By Mark Carlisle
For the past several years, Glendale has lived with uncertainty regarding the Coyotes’ long-term status in the city. Whether the team leaves or stays, its presence will have changed Glendale forever.
City officials broke ground on the city-owned Glendale Arena (now Gila River Arena, formerly Jobing.com Arena) in 2002 in an area that was entirely farmland. The Coyotes’ new arena spearheaded one of the West Valley’s most rapidly-growing areas. Another major pro sports team and dozens more businesses would follow, bringing thousands of jobs, millions of sales tax dollars and national attention to the city.
Assistant City Manager Tom Duensing couldn’t say if the Coyotes move to Glendale directly caused the other development in the area, but said he believes it at least expedited the growth.
“Westgate (Sports and Entertainment District) and Tangers (Outlets) — would they have come lack of Coyotes is very difficult to answer,” he said. “I think there was more of a chance that that area developed quicker with a professional hockey team, for sure.”
That growth is continuing, as four more big companies announced last year they will development in the area.
Since beginning play in Glendale in the fall of 2003, the Coyotes have been one of the worst teams, drawing some of the smallest crowds in the NHL. However, the crowds they do draw help drive business to the two shopping centers that have been built in the area since the arena’s opening.
Jocelyn Porter, a server at Tavern + Bowl, a microbrewery, restaurant and bowling alley in Westgate, the shopping center that now surrounds Gila River Arena, said there is a significantly larger crowd on nights when the Coyotes play at the arena and that, as a server, she brings home about 30 to 40 percent more than she would on an ordinary night.
“We do really look forward to those nights, because it does bring in a lot of people,” she said.
Ms. Porter also said their business is helped by events that the Coyotes sponsor, such as a recent event where Coyotes players came to bowl at Tavern + Bowl, drawing in customers to meet the players.
Aaliyah Owens, who works the front desk at The Renaissance Hotel & Spa, next to the stadium, said the team brings more patrons to her workplace as well.
“It definitely brings a lot of business to the hotel,” she said. “We tend to make it really lively in the lobby as well. Because we’re right next to the arena, we have a lot of people just kind of walking in and out.”
The hotel’s lobby, which has a bar and lounge, is full of hockey fans for every home game and the hotel sets up an event for fans with food and a DJ. Ms. Owens said more Coyotes fans come in to spend time and money in the lobby bar and lounge, but visiting team’s fans are usually the ones staying overnight.
Cardinals games and concerts tend to bring bigger crowds to The Renaissance, Ms. Owens said. Cardinals games to not match Coyotes’ crowds at Tavern + Bowl, according to Ms. Porter, but concerts tend to equal hockey crowds.
Westgate opened in 2007. Tangers Outlets, across 95th Avenue to the west, opened in 2012.
The city-owned arena does not generate revenue for the city itself. City Manager Kevin Phelps called the area a “loss leader” when he spoke with Glendale Today on the topic last August, because it does not generate much revenue itself but produces economic spinoffs through the traffic it brings to the area.
The city has yet to recoup the full amount it put in to build the arena, Mr. Duensing said, and continues to make annual debt payments averaging $13.5 million per year through fiscal year 2032-33.
“When you factor in the cost of the building, I would say we’re spending more money than we’re bringing in,” Mr. Duensing said. “But really at the end of the day, it’s about, what is it doing for economic development? And really, it’s a long-term thing.”
A city-owned arena like this one is an investment in the area, Mr. Duensing said.
Mr. Duensing and Mr. Phelps point to the economic activity at nearby businesses like Tavern + Bowl and The Renaissance Hotel & Spa as examples of the arena improving Glendale’s economy and generating sales tax revune to the city. Mr. Duensing said calculating the value of the arena is not black-and-white because it’s difficult to determine how much of sales tax revenue from surrounding businesses should be attributed to the arena bringing in patrons.
Though the arena was built for the Coyotes, it brings in much more than just hockey fans, Mr. Duensing pointed out.
“That arena was really built to support not only hockey — I mean it was built especially for hockey — but also, the non-hockey events. So the concerts, there’s an AIA basketball tournament they have there every year,” he said.
Mr. Phelps said the area’s value to the city goes beyond jobs and sales tax revenue but extends to the attention the city gets during televised events at the city’s sporting venues.
While some Coyotes games air on national TV and each game is aired in a different local market somewhere in North America, the main source of national attention brought to Glendale has been the stadium to the south of Gila River Arena.
The Cardinals followed the Coyotes to Glendale a few years later, playing their first game in University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. In addition to Cardinals games on national television, the stadium hosts the Fiesta Bowl each year and has hosted two Super Bowls, two college football national championship games and one Final Four. Each venue also brings in dozens of music and entertainment acts each year.
That kind of an audience gives Glendale an unmatched marketing opportunity, Mr. Phelps said.
“In 2015, we had a blimp hovering above University of Phoenix Stadium showing the sunsets going down going to a world-wide market for the Super Bowl,” he said. “Then in 2016, we had the college football championship game, same exact scenario. 2017, we had the Final Four going out to 40 million homes in America all saying ‘Glendale, Glendale, Glendale.’ How much does it cost you to do a marketing campaign and get into the homes of Missoula, Montana, and Boise, Idaho, and get them going, ‘I think I want to go to Arizona and spend some time there’?”
Glendale has grown in recent years from more than just a development standpoint, as the city continues to annex land to the west, not far from Gila River Arena. Mr. Duensing said the Coyotes’ presence likely had a hand in the speed of Glendale’s growth.
“Would it have developed anyway? Yeah, it defintely would have developed eventually. I’m guessing it sped it up a little bit,” Mr. Duensing said of the city’s annexation activity. “…My sense is that it sped it up to an extent. What is that extent? I don’t know.”
While the area has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, it will continue to change over the next few years. In 2017, IKEA, Desert Diamond Casinos, and two golf entertainment venues — Topgolf and Drive Shack — announced they will build new locations near the area. What remains to be seen is whether the Coyotes will remain a part of the picture or whether Gila River Arena will be limited to concerts and other entertainers to bring crowds to the area.
The Coyotes lease is up at the end of this season, and Glendale has been offering an extension of the current deal. Coyotes ownership has expressed a desire to leave Glendale for other parts of the Valley in recent years but have yet to secure another place to play after their contract in Glendale expires. Recent media reports have said the Coyotes have reached an agreement to stay in Gila River Arena for another season. Gracie Pugliese, a representative from AEG, which manages the arena and is handling contract negotiations on Glendale’s behalf, would not confirm those reports when contacted in early January, writing in an email, “We cannot comment on business between two private companies.” She also stated, “At this time, we have no reason to believe that the Coyotes will not be here next season.”
The employees at both Tavern + Bowl and the Renaissance Hotel & Spa said it would hurt their business if the Coyotes were to leave Glendale.
“On nights where there’s nothing going on, Westgate’s — I don’t want to say dead, but it’s definitely — it wouldn’t be somewhere you want to work every single day, if there wasn’t anything going on,” Ms. Porter, from Tavern + Bowl, said. “So, I’d say we rely on, especially the hockey side of things, the sports aspect.”
The city remains committed to keeping the Coyotes in Glendale, Mr. Duensing said.
“We hope they stay,” he said. “We think it’s good for the area. We know it’s good for the local businesses… Our position really hasn’t changed. We want them to be here and we want them to be successful.”