The Tempe City Council will discuss the Coyotes’ proposed arena and entertainment district in executive session on Thursday. The item was recently added to the council’s agenda.
Executive sessions are not open to the public. Sources say that for the first time, the council will have the opportunity to view detailed information on the project, possibly including airport, traffic, noise and sports gambling impact studies, plus the financing and the tax, revenue, and job-creation projections.
The council could decide to schedule a vote on the proposal, table the topic for further discussion, or elect to reject the RFP. PHNX Sports previously reported that the proposal is tightly contested with a swing vote or two potentially determining the proposal’s fate.
On Sept. 2, the City of Tempe reported that the Coyotes were the only group to submit a proposal in response to its request for proposals for a project incorporating a professional sports franchise and entertainment district for two parcels of city-owned land totaling 46 acres at the northeast corner of Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. The site, which is located on the south bank of the Salt River, previously was used as a sand and gravel mining operation and a dump.
During its review process, the Tempe City Council has been mum on its opinion of the proposal and a potential date for a vote on that proposal, although sources expect that vote to occur while the current council is still seated (until July). The city recently held elections that returned incumbent Jennifer Adams and elected newcomers Arlene Chin and Berdetta Hodge to three available seats.
Proponents of the deal note that the project is essentially a free entertainment district that would generate jobs and millions of dollars for the city. While a portion of the city sales tax revenue generated by the site would be used to pay $200 million in additional costs, that revenue clearly would not exist without the development.
Opponents have raised a number of concerns including the structure of the financing, airport, traffic and noise impact. The airport issue is particularly contentious. Those who have lived in the Valley for a while have seen this battle before when the Cardinals attempted to build their stadium along Rio Salado before electing to build in Glendale.
Current city council members are not permitted to comment on the project while it is still under consideration, but I reached out to three former Tempe mayors for their opinions of the project: Neil Giuliano, Hugh Hallman and Mark Mitchell. Those correspondences began in January.
Mitchell declined comment but both Hallman and Giuliano expressed support for the project.
“I’ve only seen the public information, but I like the framework of what the agreement is desired to be,” Giuliano wrote. “It could be a huge jobs and capacity expansion for Tempe, and the density and use seems consistent with what has been the long-term vision for that area of the community, which is now extremely underperforming and underutilized for community benefit.
“The city won’t carry any of the paper for bonds; developer responsibility from what I read. They know the airport stipulations and are smart. We ought to stay within them. We will see; long road but it looks very promising.”
Hallman also expressed support for the project. He recently wrote an editorial that appeared in the Phoenix Business Journal in February, calling out the hypocrisy of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport officials for opposing the project. For purposes of full disclosure, Hallman told me that my email correspondence with him prompted him to write the editorial. I don’t think that the editorial really registered much of a reaction in the NHL or even the local hockey communities because there is little cross-over readership, so here is a link to that piece.
I also had the opportunity to speak to several city council candidates before the recent election. Candidates John Skelton (a former Cardinals quarterback) and Harper Lines both expressed support for the project. Chin said she would need to see more information before formulating an opinion.
“I would want to fully understand all of the impacts, costs, benefits and liabilities to our city in terms of financing, airport alignment, traffic, gambling, and more,” she wrote via email. “With all of these things considered, it has to be a good deal for Tempe to earn my support.”
The Coyotes and Arizona State University recently announced that the team would play all of its home games at the university’s new multi-purpose facility, which will be ready in October. The plan is to play there for the next three seasons, with the option of renewing for additional seasons if construction on the permanent arena takes longer than hoped.
I recently conducted two separate and extensive Q&As with Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, covering many of the details of that deal, as well as a variety of other topics as the team attempts to bridge the time gap from its temporary arena to its permanent facility. Here are those Q&As.
A Q&A with Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez after touring ASU’s multi-purpose arena.
A wide-ranging Q&A with Arizona Coyotes president & CEO Xavier Gutierrez.
Recent reports have suggested that the council could make a decision on the project proposal this month, but sources say that there is no timetable for a decision yet. That could change after the council has reviewed detailed information in Thursday’s executive session.