View Full Version : Group to Lobby for a Future for the Continental Arena

February 7th, 2004, 04:47 AM
February 7, 2004

Group to Lobby for a Future for the Continental Arena


NEWARK, Feb. 6 - Taking their lead from what they saw as waning state support for a proposed sports arena in Newark and a glimmer of renewed state enthusiasm for the 23-year-old Continental Arena, business owners and elected officials from areas near the Meadowlands complex formed a committee Friday to pressure the state to keep the arena open.

Because most economic studies indicate that two arenas located within 12 miles of each other and competing for similar events would bothfail, any decision to keep the Continental Arena would almost certainly doom the proposed Newark arena.

Calling themselves the Saving the Arena That's Real task force, the group said James Kirkos, the president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, would pressure the state to keep the arena as an element of a planned $1.3 billion family entertainment complex at the Meadowlands. That complex, called Meadowlands Xanadu, when proposed a year ago, was intended to replace the arena as an economic engine for the region and to pave the way for the state to give its blessing to the relocation of the New Jersey Devils and New Jerseys Nets franchises to the proposed Newark arena.

But many things have changed in a year, said Mr. Kirkos, pointing to the sale of the Nets last month to a developer who plans to move them to Brooklyn and new and aggressive marketing of the Continental Arena, by the state agency that runs it, that says it could be profitable without two sports teams. The heart of the group's argument is that the Meadowlands site already exists, while the Newark proposal remains just that and one with a lot of contingencies.

"Because of everything that has happened in the last year we are unwilling to let the arena go," said Mr. Kirkos, applauding the new energy and marketing of the arena by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and its president and chief executive, George R. Zoffinger. "A year ago we didn't think there was much in our control and we were willing to take the Xanadu proposal not so much as a consolation prize but as backfill."

Both Mr. Kirkos and Mayor James L. Cassella of East Rutherford credited Mr. Zoffinger with the turnaround in the Continental Arena's fortunes. His strong and vocal advocacy in recent weeks for keeping the arena open, they said, encouraged them that Gov. James E. McGreevey, once an ardent supporter of Newark's proposed arena, had also changed his view. The governor, however, remained silent Friday and a spokesman contacted for comment continued, as he has done in the last week, to refer all such questions to Mr. Zoffinger.

At a news conference Friday, Mayor Cassella, a Republican, found himself standing next to a Democrat, State Senator Paul A. Sarlo. They are two of the four co-chairmen of the Save the Arena that's Real group. He noted that in the past, his allies in keeping Continental Arena open and opposing the planned Newark arena were all Republicans.

"I think the governor has come to realize the truth of what the polls say," said Mayor Cassella, taking note of the new bipartisan accord on the issue. "Those polls say that people in Bergen and Hudson County don't want their arena taken away."

Mayor Cassella said that although Newark, the state's largest city, envisioned spending some $200 million of its own money from airport lease revenues to help build an arena there for the New Jersey Devils, city officials should instead spend that money on education and lessen the $600 million in state education aid sent to the city annually.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

February 10th, 2004, 01:45 PM

Devils agree to relocate in Newark

Hockey team would move by '07 if arena proposal survives hurdles

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Star-Ledger Staff

The Devils signed an agreement with Newark last night to move to a downtown arena by 2007. The deal marks the biggest step yet in the city's six-year quest to attract a pro sports franchise, because funding already is in place.

The agreement calls for Newark to build a $300 million, 18,000-seat arena near Broad and Market streets in the heart of downtown, officials of the hockey team said. The arena would anchor a massive complex including office buildings, a 300-room hotel, a 3,500-space parking garage and homes for the city's municipal offices and its Board of Education.

"With the signing of this historic agreement, we can look forward to thousands of construction and permanent jobs, opportunities and new hope to accompany the arrival of this world championship team," Newark Mayor Sharpe James said in a statement.

The agreement, which the city said was a letter of intent, does not ensure the building of the arena. The project still faces hurdles. Not the least of them is the Devils' current home, Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands, 12 miles and a drastically different political atmosphere away.

Experts question northern New Jersey's ability to support two arenas that would compete for circuses, major concerts and other entertainment. Bergen County officials repeatedly have said they will oppose any effort to close the Meadowlands site, and Gov. James E. McGreevey has suggested the arenas could co-exist.

As a further complication, a key element of Newark's plan -- the use of a financial instrument known as tax-increment financing -- may need approval by the Legislature.

"The governor's office has not had a chance to review the proposal, and so it would be inappropriate to comment at this time," Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for McGreevey, said last night.

