The Arizona Coyotes’ bid for a new arena appears to be dead.
In the first release of results from Tuesday’s referendum, voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe were strongly against three propositions to build a US$2.3-billion entertainment district that would include a new arena for the Coyotes.
Opposition to the three propositions had a double-digit lead over those in favour, with only ballots dropped off Tuesday left to count.
“The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referendum regarding the Coyotes’ arena project in Tempe,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”
The vote took place after the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport expressed concerns about residences that were part of the project in a high-noise area under the airport’s flight path.
The Coyotes had hoped a new arena in Tempe would finally allow the franchise to settle down after playing in three different venues since moving to Arizona.
Now it appears the franchise has to search for a new home — again.
“We are very disappointed Tempe voters did not approve Propositions 301, 302, and 303,” the Coyotes said. “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.”
The team shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns after relocating from Winnipeg in 1996, then moved to Glendale’s Gila River Arena in 2003. But the Coyotes had a troubled tenure in the Phoenix suburb.
Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the Coyotes into bankruptcy in 2009 and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie put in a bid to purchase the team with the intention of moving it to Hamilton, Ontario.
The NHL, wanting to keep the team in Arizona, put in a counter bid and a Phoenix judge ruled the team could not be sold to Balsillie to circumvent the NHL’s relocation rules.
The league ran the Coyotes for four seasons and the financial constraints took a toll, leading in part to a seven-year playoff drought.
A new ownership group brought new hope in 2013 but turmoil surfaced again in 2015, when the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term, multimillion-dollar lease agreement. The Coyotes leased the arena on an annual basis until Glendale announced it was terminating the contract after the 2021-22 season.
The franchise found a temporary solution, working out a deal to share Arizona State’s Mullett Arena for three seasons. The Mullett has a capacity of 5,000 and is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.
The Coyotes submitted a bid to buy a tract of land in Tempe, and the Tempe City Council voted to begin negotiating on a new entertainment district. The City Council later voted to send the project to a public vote.
The Coyotes thought they were in good standing with the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor before a legal filing in March sought to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land-use changes. It also asked to prohibit future residential considerations in an area the FAA says is incompatible with residential development due to its positioning under Sky Harbor flight paths.
The Coyotes countered by filing a US$2.3-billion notice of claim against the city of Phoenix for alleged breach of contract.