Over the course of 2010, two stories dominated the headlines in Glendale: the city’s fight to prevent a casino from opening near Westgate and the fight to keep the Phoenix Coyotes from leaving.
The conflict between the Tohono O’Odham tribe and the city of Glendale began in January 2009, when the tribe announced plans to build a 1.2-million-square-foot casino resort on 135 acres of unincorporated land purchased in 2003. The Tohono O’Odham acquired the land as part of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act, a settlement reached with the federal government after a dam in the Gila Bend area destroyed 10,000 acres of tribal farmland. If the U.S. Department of the Interior places the land into trust, it would become Tohono O’Odham reservation land, exempt from the authority or regulation of Glendale.
The city has spent the entirety of 2010 fighting to keep those casino plans from coming to fruition.
“Why are we fighting so hard? We’re fighting for our city’s future,” said Mayor Elaine Scruggs.
The city also spent 2010 trying to keep hockey in Glendale, a goal Scruggs said was vital to furthering economic development not just in the Westgate City Center, home to Jobing.com Arena and the Coyotes, but in the city as a whole.
For nearly two years since the original Coyotes ownership filed for bankruptcy, the city has been working to secure a new ownership group that would keep the team in Glendale. Earlier this month, the city council voted to approve a lease agreement with the prospective new owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Under the terms of the deal, Glendale will pay the ownership group led by Matthew Hulsizer $97 million in arena management fees over the next 5½ years and will also pay $100 million for the team’s parking rights, which the city will use as a revenue source to help pay the management fees. The agreement will keep the Coyotes at the Jobing.com Arena for at least the next 30 years.
Council members, even those who supported the deal, were sober in their analysis.
“The agreement is not perfect, but it is the best agreement we can come to at this point,” said Councilwoman Yvonne Knaack. “The alternative would be devastating.”
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman said he believes the deal will work out for the city and the team.
“It’s been a long and winding road,” he said. “From a league perspective where we are is in Glendale with the Coyotes and that is where we want to be. Mr. Hulsizer believes this will work. We believe this will work. We hope the Coyotes have a long future here.”
As for how the Coyotes deal will turn out in reality, or whether the Tohono O’Odham casino plans will move forward? Those are questions for 2011.