Mullett Arena success has Coyotes feeling good about Tempe project

Feb 22, 2023, 9:19 AM | Updated: 12:06 pm

Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez joined Bickley & Marotta for Newsmakers Week on Wednesda...

Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez joined Bickley & Marotta for Newsmakers Week on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023 in Phoenix. (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

The temporary home of the Arizona Coyotes has given the NHL club somewhat of a preview of their permanent plans.

Deep into a campaign phase before the Coyotes’ arena and entertainment plans go to a public vote, team CEO and president Xavier Gutierrez can lean on the team’s experience at the Arizona State University-operated Mullett Arena to remain confident that fans will approve — and attend — of building a new arena nearby.

A May 16 vote will determine the fate of the Coyotes’ entertainment district plans at Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway, which will cost around $2.1 billion.

“I think the biggest objection is nobody possibly understands how we could pay for a $2.1 billion project,” Gutierrez told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday. “We believe this is such a compelling location, such a compelling development that we’re really willing to put our money (toward it).”

Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo has led the push to develop a 16,000-seat arena by committing nearly $2 billion of his own money. Additional bonds will be repaid through tax revenues early on once the district is completed.

The project features an arena but includes retail space, a public ice rink, a smaller music venue, office spaces and residential units, plus a hotel and convention center.

The land is currently a landfill, and the Coyotes and developers plan to clean up the space before building on it. The team is branding it as a “landfill to landmark” redevelopment project.

The Coyotes believe job creation and tax generation will benefit the city of Tempe, which will entice voters to approve it. The club in November won over the Tempe City Council, which in a unanimous fashion greenlit the project to head to a public vote.

But the Coyotes moving to Mullett Arena, which opened in October and is home to the Arizona State hockey team, has given them an optimistic preview at a new jolt of fan engagement after moving out of their former home in Glendale.

At Mullett Arena, the ice has received positive reviews from NHL players in more hockey-centric locales.

It’s helped the 4,600-person capacity arena has created a unique, intimate environment. Gutierrez said the feedback has been positive, and that’s beyond being closer to what the team has long identified as a better demographic of fans in the East Valley.

Playing at ASU’s home ice, for now, has given the Coyotes a head-start on reaching college students and even younger fans.

“The centrality of Tempe to a majority of the population in the Valley has just been spectacular,” Gutierrez said. “You’re right next to the largest public university in the country and so the youthfulness and the exuberance of having young people — many of whom are experiencing hockey for the first time — is really, really exciting. We see it at Mullett and we know we’ll see it at our new entertainment district.”

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