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Faceoff in Tempe: Debate held over proposed Coyotes arena the night before ballots mailed out

Tempe voters, who will decide the fate of the franchise, will begin to receive their mail-in ballots this week with Election Day falling on May 16.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Tempe voters are just one day away from ballots being sent out to them to decide the fate of the Arizona Coyotes hockey franchise.

On Tuesday night, representatives for and against the proposed entertainment district sat down for a debate hosted by The Arizona Republic.

RELATED: Both sides push ahead of Coyotes arena vote 

Speaking out in favor were Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez and Tempe City Councilman Joel Navarro.

Those in opposition were Gayle Shanks, the founder of Changing Hands Bookstore, and communications professional Dawn Penich-Thacker.

“We never asked for it," Shanks said.

“You don’t have to pay for it," Gutierrez said.

The proposed entertainment district would be built on city-owned land west of Tempe Town Lake, which is currently used as a landfill.

“It’s going to bring jobs and revenue. It’s going to clean up a landfill and you’re not going to pay for it," Gutierrez said.

“We’re all grownups, we all pay our bills, we all know better than to believe in this kind of no risk no cost, what in life is really like that?” Penich-Thacker said.

RELATED: Tempe and Phoenix continue battle against stadiums and airports 20 years later 

In addition to a hockey arena, the proposal includes hotels, retail, restaurants, a theater and multi-family housing. 

It would be paid for by Bluebird Development, the development arm of the Coyotes, which would get a 30-year tax abatement on the arena.

“We think there is an enormous opportunity for us to find something that works for the whole city that doesn’t bring the divisiveness that this particular project is bringing," Shanks said.

“Since 1996, offers on that development has been trying to transpire to do something with that, but nobody has taken that offer because of the liability of the land," Navarro said.

The hour-long debate touched on taxes, lawsuits and the development's impact on the city.

“Mayor Corey Woods called this the best sports deal in the history of Arizona. You had a unanimous vote by this city council. You had 45 years of mayors, the current and previous four, who have all said yes to this project," Gutierrez said.

“There will be many issues, economic and cultural, plaguing our city for decades to come if we were to move forward with this project," Penich-Thacker said.

Beginning this week, the fate of the hockey franchise will be in the hands of the voters as they begin to receive their mail-in ballots.

Election Day is May 16.

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