Coyotes file claim against Phoenix amid arena dispute

Featured image credit: Manica Architecture

The Arizona Coyotes NHL ice hockey franchise and its development partner Bluebird Development have filed a claim against the City of Phoenix, which last week launched legal action against the City of Tempe over residential developments planned as part of a new arena for the team.

The Coyotes are planning on building a $2.1bn (£1.7bn/€1.9bn) arena and entertainment district in Tempe, with the project having been approved back in November. Tempe City Council voted 7-0 in favour of approving key aspects of the plan put forward by the Coyotes, and residents will get the opportunity to vote on the project on May 16.

If voters approve, the 46-acre project could be built with a planned 16,000-seat Coyotes hockey arena, practice facility, hotels, multi-family residential, retail and more. The developer will use largely private funding to build the four million-square-foot development and, according to November’s agreement, will pay Tempe $50.3m for the land. This includes $40m in non-refundable cash up-front before environmental remediation of the site.

Last week, the City of Phoenix announced plans to sue Tempe for breach of contract in a dispute over planned residential developments in a high-noise corridor directly under Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s flight path. The residential developments form part of the wide-ranging entertainment district plan.

The airport is owned by the City of Phoenix, which has asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land use changes and prohibit future residential uses in an area that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says is incompatible with residential development.

The issue relates to a 1.2-square-mile area of land adjacent to the airport in Tempe which is exposed to noise levels exceeding 65-decibel day/night level. The FAA recently reaffirmed the boundaries of this high-noise area and confirmed that it is not compatible with housing.

The cities of Phoenix and Tempe formally agreed back in 1994 that Phoenix would actively defend a modified flight path that follows the Salt River bottom in order to keep departing planes away from homes, while Tempe promised not to permit the development of homes under that modified flight path in the 65 DNL.

Phoenix said it had tried numerous times over the past year to resolve disagreements with Tempe and attempt to find a path forward, avoiding litigation. It expressed concern that residential development in the area could expose it to residents taking actions such as filing noise complaints, lawsuits, and other initiatives to reduce or halt airport capacity and development.

The Coyotes and Bluebird Development have now responded to Phoenix’s lawsuit by filing a $2.3bn notice of claim against the city over an alleged breach of contract, the Associated Press reports. The claim acts as a precursor to a lawsuit.

In a statement reported by the AP, Coyotes chief executive and president Xavier Hernandez said: “Phoenix City Hall’s bad behaviour seems intended to preserve its downtown sports venue monopoly and has nothing to do with safety or soundness of the airport.

“While Phoenix bureaucrats have allowed developers to build a basketball arena, a ballpark, and apartments in flight paths, when Tempe attempts to do the same a manufactured crisis arrives.”

Officials in Phoenix have said that they would be willing to allow the Tempe Entertainment District project to go ahead if Tempe can provide assurances that no more residential developments will be built in the high-noise area.

A statement from the city read: “Phoenix will respond in due course, but the developer restates the same arguments that the airport, and more importantly, the FAA has already debunked. At the same time, we can understand and appreciate the developer’s frustration. But their frustration is misdirected. They should be frustrated with Tempe.”

The Coyotes revealed plans for the Tempe development back in September 2021. The arena has been designed by Manica Architecture.

The team is currently playing at Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena, a new 5,000-seat facility, as it continues efforts to secure a permanent home. The Coyotes will play at the arena until at least the end of the 2024-25 NHL season.