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Arizona State Officially Applies to the NCHC But Arena Question Lingers

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Arizona State has officially applied to join the NCHC starting in the 2018-2019 season, joining Minnesota State, whose application to join the conference in 2018-2019 had previously been disclosed.

The announcement was mostly a formality. It has been common knowledge that Arizona State was pursuing membership in the NCHC, and with Minnesota State's application(and pointedly, Bowling Green's lack of contact with the league), it was easily inferred that the Mavericks would join the league as the 10th member, if Arizona State was accepted into the league.

The sticking point on Arizona State's acceptance into the NCHC has hinged on their ability to build a new arena to replace their current home, Oceanside Arena. Unfortunately, athletic director Ray Anderson's letter to the NCHC gave little in the way of concrete details, other than that the team plans to have a new arena by the 2018-2019 season..

There's been little official public comment about Arizona State's arena plans, though plans have started to take some shape. Here's what we can gather based on public comment and other sources near the situation.

Any potential new arena for Arizona State would be as part of a joint project with the Arizona Coyotes, who are currently looking to leave their arena in Glendale for a new arena that is more easily accessible for those in the metro Phoenix area. The multi-purpose facility would potentially host the Coyotes, Arizona State hockey, Arizona State basketball, and feature a hotel as well as other commercial development.

Earlier this summer, it was reported that the Coyotes had selected a site for that arena. They declined to name which site they had chosen, but it is strongly suspected that the site will be the one near the intersection of highways 101 and 202, and across the street from ASU's current home at Oceanside Arena.

This map gives you a bit of a reference point. :

asu arena

In the upper northwest corner of that section bordered by 101, 202, East McKellips Road to the north, and McClintock Rd. to the east, there is about 50 acres of unused land that used to be a six-screen drive-in theatre. The Coyotes had previously said they would need 50-60 acres of land for their proposed facility.

Two issues potentially complicate this deal, and are likely why it hasn't been announced yet.

First, that land is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. That would make any potential deal for the land slightly more complicated than the usual real estate deal. But it is likely something that could be worked out eventually. A pro arena that could attract major events and the hotel that is expected to be included in the project could both be huge benefits to the nearby SRP-MIC-owned Casino Arizona.

If, for whatever reason, a deal can't be worked out with that land--the Coyotes said they hoped to announce at the end of the summer and we're a week-and-a-half from Labor Day--the Coyotes did maintain that they have a back-up plan if their primary site didn't work out.  In mid-July, a Phoenix-area business journal wrote an anonymously-sourced piece stating that the land on the Karsten Golf Course near Arizona State's campus was "still very much in the mix," which, reading between the lines, seems an awful lot like a negotiating ploy to make the Coyotes' back-up plan look more legitimate.

The second, bigger issue is how to pay for a big new arena. The project is likely to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars and while the Coyotes had previously said they were willing to commit $100 to $170 million towards the project, there's still a long ways to go to bridge that funding gap.

Last April, a proposal was floated in the Arizona state legislature to create a special taxing district, which would allow the tax revenue generated by the new arena and the surrounding hotel/commercial development to pay off the mortgage on the development.

The proposal was never formally introduced because there was very little in the way of legislative support for the bill. The Coyotes are expected to continue lobbying on behalf of the project and introduce a similar bill in the 2017 legislative session.

The bill is strongly opposed by taxpayer advocate groups and commercial developers who say a hotel built with publicly-funded money would be given unfair advantages. Public appetite for another major arena built with public money is at a very low point in the Phoenix area as well, given the Coyotes' disastrous relationship with the city of Glendale over their arena, and more recently, the Arizona Diamondbacks public spat with Maricopa County over the condition of Chase Field.

The Coyotes, for their part, have one more year on their lease in Glendale, and are looking for a two-year extension beyond that as they wait for the new arena, meaning they wouldn't expect to move into the new arena until 2019-2020 at the earliest. So even though the path for how Arizona State ends up in a new hockey arena is starting to take shape, there are still some major obstacles to work through before the Sun Devils are skating on new ice to start the 2018-2019 season, which is now just 780 days away.