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Mullett arena era begins as Coyotes eye new development in Tempe

Following a tumultuous time in Glendale, the NHL franchise is playing on campus at Mullett Arena for at least the next three seasons

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Newly constructed Mullett Arena on Tempe Campus Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

The Arizona Coyotes are in one of the more unique situations in professional sports: The NHL team will be sharing Mullett Arena with ASU for at least the next three seasons. 

The shared facility is a result of a sour relationship between the city of Glendale and the franchise. The Coyotes, who relocated to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996, started playing at Gila River Arena in Glendale in 2003. After years of financial woes, the proverbial nail in the coffin came in 2021 when the city said the team's year-to-year lease would not be renewed.

Now, after almost being locked out of their own arena last December, the Coyotes will be on ASU's Tempe campus until at least 2024. There's no denying the awkwardness of the relationship that seemed to be made out of necessity, not a choice.

"We are glad that we were able to come to an agreement to provide the Coyotes with a temporary home while their new arena is built just a few miles away," said Morgan Olsen, ASU's executive vice president, treasurer and CFO, in an email. "Our new multipurpose arena also will benefit from the addition of pro-level touches that will be paid for by the Coyotes but will remain with our building after they leave."

The Coyotes are playing in an arena one-third the size of the smallest NHL venue, the Canada Life Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets, that has a capacity of 15,321. Mullett Arena seats 5,000. 

Last September, the Coyotes revealed a $1.7 billion proposal to build a new venue that would end their long-standing housing issues. The proposal has been met with some resistance, with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport objecting to the construction of residential units included in the proposal.

Tempe City Council will meet Thursday to consider a resolution that would save a spot on Maricopa County's May 2023 special election ballot regarding the proposed hockey arena and entertainment district. If Tempe City Council passes the resolution, it would indicate the city's approval of the project. 

The relationship between the Coyotes and ASU

The stark differences between a professional and college sports team have been the main talking point of critics of the deal. The facilities, which were built separately due to NCAA compliance rules, have been a source of similar criticism. The locker rooms for NHL teams, called the annex, are under construction until December. Visiting teams use makeshift locker rooms far from the quality professional clubs are used to.

As for the actual ice and arena itself, Coyote players have offered up a positive outlook.

"It's a fun place to play," said Coyotes forward Christian Fischer following the team's first game. "A lot of noise about the outside and all the details of it. Play at a hockey game, it's loud and fans are cheering for us. That's all we care about ... Cool little rink."

ASU and the Coyotes have come to a revenue-split agreement: The Coyotes will keep their ticket sales and merchandise revenue while the school gets revenue from parking, naming rights and sponsorship. The two split the revenue from concessions and gameday sponsorships.

The new venue proposal

The Coyotes' $1.7 billion proposal includes plans to build on a 46-acre lot next to Tempe Town Lake that would feature 1,600 apartments, the arena and an entertainment district.

The team said the deal will be funded by private investors. There are additional costs of $200 million the Coyotes said they hope will be financed from city sales taxes that are expected to be generated from the site.

The lot of land is off Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway about two miles from Sky Harbor Airport. 

But a recent objection from Sky Harbor has raised tension around the proposal.

"The Airport does object to the project's proposed residential development, which would place up to 2,100 residential units directly under a flight path which was designed to spare Tempe residents from the effects of aircraft noise," said Sky Harbor Deputy Aviation Director Julie Rodriguez in an email. "Including residential in this development would violate an intergovernmental agreement between the Cities of Phoenix and Tempe."

Sky Harbor claims the proposed build site would break a 1994 agreement between Phoenix and Tempe. In the agreement, there are rules on how close housing can be to an airport. The intergovernmental agreement is meant to protect residents from "high-noise areas."

As reported by The Arizona Republic, Tempe Planning Director Ryan Levesque said there have been over 400 apartments built in high-noise areas with no objection from Sky Harbor.

"Ryan Levesque's comment is not specific enough for us to comment on. We have no record of Tempe staff notifying airport management of a related planned development in the High Noise Contour as they are required to do," Rodriguez said in the email.

In early October, Sky Harbor sent out fliers to households all throughout the area objecting to the proposal.

"As Mayor of Tempe, I reject this alarmist tactic," Tempe Mayor Corey Woods wrote on Oct. 6. "Our region is known for collaboration and responsible action. It is unprecedented for a neighboring city to stuff mailboxes with its opinion about an unapproved development project."

Edited by Piper Hansen, Wyatt Myskow and Kristen Apolline Castillo.

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Logan StanleySenior Reporter

Logan Stanley is a senior reporter at The State Press. He previously served as the managing editor of the school newspaper at Eastern Washington University. He has four years experience as a freelance journalist and is a graduate student in the master of arts of sports journalism program. 

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