Who and what
The two-day event drew 50 exhibitors from major hotels, attractions, suppliers and service providers in the Meadowlands District and beyond.
Also included were environmental and civic trusts. The Hudson Reporter was a sponsor of the event. The conference's first day, Nov. 29, was largely a job fair. Hotels from Secaucus to Jersey City were there, along with representatives from Liberty Newark Airport and from Aramark, an international company specializing in food services for stadiums, arenas, campuses, businesses, and schools.
The next day zeroed in on travel and tourism trade. There was a panel of "destination powerhouses" mediated by Kirkos and introduced by Paul Cohen for the Hudson Reporter. The panel included Bob Ceberio, executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission; Carl Goldberg, chairman of the NJSEA, State Sen. Paul Sarlo of the 36th District; Nancy Byrne, executive director of New Jersey Travel and Tourism; State Sen. Paul Sarlo of the 36th District, and Rich Roberts, director of planning for NJ Transit.
Ceberio talked about how the Meadowlands is on the financial and environmental upswing.
"In order to understand the future, you've got to understand the past of the Meadowlands," said Ceberio. "When I first moved from the Ironbound section in Newark to the tree-lined neighborhoods of North Arlington, there was another universe on the other side of the ridge."
Ceberio said the Meadowlands was once garbage nightmare, where "40 percent of the garbage of New Jersey and Manhattan - 80 tons a week" was dumped.
"This is not your father's Meadowlands anymore - now there are nature trails, a major contender sports complex, and a wealth of hotels," Ceberio boasted. "Ecotourism has become an economic tool to supplement what was there with brick and mortar."
With a new spur bringing rail service into the sports complex, a new athletic stadium in the works, and the entertainment and shopping development Xanadu underway in East Rutherford, the New Jersey sports complex isn't what it used to be either.
"By redeveloping the 104 acres of underutilized surface parking [the Xanadu site], we're reshaping the sports complex and making it relevant," said Goldberg. "Xanadu breaks the paradigm and brings us into the 21st century."
Xanadu will bring in new entertainment venues, like indoor skiing and racing, along with major shopping and eating opportunities. Goldberg said there would be $350 million for infrastructure improvement and traffic mitigation.
Future transportation upgrades
Senator Sarlo, who authored the region's $25 million transportation improvement bill, said he was "proud of the significant developments over the last four years - it's always a balancing act [between environmental and development concerns]."
The funding will be used to further environmental and economic growth in the Meadowlands region. Five hundred thousand dollars will go toward the Transportation Planning District, whose purpose is to create more jobs without creating more traffic.
"We're looking at the region as a whole - we don't want the entire area paved with no green space," said Sarlo. "We also need to improve the infrastructure in the region by getting the transportation user tax done."
Sarlo is referring to the reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund that will run out of money in July 2006 and is up for Reauthorization by Congress (see related story, p. 5).
Chief Planner of NJ Transit Capital Planning and Programs Rich Roberts talked about the various rail projects that would connect the Meadowlands Liberty District with Secaucus Transfer Station, as well as with the sports complex and major development projects like Xanadu and EnCap.
"I'm so old, I was there in 1972 when we dreamed about a rail link next to the stadium - but we have a concept plan that brings everyone to the table for discussion about future rail projects," said Roberts. He said a 1.9-mile rail spur, known as ARC (Access to the Region Core) at the sports complex will go out to bid "early next year" and is scheduled to open Dec. 2007.
Other projects on NJT Draft Rail Concept plan are contingent on state legislation to provide a long-term financing solution to the state's Transportation Trust Fund.
But a federal $137.6 billion transportation funding bill signed by President George Bush on Wednesday includes $120 million for New Jersey highway and transit projects, according to new reports. An infusion of $12 million will head for the Trans-Hudson Rail Tunnel Project, two rail tunnels linking northern New Jersey with Manhattan, and $100 million for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail that extends six miles from Hoboken, to North Bergen, to Bayonne, so the transportation component is looking bright for the future.
The last speaker on Wednesday's panel discussion was Nancy Byrne, executive director of New Jersey Travel and Tourism, and daughter of ex-Gov. Brendan Byrne.
She said that New Jersey rakes in $32 billion a year in the tourism industry. It also employs more than 430,000 people and generates $ 3.7 billion on local and state tax revenues yearly.
"We are the second largest industry in the U.S., and it's fun to see this thing moving and have tourism being taken seriously in New Jersey," she said.