My Seattle Times colleague Geoff Baker has an insightful column about Glendale's NHL arena disaster. Sometimes one needs to be at a distance — and a distance from advertiser and fan pressure — to see things clearly.
The situation remains very much in play. Mayor Jerry Weiers may back down in the face of a lawsuit from the team formerly and rightly known as the Phoenix Coyotes. Or the courts could rule against the city's attempt to break its lease. Then the team can socialize its losses until the contract allows it to leave in three years.
But some aspects of what Baker calls "the Glendale fiasco" require Homey's distinctive local touch. Which I will proceed to attempt.
As with almost everything in Arizona today, Glendale's misery began with a real-estate hustle and taking an asset away from Phoenix, trying to make it the hole in the donut.
Back in the 2000, Swift Transportation boss Jerry Moyes got into bed with developer Steve Ellman, eventually acquiring control of the team. At the time, the Phoenix Coyotes played downtown in the same arena as the Phoenix Suns (it's an arrangement that works well in a number of cities, such as Denver).
But pretty soon the Coyotes were complaining about what was then called America West Arena and threatening to move to the suburbs. I don't think America West could have saved the team because its owners didn't really want to be there. They wanted to use a new suburban arena as a driver for wealth through adjacent development and land flipping.
Enter Glendale, which, at the risk of oversimplification, saw its economic future in professional sports. It also snagged the taxpayer-funded (and ironically named) University of Phoenix Stadium (is the college team called the "Defaults"?) and stole the NFL team formerly called the Phoenix Cardinals from Tempe. This stadium also should have gone downtown, but was again tied to the wider real-estate ambitions of the team owners, the Bidwills.
It's important to note here that ca. 2003 Jerry Colangelo told me that he was happy to see the Coyotes go. The reason: He didn't think Phoenix had enough wealth, corporate headquarters, and high-wage jobs to support four big-league teams. Also, the loyalty to the old minor-league Phoenix Roadrunners (cheap tickets at Veterans Memorial Coliseum) notwithstanding, Phoenix was not a hockey town. Sure, he didn't want the competition for his Suns and Diamondbacks, but it was a valid point. It is even more on target with Phoenix's post-crash lesser depression.
The Coyotes nearly bankrupted Moyes and he had a falling out with Ellman. But the result was an ugly arena and the nearby Westgate shopping center, the latter a sterile "lifestyle center" that was struggling even before the roof fell in. The speculative boom in the cotton field never happened. Two major sports venues were sitting far from the big money on the east side of the metropolis and totally car dependent.
No wonder when the Super Bowl wanted a real city as the hub for its activities, it chose downtown Phoenix.
They were also far from the center of Glendale, which has a pretty downtown marred by the hulking city hall.
None of this stopped the city from lavishing subsidies on the Coyotes, most recently in the 2013 deal that kept the team there. This in spite of the city being strapped to pay for basic services and public safety. In exchange, a few rich owners and players benefit while the economic "impact" is mostly part-time, low-paying jobs.
Now it appears that Glendale has its cap set on a casino, another low-wage dystopian "industry." One can only wonder what might have happened if the city had spent its money on economic development to lure high-wage companies. Instead, it is a national joke, presided over by former Legislature Kook Weiers.
But this is the way things work in metro Phoenix. The short hustle has a long history here. But it once was offset by leadership, vision, and efforts to build a great city.
On my most recent trip, I was struck again by the ways even smart people try to convince themselves that "everything's fine." Reality is "negative," and thus best kept to oneself.
Finally, there is talk that Sun's owner Robert Sarver is making noises about the age and inadequacy of "his" arena in downtown Phoenix, which is finally starting to show some life. Perhaps a dual facility for NBA and NHL, as works in other cities? Those cities have bigger, better economies to support the teams.
Given Sarver's lack of connection to Phoenix, it wouldn't surprise me if he preferred for the Suns to be on the rez, closer to the moneyed peoples of north Scottsdale and the dreary drive up the 101 from Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe, et al. And change the team name to "Arizona."
So Mayor Stanton, meet your crisis.