Despite auction date set, roadblocks lie ahead in Arizona Coyotes’ trip to new arena as Salt Lake City makes overtures

The clock is ticking for the Arizona Coyotes to win land and keep their arena plan alive as a way to finally plant permanent roots in the Valley. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Coyotes)

TEMPE – The Arizona Coyotes have had a wild month. Between zeroing in on yet another potential place in the Valley to call home and news that the NHL has reportedly dropped a contingency plan in case the team is relocated to Salt Lake City – along with the owner of the Utah Jazz asking fans on social media for possible team names should SLC lure the ‘Yotes – there has been no shortage of off-the-ice drama.

Now, Coyotes fans will have to wait until June 27 to see if and where the team’s future exists.

The Coyotes are focused on a 110-acre piece of land next to the Desert Ridge Marketplace in north Phoenix, right off Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road, a parcel of desert that was approved for auction on March 14. An already popular area will become more popular with the addition of the arena and the entertainment district in the surrounding areas, according to Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo.

But the interest from business executives and politicians in Utah could prompt the franchise to once again pull up stakes and move to what it considers greener pastures. In 1996, the Winnipeg Jets moved to the Valley and rebranded as the Phoenix Coyotes, before changing the name in 2014 to the Arizona Coyotes.

On March 20, the team released renderings of new arena plans in North Phoenix on its mobile app. Last Thursday, the big day finally came, as the auction date was listed publicly. Now, the team will have the opportunity to win the land outright and keep the team in Arizona, which is a priority, according to Meruelo.

“Arizona is our home, and an incredible market where the Coyotes belong,” Meruelo said in a team press release. “This district would provide a beautiful home for the Arizona Coyotes for decades to come.”

The Coyotes have been in arena limbo for several years, but things have become very real for the team as of late. In 2021, the Coyotes’ 18-year relationship with the city of Glendale and then Gila River Arena, now Desert Diamond Arena, came to a harsh end. Scrambling quickly to find a place to play their home games, the Coyotes moved into Arizona State University’s Mullet Arena, which seats 5,000, by far the smallest current NHL arena. The next smallest is the Canada Life Centre, which seats 15,321 and is home to the Winnipeg Jets.

The contract between ASU and the Coyotes has at least one more year on it, which has allowed the Coyotes extra time to find a permanent home. The two sides also have the option to work out additional years, if needed.

The Coyotes’ exploration for a new location ramped up in the last few months, with time winding down on finding a new spot. Meruelo had floated several ideas, most notably a location in Mesa, before honing in on the latest North Phoenix spot of land.

While the location has been chosen, the auction date has been set, and the Coyotes themselves have made it a priority to acquire this land, there are still doubts in the mind of Marty Walsh, the president of the NHL’s Players Association. Walsh questions how quickly the Coyotes can get the construction finalized, should they acquire the land.

“OK, you can buy a piece of land,” said Walsh, a politician and trade union official who previously served as the 29th United States Secretary of Labor and, before that, was the mayor of Boston. “How long will it take you to permit the land? Do you need a referendum? Is there hazardous waste; do you need to remediate the land? There’s lots of questions. So you can talk about buying land in Arizona and it can be 10 years before a shovel goes in the ground.”

In addition to Walsh’s concerns, the Coyotes received more doubt regarding their plans Monday, as Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega sent a release to multiple news outlets expressing his apprehension over the practicality of the development. As stated in the release sent to ABC15, Ortega called the plan a “fantasy hockey project.”

“The prospect of a rookie developer attempting to buy Arizona State Trust Land with absolutely no infrastructure on the Phoenix side of the 101/Scottsdale Road intersection at the doorstep of Scottsdale is not feasible or welcome,” Ortega said in the statement.

On Tuesday, Ortega released another statement, further clarifying his prior concerns.

“I am pushing for the 64th Street/Loop 101 solution for 100% access in Phoenix,” he said, adding that the accessibility from that location would be best for fans and the city. Ortega finished his Tuesday statement by saying that there is an “OPEN NET! At 64th/101, so the Coyotes can score easily.” It was a far cry from his statement just one day earlier.

Cronkite Sports reached out to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, but received no response at the time of publishing.

While Arizona executives and politicians spar over the team’s next move, the 653-mile distance that lies between the prospective location in north Phoenix and Salt Lake City has become all the more important. With the ownership group of the Utah Jazz clamoring for an NHL team combined with the struggles in Arizona to secure both support and a permanent location, the franchise move to SLC is gaining steam.

“The League is continuing to work on a solution to what has been a challenging and difficult situation,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said regarding the speculation, according to Pierre LeBrun, senior NHL columnist for The Athletic. “But we are not in a position to comment beyond that.”

Regarding the Coyotes’ potential future in-state, team CEO and president Xavier Gutierrez said the franchise’s vision is focused on the North Phoenix parcel as the final destination.

“This is it. This is the plan or else we are going to have to explore relocation of this organization,” Gutierrez said.

If the Coyotes franchise were to move to Salt Lake City, the plan would be to use the Delta Center, according to the San Diego-Union Tribune. The Delta Center is currently home to the Utah Jazz, along with hosting other events including concerts, as construction for a permanent home commences.

The development in Phoenix, despite the additional motor traffic and renovations it may bring, is expected to be a huge addition to its tourist traffic and the surrounding areas. In their press release last Thursday, the Coyotes stated that the arena would have 17,000 seats, and potential for 1,500 seats to be added in for other events. In addition, the Coyotes are looking to add a 150,000-square-foot practice facility, a huge benefit considering the team currently practices at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, the main practice facility since being built in 1998. Nearly 400,000 feet of retail space, along with several other additions, are also expected within the development.

“This is more than just an arena project,” Gutierrez said. “It is a best-in-class urban redevelopment project that would transform a perfectly located parcel of land into an Arizona landmark, and create a vibrant neighborhood for individuals to live, work and play.”

The Coyotes have stated that the fans and community are the priority and driving force for their plans. To show this, the Coyotes say they are committed to building this development entirely without taxpayer dollars, which would be a first for any current major arena in the Phoenix metro area. Additionally, the development will add upwards of 10,000 jobs, according to the team, and is estimated to create hundreds of millions in tax revenue for both the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County.

All of this circles back to the fans. Coyotes fans have waited a long time for their team to find a permanent home since parting ways with the City of Glendale and Gila River Arena in 2021. And now, the 78-day countdown has commenced to June 27, a day all hockey fans will want to have circled on their calendars.

“Our loyal fans deserve this vibrant gathering place that would serve as a landmark to create lifelong memories,” Meruelo said.

Zach Mott(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Zach Mott expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Mott has interned with the Varsity Sports Show doing camera and broadcast work.