.

After announcing general manager Ryan McDonough’s contract extension and introducing NBA veteran James Jones as the Suns’ vice president of basketball operations, Sarver addressed the importance of upgrading the team’s facilities.

“Our arena is becoming outdated,” Sarver said of the building that also is home to the Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers. “We’re soon to be the second-oldest arena in the league and the smallest arena in the league square footage-wise.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena opened in 1992, technically making it the sixth-oldest building in the NBA, but two franchises with older stadiums are building new arenas and Sarver believes the Suns’ home has fallen behind others that have recently undergone major renovation projects.

The Milwaukee Bucks broke ground on a $524 million arena in June 2016 that will replace the BMO Bradley Center for the start of the 2018-19 season, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The defending-champion Golden State Warriors began construction in January on San Francisco’s Chase Center, which is scheduled to be ready for play in 2019.

Minneapolis’ Target Center, which has hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves since 1990, will be the next to pass Talking Stick as its $140 million renovation project is scheduled to be completed before the 2017-18 season, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. New York’s Madison Square Garden completed a three-year, $1 billion transformation in 2013.

Meanwhile the Suns’ downtown Phoenix arena, which currently seats over 18,000 fans for NBA games, underwent its last renovation in 2003.

Sarver said he is currently listening to any and all options, including a potential stadium partnership with the Arizona Coyotes, but insisted that a deal with the Valley’s hockey team wouldn’t work out if the Suns decide to stay at Talking Stick.

“I’m open to doing what’s best for the city of Phoenix and for us first and foremost,” Sarver said. “If that happens to be this building, then that’s not an option because of the way this building was built.”

The Coyotes previously shared the downtown Phoenix arena with the Suns after their arrival from Winnipeg in 1996, but poor sightlines eventually prompted a December 2003 move to Gila River Arena in Glendale.

After Glendale voted to cancel the Coyotes’ lease in 2015, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton urged the team to rekindle its partnership with the Suns and work together on a new downtown stadium that he felt would be in everyone’s best interests.

“I will do everything I can to pursue a course that makes a new facility home to the Suns, Mercury and the Coyotes,” Stanton said in his April 2016 State of the City address. “Building two new professional arenas in our region simply doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.”

Sarver stressed that the Suns’ priority is to stay in downtown Phoenix, but that hasn’t stopped them from searching elsewhere. He addressed questions about whether a bid he placed last week that was reported by Business Real Estate Weekly of Arizona on land just north of Sky Harbor Airport near McDowell Road and North 40th Street could be the future site of their new arena.

“Well not today it isn’t, someone else bought it,” Sarver said. “It was a state land auction last week. I thought it was a good location, a good option. I’m looking at different options here within the Valley.”

“We have to have an NBA quality facility. I know that, I think the city of Phoenix knows that and we have no choice but to get one of those two things (renovate or relocate) done, so hopefully within the next couple of years, we’ll start construction on something.”

Sarver did not offer a clear timeline for next steps in the quest for a new arena, but said he was willing to be patient when it comes to the making the Suns a championship contender again. He admitted that the team’s success in his first few years of ownership, when they went to back-to-back Western Conference Finals, may have spoiled him and that he’s committed to the rebuilding process he and McDonough have put in place.

“I want more to try win a championship for this city than I want to worry about being impatient,” Sarver said. “Right now, I think I just have a clear vision of what we want to do and how we want to get there and so I have no choice, but to be patient.”

McDonough, who signed an extension through the 2019-20 season, said that patience was also key in his pursuit of Jones for a front office role with the team. He said he spoke with Jones’ agent Joel Bell every July 1 for the last three to four years to inquire about the possibility of him returning to Phoenix.

“This is something Robert and I have discussed for a while,” McDonough said. “We spent a lot of time with James last week in Las Vegas and kind of talked about more how it would work. We’re thrilled to add him to our staff.”

Jones, who played with the Suns from 2005-2007, will report to McDonough and assist on any basketball decisions, including free-agent signings, trades and pre-draft player evaluations. After calling it quits on his playing career on the back of seven straight NBA Finals appearances, Jones hopes that he can help bring the Suns back to that level.

“If you’re on the outside, you may wonder why forgo an opportunity to compete for championships, but I see this an opportunity to compete for championships,” Jones said. “I like where the organization is.”

Sarver believes that Jones’ experience winning three NBA titles and his desire to succeed will make him a major addition to the team’s front office.

“James is intimately familiar with what it takes to win a championship.” Sarver said. “Our goal as an organization is to win a championship.”

“It’s really the only thing our organization hasn’t accomplished. We’ve had MVPs, we’ve been to the Conference Finals, NBA Finals, but we haven’t won a championship and that’s something this community and our fans deserve.”