PHOENIX — The National Hockey League’s commissioner is trying to kick-start legislation stalled in the state Senate that would allow the Arizona Coyotes to build an arena.
Gary Bettman sent a letter to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough on Tuesday that said the team wants to stay in the Phoenix metro area but its current location in Glendale is not profitable or feasible.
"The simple truth? The Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed," Bettman wrote. "The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale."
The Coyotes can’t be kept "in financial and marketing limbo" and need a resolution to the arena issue, Bettman wrote. He urged the legislative leaders to support a bill by Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, that would let the Coyotes use half the sales tax generated from a new arena and business district it wants built to pay for the facility.
The Coyotes currently play in the taxpayer-funded Gila River Arena. But the team and the city of Glendale have been at odds for several years, with the city cancelling a long-term contract in 2015 then agreeing to a year-to-year lease deal. Glendale still owes $145 million on the facility, which it built in 2003 to house the hockey team.
Mesnard reacted quickly to Bettman’s letter, saying that while he wants the Coyotes to stay in Arizona, the current proposal "is no small thing."
"The NHL first needs to make the case for a state-funded arena to the taxpayers," Mesnard said in a statement. "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."
Worsley’s legislation is also strongly opposed by Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who has urged the team to stay in his city and opposes any new state funding for an arena that would compete for other events with Glendale’s facility. The legislation has been sitting without action in the Senate for weeks, a sign of lack of support.
The team announced in November that it would partner with Arizona State University to build a new hockey arena near the university’s Tempe campus. But ASU pulled out of the deal last month.
A location for a new arena hasn’t been chosen, but it could be in the eastern Phoenix suburbs or in downtown Phoenix. Both are closer to the hockey base the Coyotes need than Glendale, west of Phoenix.
Bettman said Worsley’s legislation, Senate Bill 1149, would put no taxpayer funds at risk because construction bonds would be paid using half the new sales tax generated by the development. He also noted a study that said a new arena and business district in the eastern Phoenix suburbs would generate 2,500 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs when it is finished.
"This bill will create jobs and sustainable growth while ensuring that NHL hockey remains a strong and vibrant tourism and entertainment alternative for the 6 million residents of Arizona," Bettman wrote.