Monday, December 7, 2009

Arizona's Lighthouse

Last week, I was able to leverage a business trip to Phoenix into an opportunity to catch the Coyotes host the Flames at arena in Glendale. It was nice to be able to cross another arena off my list and catch a Western Conference game in person for the first time. Thanks to Stub Hub I managed to grab great seats 11 rows off the ice, on the blue line, for less than $40 per ticket. A few quick impressions from the game:

- The arena is new and clean, but as a venue for hockey I was not particularly impressed. There are only 2 seating levels, and while the 100s offer great views, the 200s start so high above the ice I can't imagine it being a great fan experience.

- Speaking of fan experience, there isn't much of one. I know some hockey purists criticize the game day operations at the Coliseum for being too heavily geared towards the kiddies or non-hockey extracurriculars, but at least they keep the fans engaged. During the tv timeouts at the Coyotes game, there wasn't much to do but wait for the puck to drop.

- Perhaps due to the items above, coupled with the fact that they play...ya the middle of the desert, the crowd was Weak (with a capital W). A half-full arena, with half of those there cheering loudly for the Flames (a lot of Candian snowbirds in Arizona for the winter). The Coyotes contingent was largely passive and silent.

Frankly, everything about my experience (save the fact that the Aramark concessions were all about $1 cheaper than at the Coliseum) made me appreciate the way we have it even more. I always felt that the Isles offer a better in-game experience than the other arenas I've visited (Boston, Buffalo, MSG, NJ, Tampa) but thought maybe I was just being a homer. Now I think I'm right. As much as I understand we have a terrible facility from a players perspective, I can't imagine any NHLer feeling more fulfilled playing in the shiny new arena.

But all of that is prelude to the real attraction in Glendale. The Westgate City Center, aka Arizona's version of the Lighthouse. In short, Westgate encompasses the arena, the U. of Phoenix football stadium (home of the Cardinals), restaurants, shops, hotels, a park, and nice open plazas. It's a fantastic environment. After being there for 5 minutes, I was having a blast enjoying the sights and sounds. But after another 5 minutes, my enjoyment turned to anger. Anger at the progress-killer we call Long Island.

Without getting myself all wound-up rehashing the LH development process up to this point, I'll keep it simple. A destination like Westgate would absolutely work on Long Island. Yes, of course there are real logistical and enviromental concerns but, at the risk of being overly simplistic, where there's a will there's a way. It can get done. It would be arrogance to think Long Island is so different from other parts of this country where mixed-use destinations have been developed successfully.