Since rumors surfaced last week that the Phoenix Coyotes could be coming to Seattle to play in Key Arena next season, there's been a lot of debate around here regarding how things would work.
Would the Coyotes arrival alone be enough to put a shovel in the ground for our arena? Would this help or hurt the quest to return the NBA Sonics to Seattle? Would the MOU have to be changed? How much might the potential NHL owners need to kick in for the new arena? Would they even come up here unless there was some kind of guarantee that the new arena would be built? Would Chris Hansen even allow any of this?
These questions are natural and I've asked them myself, but is it possible that we're getting the cart before the horse? Instead of obsessing about the circumstances of a potential arrival, should we be more concerned about the likelihood of the potential departure from Glendale, Arizona?
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn thinks so, as demonstrated by the following quotes from an interview with KJR's Dave "Softy" Mahler from earlier this week. You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here.
Going in, we're very much Plan B. The goal of the NHL is to keep the team in the Phoenix area. They are working with the City of Glendale...There's a deal that appears to be acceptable to the NHL that is on the table, if the city agrees to it. We are very much just the backup deal.
You're getting ahead of the story a little bit. We have to see where we get to with the NHL. My understanding is, from what I read in the papers, there are conversations with the NBA about expansion...What we know is that the NHL would be comfortable working with Key Arena as an interim arena while these other processes play out and then we'd have to visit these issues in the future when we get a better understanding of where all the pieces will be...That's premature to talk about right now when you have both a very contingent NHL offer and the possibility of an NBA expansion team.
Keep in mind that McGinn has had conversations in recent weeks with the potential pro-Seattle NHL investors and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. If he says that there is a deal on the table in the Pheonix area that the NHL is in favor of, but that the City of Glendale can approve or reject, it's likely true.
In other words, before we worry about what happens when the Coyotes get here, we should be more concerned about whether a jury of seven people, otherwise known as the Glendale City Council, will let them leave.
So let's talk about that City Council. Who are the members? How have they supported arena subsidies in the past? How might they feel about the current deal on the table?
OLD DEAL AND NEW DEAL
On November 27, 2012, the Glendale City Council approved a new $320 million lease agreement of 20 years with potential team purchaser Greg Jamison. Arizona hockey fans rejoiced, but others in the region strongly objected. One of the objections, according to a report at azcentral.com, was the potential requirement to cut $4-8 million in city jobs over the first five years.
Here is a passage from the azcentral.com story, which you can read by clicking here.
Mayor Elaine Scruggs and Councilwoman Norma Alvarez, the two no votes, said the financially struggling city couldn't afford to pay Jamison an average of $15 million annually to manage the arena.
"If you have less than zero in your checking account, do you go out and sign a long-term contract?" Scruggs asked.
The mayor said she supports police, firefighter and other city uniforms, rather than Coyotes uniforms.
Interim City Manager Horatio Skeete said the city would need to cut $20 million within five years in part to pay the arena-management fee. Without the team, Skeete estimated the city would need to cut about $12 million.
Skeete, who did not recommend approval of the deal, has said keeping the team may be in the long-term interest of the city, but it required too many cuts in the near term and would still leave the city in a financial hole in the long term.
Here is a video of the actual vote.
Unfortunately for Coyote fans, the deal fell apart when Jamison couldn't produce the capital to actually buy the team by the January 31, 2013 deadline, as predicted in an article by ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, which you can read by clicking here. That's the old deal.
Let's talk about the new deal that's on the table in Glendale between the City and the latest potential investors, who are led by Canadian businessmen George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc.
We don't know much about it, other than there is an agreement in principal between the potential investors and the City and that the NHL favors it. The agreement is discussed in a foxsportsarizona.com article by Craig Morgan, which you can read by clicking here.
Here is a passage from that article.
The City of Glendale and the Coyotes' prospective buyer have done what many thought impossible. Multiple sources have confirmed that the two sides have bridged a $9 million annual gap on an arena lease agreement and the proposal will be presented at the Glendale City Council executive session on Tuesday.
