The Tempe City Council unanimously approved the Arizona Coyotes' arena and entertainment district proposal Tuesday night, giving it emphatic support ahead of the May 16 voter referendum that will decide its fate.
The Coyotes are seeking to build a 16,000-seat arena and entertainment district on city-owned land at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive, at the west end of Tempe Town Lake. The total project cost is estimated at $2.1 billion, with at least $1.9 billion privately funded, and would include two hotels, a 3,500-person theater and up to 1,995 residential units.
The project is nicknamed "Landfill to Landmark," as 1.5 million tons of trash will be removed from the site at an estimated cost of $75 million.
"The Tempe Entertainment District will be a huge win for this community, and we have no doubt that Tempe voters will agree," Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said. "Our project not only provides a wonderful home for the Coyotes but also serves as a vibrant town square for Tempe, generating thousands of sustainable jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city. We are grateful and excited."
The project is also expected to include a gambling component. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo owns the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada, and the Sahara Las Vegas.
"We're committed to making a difference and helping the city. I have given so much and compromised so much, because it's the right thing to do," Meruelo, in making rare public comments, said. "I would like nothing more than to stay here for 30 or 40 years."
When the council voted to move forward with arena negotiations in June, there were two votes in opposition. One was from councilmember Doreen Garlid, who said Tuesday she is now more comfortable with aspects of the deal that included Meruelo's finances.
"While I've still got some reservations about this being the best fit for our last large chunk of city-owned land, it makes sense for us to give the residents of Tempe the opportunity to weigh in with their vote," Garlid said.
The team called Glendale home from 2003 through last season, but the city council did not renew its arena lease. While waiting on approval and construction of a permanent home in Tempe, the Coyotes relocated to Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State, sharing it with the Sun Devils men's hockey program.
The NHL team committed to play at Mullett Arena for three seasons with an option for a fourth. Mullett seats around 5,000 fans for hockey, by far the NHL's smallest capacity. The team invested $19.7 million in add-ons to make the space NHL-ready. That included a 15,000 gross-square-foot annex built next to the arena that houses NHL-quality locker rooms and training facilities for both the Coyotes and away teams.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke in favor of the Tempe arena deal and said the league supported keeping the Coyotes in Arizona.
"It's a private-funded project and the club's prepared to execute a 30-year, non-relocation agreement. All the things that say this club wants to be here, and frankly, the NHL wants the club to be here," he said.
Bettman added that if the arena project goes forward, the NHL has committed to bringing "an All-Star Game or a (NHL) draft" to Tempe.