The scenario is painfully familiar: Arizona Coyotes fans are teased by the thought of a sparkling new arena in the Tempe area, complete with stunning renderings, only to have it fall through months or years later (from ‘ASU pulls out of plan to bring Arizona Coyotes to Tempe,’ AZCentral.com, Feb 3, 2017).
Considering that, fans are excused if they approach the recent news of the team’s interest in a new arena with skepticism, though there are actually a few good reasons to believe a deal that ensures the Coyotes remain in Arizona actually gets done this time.
Tempe Issued Request for Proposals, Coyotes Responded
The buzz started near the end of July, when the city of Tempe issued a request for proposals on 46 acres of city land, in which a mixed-use sports and development complex could be built. That announcement, followed by a subsequent statement from the city, immediately piqued interest around The Valley.
The City of Tempe has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a project incorporating a professional sports franchise and entertainment district for two parcels of city-owned land totaling 46 acres at the northeast corner of Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. While the RFP is open, the city will not discuss the matter beyond providing this statement. The statement should be attributed to the City of Tempe as the sole official statement on this matter.”City of Tempe, July 22, 2021
The statement went on to say “any professional sports franchise” can respond to the RFP, though it’s widely believed that Tempe and the Coyotes have been in discussion for some time to relocate from Gila River Arena in Glendale, to Tempe. Development could be a challenge, to say the least, considering the site is currently situated on Tempe’s Solid Waste Compost Yard, and will require nearly $70 million to simply prepare it for construction.
As highlighted on the map below, despite what could be an extremely costly cleanup effort, the site itself could be an incredible backdrop for hockey in the desert. It sits on the Salt River, is near the airport and major highways for easy access, and is widely believed to be considerably closer to the Coyotes’ fanbase.
Needless to say, though there are too many hurdles left to get overly excited about this proposition, it’s not far-fetched to believe this time, it could be for real.
Why It May Actually Happen
Again, fans are forgiven if they don’t bat an eyelash with the recent news, because the Coyotes’ future in Arizona has always felt like it has been in doubt. Even prior to this season, rumblings circulated that the team was eyeing a relocation to Houston, a geographical move that actually would make a lot of sense, considering the team has moved to the Central Division for the 2021-22 season. That, coupled with the team’s tumultuous past in Glendale, has some thinking a move out of The Valley is inevitable.
Not so fast.
There are a number of reasons why this time the development of a new arena could actually come to fruition. For starters, owner Alex Meruelo is a billionaire, and his ability to inject capital into a project like this cannot be overstated. Previous proposals relied heavily on public funds — a subject that’s continually gained controversy in recent years — but having a wealthy owner could pay dividends towards this effort.
In addition, the recent legalization of sports betting in Arizona plays right into the hands of each professional sports team, and many, including the Phoenix Suns (NBA), will begin cashing in right away by adding a sports book to their facilities. The Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) and Arizona Cardinals (NFL) are following suit, so there’s no reason to believe it’s not in the Coyotes’ plans, either.
Simply put, the amount of money to be made by keeping the team in the Grand Canyon State could be too eye-popping to pass up.
Keep Your Guard Up
Yes, it’s an exciting development, because after all the years of speculation, drama, and heartache, the team actually feels like it may be taking a step towards permanent residency in Arizona. It’s mind-blowing to think that despite the Coyotes’ tenure in The Valley, uncertainty around their future continues to drive conversations.
In reality, it’s a situation that hasn’t been fair to the players or the fans. It’s certainly tough to recruit the big names to come play in a scenario where the team is consistently bickering with its hometown city, and it’s awfully hard to attract a loyal fan base when you’ve only been to the playoffs twice in the last 10 seasons.
Clearly rebuilding — yet again — a new home would stabilize hockey in Arizona, and who knows? Maybe once it’s all said and done, the prodigal son will return home.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.