Details of the proposal were not forthcoming, but while the city has only approved $6 million in its budget to manage the arena, it is believed Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group headed by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc that already has a purchase agreement with the NHL, was able to find multiple Coyotes-related revenue streams for Glendale that will provide the city between $8 million and $11 million annually on a 15-year lease.
A USA Today Sports article, by Paul Giblin also discusses the deal. Here is a passage from the article, which you can read by clicking here.
The crux of a deal is for the city to guarantee the potential Coyotes buyers group lucrative terms for a long-term management deal to operate Jobing.com Arena, Councilman Gary Sherwood said. In exchange, the ownership group would give the city access to millions of dollars of revenue derived from events held at the facility, he told TheArizona Republic.
So how did the current council members feel about the old deal and how might they feel about the new deal? Let's discuss them one by one.
MAYOR JERRY WEIERS
Mayor Weiers vehemently opposed to the old deal and used it as a campaign issue last year. He even wrote and publicized a letter to Jamison, which you can read by clicking here, which questioned Jamison's commitment to the project.
He also made a bold statement in his campaign victory speech, as quoted below in an article at roselawgroupreporter.com by Phil Riske. Click here to read the full story.
"Glendale is not your cash register," said Mayor-Elect Jerry Weiers in his victory speech to send a message to sports teams, specifically the Coyotes.
However, he has voiced a desire to keep the team in Glendale if a deal could be reached that was not a financial burden to the City. Here is a video interview he gave to a local PBS show called Arizona Horizon, in which he discusses his original opposition to the old deal, but expresses support for keeping the team.
We really have no way of knowing how Weiers feels about the new deal. According to the Giblin article, he did not head up the negotiations with the potential ownership group the way Mayor McGinn did in Seattle. Instead, the agreement was negotiated by Acting City Manager Dick Bowers.
So, if a tie-breaker is needed, how will he vote? If he was directly involved with the negotiations, one could logically assume that he would be a yes vote. If he wasn't directly involved, it's anyone's guess.
Projected Vote: Leaning no.
VICE MAYOR YVONNE KNAACK
Since Knaack voted for the old deal, a logical assumption would be that she will vote yes on the new deal, especially when you consider the following quote from the above mentioned azcentral.com article.
Councilwoman Yvonne Knaack said she considered how the deal would help jobs at Westgate City Center. "I don't believe this is really a sports issue, it's an anchor-tenant issue," she said. "The Coyotes bring people there 40 times each year."
Projected Vote: Yes
COUNCILMEMBER MANNY MARTINEZ
Martinez also voted for the old deal and was also mentioned in the azcentral.com article.
Councilman Manny Martinez praised Jamison for his willingness to rework the $324million deal the council had approved in June.
Also consider the following passage from the Gimlin article.
Renaissance must prove to council members that revenue the Coyotes generate would offset the steep management price.
Councilman Manny Martinez said he'd like nothing more than to see Renaissance make its case and provide the city with enough revenue to make the deal work.
"It's critical that we keep the team," Martinez said.
However, he's aware of the city's tight finances. "We don't have any money," he said.
Martinez is curious to see bids from the non-hockey firms to provide "some sort of baseline" on what the city must pay for arena management.
Projected Vote: Yes
COUNCILMEMBER NORMA ALVAREZ
Alvarez voted no on the old deal. Following an April 23, 2013 meeting on the subject, she explained her reasoning. Consider the following quote from an azfamily.com article, which you can read by clicking here, by Jared Dillingham.
"Sometimes we have to admit we've made a mistake. We haven't gotten much money from the Coyotes," Alvarez said after the meeting.
One must also consider, however, that we don't know the details of the new deal, which makes it difficult to determine whether she would be less averse to the new deal.
Projected Vote: Leaning no.
COUNCILMEMBER GARY SHERWOOD
Sherwood wasn't around for the vote on the old deal, but expressed support for it in an audio interview with sportsbreakthrough.com. Here is a quote from his interview, which you can listen to by clicking here.
