TEMPE – The future of NHL hockey in the Valley is in doubt after Tempe voters rejected ballot measures that would have allowed the Arizona Coyotes to build a new arena in the city.
Unofficial election results from the Maricopa County Elections Department show that voters rejected Propositions 301 and 302, 56% to 44%, and Proposition 303, 57% to 43%, in a special election that concluded Tuesday.
More than 29,000 votes have been counted, and there are approximately 4,200 additional ballots left to be counted in the Tempe and Carefree municipal elections, according to the elections office, which expects a results update Wednesday night.
Supporters of the project conceded defeat, and the remaining votes left to be counted appeared unlikely to change the result, which will be certified June 1 at a Tempe City Council meeting.
“This is an affirmation of Tempe residents wanting to have a say in the process,” former Tempe councilwoman Lauren Kuby said Tuesday night. “This is the last piece of city-owned land, and it’s time to get back to the drawing board. This development deal was not the right one for our city.” Kuby is a member of Tempe 1st, which advocated against the proposed entertainment district that would have housed the new arena.
The project was contentious both in the electoral realm and the legal forum. The cities of Tempe and Phoenix have been embroiled in a legal feud over the residential construction included in the project. The city of Phoenix, which operates Sky Harbor International Airport, filed a lawsuit in May that alleged that Tempe violated a 1994 intergovernmental agreement that the city claims disallows residential land use in airport-noise-affected areas.
Proposition 301 would have amended the city’s General Plan 2024 Land Use Map to facilitate the redevelopment of the city-owned, but commercially zoned, property into a mixed-use project that would allow an entertainment district with retail, restaurant, hotel, office and residential uses. Proposition 302 would have rezoned the city property, and Proposition 303 would have upheld Tempe’s decision to authorize Mayor Corey Woods to sign off on a development and disposition agreement with Meruelo’s Bluebird Development LLC.
The $2.1 billion proposed Tempe district, funded primarily by private investment, would have included a 16,000-seat hockey arena,1,995 multi-family residential units, retail businesses and gambling hubs on 46 acres of city-owned land west of Tempe Town Lake on Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway.
The decisive loss comes at a turning point for the hockey franchise as the team exceeded expectations on the ice last season and holds the sixth draft pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
“We are very disappointed that Tempe voters did not approve propositions 301, 302 and 303,” Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said in a news release Tuesday night.
Prior to the vote, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who advocated for the project, and representatives from the Coyotes refused to speculate on what the future may hold for the organization.
“The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referenda regarding the Coyotes arena project in Tempe. We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options are going forward,” Bettman said in a statement on Twitter Tuesday night.
Statement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding the results of the arena vote in Tempe, Arizona. pic.twitter.com/MVL3AUWP7R
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 17, 2023
Looming large in the aftermath of the defeat at the polls is the Coyotes’ future location prospects – with speculation rampant of a move out of the Phoenix market. An Atlanta metro-area hockey arena project was announced in April,and Houston, Kansas City, Quebec City and Salt Lake City all have relocation rumors swirling..
“What is next for our organization will be evaluated by our owner and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks,” Gutierrez said Tuesday at the franchise’s election watch party.
The Coyotes confirmed the team will play at Mullett Arena on the Arizona State University campus through the 2023-2024 NHL season.
Reporter Piper Hansen contributed to this story.