TEMPE – A development that has lacked clarity over the past six months gained a bit of traction last week.
The City Council voted 7-0 on Thursday to reserve May 16 as the referendum date for a proposed $2.1 billion development project that includes a hockey arena, hotels, apartments, retail stores, restaurants and a sportsbook.
For the Arizona Coyotes and the city of Tempe, this is only step one of a prolonged process since negotiations moved forward with the City Council in June – but any sign of progress is a breath of fresh air for an organization in dire need of future stability.
“We have always remained incredibly confident that this is the right project, the right deal, and we are the right team to get this done,” Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “We’d like to stay in Tempe. As you all know, we are here in Mullet Arena. As someone that recently told me, it is the most fun you will ever have at an NHL game, it’s been electric – and it’s just a preview. We always saw (Mullett Arena) as a temporary solution. We have put forth what we believe is the most transformative and iconic project for this community.”
The Tempe City Council will host two public hearings in the upcoming weeks about the new proposal. On Nov. 22, the Coyotes and Gutierrez will present their project proposal, one week before the City Council votes to send it to a public referendum on the already reserved May 16 date.
For the Tempe City Council, it valued the public’s feedback and wants the city’s future to be in the community’s hands.
“I’ve been on council now for 10 and a half years, and I’ve never had a project that’s actually had this much public interest with this much public attention,” Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said. “We have a 46-acre contiguous piece of land, and it’s the last probably huge parcel in Tempe that project could happen on. And as I talked about, before, every other sports arena project in some way, shape or form has gone before the voters or in some element of it has.
“So our perspective was better to have an opportunity to have this on the ballot in March or May, which is where we have our council elections. Reserving this date for the May 16 election is very consistent with what we do for all of our city elections, and gives our residents a real chance to have a say.”
There is also the potential problem of litigation from Sky Harbor International Airport, the City of Phoenix, the Goldwater Institute or local citizen groups.
According to a PHNX Sports report, the airport has threatened litigation over the construction of multi-residence units that it says violate a 1994 intergovernmental agreement between the cities, but that agreement appears to make an exception for soundproofed apartments such as the ones that the Coyotes plan to build; a point which Coyotes attorney Nick Wood drove home at the council meeting in June.
“We have had many conversations with the airport as you all know, we presented several times with the Phoenix Airport Advisory Board,” Gutierrez said. “We again had been fully transparent about what our project looked like. And the fact that we from day one wanted to put a proposal together that would not only satisfy the intergovernmental agreement, but also the Federal Aviation Association, who truly is focused on the safety and soundness of the airport. What we have proposed, what we will be putting forth, very publicly now, we believe will not only satisfy everything that the FAA wants, but what truly is allowed under the IGA.”
With the vote in the hands of the people, it’s hard to predict the outcome if the project goes to a referendum. If the project is denied, the Coyotes will undoubtedly be in a predicament regarding their future home.
One recent sports complex development in Berlin, Maryland, was recently under a referendum to be built but the majority of voters did not give their support. Even with the rejection, the project in Maryland is still seeking an alternative for funding.
In the general election, 52.37% of voters were against Question A, which was meant to determine whether the Worcester County Commissioners could bond the costs associated with a sports complex. There were 9,424 (52.37%) votes against the question and 8,572 (47.63%) in favor to the question.
“The referendum wasn’t on a sports complex,” Joe Mitrecic, the commissioner and President of the Board of County Commissioners in Worcester County, told the MDCoastDispatch. “The referendum was on the bond issue. As far as I’m concerned, the sports complex project continues on. We just have to find a different way to fund it.”
The Coyotes referendum is on the sports complex, but Maryland’s close vote is an encouraging to the organization.
“We’ve seen a glimpse of (hockey in Tempe),” Gutierrez said. “Now imagine if you have an opportunity to create this transformative sports and entertainment district over 46 acres. That to us would be the crowning jewel of what Tempe has envisioned itself to be right here in the heart of the Valley.”