National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman was in Tempe, Ariz., Thursday on the final day of the regular season for the Arizona Coyotes to support an upcoming local vote aimed at constructing a $2.1 billion arena and entertainment district.
The all mail-in vote on three initiatives before Tempe registered voters will be decided by May 16 with ballots due to be mailed out next week.
“This is the right time and the right project, and it’s spearheaded by the right person,” Bettman said at a media conference, referring to Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo. “Despite all the rhetoric out there, once this arena is built this team is never going anywhere. It’s going to be here forever.”
Bettman headed over to Mullett Arena later in the day to attend the game against the Vancouver Canucks. It was the 41st and final home game of Arizona’s inaugural season playing on the campus of Arizona State. If the project passes voter muster, there should be two more seasons playing in the 5,000-seat building.
It was his first game in the facility that opened for the NHL and ASU hockey this season. The Coyotes moved out of their former facility in Glendale at the end of last season because of a lease dispute.
Bettman was last in Arizona in November when the Tempe City Council unanimously approved the project with a 7-0 vote, sending it on to what has become a moderately contested public initiative.
“I encourage everybody to vote,” Bettman said. “Vote once, but not often. That’s the process. It was so gratifying to be here when the last vote of the council was taken. This development is going to enhance the community. It’s going to create jobs. It’s going to create a greater identity than Tempe already has. It’s something the Coyotes need.
“Frankly, I’m having trouble understanding what the downside of it is.”
The 46-acre parcel for what is called the Tempe Entertainment District (TED) is only about a mile to the west of the Arizona State campus. The site is a landfill that must be mitigated at the Coyotes’ expense ahead of the first phase of the TED, which includes the arena, practice facility and an amphitheater can be completed at the cost of about $1 billion.
The second phase of the project, budgeted at $1.1 billion, will include residential, office space, hotels and restaurants after the arena phase is done.
There are about 90,000 registered voters in Tempe whose decision could decide the future of the NHL in Maricopa County, with a population of 4.5 million.
The Coyotes have their own internal tracking polls and are confident the initiatives will pass.
Bettman was reluctant to address the issue when asked what will happen to the Coyotes if the vote fails.
“That’s something I’d not like to contemplate right now,” Bettman said. “It’s our view that we’re hopeful and optimistic it will pass. And if it doesn’t I’ll be stunned and surprised and we’ll have to deal with that. But if you’re looking for me to articulate an alternative or a threat, I’m not going to do it.”