On Monday, November 14, 2016, Anthony LeBlanc, representing the NHL Arizona Coyotes, announced the possibility of a Coyotes move to a new arena in the East Valley. Note that I, as others, used the word “possibility.”

Here are the links to major stories about the announcement:

As one read media reports or watched TV reports about the announcement the impression given was that it was a done deal and we could expect construction of a new arena immediately. A very few of the media did admit that the Coyotes face tremendous obstacles. Everyone should take a deep breath and sit back and wait until next June to learn the results of on-going negotiations. 

What was really said at the announcement? Simply this…Catellus Development Corporation, master developer of the ASU Athletic Facilities District, and the Arizona Coyotes are in negotiation. In 2010 ASU was successful in getting the Arizona legislature to approve an athletic district, a special revenue district for lands owned by state-supported universities, which could be used as a funding source for some of its athletic capital projects such as the $268 million dollar renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. Shortly thereafter, in 2014, ASU announced Catellus as its master developer of the Karsten land.

The Catellus Development Corporation is described by Bloomberg as, “Catellus Development Corporation, a real estate investment trust (REIT), engages in the ownership and development of primarily industrial properties in the United States. The company operates in Core segment, and Urban, Residential, and Other segment (URO). Core segment manages and leases its rental portfolio, as well as acquires and develops suburban commercial business parks for its own rental portfolio and for selling land and/or buildings to users and other parties. URO segment manages residential projects and urban development activities, as well as the desert land sales. As of July 28, 2005, the company’s rental portfolio totaled 41.1 million square feet. It operates principally in California, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, and New Jersey. The company has elected to be treated as a REIT and would not be subject to federal income tax, if it distributes at least 90% of its taxable income to its shareholders. Catellus Development is headquartered in San Francisco, California.”

What I found to be most interesting about Catellus is that was a spin off of a major railroad company. This is from http://www.muelleraustin.com/about/catellus/ : “Catellus was founded in 1984, following a proposed merger of two railroad giants. When Santa Fe Industries (which owned the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) proposed a merger with the Southern Pacific Company (which owned the Southern Pacific Railroad), the new company created a wholly owned subsidiary named the Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corporation. The subsidiary was charged with managing the company’s non-railroad landholdings and turning unproductive parcels across the country into revenue generating assets. In 1990, after the merger of the railroads was denied, Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corporation spun off as a publicly traded company named Catellus Development Corporation (NYSE:CDX).”

Everyone by now is aware of the proposed site location and the proposal of a 16,000 seat, $400 million dollar Coyotes arena. What the announcement signals is Catellus has granted the Coyotes until June 30, 2017 to review the land and get the political, developmental, architectural and financial plans required to build it.

Take special note of two words…political and financial plans. Where were the political figures as this announcement was made? Governor Ducey, Phoenix Mayor Stanton, Tempe Mayor Mitchell, ASU President Crow or anyone representing the state legislature were all AWOL.  In fact, it was reported, “Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton who has pushed for a new hockey-basketball arena downtown, threw cold water on the Coyotes’ plan.”  He said, “A deal is far from complete, and appears to require new levels of support from both state of Arizona and City of Tempe taxpayers. My thinking hasn’t changed: Building a third professional arena in this market doesn’t make sense, especially when it would likely require new public dollars as a part of the deal.” The Governor’s office declined to comment. Mayor Mitchell of Tempe didn’t even know about it until the public announcement was made. Even Deputy Commissioner Daley’s comment was lukewarm, “I’m very pleased with where they are. I think this is an incredible opportunity for an exciting new future in the Valley.” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett reflected what many others are feeling these days when there is an Anthony LeBlanc announcement, “It’s good news. It’s early. A lot of us have been through a lot of this before. Hopefully, everything turns out as wonderful as it sounds.”

The Coyotes expect the state legislature to create a special taxing district that would require taxpayers to pay $200 million of the $400 million needed. They floated the idea last legislative year and were told to come back in 2017 for possible consideration. General sentiment is that the Republican-controlled legislature will view the Coyotes’ latest request for public subsidy with a decided lack of enthusiasm.

One has only to look at the snapshot poll run recently by TV Channel 10’s Sean McLaughlin. At last check 31% of the poll respondents supported using tax dollars for construction of another sports facility. 45% of the respondents did not support use of public money and 24% wanted the Coyotes to remain in Glendale. If this poll is an accurate gauge of public support, it isn’t there with 69% opposed to using taxpayer dollars. It appears the public/political will to use $200 million dollars of taxpayer money for another sport facility is no where to be found.

As for the financial aspect, the Coyotes said they would pony up $200 million dollars. Let’s revisit some history. When IceArizona purchased the team, relatively speaking, very little of investor money was used. Instead two loans were granted for the team’s purchase… one from the National Hockey League and one from Fortress investment. The actual cash investment by the IceArizona investment group was less than a third of the purchase price. The investment group came out of the gate heavily in debt. It is no secret that the Coyotes lose millions every year. That’s why the City of Glendale’s annual taxpayer subsidy was so important to them. It made the annual bleeding a little less.

If the Coyotes really want to control their own destiny, why not just buy Glendale’s arena? It certainly would be cheaper than building a brand new $400 million dollar facility and it would give them the advantage of having complete control of the building and all of the revenues it generates.

I have heard but not enough for ironclad confirmation, that AEG, new manager of the Glendale arena, offered the Coyotes a smokin’ deal. Reportedly LeBlanc’s response was to reject the offer and walk out of the meeting.

Where are the Coyotes going to find $200 million dollars for their portion of the deal? There are only so many Andrew Barroways around. Mr. Barroway currently owns 54% of the team and according to Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/teams/arizona-coyotes/ , the team is valued at $220 million as of November, 2015. Here are additional facts provided by Forbes:

  • Price Paid: $170 M
  • Year Purchased: 2013
  • Revenue2: $92 M
  • Operating Income3: $-4.5 M
  • Debt/Value4: 63%
  • Player Expenses5: $60 M
  • Gate Receipts6: $20 M
  • Wins-to-player cost ratio7: 62
  • Revenue per Fan8: $11
  • Metro Area Population: 4.5 M

It should be disconcerting to Catellus, ASU and Tempe to hear that the Coyotes hope the project “pays for itself” or as Barroway says the Coyotes finally might break even with a new Tempe arena. Glendale should be an object lesson for them. Even with all of the revenue sharing schemes in its deal with the Coyotes, the Coyotes’ projections never became reality and those revenues never compensated Glendale for its annual subsidy.

LeBlanc brought much of the continual speculation and fan pressure upon himself. He repeatedly assured everyone that an announcement about a new site was forth coming. Before the draft…after the draft…beginning of the summer…end of the summer. What he provided publicly with this announcement is merely a fig leaf designed to cover his…

I believe the Coyotes best option remains the Glendale arena. I, personally, would like to see them stay.Glendale’s City Manager Kevin Phelps said it best, “the city will keep operating as if their arena will house the Coyotes long-term, noting that new arenas are very expensive to construct. I don’t think the last chapter of this book has been written — and until it is written, we’re going to keep doing our part to see how we can add value to the Coyotes.”

© Joyce Clark, 2016        


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