Out of the 11 candidates we had for the four positions, I was the only one in support of keeping that arena going. not just so much for hockey but more for the economic development of that area...
Projected Vote: Yes.
COUNCILMEMBER SAMMY CHAVIRA
Chavira gained office this year by defeating Joyce Clark, who was one of the main supporters of the old deal. According to the above mentioned Riske article, her support of the deal may have been a key reason for her defeat.
Jason Rose, a political consultant who worked with Weiers, suggested her defeat could have been anti-incumbent sentiment in general. "To residents, she was the face of everything that's gone wrong in Glendale - of the tax, of the Coyotes, of Camelback Ranch (the city's spring-training ballpark)," he said.
Rose touted Clark's challenger, Phoenix Firefighter Sam Chavira, as representing a new path.. "He represents tomorrow, not yesterday."
This would seem to indicate that Chavira was opposed to the old deal. Try to imagine a firefighter who favors a deal that costs at least $4 million in city jobs.
Projected Vote: Leaning no.
COUNCILMEMBER IAN HUGH
In another azcentral.com article by Giblin, Hugh expressed a willingness to separate arena management duties from any NHL ownership group. Here is a passage from the story, which you can read by clicking here.
The council is open to separating arena-management responsibilities from the hockey team's lease to play at the arena, Councilman Ian Hugh said.
"We're looking forward to getting the proposals," he said. "This has never happened before. And how long ago did we build the arena? It's never been out to bid before."
There is also the following from yet another Giblin article, this time for the Arizona Republic. Full story here.
Councilman Ian Hugh said he came away from the meetings convinced that the hockey executives truly want to remain in Arizona.
"They're trying to pull it off," Hugh said. "I'd love to have an anchor tenant playing in the arena. The rest of it they're going to have to figure it out," he said.
Neither the NHL nor Renaissance executives outlined how much they want the city to pay them to manage the arena. Hugh said he's not ready to discuss Renaissance's potential involvement until the city receives and considers a full slate of bids from other management companies.
Hugh seems to strongly believe a third party could manage the arena more effectively and more cheaply for the city. This would seem to stand in stark contrast to what the NHL would want, since they see this arena management contract as a significant revenue stream for the franchise.
Then there is the irritation factor. Check out the following passage from the above-mentioned USA Today article by Giblin (This guy must be their Chris Daniels).
Councilman Ian Hugh said any deal remains speculative as he hadn't heard any details as of Monday.
"Our city manager hasn't told me about a proposal. Nothing," he said.
This stands in contrast to Sherwood, who expressed some knowledge of the deal in the same article. Politics and egos form a fine line to walk.
Projected Vote: Leaning no.
A quick check of the math will tell you that I've categorized four jurists as leaning toward a no vote and three as almost certain yes votes.
Before you get too excited by that 4-3 tally, however, I classified them as 'Leaning no' because I don't know for sure. They certainly opposed the old deal that fell apart, but we simply don't have enough information about the new deal to say whether they will favor it or not.
In other words, a 4-3 no vote is the new 'It could go either way'. So cross your fingers Seattle fans, because you know Arizona fans are crossing theirs.
UPDATE: Geez. When you spend several hours writing an article, many things can happen during that time that impacts the article, as was the case tonight.
According to an article by our very own Chris Daniels, which you can read by clicking here, the initial presentation of the current deal to the Glendale City Council didn't go especially well. Check out the following passage.
Glendale didn't budge.
The Arizona city's council and mayor emerged from a closed door meeting Tuesday night, and said very little about a deal to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the desert.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested the city needs to come to an agreement soon with an ownership group, or the franchise could relocate for the next season.
The council, made up of seven people, including the Mayor breezed past reporters in Glendale, and said very little.
The Arizona Republic's Paul Giblin tweeted that Glendale Councilman Manny Martinez as saying a vote was unlikely by next Tuesday, the 25th. Giblin also said "There wasn't instant love for proposal."
Remember. Martinez is generally a supporter.
So maybe a 4-3 no vote is NOT the new 'It could go either way'.