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Coyotes exploring options for new arena

by Dan Rosen

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The Arizona Coyotes are actively researching plans for a new home in downtown Phoenix or in the city's East Valley, Coyotes co-owner and president Anthony Leblanc said Monday at the Board of Governors meeting.

The Coyotes' lease with Gila River Arena in Glendale expires after the 2016-17 season.

"We're in very progressed talks with the city of Phoenix and as well we forged a tight alliance with Arizona State University and we're having discussions with them about the potential for a facility," Leblanc said. "We're exploring those pretty aggressively."

Leblanc said Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton contacted the Coyotes this past summer after the City of Glendale backed out of its 15-year lease agreement with the hockey team. The Coyotes eventually settled with the city on a new two-year lease.

Stanton talked to the Coyotes about the potential for a new arena in downtown Phoenix that would be shared between the Coyotes, the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and potentially the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. He also talked about the Coyotes moving into their old home, and current home of the Suns, Talking Stick Resort Arena.

"When everything happened with the City of Glendale, there were two interesting I guess side effects," Leblanc said. "First off, people realized that if we ever wanted to leave, that was the opportunity and we didn't do it. We went the other way. We focused heavily on staying. That has basically eviscerated all of the talk about what we had previously called an out-clause. But the other thing that came out of that was the strong voicing from our fanbase and from our sponsors that if we had an opportunity they'd really like to see us back in downtown Phoenix or in the east side of the Valley. This wasn't something we were even remotely considering, but because the City of Glendale made a decision and we have less than two years left on our lease, we have to look at our options."

Leblanc said a move back to downtown Phoenix or to the East Valley, potentially Tempe, where Arizona State is located, would be "positive across the board" for the Coyotes in terms of ticket sales, merchandise and the overall marketing and interest of the team.

"People tend to forget that when this team played in what was then America West Arena, the games were almost always sold out, there was an incredible vibe in the building," Leblanc said. "The building wasn't constructed for hockey so there were obstructed view seats, but the point is that they did very well. It wasn't built for hockey and the lease wasn't particularly friendly, but if you're on the ground floor of a new building being constructed it means you're in on the ground floor when it comes to the lease and revenue streams."

Leblanc's hope is that something comes to fruition within the next six to nine months so the Coyotes can begin plans to start fresh in a new home. If it's going to be a new facility, it's possible the Coyotes would have to extend their lease with Gila River Arena because of the time it takes to get a new arena built.

"We'll figure that out," Leblanc said. "If I have a list of 10 problems, that's not on it. The real situation we need to figure out is long term. Once we figure out long term, short term will work itself out. We've seen this in other markets in various sports, if there is a commitment of a new facility coming, we'll be able to figure it out."

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