ATLANTA — The National Hockey League's Arizona Coyotes need a home after voters in Tempe, Arizona, went to the polls to decide whether to use taxpayer funding to build a new hockey arena, and rejected the project.
"I’d probably never go there. And I don’t want my tax dollars going in that direction," Tempe voter Barney Mullins told 11Alive's sister station KPNX-TV Tuesday.
With that door all but closing in suburban Phoenix, another door opens in metro Atlanta, Fulton County commission chairman Robb Pitts explained.
"We’re in the right place at the right time," Pitts told 11Alive News Wednesday. "There’s no better part of the country to support a new NHL franchise than Atlanta and Fulton County and the state of Georgia."
Pitts was part of the effort to pitch the 1996 Olympics to the International Olympic committee. He was here when the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers spent 12 years in Atlanta, then left more than a decade ago amid ownership turmoil.
Before that, the Thrashers often packed the facility now known as State Farm Arena. Pitts said it could happen again.
"I used to go. So when (the Thrashers) were here, it was very popular," Pitts said. "The demographics have changed and I think it would be even more popular than it was before."
The Thrashers weren’t the first. In the 1970s, an NHL team called the Atlanta Flames played at the Omni Coliseum, the arena that stood before being demolished in 1997 for the Hawks current arena today. Like the Thrashers, they left Georgia for Canada. Now Arizona faces the same prospect.
Although a developer in Forsyth County has pitched a development possibly anchored by a to-be-determined pro hockey team, Pitts said Atlanta has an arena all but ready for hockey.
"I think it’s something we ought to vigorously support and pursue," Pitts said.
Atlanta reportedly has competition for the Coyotes. Those cities include Salt Lake City, Houston and – perhaps Phoenix, which is just up I-10 from Tempe.