How Desert Diamond Arena made Glendale an entertainment destination in Arizona

There was no Westgate Entertainment District when Glendale Arena opened midway through the NHL season in late December 2003 as the home of the Arizona Coyotes.

Many things have changed in 20 years, including the name of the place.

It went from Glendale Arena to Jobing.com Arena (from 2006-2014) and Gila River Arena (from 2014-2022) before Desert Diamond Casino acquired the naming rights in 2022, renaming the multi-purpose venue with a capacity of 19,000 to the Desert Diamond Arena.

The Coyotes moved to Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena after the 2021-22 season.

The Arizona Rattles are moving this year.

And through it all, the area surrounding the arena underwent a major transformation. And the arena is what Glendale manager Kevin Phelps sees as the “catalyst” for all that change.

“There was almost nothing on either side of the arena”

“We have a photo from when the arena was built,” Phelps says. “In the background you can see the support columns for what is now State Farm Stadium. There was virtually nothing on either side of the arena or behind the arena except for the stadium under construction.

Construction on the arena began in April 2002, shortly after the state widened Loop 101, providing much more visibility and access to the area, which was mostly “vacant farmland,” Phelps says.

In addition to bringing millions of dollars annually to the area, the arena has generated $2 billion in private capital investment, allowing Glendale to become a destination with entertainment options, hotels, Tanger Outlets and many restaurants within walking distance of both arenas and the stadium .

“I wasn’t here when the original vision happened,” Phelps says. “But I think it’s safe to say that while there were ambitious plans for how the arena would help with restaurants and some development in the area, the explosion of the entertainment district has exceeded our wildest dreams.”

Private investors “understand the dynamics” of leverage events

YAM Properties, a commercial real estate company owned by GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, purchased the Westgate Entertainment District in 2018.

Private equity investors, Phelps says, “understand the dynamics of people coming to events and spending the whole day, so they’ve been able to use both the visibility, the attention and obviously the foothold to help promote and sustain their businesses. “

He compares it to car dealership groups.

“Car dealers have learned that the more dealerships you have in the same area, the better everyone does. One on its own does so well. Two together do a little better. You put eight or ten dealerships in one area, they all do much, much better. It happened with this arena as a catalyst.”

Martha Kenny, director of operations at YAM, says most of Westgate’s tenants are restaurants, which are definitely feeling the impact of arena and stadium events.

“They work hard to maximize event days,” says Kenny. “We pride ourselves on being a 365-day-a-year venue, whether the events are there or not. But the events certainly help.”

Why the Coyotes’ loss didn’t hurt the Glendale arena

When the city announced in 2022 that it was not renewing the Coyotes’ lease, it issued a statement saying industry experts believe the move will position the arena to be even more successful.

“And it clearly proved itself,” says Phelps.

They may have lost 41 games, but concerts usually bring more money to the area than hockey games.

“What we found is that a fan attending a hockey game would arrive 30 to 45 minutes before the game, buy them food and drinks at the arena, and when the game was over, get in their car and go home,” Phelps says.

A concert goer is more likely to make a day of it.

“They get to the entertainment district in the afternoon,” says Phelps. “They meet friends. They are having lunch. They go to the bars. That a person going to a hockey game does not spend the same amount of money as a person coming to a concert.

Cutting ties with the Coyotes also gave the arena more freedom to schedule events.

Dale Adams is the arena general manager through ASM Global, an arena management company with more than 350 arenas worldwide.

“We’re wide open now,” he says. “Now we can say, ‘Hey, play here. You can have a moving day.

Desert Diamond Arena had a record 2023

The arena is coming off a record year, from number of events to total attendance and gross ticket sales, while also seeing a dramatic increase in merchandise sales.

The arena welcomed a total of 450,000 guests in 2023. The capacity crowd made Zac Bryan’s best-attended concert ever, while two Drake nights became the venue’s highest-grossing and most successful two shows to date.

This is two consecutive record years for the multi-purpose venue, placing it among the top performing arenas for ASM Global.

And what’s good for the arena, as always, is good for Glendale.

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How Westgate Is ‘Arizona’s Entertainment Destination’

“This is the entertainment destination in Arizona, I would say, because of everything we have here,” Adams says.

“You have the casino. You will have VAI, Mattel Adventure Park. You have retail with Tanger Outlets. You have YAM running Westgate. Easy to get here on the 101. Everything is there. And it’s still growing.”

State Farm Stadium is obviously capable of drawing much larger crowds, and when it comes to visibility, it’s hard to beat Taylor Swift, who kicked off a stadium tour with two sold-out shows. It has also hosted several Super Bowls, including last year with Rihanna as the halftime entertainment.

As Phelps says, building the stadium “brought in the NFL team, which meant at least eight times a year there would be a national broadcast from Glendale.”

On the other hand, being a smaller venue, the arena offers a greater frequency of major events.

“If you’re a restaurant or even a hotel, if you have 20 days of events a year at the stadium, it’s pretty hard to keep your lights on the other 345 days of the year,” Phelps says.

“The stadium alone doesn’t do that much good for a business that needs revenue day in and day out, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.”

And every year the arena attracts significantly more people to the area.

“I think I saw a prediction that there would be about 600,000 fans going to 10 Cardinals games this year,” Phelps says. “And that’s a number from two years ago, but Westgate reckons it gets about 5 million people a year.”

Last year, Glendale city officials approved a $40 million renovation plan with ASM Global as part of a multi-year strategy to continue increasing the venue’s fiscal return and prominence in the city’s growth as a national entertainment hub.

“The real benefit of the arena is the business it generates for all the businesses around it,” Phelps says.

“When they announced that they had record ticket sales, record attendance, the real benefit to the city of Glendale is that it means we have a lot more people in the entertainment district. So it benefits our hotels. It benefits our experience locations like PopStroke and Chicken N Pickle, and it certainly benefits all the restaurants in the area.”

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @EdMasley.

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