Phoenix Coyotes Could Be Playing Their Final Games in the Desert

Mark BrownContributor IMarch 17, 2011 Arena could go dark in the coming weeks Arena could go dark in the coming weeksChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Amid the tumbleweeds and cactus, gloom and doom appears to settle in the American southwest.

Soon, panic will follow, and in one magic moment, the Phoenix Coyotes will disappear from the Arizona landscape faster than an ice cream cone melting in the blistering desert sun.

The city of Glendale says it cannot afford to lose the Coyotes, the major tenant at the city-owned Arena, and, as a result, would face financial disaster. Glendale officials repeat if the Coyotes move; their departure means an estimated loss of $500 million to the area.

With news that the Goldwater Institute will file suit against the city of Glendale, if the city is able to secure $100 million in revenue bonds and hand that money over to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, the future is bleak for Glendale and desert hockey fans. If the money is secured, Hulsizer will use this cash to purchase the team from the NHL.

Even if the Glendale can obtain the money, which at this point appears dubious, it faces two immediate crises.

First, Goldwater, threatening to sue in the past, will drop its threat and proceed immediately to court. Goldwater, a conservative think tank based in Phoenix, said it will initiate the law suit because the money Hulsizer will obtain from Glendale represents a gift, and that’s in violation of the Arizona state constitution.

More important, the city of Glendale is on the financial bubble because the municipality incurred significant debt in the immediate past.

In addition to securing nearly $180 million to build Arena, home of the Coyotes, the city is also on the hook for mortgages of the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals, and Camelback Ranch, a spring training complex used by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.

Knowing there will likely be a lawsuit to follow, no financial institution would be willing to work with the city of Glendale to secure the bond money.

That’s the feeling of Glendale council member Phil Lieberman, who told the Toronto Globe and Mail, “I don’t know when the bond deal will close because no bond company will buy bonds if there is a lawsuit right after.”

The city of Glendale faces additional difficulty because they cannot pay back current debt with anticipated revenues. The city is dipping into its excise tax base to make up for required mortgage payments on Arena and Camelback Ranch, Lieberman acknowledged to the Globe and Mail.

All of which puts Glendale in a precarious position.

At this point, it appears the city cannot raise the money to give to Hulsizer, and the NHL is stubborn in its ways to insist the Coyotes’ future remains in Arizona.

Goldwater, along with others, suggests a rational solution. Simply, Hulsizer needs to buy the Coyotes from either his own pocket or create a private group to obtain the team. Hulsizer appears to covet a deal in which public money is use as part of the purchase, and that's where the legal scenario will commence.

Ultimately, that may not sit well with the taxpayers of Glendale, and that’s why Goldwater is leading the cavalry charge. Goldwater claims it has the best interest of the Glendale taxpayers at heart, and will pursue legal means to make sure the city gives no money to Hulsizer, or anyone else, to buy the Coyotes.

In the end, it appears the Hulsizer deal, as presently constructed, will be the catalyst for franchise movement. The Coyotes, for all practical purposes, are playing their final games in the desert, and captain Shane Doan will likely become one of the great trivia answers.

Who is the only player in the history of professional sports to start his career in one city, to relocate with the franchise in another city, and after 15 years, relocate with the same franchise back to its original city?

Doan started with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1995-96 season, moved with the franchise to Phoenix and could move back to Manitoba for next season.

That said, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL needs closure to this matter quickly so the league can begin preparation for the 2011-12 season. Goldwater’s latest initiative may be that catalyst to decide the franchise’s immediate destiny.