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Fate of Arizona Coyotes arena project in the hands of voters

New York Rangers v Arizona Coyotes

TEMPE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 30: Detail of the center-ice logo at Mullett Arena on October 30, 2022 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The Arizona Coyotes are about to learn the fate of a proposed entertainment district that would include a new home for the team, which has crisscrossed the city searching for a permanent place to play.

Residents in Tempe are voting on a referendum that will determine whether plans for the $2.3 billion Tempe Entertainment District will move forward.

The vote is taking place after the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport expressed concerns about the residences that would be built as part of the project in the high-noise area under the airport’s flight path.

If the arena is built, the Coyotes would finally be able to settle down after playing in three different venues since moving to Arizona.

The franchise shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns after relocating from Winnipeg in 1996 then moved to Glendale’s Gila River Arena in 2003. But the Coyotes’ had a troubled tenure in the Phoenix suburb.

Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the Coyotes into bankruptcy in 2009 and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie put in a bid to purchase the team with the intention of moving it to Hamilton, Ontario. The NHL, wanting to keep the team in Arizona, put in a counter bid and a Phoenix judge ruled the team could not be sold to Balsillie to circumvent the NHL’s relocation rules.

The NHL ran the Coyotes for four seasons and the financial constraints took a toll, leading in part to a seven-year playoff drought.

A new ownership group brought new hope in 2013 but turmoil surfaced again in 2015, when the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term, multimillion-dollar lease agreement. The Coyotes then leased Gila River Arena on an annual basis until Glendale announced it was terminating the deal after the 2021-22 season.

The franchise found a temporary solution, working out a deal to share Arizona State’s Mullett Arena for three seasons. The Mullett has a capacity of 5,000 and is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.

The Coyotes submitted a bid to buy a tract of land in Tempe and the Tempe City Council voted to begin negotiating on a new entertainment district. The City Council later voted to send the project to a public vote.

The Coyotes thought they were in good standing with the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor before a legal filing in March sought to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land-use changes. It also asked to prohibit future residential considerations in an area the FAA says is incompatible with residential development due to its positioning under Sky Harbor flight paths.

The Coyotes countered by filing a $2.3 billion notice of claim against the city of Phoenix for alleged breach of contract.