We Hardly Knew You, Glendale: Coyotes Announce Plans for New Arena in Tempe
Thirteen years later, the shaggy dog story of the Arizona (née Phoenix) Coyotes’ ill-fated Glendale adventure has finally delivered its punchline.
Now, get ready for the moving-to-Tempe dog-and-pony show.
Poor dogs. They really deserve better than to keep getting dragged into this.
Monday’s announcement by the Desert Dogs (see?) — that they have entered into an agreement with Arizona State University’s master developer to begin knocking down the hurdles between the National Hockey League club and a new arena near the campus, right next to the ASU Karsten (i.e. Ping) Golf Course — means that the hockey world finally may come to know what the Phoenix market is really worth.
Likely answer: Plenty.
The Coyotes were never going to find out as long as they were housed in suburban Glendale, miles (and more importantly hours, in traffic) west of where the economic action and money are in the Valley of the Sun.
Suburbia just isn’t where it’s at any more, with arenas.
Glendale is to Phoenix as Landover, Md., was to Washington, as Richfield, Ohio, was to Cleveland, as Bloomington was to Minneapolis-St. Paul, as Pontiac or Auburn Hills was to Detroit, as Kanata is to Ottawa. The leafy burbs where players and coaches live may be OK for a practice facility, but the fan base needs to be in the same area code as the arena.
And though Glendale did its best to build a hotel/retail district around Gila River Arena and its neighbouring University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the NFL Cardinals) — and we reporters will tell you we’ll miss the Westgate entertainment complex and that great Renaissance hotel attached to the rink — everyone knew it was pipe dream to think it could work for hockey, way out yonder.
It works for the Cardinals because it’s nine or 10 trips a year, mostly on Sundays, for fans to trek over there. For a hockey season ticket holder it’s 41, a lot of them weeknights, not including pre- and post-season.
The Coyotes’ lease deal at Gila River expires after this season, so they’ll need to extend that for a couple more years until the new digs, part of a massive redevelopment of the ASU sports facilities, including a home for the recently-launched NCAA Division I hockey program, are scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 NHL season.
Note the word “scheduled.”
The Coyotes-ASU agreement states that the club has until June 30, 2017 to create the overall budget, design and operational plan for the development.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is ever over until it’s over with that NHL franchise, which is about to leave a building that only opened in late 2003.
That’s a shockingly short shelf-life for an arena, but the Coyotes’ relationship with the city council in Glendale has been an ongoing tire fire for most of those seasons. What with a bankruptcy, the NHL assuming ownership in 2009 for four years, and frequently renegotiated lease terms that made it a poorer and poorer investment for the city, Glendale may actually find the Coyotes’ departure to be better than Extra-Strength Tylenol.
The ASU plan calls for a 16,000-plus seat NHL arena and an attached 4,000-seat multi-sport arena to be used by Sun Devils Athletics, Coyotes practices, youth hockey practices, games and community events.
As for financing, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said there will be “several tranches of money utilized to build the arena of which the Coyotes will be the largest tranche. The Coyotes will be the lead investor in this facility and ASU also has a financial commitment toward the project.”
First, though, the NHL club — learning from past potholes — knows it needs to mollify all the essential parties. That means satisfying the financial watchdog agency, the Goldwater Institute, which has given them hell before, and pushing the right buttons with the key people in state government.
And, of course, reassuring the City of Tempe that it will never be left high and dry like the people of Glendale who, in good faith, once thought the Coyotes would be their partners for life.
Instead, the ’Yotes will be taking their talents 25 miles down Interstate 10 to the East Valley. To ASU, a fertile land of college sports, pretty coeds, bars and restaurants, even a classroom or two — and all cheek-by-jowl with Scottsdale, where the chi-chi hotels and shops are and the corporate partners hang out.
The punchline to that shaggy dog story, it turns out, was: “So long, Glendale. Sorry about the hit-and-run.”