The fate of the Arizona Coyotes' stay in Tempe may be decided by city residents next spring.
The Tempe City Council voted unanimously to authorize a special referendum that will either approve or deny the proposed hockey arena and entertainment district planned to be built on Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. The election would take place on May 16, 2023.
However, the issue is not guaranteed to go on the ballot. The city council only voted on this to open up the possibility of an election, as Maricopa County law says that a call to election must happen 180 days before votes are cast. This specific process with Tempe and Bluebird Development, the company representing the Coyotes, will continue this month. There will be two more public hearings this month and a city council vote on Nov. 29.
If the city council approves everything in the next few hearings this month, then the Coyotes would have to gain the legal number of signatures to put their development on the ballot. The city council members voted 7-0 to move the process along, but none of them endorsed or denied the project and wanted to reiterate their commitment to the community.
The Coyotes are currently playing in ASU's Mullett Arena, sharing the arena with the men's hockey team.
"My approval of this item is to ensure that people of Tempe will continue to have their voice heard about a project that would have a lasting impact on our city," said Councilmember Doreen Garlid at the meeting on Nov. 10.
Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez spoke at the meeting and said he wanted the project to go to a vote so Tempe residents can weigh in. He said he wants the voters involved to increase transparency, inclusivity and community involvement in the project.
"We are committed, we are transparent, and we are here to be inclusive, we do believe that every voice for this project should be heard," Gutierrez said. "We understand that there are still many steps to go. This is in your hands."
Mesa resident Juan Carlos Avila spoke at the meeting because he was concerned about the Coyotes project and said the team does not care about the community at all.
"I'm here to tell you you're picking a bad horse," Avila said at the meeting. "When it comes down to it, the Coyotes aren’t going to be here for you when you need them."
Voicing his approval, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said putting the issue on the ballot is not unprecedented and he is comfortable with the possibility of the referendum.
"It's probably the last very big contiguous parcel in the entire city of Tempe and also it's a big project with a lot of public attention," Woods said in the meeting. "I'm glad to hear Mr. Gutierrez’s commitment to taking this to the ballot."
Edited by Reagan Priest, Wyatt Myskow and Grace Copperthite.
Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.