The team hoping to develop a new Coyotes arena and accompanying mixed-use entertainment district in Tempe called a study by Phoenix Aviation inaccurate last week.
The study claimed the development would cause thousands of delayed flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which could cost airlines $2.8-21.5 million a year and have a total regional economic cost of $148-$264 million annually.
“We believe that it is inaccurate and is being used to fabricate economic losses,” said Tom Karstetter, a former air traffic control specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration working as a consultant for the Coyotes team.
The Thursday, May 19 Aviation Advisory Board meeting turned slightly contentious as the Coyotes development team and airport staff butted heads over the accuracy of a graphic distributed by airport staff.
The graphic showed all the construction cranes for the project, called the Tempe Entertainment District, would penetrate the one engine inoperable or OEI surface, which serves as contingency space in the event of partial engine failure as flights take off from Sky Harbor less than two miles west of the project.
Because of the height of those cranes, airlines and pilots operating at Sky Harbor responded that they would not want to take off from the center and southern runway during the project’s construction. That would cause crowding at the northern runway, resulting in a domino effect of delayed flights that led to the economic forecast.
“I do have to say I unfortunately do take exception to words like ‘fabricated,’” said Aviation Director Chad Makovsky. “I was a little surprised to see that on the screen. Words like fabricated suggest an intent to mislead. We’ve relied on data provided by the developer to conduct that analysis.”
The proposed $1.9 billion project would include a new Coyotes arena and new practice facility and headquarters for the team, restaurants and retail, two hotels, a medical office campus, a 1,500-person theater for smaller performances and 1,600 residential units. It still needs to be approved by the city of Tempe and after that could face legal challenges from the Federal Aviation Administration and the city of Phoenix, which owns Sky Harbor Airport.
The Coyotes development team could not make it to last month’s Aviation Advisory Board meeting where the graphic was originally presented. There to rebut this month, the team said that in fact only one crane would penetrate the OEI surface and only for a brief period of time.
Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said only the crane building the arena’s roof would penetrate the OEI surface by 16-26 feet for 21 days across a three-month period. The mobile crane would be up for a day and then taken down for days at a time. Gutierrez said the construction team would notify the air traffic control tower of this activity.
According to Coyotes development lawyer Nick Wood, the confusion seemed to stem from airport staff using outdated building heights that the development team had provided them but they have since reduced those proposed heights.
Though one of their construction cranes will pierce the OEI surface, the Coyotes team noted that it hasn’t stopped developments in the past. They pointed out five recent or ongoing construction sites around the airport that had cranes pierce the barrier by as much if not more than theirs would. They studied flights from the same time of year as those constructions during the year before and after and found that during construction there were as many if not more flights than when the cranes were down.
“Similar and even taller construction cranes did not cause increased runway delays for the airport,” Gutierrez said.
Wood pushed back against the airport study.
“This project will not cause any delays. Zero.”
Rather than delve further into the matter after a nearly hour-long discussion, the Aviation Advisory Board recommended they table discussion for another time. Chairperson Stephanie Fleischman Cherny said she wanted both sides to meet to help hammer out the discrepancies and directed board members to submit any questions in writing to one or both parties.
Other than the height of cranes during construction, there is the issue of adding residential inside a 65-decibel day-night average sound level, or DNL, zone. The Coyotes brought in an acoustics consultant who demonstrated his work to sound-proof residential buildings on other sites of similar or louder noise. He claimed the project could be compatible with FAA rules.
Makovsky said while he may not be an expert on sound, he said FAA representatives had told him that residential uses on the site were “incompatible — full stop.”
Though anyone buying or renting near the airport would have to sign a disclosure form acknowledging that they are not allowed to sue, Makovsky said his fear was they would eventually grow tired of planes flying overhead as often as every minute and will harm the airport’s future by asking government agencies to limit the airport’s growth or change flight paths.
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