Design & Development

Arizona Coyotes set to fold after abandoning hunt for new arena – reports

Featured image credit: Arizona Coyotes/Gensler

The Arizona Coyotes franchise is reportedly ending plans to return to the National Hockey League (NHL) after its latest setback in securing a new home.

Arizona Coyotes left the NHL earlier this year with the $1.2bn sale of the team’s hockey assets to Utah Jazz’s owners, who will launch a team in that state. However, Arizona owner Alex Meruelo retained the team’s trademark and secured an exclusive contractual right to reactivate the franchise within five years of the date if an arena was built.

Meruelo was this week set to bid at auction for a $68m, 90-acre plot of land in north Phoenix which had been earmarked for a new arena and wider development. However, the local authority cancelled the auction just days before it was due to commence over licensing concerns.

Meruelo’s team responded by releasing a scathing criticism of the local authority in response. Reports from Arizona on Tuesday, however, suggest that Coyotes staff have been told that leadership has now abandoned plans to pursue any other arena project.

While the team has five years to develop a new arena, it would have to be 50% complete by three and a half years. The prospect of securing the necessary permits – which could require a public referendum – buying the land and completing half the construction may have been seen as too tall an order.

Locals turn on Arizona Coyotes leadership

The Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) announced the cancellation after deciding that the NHL team should secure a special use permit before buying the land. Phoenix spokesperson Teleia Galaviz said the ASLD asked for an interpretation of the zoning on the site, and the city had determined a sports arena was not allowed under the existing zoning.

The team released a scathing statement about the auction’s cancelation, which they said “seriously jeopardises the future of NHL hockey returning to the desert.” “The Arizona Coyotes are exploring all our legal options given this shortsighted decision by the state,” the statement said.

ASLD said: “It is not uncommon for ASLD to require applicants to secure zoning/use permits prior to auction. We understand the delay in an auction is a disappointment for our applicant and members of the public, but the change in timing is the prudent decision for the Trust. ASLD remains open to working with our applicant to bring the land forward to auction in the future if a special use permit is received.”

Phoenix Councilman Jim Waring, whose district the proposed arena would be in, said that the Coyotes should “get a zoning attorney. They don’t have one. Get in the city, come up with a plan and go through the process. Then buy it.”

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega told Arizona Central that he had previously pointed out the land had “questionable zoning entitlement.” Ortega said: “Mr Meruelo’s fantasy hockey proposal was just a smokescreen as he exited after running the franchise under.”

Coyotes’ long history of arena setbacks

The Coyotes has seen multiple efforts to develop a new arena rebuffed since the relocation to Arizona in 1996 from Winnipeg, Canada.

Voters in the city of Tempe, Arizona last year rejected the development of a $2.1bn arena and entertainment district for the Coyotes, placing the long-term future of the franchise in doubt once again. The 46-acre project would have included a 16,000-capacity arena designed by Manica Architecture.

The team has been playing at Mullett Arena, a 5,000-seat facility in Tempe that is home of Arizona State University’s ice hockey team, the Sun Devils. It played what turned out to be an emotional final game at the venue on Wednesday.

The Coyotes previously played at the 17,000-capacity Gila River Arena in Glendale but the team’s lease deal expired following the 2021-22 season.