Utah Hockey Club's previous owner hits snag in bid to rekindle Arizona Coyotes


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SALT LAKE CITY — Arizona land managers decided Friday to cancel a land auction that was considered a major step toward a new Arizona Coyotes arena before the team was sold and relocated to Utah.

The Arizona State Land Department issued a statement Friday announcing that it had canceled the land auction slated for next week, largely because the applicant — Miracle Development, LLC — had not secured a proper permit needed for a proposed arena in the Phoenix area.

Department officials contend that the delay will give both Miracle Development and the Arizona department more "certainty" that the company can "build what it intends to build for its anchor tenant."

"After much consideration, the Arizona State Land Department has determined that it is in the best interest of the trust to cancel the auction and reorder the steps," officials wrote. "We understand the delay in an auction is a disappointment for our applicant and members of the public, but the change in timing is the prudent decision for the trust."

The land auction, which had a listed minimum bid value of $68.5 million, was a crucial piece to Arizona Coyotes owner's Alex Meruelo last effort to build a stadium in Arizona before the National Hockey League stepped in and facilitated a deal where Meruelo sold the team to Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of the Utah Jazz.

The deal, which was finalized last week, includes a provision that gives Meruelo the option to reactivate the Coyotes franchise as an expansion club if he's able to build an arena within five years. It's a major reason why the Utah Hockey Club is going through a rebranding campaign.

The Arizona Coyotes issued a statement Friday afternoon blasting the Arizona State Land Department's decision to cancel next week's land auction, arguing that it followed "every obligation required under Arizona law" up to this point. The organization added that the decision threatened its ability to rekindle the team.

"This unprecedented action by the state of Arizona seriously jeopardizes the future of NHL hockey returning to the desert," the team wrote, in part. "The organization has worked in good faith with the (department) and has been on track to win the auction next week until the sudden reversal by (the department) today. ... The Arizona Coyotes are exploring all of our legal options given this shortsighted decision by the state."

The team began playing in Phoenix as the Coyotes in 1996 after the original Winnipeg Jets — founded in 1972 — relocated to Arizona. It moved to Arizona State University's Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona, amid its search for a new arena before the team was sold and relocated to Utah.

The update comes a day after the Utah Hockey Club released its inaugural preseason schedule. The team will make its debut on Sept. 22 against the St. Louis Blues in an exhibition in Des Moines, Iowa. Its first home game will be played against the Los Angeles Kings at the Delta Center the following day.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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