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Alex Meruelo backing out of ownership of Coyotes after land auction shelved, AP source says

PHOENIX (AP) — Alex Meruelo is walking away from ownership of the Arizona Coyotes, putting hockey's future in the desert further in doubt.

Meruelo's son, Alex Jr., told Coyotes staff of the decision on Monday, a person with knowledge of the move told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been made public.

Meruelo's decision to walk away from the franchise comes four days after the Arizona State Land Department announced it was canceling an auction for a 110-acre tract of land in north Phoenix that had been targeted for a new arena.

The ASLD canceled and reordered the steps for the auction on the tract of land appraised at $68.5 million, citing the need for a special use permit for the project.

PHNX's Craig Morgan first reported Meruelo's decision.

Meruelo had targeted the land to build a new arena, but when the auction for it was pushed back until this summer, he 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.

Any expansion franchise would now be under a new owner, if the NHL decides to expand. The league will likely wait a year or two for the dust to settle a bit in Arizona before looking at expansion.

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 franchise's future was cast into further doubt.

The Coyotes moved across town to play at Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena in 2022, but the 5,000-seat arena, by far the smallest in the NHL, was supposed to be a temporary solution until the franchise 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.

Once the land auction was canceled, Meruelo opted to back out of ownership of the franchise over pursuing the land any further.

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AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

John Marshall, The Associated Press