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Coyotes' bid for new arena hits another snag with cancellation of land auction

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PHOENIX (AP) — An auction for a tract of land where Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo had hoped to build a new arena has been canceled.

The Arizona State Land Department announced Friday it was canceling next Thursday's auction and reordering the steps so the applicant can file for a special use permit.

“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,” ASLD said in a statement. “ASLD remains open to working with our applicant to bring the land forward to auction in the future if a special use permit is received.”

The 110-acre tract of land in North Phoenix had been targeted by Meruelo in hopes of ending the Coyotes' long-running bid to find a permanent home. When the auction for the land appraised at $68.5 million was pushed back until this summer, Meruelo followed the advice of the NHL and opted to sell the franchise to Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith in April.

The Smiths moved the franchise to Salt Lake City, renaming it the Utah Hockey Club. Meruelo retained the Coyotes’ name, logo and trademark with plans to resurrect the team as an expansion franchise if a new arena is built within five years.

Cancelation of the land auction now puts that in doubt.

“Today, after a year of planning and meeting every obligation required under Arizona law, the Arizona State Land Department unilaterally canceled the auction that was scheduled to occur on June 27th for the site that has been identified as the future home of the Arizona Coyotes," the Coyotes said in a statement. "This unprecedented action by the State of Arizona seriously jeopardizes the future of NHL hockey returning to the desert.”

The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home almost since the day the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996.

The team shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA's Phoenix Suns before moving to Glendale in 2003. When the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term lease agreement, the Coyotes moved across town to play at Arizona State University's Mullett Arena in 2022.

The 5,000-seat arena, by far the smallest in the NHL, was supposed to be a temporary solution until the Coyotes could find a new home. The NHL was reluctant to have the team continue playing at Mullett for several more years while Meruelo tried to secure the north Phoenix land, leaving the sale to the Smiths as the only viable option.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would need about 18 months to reactivate the franchise and was going to keep a close eye to make sure Meruelo and his group were hitting appropriate milestones in the process.