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Arizona Coyotes owner has a plan for north Phoenix land. Even so, ASU will be home for awhile

By Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, February 6, 2024 - 10:54am
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2024 - 5:54pm

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The Arizona Coyotes play the Pittsburgh Penguin
Phil Latzman/KJZZ
The Arizona Coyotes play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Gila River Arena in Glendale on March 19, 2022.

The Arizona Coyotes say they are planning to buy state trust land in north Phoenix for a new arena. The team confirmed the move in a social media post late last week.

This comes as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the league’s All-Star weekend that the team’s owner told him that he was "certain" he was going to get this done. But, the head of the NHL Players’ Association, Marty Walsh, said he has "serious concerns" about the situation here, and that "the clock is ticking" on finding a permanent solution for the team.

The Show spoke with Craig Morgan, who covers the Coyotes for PHNX Sports, for more about what's happening.

Full interview

So what's, what's this, this trust land that the Coyotes are looking to possibly bid on here?

CRAIG MORGAN: Well, it's as, as you mentioned, it's in northeast Phoenix adjacent to Scottsdale, near the Mayo Clinic, actually near Desert Ridge Mall. They've, they've obviously been trying to find a solution for a while. Everybody knows about the failed Tempe vote and they have, having to scrap those plans, but this, this is the latest venture for them. We'll see how it plays out. There are a lot of steps that I'm sure we're going to talk about in this interview before this becomes reality.

Yeah. I mean, the, the timeline here could be fairly lengthy because it's not like a piece of land you just buy, they have to bid on it. There's a public process for that, then there's permitting and all sorts of other stuff they have to do, right?

MORGAN: Yeah, that's, that's absolutely true. Entitlements, zoning, there's so many variables at play here. It's, it's hard to say when shovels could go in the ground even if they are successful in that bid, but you mentioned the bid as well. It, it could be posted for, for auction as soon as Feb. 8, two days from now. It could be delayed. But even when that happens and I've been told that there are no other, there have been no other applications for the, the land at this point. But even when it's posted, other bidders could come into the process and then, you know, for Alex Meruelo to say he's certain he's going to win this. Well, I don't know how you can say with 100% certainty when it's an actual auction and the lands up for a bit.

Right. Well, so is the plan for the Coyotes that it would be a development similar to what they had planned for Tempe where there'd be an arena and other stuff around it?

MORGAN: Yeah, there will have to be adjustments specific to the site itself.

Sure.

MORGAN: But by and large, I think the blueprint that you saw for the Tempe entertainment district would carry over to this new site.

All right. So let me ask you about Marty Walsh, the head of the NHL Players' Association. Gary Bettman, as you say, seemed, you know, fairly rosy about the prospects and has seemed fairly bullish on the Coyote staying in, in the Phoenix area. Marty Walsh, not so much.

MORGAN: Marty Walsh is doing his job as the head of the NHL Players' Association, the executive director. That's his title. Look, Marty Walsh has no actual power to make something happen on the ground. The only power that Marty Walsh has is rhetoric. and he is a politician. He's the former mayor of Boston. He understands rhetoric very well and he is banging the drum loud and clear, letting everyone know that the players cannot continue to play at Mullett Arena. It's not an NHL facility. They wanna honestly, they want better practice facilities as well. He wants a lot more from the, for the players than they are getting right now.

Again, he can't do anything other than make it known again and then again and again that the players are unhappy. I'm not even sure he's reflecting Coyotes' attitudes fully. But again, this is his job. it's impacting revenue certainly, when you're playing at Mullett Arena, it's impacting overall league revenue. So he is going to continue to bang that drum, as I said.

Is there a sense maybe if it's not reflecting Coyotes' player sentiment, like for visiting teams, I mean, I would imagine for some of them who haven't played in a 5,000 seat arena before, it's got to be kind of a shock coming from, you know, Madison Square Garden or some of the other palaces that some of these teams play in.

MORGAN: Yeah, it is. And some of the players, I mean, you know, the Athletic did a poll recently, and some of the players talked about not liking Mullett Arena. Other people, other players have said it's some of the best ice that they've ever skated on in the NHL. I know personally looking at that visiting dressing room, it's better than many visiting dressing rooms in the NHL because I've been in them all. But yeah, this is not an NHL arena and I, I don't want to make it as, as if the Coyotes players are content playing at Mullett Arena. They're not, they want an NHL arena, but they also understand it is what it is.

And I, I think they were a little bit more patient with this process before the Tempe vote failed. Now, it's OK. What do, is there actually a light at the end of the tunnel or is this some indefinite thing that we're going to have to do at the arena.

Right. Well, so given as we discussed, all of the steps that have to happen, assuming again the Coyotes win the bid and are able to, to buy the land, are they able to continue playing at Mullett Arena for as long as they need to until a new facility is built?

MORGAN: I'm glad you asked because I think there's a misconception about that when the Coyotes signed to play at Mullett Arena through Arizona State and the board of regents approved it, it was a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year. And I think people think, oh, that's the end of it. They have to be out.

No. I, I interviewed Morgan Olsen, the CFO for ASU at the time, and he said, look, we're not, we're not gonna kick the Coyotes out. If, if they need to extend it, we'll be open to that. ASU is profiting from this. ASU is happy with the arrangement. They're making a lot of money. They got an annex built that they can use now to host tournaments. They have four NHL caliber locker rooms. So it's really benefited them to have the Coyotes there in the short term.

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