However, George Zoffinger, the administration's chosen voice on all professional sports issues, said the governor would support the Newark arena as long as it does not involve state spending.

"If this keeps the Devils in New Jersey, that's a good thing," said Zoffinger, president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the current landlord for the Nets and Devils.

Jeffrey Vanderbeek, the Warren resident and minority investor in the Devils who is set to purchase control of the team, said the Newark arena gives hope to the city and to a franchise that, even as defending Stanley Cup champions, has struggled to attract fans and is nearly $70 million in debt.

"It opens our franchise to a greater fan base and will provide an enhanced game-day experience for our fans," he said in statement.

Newark and the state's pro sports teams have been down this road before.

In the spring of both 2001 and 2002, the Nets and Devils agreed to deals to finance a Newark arena, but the plans, which depended largely on state subsidies, stalled in the state Legislature.

Then in October 2002, the Newark City Council approved a plan to finance an arena, but YankeeNets, the sports conglomerate that controlled the Nets and the Devils, never signed onto the deal.

Since then, YankeeNets has been dissolved, and the Nets have been sold to New York developer Bruce Ratner, who plans to move the basketball team to Brooklyn, also in 2007.

Last night officials familiar with the hockey deal said the Devils would keep nearly every dollar spent on hot dogs, T-shirts, luxury boxes and tickets to every event in a Newark arena. That, the officials said, would make the prospect of being the only pro sports tenant more palatable to the team's owners. It also would ease concerns about the viability of a one-team arena.

"We have seen great success with one-team arenas, as 19 of our teams are the only major league team and primary tenant in their home venues," said Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League. "Teams like Minnesota, Columbus and Washington, D.C., are playing in new arenas which have led to new downtown businesses and development."

Under the deal, which Devils president Lou Lamoriello said involved months of negotiations, Newark will spend $200 million of the money it gets from a lease with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey toward an arena expected to cost roughly $300 million.

The team will pay for the remaining costs, which are some $55 million less than previous construction estimates because the project site has been moved to land owned by the city. The arena district would be bordered by Broad, Market, Lafayette and Mulberry streets.

Team executives said the building would be built and owned by the city and the Devils would make an annual rent payment to operate the arena and subsidize any operating losses. However, city taxes on parking and income collected in the arena and the surrounding development would offset the team's rent payments.

So, in effect, the Devils would play in the arena virtually rent-free while controlling most, if not all, of the revenues generated by the building.

Newark officials estimated the Downtown Core Redevelopment District, as it will be known, will produce $1 billion in construction and generate $28 million in annual new revenues for the city, or $670 million over the life of the Devils' 30-year lease.

Just how much support the proposed arena will be able to generate remains in question.

During the past week, McGreevey and officials in Bergen County have stated their support for keeping open Continental Arena even if the Devils moved.

McGreevey has secured $150 million from the Ports Authority to build a rail link to the Meadowlands Sports Complex and the $1 billion Xanadu retail and family entertainment complex that would be built there. McGreevey and Zoffinger view a refurbished arena as the centerpiece of the Xanadu development.

Zoffinger said last night the arena would remain open in some form and that the departure of the Devils and Nets would be a good thing for the Meadowlands.

'We will reposition our business and focus on concerts and family shows that will fit in well with Xanadu and the rail line," he said.

The next step is for the Newark City Council to send a redevelopment plan to the Newark Central Planning Board for public hearings. Previous proposals have resulted in raucous sessions.

While local leaders pledged general support last night for the concept of the arena, the debate could prove contentious.

Newark Councilman Donald Tucker, who also is a state assemblyman, said Newark taxpayers will demand jobs and other benefits from the Devils in exchange for such a substantial public subsidy. Tucker said he will demand the team eventually repay the $200 million.

"Sharpe has one basic problem," Tucker said of the mayor. "Every development that he deals with uses taxpayer money. The private sector doesn't come through."

Assemblyman William Payne (D-Essex) dismissed people who say Devils fans will not travel to Newark.

"Remember when they said if you build the New Jersey Performing Arts Center no one would come? I think that's the same case here," he said.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo expressed support as long as Essex County did not pick up any of the price tag. He said the Devils may ask the Essex County Improvement Authority to float bonds for some, if not all, of the construction costs.

"There's no county money," he said.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.

TLOZ Link5
February 10th, 2004, 05:10 PM
Yay for Newark.

August 10th, 2007, 05:52 PM
What will happen to the Contnental arena since all its teams are moving?