Proposed Tempe entertainment complex vote nears—heated social media debate and allegations of vandalism arise from both sides of the special election

The vote will determine the fate of the Coyotes organization in Arizona as well as shaping the future of the city, with the proposal being the largest development deal in Tempe history.


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Allegations of vandalism plague both sides of the special election Tempe Sports Complex

Marcus Reichley, Reporter

In less than a week the City of Tempe will decide a special election on the proposed entertainment complex that would also be home to a new Arizona Coyotes arena. 

The vote will determine the fate of the Coyotes organization in Arizona as well as shaping the future of the city, with the proposal being the largest development deal in Tempe history. 

The proposed $1.7 billion entertainment district would be located at the site of an old landfill off the 202 and Priest Drive, just west of Downtown Tempe and less than five miles east of Sky Harbor Airport. 

Since the propositions on the complex were initially placed for a vote, two Public Action Committees (PACs) have been formed on the issue.

The first is Tempe Wins, a “vote yes” group sponsored by Bluebird Development LLC, an affiliate of Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo.

The second is Tempe 1st, a grassroots “vote no” PAC led by former Tempe City Council Member Lauren Kuby—they oppose the propositions and are sponsored by the Democracy for Tempe PAC.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered support to the effort of sports complex that would house the Arizona Coyotes and spoke at a recent event promoting the project. 

“Nobody over the last two and a half decades could doubt the NHL’s  commitment to Arizona why? Because we believe that this is a place where hockey should be—permanently. We believe that being a part of this great community is something that enhances our game and we believe that finally we are at a place where we can ensure the future of the coyotes for the benefit not just of the coyotes or coyotes fans but for this community,” Bettman said.

Tempe Wins contends that development of the land will increase jobs in the area and support the Tempe economy. The site is currently home to a landfill which may hold toxic material—Tempe Wins also holds that the cleanup of this area is an environmental benefit. 

A handful of former Tempe mayors have endorsed the project and former Arizona Coyotes captain, Shane Doan has enthusiastically backed the arena complex. 

Tempe Mayor, Corey Woods said of the Tempe Entertainment District special election in late April, “I’m going to be voting for this. And I think it’s a great deal.”

Opponents of the entertainment project, Tempe 1st is comprised of local community members, small business owners, lifelong residents and ASU students. A look at their mission statement gives explanation to their protest over the project. Many from Tempe 1st claim that the Meruelo deal fails to address any of the city’s most urgent needs and instead will offer the billionaire with a “sketchy” track record an opportunity to “shift the cost of a private-only sports stadium and significantly-increased demands on city services (police, fire) onto residents.”

Much of the local opposition centers around Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo. 

Meruelo’s time as owner has been turbulent, reports of disorganization and bad management have plagued the franchise, with Meruelo having a reputation of not paying the bills. The City of Glendale had notably threatened to lock the Coyotes out of their old arena due to the more than $1.3 million in unpaid state and city taxes.

“We’d be providing over $700 million in subsidies to a private business owner. A sports team owner who has had a terrible reputation with other cities in Arizona, vendors across the country, and other business entities across the country as well,” Kuby said.

Arizona Coyotes CEO Xavier Guitierrez addressed the taxpayer concern head-on during a mid-April press conference. 

“We are here to talk about an opportunity again to bring jobs, to bring investment to the city for badly needed city services, to clean up a city-owned toxic landfill, Brownfield, and Tempe taxpayers do not have to pay for it. For the first time in the history of Arizona, a sports and entertainment facility will not be paid for by taxpayers and will not be guaranteed by taxpayers. Alex Meruelo and his family are making a significant investment and we are asking Tempe voters to say yes to propositions 301 302 and 303 in a special mail-in election by May 16th.” Gutierrez said. 

But Kuby points to what the opposition views as a lack of transparency on exactly how the project will be funded. 

Tempe 1st is not against development, we want a more inclusive process that will get us there. Think about the element of truth, they say this is privately financed—it’s not true. What is true is the arena itself is privately financed, but to build the arena, the infrastructure to build underneath, is paid for with Tempe tax dollars. That’s about 240 million,” Kuby said.

In an opinion piece from Insider, Brent D. Griffiths highlights sports arenas infamous history of relying heavily on taxpayers and being ultimate money pits.  For opponents of the sports complex, the Tempe Wins position that claims the project is privately funded is juxtaposed by the millions in tax breaks the project is receiving.  

“The Coyotes are far from the only team to rely on taxpayers. The exception is voters themselves rarely get to weigh in. When they do, it’s not a guaranteed success, as the San Diego Chargers found out in 2016 when voters rejected raising a hotel tax to pay for a new stadium. The Chargers soon left for Los Angeles. Threatening relocation is one of the major tools owners have historically used to squeeze more money out of officials.” 

Griffiths also refers to journalist Neil deMause on the actual cash figures of the tax breaks. 

“Neil deMause, a journalist who wrote a book on why stadium-financing deals don’t pay off, pegged the total price tag at $500 million in tax breaks. Of that money, Tempe would sell $220 million in bonds that would be paid off with future tax revenue.” 

Along with Kuby’s concern over lack of transparency on how the arena will be financed, she took issue with the chronology of an “unprecedented” lack of public engagement around the vote.

“This whole deal didn’t have a public engagement process – June they start the negotiations, and it’s first presented to city of Tempe residents on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 22nd the first special meeting was held. The 29th, one week later, they approved it. What’s striking about that is the lack of public engagement. When I was in council we were going to do multiple town halls across the city. The lack of public engagement was unprecedented,” Kuby said.

Lifelong Tempe resident Patrick Michaelsen took it upon himself to create signs urging voters to vote “no.” 

Michaelsen told Northeast Valley News that almost all of his signs had either been stolen or vandalized. 

“About half of my signs were stolen within 24 hours,” Michaelsen said.

Both Tempe Wins and Tempe 1st have raised concerns over vandalism of both signs and property. 

Tempe Wins alleged vandalism on the part of the opposition in the parking lot of a Tempe Goodwill, a partner of the Arizona Coyotes, that was to take place in the morning at a mid-April press conference. They also allege that their signs have been vandalized.

Tempe 1st has reported theft and vandalism on numerous signs in Tempe and has filed a report with the Tempe police.

Kuby hopes Tempe residents will engage the issue more and to look fully into the decisions that will change their city forever. 

“Tempe 1st is a volunteer coalition of residents that are trying to be the voice of the opposition and we’ve been vilified and attacked for simply bringing up oppositional arguments to the forum which the public never got a chance to hear. And I might add that the council themselves never heard these oppositional arguments, the council never hired a sports economist to look at the public policy implications and to look at the finances of Meruelo. That to me is the most important due-diligence factor.”

Perhaps the Arizona Coyotes most important supporter of the Tempe Sports Complex project is the former Coyotes captain Shane Doan who has enthusiastically placed his name and support behind the project.

The Coyotes expanded Doan’s duties to Chief Hockey Development Officer in April with the aim to have the former longtime captain be more directly involved with the Tempe arena even though it has yet to be approved.

“Without a doubt, it’s the idea of doing things the right way and making sure that you’re on the right side of all the advancements that are going on in the buildings,” Doan said. “Making sure that we take advantage of the situation that we have here with Arizona and everything that’s special about here.”