Tempe voters have rejected the development of a $2.1bn (£1.69bn/€1.94bn) arena and entertainment district for the Arizona Coyotes, with the long-term future of the NHL ice hockey franchise again in doubt.
Both the Coyotes and Tempe City Council have conceded that the project, encompassing an arena, hotels, apartments, restaurants and retail, will not move forward now that residents have voted to decline the Tempe Entertainment District.
Maricopa County Elections Department has released its first count of votes for the three arena-related propositions on yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) ballot. Propositions 301, 302 and 303 needed to receive a majority of votes in favour so that the Coyotes project could proceed.
However, the results of yesterday’s early ballots, scheduled back in November, demonstrated voting against 301 and 302 by a 56% to 44% margin, and 303 by 57% to 43%. With not enough same-day ballots left to count that would overturn these margins, project stakeholders have conceded defeat.
In response, Arizona Coyotes president and CEO, Xavier A. Gutierrez, said: “We are very disappointed Tempe voters did not approve Propositions 301, 302, and 303. As Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said, it was the best sports deal in Arizona history.
“The Coyotes wish to thank everyone who supported our efforts and voted yes. So many community leaders stepped up and became our advocates and for that we are truly grateful. We also wish to thank the countless volunteers who worked so hard to try and make the Tempe Entertainment District a reality and the Tempe City Council for their support as well.
“While we wanted a different outcome, we remain grateful to all those who volunteered their time and talent. What is next for the franchise will be evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks.”
Tempe City Council added: “Tempe voters have spoken and we respect their voices. Our unanimous vote in November 2022 to move the Tempe Entertainment District forward, after months of due diligence and negotiations, showed our enthusiasm for this project and our belief that it was in the best interests of the community. Enough residents did not share our view and we accept this result.
“The Arizona Coyotes have been good partners in this effort. We believe Alex Meruelo, Xavier Gutierrez and the whole organisation have put forward their best for our community and for this proposal. We are grateful for the resounding community support from past Mayors and City Councils, from the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, Tempe Tourism, the Black Chamber of Arizona and so many more.
“It’s time to move forward. Above all, we as Tempe residents are neighbours and friends who can determine where we will go next. This fall we will offer public input opportunities to begin creating a path forward for this important property.”
The Coyotes in November hailed Tempe City Council’s approval of its $2.1bn arena and entertainment district, with Gutierrez stating the venture would turn a “landfill into a landmark”.
If voters approved, the 46-acre project would have been built with a planned 16,000-seat Coyotes hockey arena, practice facility, hotels, multi-family residential, retail and more. The developer was due to use largely private funding to build the four million-square-foot development and would have paid Tempe $50.3m for the land.
The Council’s unanimous vote came after two public hearings, as well as months of negotiations, city due diligence and developer-hosted public meetings. However, the project has proved a battle ground on multiple levels.
One such example saw the Coyotes and its development partner Bluebird Development last month file a claim against the City of Phoenix, which earlier launched legal action against the City of Tempe over residential developments planned as part of the new arena scheme.
In September 2021, the Coyotes revealed plans for a development in Tempe. The arena has been designed by Manica Architecture. As the Coyotes sought to progress the plans, Mullett Arena in October staged its first-ever NHL game as the team fell to a 3-2 defeat against the Winnipeg Jets, with a crowd of around 4,600 in attendance.
The Coyotes are due to be playing at the new 5,000-seat facility from the 2022-23 to 2024-25 seasons – and potentially the 2025-26 campaign – as the team continues efforts to secure a permanent home.
The franchise relocated from the Canadian city of Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996, where it has since had a chequered history involving several ownership changes and bankruptcy in 2009, which led to the NHL assuming control for a period of time.
The team originally played in Phoenix, but moved to Glendale from 2003 through last season, when the city council did not renew its arena lease, necessitating the search for a new home and the Tempe project.
Efforts to secure a new home for the Coyotes has been one of the key items on the agenda for the NHL, and the latest news will resume speculation over a potential franchise relocation.
“The NHL is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referenda regarding the Coyotes’ arena project in Tempe,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”