Coyotes again at a crossroads after arena plans voted down by Tempe residents

Voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe rejected three propositions to build an entertainment district that would include a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes. The NHL said it was "terribly disappointed" with the vote results.

Commissioner Gary Bettman says NHL is 'terribly disappointed' by results, will consider next steps

A wide shot of a hockey arena is shown.
The Winnipeg Jets and the Arizona Coyotes play a game at Mullett Arena on Oct. 28, 2022. The arena in Tempe, Ariz., has a capacity of just 5,000. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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 $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.

Arenas in 3 locations

The Coyotes had hoped a new arena in Tempe would finally allow the franchise to settle down after perennially losing money and playing in three different venues since moving to Arizona. Their current home is at Arizona State's Mullett Arena in Tempe, which at a capacity of 5,000 is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.

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."

Tempe 1st, a group that lobbied against the plan, called the result a "victory by Tempe for Tempe."

"This win goes to show that Tempe residents love our community, we know what's best for it and we must be part of every conversation when it comes to our land, our tax dollars and what we value as our city grows," the group said in a social media post.

The Coyotes said on Wednesday they will play in Mullett Arena next season, but it is not a long-term option. Playing at such a small arena hurts the overall league revenue and the Mullett, while nice, is not up to NHL standards.

"During the 2023-24 season, the Arizona Coyotes will play at Mullett Arena," Gutierrez said in a statement. "We remain committed to Arizona and have already started re-engaging with local officials and sites to solidify a new permanent home in the Valley."

The Coyotes 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, Ont.

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.

Legal fights

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 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 $2.3-billion notice of claim against the city of Phoenix for alleged breach of contract.

The club began play at Mullett Arena for the 2022-2023 season.

The Coyotes will pick sixth in the upcoming NHL draft after missing the playoffs for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.

With files from CBC News

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