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Friday, March 1, 2024

Despite Phoenix Progress, Salt Lake City Looms in Coyotes’ Arena Efforts

  • NHL team files application to buy about 200 acres of state trust land in north Phoenix.
  • Union officials express concern over the team’s continued operation in a 5,000-seat arena.
Mullett Arena
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes’ long-planned effort to build a new arena and mixed-use development has taken another step forward. But that hasn’t stopped chatter that a move to Salt Lake City might be the preferable outcome. 

The NHL team has filed an application to buy about 200 acres of state trust land in north Phoenix, advancing on recent interest in that area and signaling that the location could be the project’s new home after voters in Tempe, Ariz., rejected building there. The Coyotes confirmed the application, but said other sites remain in consideration, and the team signed a letter of intent last August on a separate parcel in Mesa. 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, meanwhile, said during the league’s All-Star weekend in Toronto that the Coyotes’ arena situation “will be addressed in the next few weeks.”

“[Team owner] Alex Meruelo told me as recently as last week that he was certain he was going to get this done,” Bettman said. “I don’t make it a practice of contradicting owners unless I have hard facts to the contrary. I’m both hopeful and reasonably confident that he’s going to do what he says.”

Despite Bettman’s confidence, calls persist for the team to move to Salt Lake City, particularly after Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith amplified his efforts to bring an NHL franchise there. The Athletic was the latest to argue for a move to Utah, saying, “The reality is, if the Coyotes can’t get going on a new building and Salt Lake City is ready to go—which Smith says they are—then the easy, and relatively seamless, solution is to transfer Arizona to Salt Lake City.”

NHL Players Association leaders are also voicing concern about the Coyotes’ situation and raising the prospect of relocation. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve had two unofficial deadlines to come up with some movement, and we’ve gone past both of those,” said union executive director Marty Walsh. “If there’s no plan in Arizona, I would encourage a move to another location, absolutely. … They’re playing in a college arena, and they’re the second tenant in that arena. This is not the way to run a business.”

While the arena pursuit continues, the Coyotes are playing at Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena (above), by far the smallest venue in the NHL.

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