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Group exploring construction of multi-purpose arena near Scottsdale Pavilions

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Private developers, in cooperation with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, are exploring the idea of building a 20,000-seat multi-purpose event center south of the Scottsdale Pavilions and west of the 101 Freeway that they say could potentially house the Arizona Coyotes or Phoenix Suns, multiple sources told Arizona Sports this week.

The facility would be part of a larger, approximately 65-acre sports village that could also include retail, entertainment, living and work spaces. A group of local businessmen, investors and advisors has been working with the community for more than a year, and multiple sources said the basic structure of the financing is already in place with Barclays Bank in the fold.

One source termed the project “an examination, with nothing concrete set yet,” admitting that an anchor tenant like the Coyotes or Suns would help.

“At this point we are determining whether or not it can be paid off with debt financing,” the source said. “We’re looking at the feasibility of filling it up with event nights. Obviously, a permanent tenant would be helpful, but we have been examining the option even without a permanent tenant.”

A decision on whether to move forward is expected within the next six months.

A location on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian land could remove many of the perceived barriers to building an arena in other locations, including bonding issues, tax districts and political or public backlash. As one source noted: “We are not asking for any cash” from the community or the public.

The Pavilions area already includes Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, along with a new aquarium. The genesis of this arena project can be traced to previous Coyotes suitor Greg Jamison, who attempted to buy the team but was unable to secure the financing before IceArizona purchased the team in 2013. Jamison was exploring a Pavilions site.

The Suns lease at Talking Stick Resort Arena expires in 15 years, but there is a clause that allows the Suns to bring in a mediator in five years to determine if the building is “functionally obsolete.” If that is the finding, the city has another year to make the necessary upgrades before owner Robert Sarver can explore a new venue.

Multiple sources said the developer group working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had a meeting scheduled with the Coyotes the day after the team’s Faceoff Luncheon and the day before the season opener on Oct. 15 to discuss the possibility of the Coyotes playing there, but the Coyotes cancelled the meeting at the last minute for unspecified reasons. No make-up date has been scheduled.

When reached Wednesday evening, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc had this to say: “Throughout this process we have had a number of groups solicit our involvement. This particular group and site are not one with which the Coyotes are working.”

The Coyotes’ arena lease agreement at Gila River Arena in Glendale expires after the 2017-18 season, but the team has the option of renewing it on a year-to-year basis. Although the team could extend that agreement, the ownership group has made it clear it would like to relocate to the East Valley or downtown. It’s no secret the team has been in discussions with Arizona State University about a potential partnership that could see an arena built on or near the Tempe campus. ASU launched a Division I hockey program last season and needs a legitimate arena to call home — or at least the promise of one — before it can secure conference affiliation and land top-end recruits.

ASU already plays some of its marquee games at Gila River Arena through a growing partnership with the Coyotes. It’s unclear how far the Coyotes’ talks with ASU about a new arena have progressed.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in the Valley in March to tour potential arena sites, and sources confirmed that he met with officials from Arizona State University, officials from the City of Phoenix, including Mayor Greg Stanton, and he also toured the Pavilions site.

Just before the season began, LeBlanc expressed optimism about the team’s long-term fortunes in the Valley.

“I’ve never been more confident and excited about the process than I am today,” LeBlanc said. “Admittedly, these things take more time than any of us expected and humbly, this is the first time I’ve ever been involved in such an extensive development project so I didn’t appreciate that, but people should be comforted by the knowledge that we anticipate communication in the very near future.

“What we’re doing with the impending arena announcement and getting to the right side of the Valley; it’s everything we need to succeed.”

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