GLENDALE, Ariz. – There were times when Anthony LeBlanc thought his dogged, four-year pursuit of the Phoenix Coyotes was over. One of those instances came on June 25, when, one week prior to an expected Glendale City Council vote on an arena management deal, the council came back with a request for its own five-year out clause.
LeBlanc was out celebrating. Not because he thought the deal was done, but because it was his birthday. When he received word of the latest development, his mood changed dramatically.
“We were done,” he said Tuesday at a press conference at Jobing.com Arena to introduce the team’s new ownership group. “I had our attorneys inform the city that we were pulling our bid.
“Fortunately for us, cooler and wiser heads prevailed.”
There were myriad factors in the long-awaited completion of the Coyotes sale this week: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s refusal to give up on the Phoenix market, Gary Sherwood’s yeoman efforts to secure four votes on the Glendale City Council and George Gosbee’s ability to assemble a willing group of investors among them.
But one of the least chronicled factors in the consummation of this deal is how the street savvy LeBlanc gathered over his four-year quest with four ownership groups helped him navigate this minefield.
“We went to school on the previous deals,” LeBlanc said. “We went to school on the things that didn’t work in the past.”
Knowing that the Goldwater Institute could be a formidable foe when pursuing an arena-management deal with Glendale, LeBlanc, on the advice of local attorney Nick Wood, was up front with the watchdog group.
“When our idea was being presented, we sent it to Goldwater to say, ‘here it is, we have nothing to hide,’ ” LeBlanc said. “We were very articulate to make sure we weren’t flying in the face of Goldwater or the state’s gift clause.”
To ensure that his group could assemble the right investors, LeBlanc enticed Gosbee. He kept informed on possible citizen challenges to the arena lease through advisers, and in a break with the past, he built relationships at Glendale City Hall.
“The first time around, I didn’t talk to a single council member,” he admitted. “Now, I’ve built up a really good relationship with the four that voted for this deal.
“I was actually surprised that the Mayor (Jerry Weiers) voted the way he did. I thought the Mayor was going to come our way, but now that he didn’t, we have to hope he’ll stand by his word and support us.”
There had been assumptions by many covering this story that council member and firefighter Sam Chavira would vote against the arena management deal because of the perception that this deal might lead to layoffs for Glendale firefighters.
LeBlanc wouldn’t address whether he took steps behind the scenes to secure that crucial fourth vote, and Sherwood likely played a major role in convincing Chavira to jump onboard, but the new ownership group was not likely silent and that sort of politicking is what it took to get this deal done.
“They were able to accomplish all of the things that needed to get done,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said of LeBlanc’s group, IceArizona. “We had other possibilities that never came to fruition, but to their credit, they kept at it and they kept doing the things that were necessary to get it done.”