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Geoff Baker: Arena deals for Kraken and Coyotes provide a lesson in public funding and economic impact

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

SEATTLE — Eight years ago this summer, I was in Glendale, Arizona, watching city-council members there debate the future of the region's NHL team and whether they should risk the Coyotes getting moved to Seattle.

At the time, New York investment banker Ray Bartoszek claimed he was poised to move the Coyotes overnight, with the NHL's supposed blessing, unless the council approved a new lease for the team at what's now called Gila River Arena. Well, the council back then, as politicians often do when pressured by sports teams and leagues, voted 4-3 to keep the Coyotes rather than call Bartoszek's bluff to have them play temporarily at KeyArena while Seattle figured out how to build a better venue later.

Still, given what has taken place the past week, we can say Seattle emerged as the long-term winner from NHL events of that bizarre, tumultuous summer.

Glendale initially lost millions on what became regarded as arguably the worst arena lease deal in North American sports. Meanwhile, our city has not only since gained its own NHL team in the Kraken, but an all-private $1 billion-plus overhaul of KeyArena into what's now Climate Pledge Arena.

So, unlike in 2013, there's no need for additional arenas here. Not so in Arizona, where Glendale informed the Coyotes last week it will terminate what has become a modified year-to-year lease and wants them gone from its publicly financed, city-owned arena by June 30, 2022.

The team has long sought public funding for a new arena in greater Phoenix, where existing venues aren't really suited to NHL play. There is, mind you, a relatively new, NHL-suitable arena that also emerged as a Coyotes alternative back in 2013, only that one is 2,700 miles away.

 

The Centre Videotron in Quebec City was being built back then — also with ample public funding — and finally opened in 2015 and, unfortunately, has waited in vain for an NHL return ever since.

Anyway, that's not our problem. While Glendale and Quebec City both took financial hits in the name of NHL love, our city got the equivalent of a billion-dollar arena paid for privately by the Oak View Group (OVG) developer and its partners. The city also obtained revenue guarantees to avoid the yearly financial losses that plagued Glendale.

Still, in a funny twist — depending on your sense of humor — a Seattle native helped ignite Glendale's push to finally end its Coyotes relationship. Kevin Phelps, a former Seattle businessman and former Pierce County deputy executive, was hired away in November 2015 to assume the key position as Glendale's city manager.

His hiring came not long after the Seahawks played and lost a Super Bowl in Glendale to the New England Patriots in February 2015. Glendale, by then fatigued by the Coyotes saga, had started playing hardball with sports leagues and as a result almost all Super Bowl events that year were moved by the NFL to neighboring Phoenix.

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