Already entering the 2021-22 NHL season with a new head coach, in a new division, and with a soon-to-be-revealed rebrand in the works, now the Arizona Coyotes will add a renewed search for a new home to their immediate future.
On Aug. 19, the city of Glendale announced it will not renew the hockey franchise’s operating agreement at Gila River Arena come season’s end, marking the end of a partnership dating back to the early 2000s — a partnership that has seen a succession of arena managers and short-term leases over the last five years.
Citing conversations between the team and the city in 2020, Glendale City Manager Kevin Phelps said he informed Coyotes management that the city would not extend the current arena lease past 2022 unless it involved a long-term commitment from the NHL club.
“Last year, I asked the team and arena manager to start working on a long-term agreement,” Phelps said.
“On Dec. 29 of last year, I had a conversation with team presidents Xavier Gutierrez and Patrick Murphy, along with the arena manager, about where we were at on the negotiations. I made it very clear that we the city would not be extending the lease beyond June of 2022 unless we had a long-term deal. … Ideally, a 15- to 18-plus-year range. … They have continually said since last October that they were only interested in a three-year (deal) plus maybe two one-year options.
“We just think we have a better direction that we want to go, (and) for a partner that’s been in our community for 18 years, we needed to give them as much advance notice as possible.”
Glendale has hosted the Coyotes at the city-owned arena since the franchise pulled up stakes from Downtown Phoenix in 2003. The first major sports team to call the West Valley an everyday home, the hockey team was soon joined by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals three years later in helping anchor and transforming 1,000-plus acres of dairy farmland into what would become the successful multiuse Westgate Entertainment District.
According to Phelps, the Coyotes vacating Gila River Arena after their 26th season in the league will equate to “larger, more impactful events and uses of the city-owned arena.” In turn, revenue from the Sports and Entertainment District, which includes buy-in from partners like the Cardinals and entrepreneur Bob Parsons, will ultimately be reinvested back into the city and help fund the community’s park system, transportation upgrades and job creation.
“One of the reasons why the Entertainment District is booming is because we have a number of all-in partners,” Phelps said. “When you look in that entire area, we’ve had almost a billion dollars of private-sector investment over the last three years, and they’re all in. They love the area. They see the demographics. They see the growth. They see the current sales volume.
“We’ve got this huge asset that we’ve invested a lot of money into, so what is the way we can use that arena to really make the biggest impact for the city of Glendale for our business community and for our citizens? That’s when we concluded that not only could we survive the Coyotes leaving, we can thrive.”
In a written response to Glendale’s decision, as well as in a letter that went out to Coyotes season-ticket holders and corporate partners a day later, team Gutierrez remained optimistic that a deal could still be hammered out in the interim to remain on the Westside, if not elsewhere in the Valley.
“We are hopeful that they will reconsider a move that would primarily damage the small businesses and hard-working citizens of Glendale,” Gutierrez said. “We remain open to restarting good-faith negotiations with the city.
“Most importantly, the Coyotes are 100% committed to finding a long-term arena solution here in Arizona, and nothing will shake our determination to do what is right for our organization, residents of the entire Valley and, most important, our fans.”
With the Yotes’ time at Gila River Arena winding down come late June of next year, there have been no shortage of rumored alternative arena sites over the years, including the notion of returning downtown to share the Phoenix Suns’ facility once again, going in on a joint East Valley arena with ASU, or even looking at building on local Indian Community land. While none of those plans have come to fruition, the newest one centers around purportedly developing an entertainment and arena district in Tempe.
In terms of the NHL getting involved in any sort of out-of-state team relocation, during a recent phone interview with New York’s WFAN 660 AM, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman downplayed the notion of the club leaving the Valley.
“I’m not worried about the Coyotes,” Bettman said. “I think their future stays in the greater Phoenix area.”
As for Westgate, with a plethora of new multimillion-dollar additions opening over the next few years, including Crystal Lagoons Island Resort and PopStroke Golf, the Entertainment District is no stranger to playing to Glendale’s strengths when it comes to attracting business and a crowd — regardless of the town’s future in regard to the Coyotes.
“There is nobody here in the state of Arizona who is going to be able to create an entertainment district of the size, scope or intensity of the Westgate Entertainment District,” Phelps said. “No one’s going to build another football stadium. No one’s going to have another Crystal Lagoons park. No one’s going to have two baseball teams at Camelback Ranch. All the things that we’re putting together, nobody else can do, because they don’t have the land. They don’t have the space, and we were blessed with this large canvas to work from. And now it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
The Coyotes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.