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Coyotes’ Meruelo hopes to announce arena plans this year, despite virus

Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes’ long-awaited announcement of a new arena in Arizona has been even further delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, majority owner Alex Meruelo said in a digital conference call with media on Monday, while a goal is still to announce something by the end of this year.

The comments came during the introductory press conference for Xavier A. Gutierrez, the Coyotes’ new president and CEO.

“If it wasn’t for what happened with COVID, we’d be so much further ahead.” Meruelo said. “It’s really set us back at least six to nine months. I still hope and I plan, with Xavier’s help — Xavier is very good at this — we’d like to get something announced by the end of the year.

“We’re working very hard. What I can tell you is this: Xavier has moved down here. His whole family’s here with them. They bought a beautiful house. My son lives here. I’m not going to go anywhere and we’re committed to Arizona. It’s not that simple. And you ask, ‘Why?’ Well, we’re still right now currently playing in Glendale. You know very well we can’t leave tomorrow. It’s impossible to leave tomorrow, so I have to be there probably a couple more years. Now, Glendale has expressed a tremendous amount of interest in us staying there. So I will listen to what they have to say. But we’ve also gotten a couple offers from the East Valley, which are extremely attractive.”

Meruelo reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the team in Arizona.

Gutierrez’s background is that of a business executive and investor, and he has an undergraduate degree from Harvard with a J.D. from Stanford.

“Clearly, this is home. We want to find the right solution. But everything’s on the table in terms of what makes sense for our team, for our fans and for this community,” Gutierrez said. “Clearly, there’s been conversations pre-dating me about what is the best option. I’m very new. I’m going to look at everything. I’m obviously going to take the lead on this. But clearly, Mr. Meruelo also has his perspective that we would like to pursue a solution that’s long-term, that’s financially stable and that makes sense for our team, for our players, for our fans and for this entire community.”

The Coyotes currently play in Gila River Arena, which is owned by the City of Glendale and managed by A.E.G., an arena management firm. The Coyotes lease the space on a year-to-year basis, automatically renewing at the first of the year unless and until they elect to opt out of it.

“We have a lot of forward progress moving on with what we wanted to do with the team and where we were going, but this [virus] kind of set us back,” Meruelo said. “My goal is to have something done by the end of the year. That’s my goal. And I believe that if it wouldn’t have been for this situation, we would have been a lot further down the process.”

Under former CEO Anthony LeBlanc, who is now with the Ottawa Senators, the Coyotes announced plans to partner with Arizona State University and build a shared arena space in the East Valley. ASU eventually pulled out of that deal in 2017.

“You’re working with cities, you’re working with entities and they all have different timelines,” Meruelo said. “So within that structure, my hope is to have something done by the end of this year. But the most important thing to report to all the fans, like I said before, I’m not leaving Arizona. I love the state. I love the city and the East Valley. I love Phoenix.”

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