In yet another fun and exciting chapter in the ongoing Phoenix Coyotes ownership saga (rumors that rights to the story have been sold to Paramount Pictures are non-existent and untrue), the Glendale City Council met again on Tuesday to discuss the parameters of a new lease deal with potential owner Greg Jamison. The former CEO of the San Jose Sharks has been trying to buy the team from the NHL for over a year now, but every time a deal seems imminent, a new wrinkle is added to the mix.
The city of Glendale has been the primary offender in the wrench-in-the-works whodunit, scuttling a new lease deal back in July and then holding off on discussions about voting on a reworked one until the recent November elections took place. In that contest, Glendale voters overwhelmingly voted to maintain a sales tax increase that the city said was needed to save the jobs of numerous city employees, including firefighters and police officers.
Not having to cut those budgets gave the city an opportunity to put money into the new arena management deal with Jamison, and this meeting on Tuesday was the first time they had discussed the matter with that knowledge in mind.
For now, the matter will be decided by a council vote next Tuesday the 29th of November. The new lease deal, worked out by Jamison and interim Glendale City Manager Horatio Skeete, would cut down on the money that Glendale would have to pay Jamison up front as part of the “arena management fee” that the two sides agreed upon in the new deal. According to various reports, the new deal would put Glendale in a bigger financial hole within five years than they would be without the Coyotes present, but over the long-term life of the deal, the city would face an even bigger shortfall if the NHL franchise relocated elsewhere.
This battle over short-term and long-term effects has been a polarizing one for the Council. Mayor Elaine Scruggs, who will be replaced in January by new mayor Jerry Weiers, has switched her position on the deal over the course of time, now saying that the new lease wouldn’t be in Glendale’s best interests. Councilwoman Norma Alvarez is also against the deal, but several Councilmembers, including Joyce Clark, Manny Martinez, and Vice Mayor Steve Frate, are in support of it. The two sides are neck and neck in terms of the votes necessary to either put the deal through before the new council is seated on January 15th, or to torpedo the deal and start from scratch.
According to the Phoenix Business Journal, Yvonne Knaack is going to end up being the deciding vote in adjudicating the matter. In the past, she has supported the Coyotes staying in Glendale, but it is unclear how she intends to vote when the Council meets next Tuesday to decide the lease’s fate.
Even if the deal goes through, however, there are still potential obstacles. The notorious Goldwater Institute, which essentially scuttled the sale to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, is keeping a sharp eye on the proceedings and could initiate a campaign to force a referendum on the issue for Glendale voters. If they decline to act, then the new City Council theoretically could, and with the stiff opposition the Coyotes deal faces from the incoming crop of legislators, they could abort the lease as well and lead Jamison back to the drawing board.
If either the Goldwater or new Council scenarios were to play out, it would hardly be a surprise if Jamison backed out of the deal once and for all. He has patiently waited for the Council to redesign the lease agreement into one that is more beneficial for both sides, and they have continued to stonewall him and talk a big game to the public that they are serving. These tactics aren’t going to get the team to commit to staying any sooner, and very well could end up driving them away once and for all. As even Horatio Skeete has said, the short-term implications for Glendale of keeping the team are going to necessitate sacrifice, but the long-term prognosis for the city and for the Westgate Center where the Coyotes play would be grim if the team were allowed to leave.
It’s time to stop playing politics with this potential hot potato and just give the deal an up or a down vote. If the vote is no, then the league can focus on trying to sell the team to someone else, and with cities like Seattle, Quebec City, and others looking to gain a foothold in the NHL, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a deal that will benefit the league elsewhere. If the vote is yes, then you will have not only allowed the team to stay in Arizona, but will also ensure that the long-term viability of Jobing.com Arena and the Westgate Center are kept intact, and work from there to fix the city’s budget problems.
Assuming that a “no” vote will be yet another kicking of the can down the road is a dangerous mistake that Councilmembers voting against the deal will be making, because there is no guarantee that Jamison will want to continue to negotiate with a Council that is hostile to him. “Put up or shut up” time has arrived for the City of Glendale. If they vote no on this deal, it has to be assumed that it will be a death knell for NHL hockey in Arizona. If they vote yes, there is still a chance that things could go south, but if people get their act together and dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s, then we may just be finally looking at that new era of Coyotes hockey that fans have been hoping for all along.