In a letter Tuesday to the 90 members of the Arizona Legislature, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the Arizona Coyotes “must have a new arena location to succeed” and “will not remain in Glendale.”
Bettman's letter, delivered by the team's lobbyist, appears to be a last-ditch bid to coax a reluctant Legislature into approving tax breaks to build a new Coyotes arena in the East Valley.
The letter failed to win over the leader of the Arizona House: "Until the NHL can win over taxpayers, they’re going to have a tough sell at the Legislature," said House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican.
Bettman says he wants to make it “abundantly clear” that the team can’t make money at Glendale’s Gila River Arena:
“The Coyotes current location is not economically capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise. For the past 15 years a succession of ownership groups have have tried everything imaginable to make the Glendale location financial sustainable. Our combined efforts have all yielded the same result - a consistent economic loss.”
It goes on to say in boldface letters:
“The simple truth: The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.”
In statement released later Tuesday, Coyotes' majority owner Andrew Barroway painted a starker reality -- that the team could leave:
“While we cannot and will not stay in Glendale, we will continue to push our proposed public-private partnership until we either achieve a long-term arena solution in a more economically viable location in the Valley, or we reach the point where there is simply no longer a path forward in Arizona. At that point, as the Commissioner indicated, we will work with our partners in the League office and across the NHL to determine our next steps.”
Bettman’s letter is asking legislators to support the now-stalled SB 1149, which would create a special taxing district for a new Coyotes arena in the East Valley. Bettman calls the bill a “win-win” for the team, the state and the community.
Here's the full statement from House Speaker Mesnard:
“While I very much want to see the Coyotes remain in Arizona, what they're asking for is no small thing. The NHL first needs to make the case for a state-funded arena to the taxpayers. We're not seeing a lot of enthusiasm that the public wants to foot the bill for a new arena, and until the NHL can win over taxpayers, they’re going to have a tough sell at the Legislature.”
A recent poll showed seven out of 10 voters in Maricopa County and statewide oppose a tax break for the hockey team.
Republicans and Democrats alike say they oppose giving tax breaks to the hockey team, while sticking Glendale taxpayers with an empty arena and $230 million in debt.
The conservative Republicans who control the Legislature are ideologically opposed to the tax incentives the Coyotes are seeking. The team’s West Valley home is also a Republican stronghold.
The legislation would provide $225 million in public dollars for a projected $395 million arena project in the East Valley. The money would come from new tax dollars generated by the arena.
The Coyotes are operating under a year-to-year lease at Gila River Arena while team ownership searches for a new arena site. A deal to build an arena at an Arizona State University site fell through last month.
Glendale’s political leadership gave the Coyotes an out on their contract, but the current city manager has said he is hopeful the team and the city can work something out.
Bettman's letter says a recent meeting with city officials only confirmed that the Glendale arena doesn't work for the team.
Bettman’s letter was addressed to Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, and CC’d to all members of the House and Senate. It was emailed Tuesday afternoon by Coyotes lobbyist Jim Norton, of Axiom Public Affairs.