GLENDALE, Ariz. – City council members voted late Tuesday night to approve a lease agreement with an ownership group that will keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona for at least the next 15 years, ending hopes of the National Hockey League franchise relocating to Seattle.
A packed council chambers, mostly filled with Coyotes fans, looked at each other with smiles, forbidden from cheers or outbursts during the meeting. It took four hours of public testimony, discussion among council members and statements from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and prospective owner Anthony LeBlanc to reach a final vote.
The vote was 4-3 in favor of awarding a lease deal — which included a $15 million per-year management fee that the city will pay to ownership group IceArizona — that keeps the team at Glendale’s Jobing.com Arena until 2028. The council set a deadline of Aug. 9 to close the lease deal.
The final gavel to end the meeting brought cheers and shouts from the crowd.
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Despite concerns from dissenting council members, notably the absence of a five-year “out” clause favored by Mayor Jerry Weiers should city financial losses mount, the vote went through.
“We have a decision, we’re going to live by that decision,” Weiers said after opposing the lease.
Had the vote gone against the lease, the currently ownerless Coyotes — to whom the city has given $25 million over the past four years while cutting services and the public safety budget — might have had a new home in Seattle’s KeyArena.
“There was a lot of speculation,” Councilman Manny Martinez said after the meeting. “I would just say to them (the people of Seattle) good luck in the future, maybe they can get another team there.”
After cheers for Bettman, who spoke briefly, and more cheers for Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris, who took a seat in the back of the room, the league and ownership group began to make its case.
“It’s been a long road, but I think people feel confident in the progress that we’ve made,” Bettman said after the meeting. “We are grateful to the council for their confidence in the new ownership group for the Coyotes moving forward.”
LeBlanc told council members he is confident that the proposal for the lease “is in the best interest of residents and the taxpayers of the city of Glendale.”
“We are here for the longterm,” LeBlanc said after the meeting. “We are focused on keeping the Coyotes here in the valley and making this a longterm success.”
Weiers suggested to LeBlanc that the council take a couple of more weeks to further look into the matter, a statement met with groans from the crowd and a fast rebuttal from Martinez, who said a vote needed to be taken that night.
Public input began two hours into the meeting and those given the opportunity to speak were given three minutes each.
The first few speakers expressed support for keeping the team in Glendale based on economic impact and the devotion of players the community.