Tempe does not need the burden of an NHL stadium

Recent advances toward a Tempe hockey complex should have residents worried

The Arizona Coyotes want to relocate to Tempe, but fans might want to temper their excitement.

After a little more than 20 seasons in the Phoenix metro area and spending about 15 years in the Gila River Arena in Glendale, the Coyotes ownership presented a schematic for a new complex in Tempe.

The plan called for an 18,000 seat arena to be utilized by the team, as well as a 4,000 seat complex that would be used both as a practice facility and arena for the ASU men's hockey team.

The team and city's deadline to finalize budget plans is Jun. 30, 2017.

Arguments in favor of a new stadium are not without merit, especially considering the fact that the Coyotes have ranked in the bottom five in the NHL for average attendance for the last 10 years. The team believes that there is untapped interest in the East Valley, and that a Tempe arena would cater to a larger portion of the fanbase.

"This could be the jumpstart for the ASU sports and entertainment district, based on location, but it could also result in a drive-in drive-out effect that leaves little of the economic value in Tempe," Paul Lewis, an associate professor in ASU's School of Politics and Social Studies, said. Lewis was able to offer some neutral analysis based on his own experience with urban development. 

Because the project is in such an early stage, promises of growth may drown out real concerns. However, much of the theorized economic impact organizations promise is rarely realized. 

"The movement of sports teams normally transports economic activity instead of adding new activity," Lewis said. 

Too often the teams are long gone by the time the costs of construction have been paid off by the public. The citizens of Glendale will be paying for the Gila River Arena until 2033, which would be vacant for the final 13 years if the Coyotes were to go through with the proposed move.

A similar development has been playing out in Atlanta, as the MLB's Braves are preparing to open a new stadium this coming season after spending only 20 years in Turner Field.

The NFL's Falcons are also moving into a new arena, leaving the Georgia Dome for Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season after only 24 years of usage. Both stadiums will serve no further public use, while the public will supply over $1 billion for the two new and unnecessary arenas. 

In perhaps the worst example of a stadium deal gone awry, New Jersey's Giants Stadium was demolished in 2010 after a year of disuse, and it still carried over $260 million in government debt years after its destruction.

In Atlanta, the public will also pay for infrastructure that must be augmented to allow for increased traffic. A similar development would be expected in Tempe, as the McClintock Drive and Scottsdale Road bridges would probably require renovations to accommodate increased traffic.

Even the appeal to the university lies on shaky ground.

The proposed complex would lie on ASU-owned lands, and as a result, ASU would have to provide monetary concessions to the NHL to host a franchise on its lands. The ASU men's hockey team has also proven through games hosted at Gila River Arena that its fanbase may already be too large to be properly accommodated by a 4,000 seat arena. 

This following, combined with a closer proximity to campus, would result in a cramped existence for an increasingly popular team.

The bottom line is that Tempe residents must comprehend that they would be shouldering the majority of the $400 million cost of the new arena along with predictable cost overruns. If the Coyotes do cross the Valley to Tempe, the city can expect to go through years of investing in a complex that will give back little. ASU would be incurring costs that would not fit the needs of its own ice hockey team.

People are always willing to support their beloved sports teams, but reason must prevail in the face of yet another potentially disastrous deal. 


Reach the columnist at jbaker22@asu.edu or follow @jonahpbaker on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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