‘Enough bullying’: NHL Commissioner Bettman, Coyotes defend plan for new Tempe arena

Protesters stand outside a press conference in Tempe featuring Arizona Coyotes executives discussing propositions related to a new arena and entertainment district. (Photo by Brooklyn Hall/Cronkite News)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discusses Arizona’s proposed arena and entertainment district, saying it’s “going to create jobs. It’s going to create a greater identity than Tempe already has.” (Photo by Brooklyn Hall/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – A spirited and sometimes tense environment defined the Tempe Chamber of Commerce Thursday as prominent figures including NHL commissioner Garry Bettman spoke passionately in support of the Coyotes’ proposed arena in Tempe while protesters outside voiced their opposition.

The news conference was scheduled to take place in a parking lot next to a Goodwill store but was moved earlier in the day because of vandalism of the property. The words “Vote no” in reference to upcoming votes on propositions 301, 302 and 303 were spread with chalk and graffiti across the building, Goodwill Chief Executive Officer Tim O’Neal said.

“We are incredibly angry by those actions and they were clearly the actions of critics and opponents of this campaign,” Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “This is unacceptable actions by individuals who need to be held accountable. It is one thing for you to disagree with a project and with a deal, but it is unacceptable for you to vandalize a pillar of the community.”

(Video by James Powel/Cronkite News)

Starting Wednesday, ballots are expected to be mailed out to vote on the propositions, which would approve a project to build a Tempe Sports and Entertainment District next to Tempe Town Lake, changing the classification of land from a city-owned commercially zoned property into a mixed-use project.

The proposed district includes a 16,000-seat arena, a practice rink, restaurants, a retail center, two hotels, a private medical office campus, 1,995 residential units and a 3,500-person theater.

“We believe that this is a place where hockey should be permanently,” Bettman said. “We believe that being a part of this great community is something that enhances our game, and we believe that finally, we’re at a place where we can ensure the future of the Coyotes for the benefit, not just the Coyotes or Coyotes fans, but for this community.

“It’s going to create jobs. … There is everything so right about this project and about this arena and it’s something that obviously the Coyotes need. It’s something that, frankly, I’m having trouble understanding what the downside of it is.”

Challenges for the plan arose when the operating entity of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport filed legal action against the city of Tempe.

Former Coyotes captain Shane Doan speaks emphatically about the value of a new arena and entertainment district in Tempe. (Photo by Brooklyn Hall/Cronkite News)

Concerns expressed in the suit include traffic congestion, sports gambling that would take place at the proposed complex and unfair benefits gained from the developers.

“We’re just creating bottlenecks and traffic congestion and neighborhoods in the southeast neighborhoods are really going to suffer from that,” former Tempe City Councilmember Lauren Kuby said at a public discussion about the proposed entertainment district in February.

Unnecessary noise in the area is also an issue raised by critics. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a letter to the Tempe city manager last summer expressing concern about noise-related issues if the entertainment district is to be built.

Phoenix’s aviation department also filed a legal claim against the city of Tempe for the residential development part of the entertainment district due to concerns over the affordability for people living in the city. The Coyotes responded by filing a $2.3 billion lawsuit against the city of Phoenix.

“Well, you certainly have interest in downtown Phoenix that want to stop Tempe from growing,” former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said. “We’ve seen that for 35 years. And we’ve seen the airport used to try to achieve that end. Enough. Enough bullying.”

Hallman said the city of Phoenix was once on the same page as the Coyotes and Tempe about the construction of the sports and entertainment district.

“Why have they changed their tune? It’s not about this deal, I can tell you,” Hallman said. “Because Sky Harbor has now made demands, they’ve gotten their hand caught in the cookie jar. They’ve now tried to pretend that they weren’t making unreasonable demands, that they want an unfettered opportunity to expand the airport at Tempe’s expense.”

The Coyotes are no stranger to legal action. In December 2021, the Coyotes faced eviction from Gila River Arena after Glendale City Manager Kevin Phelps announced that they were $1.3 million in debt and owed $250,000 to the city of Glendale.

After the 2021-22 season, the Coyotes ended their tenure in Glendale and moved to 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe, where they currently reside.

Despite struggles to maintain a permanent home, Garry Bettman and the NHL are committed to the Coyotes and want them to live long into the future.

“Once this project is built, this team is never going anywhere. It’s going to be here forever,” Bettman said. “And that is a great legacy for the Meruelo family and the National Hockey League and for Tempe.”

Remy Mastey REH-mee MASS-tee
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Remy Mastey expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Mastey has interned as an editorial intern with NHL.com.

James Powel jaymz POW-uhl
News Reporter, Phoenix

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, James Powel became interested in journalism at a young age. After working as a stringer for the Daily News, his love affair was confirmed. Powel has been the sports editor for The Corsair newspaper in Santa Monica, California, lead producer for SMCTV, sideline and general reporter for El Segundo Media and a general reporter for Hawthorne Community Television.

Brooklyn Hall BROOK-lyn hall (she/her)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Brooklyn Hall expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Hall has interned with the Amarillo Sod Poodles and is currently interning with the Arizona Diamondbacks on their DBTV crew.