Alex Meruelo: ‘I am the only one’ to bring hockey back to Arizona

Apr 19, 2024, 7:39 AM | Updated: 3:27 pm

Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo believes “in actions, not words,” so he wants Arizona hockey fans focused on the June 27 land auction, where his potential actions by winning via bid could net the team the necessary land for an arena and entertainment district.

Nevertheless, it was Meruelo’s words in an exclusive interview with Burns & Gambo on Thursday that rang out like the empty promises of arenas that were never built.

“I didn’t sell the team, I could’ve moved on. I’m committed. I love Arizona. I love the team and we’re gonna make this project a reality come June 27,” Meruelo said, although fans on just see their hockey team departing for Utah with the sale of the franchise’s hockey operations department.

Meruelo, who joined Arizona Sports on Thursday just after the NHL formally announced the sale of the team to Utah, clarified several times that he still owns the team. The Coyotes are “inactive” and per the league agreement, he will have five years to reactivate the Coyotes if he is able to get an arena up and running within that window.

Meruelo cited NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has and will continue supporting him. Meruelo believes he is capable of following through.

“(Bettman) knows that I am the only one that can get this project done. He has told me before and on a couple occasions if it doesn’t work with me, it won’t work with anybody,” Meruelo said. “I can tell you that I agree with him, and we’re very engaged, working together every day on this, and I believe we can make this happen.”

What has to happen for Meruelo’s ownership to be reactivated?

A June 27 land auction will put more than 100 acres for bid on the northwest corner of the Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road near Desert Ridge Marketplace.

“Once I purchase that land, then we move forward with the city of Phoenix and all the city officials and the city itself and I need their commitment and their help. It’s a huge undertaking that — as we know, any sports project like this — the city has to come in and work with us,” Meruelo said.

What is Alex Meruelo’s path to building a new Coyotes arena?

The Coyotes said that the development would include a 17,000-seat arena and 150,000-square-foot practice facility.

The city of Phoenix has not yet issued support or opposition to the Coyotes’ plan, although Meruelo is expected to meet with Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego later this month, according to AZCentral. Phoenix officials have not discussed details of the development plans with the team since preliminary talks in the final quarter of 2023.

It’s not a given that Meruelo can secure the land, which will be up for auction, and opposing bidders may be at their most eager with the franchise already on its way out. Is the Coyotes owner limited in how much he’ll spend on the land, with the starting bid set for $68.5 million?

“I am fully focused and committed on buying that land June 27, and it’s very important that that happens,” Meruelo said. “If other bidders show up, make sure you deposit your money, get your paddle and we’ll bid one against another.”

Meruelo noted just how invested Bettman has been in desert hockey over the past 28 years. He believes the NHL office would work with him if the northeast Phoenix land hits its roadbumps.

“I would sit down and work with the NHL offices and explain to them what’s going on and make sure we can work a different plan or different ideas so we can move forward with this development of the project, “Meruelo said. “You will see the commitment from Gary, how important (keeping hockey in Arizona) is to him, because he believes in Arizona and he’s right.

“We are all committed on getting this thing done.”

But if the collective commitment doesn’t lead to an NHL-level arena with an NHL team calling it home, commitment just turns into words.

“I believe in actions, not words, and actions start coming June 27,” Meruelo said.

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