GLENDALE, Ariz. – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday night that the conservative Goldwater Institute “has placed a cloud on the bonds” needed to complete the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer.
“I quite frankly don’t know who the people there report to or are accountable to,” Bettman said, “but it fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can actually substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council by, in effect, overturning a duly enacted resolution of the city and one that was enacted in public session.”
Last Thursday, Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs said the Goldwater Institute had “taken the unprecedented step” of warning bond-rating agencies that the city’s agreement on a new lease for the Coyotes to play at the city-owner Jobing.com Arena violated the Arizona constitution.
In response to Scruggs, the Goldwater Institute pointed to an op-ed piece in Thursday’s Arizona Republic by institute president and chief executive officer Darcy Olsen saying it would be wrong to give Glendale “a free pass” to break the state’s prohibition on government entities subsidizing private enterprise.
Bettman said his request to meet with Olsen was rejected, though Olsen did offer to join Bettman for a joint press conference.
“This situation is far too serious for such game play,” Bettman said. “My hope is somehow Goldwater and Glendale can find a way to get this done, promptly.”
Olsen said his organization had offered to meet with Bettman, Hulsizer and Scruggs in a setting “open to journalists to ensure transparency for the public.”
“To date, only Mr. Hulsizer has indicated an interest in meeting,” Olsen added, saying his group has no information regarding the negotiations. “Whatever the outcome, we continue to hope that all parties will respect the (state) constitution and render legal action unnecessary.”
Glendale must sell US$116 million in bonds to provide Hulsizer with money to complete the transaction. Hulsizer would buy the team from the NHL, which purchased the Coyotes in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the fall of 2009.
Bettman said the bonds remain the one obstacle left to be cleared.
“Based on what we have been told by the bond underwriters the market for these bonds, solely because of the Goldwater threat, has been impacted,” Bettman said. “In light of their conduct in this matter, I question whether this is really an organization that is concerned with the public interest despite a mission statement that calls for expanding free enterprise and support for the public interest.”
The Coyotes have lost tens of millions of dollars virtually every season since moving from Winnipeg in 1995.
Hulsizer said during the telecast of a Phoenix game in his hometown Chicago that the concerns raised by the Goldwater Institute are raising interest rates on the bonds Glendale has to sell.
“The rate that the city would have to pay is unnecessarily high,” he said, “to the tune of $100 million over the next 30 years. That is due to the Goldwater Institute’s questions.”
Bettman said it’s the NHL’s continued hope that the sale to Hulsizer can be completed.
“There is a deal structure for Matt Hulsizer to buy the Coyotes from the league,” he said. “There are arrangements in place approved that would enable the Coyotes to live happily ever after in Jobing.Com Arena and that would ensure that the arena doesn’t go dark.”