“This plan’s intention is to restore the Meadowlands complex as the number one multi-venue sports destination in the world,” said Ron Simoncini, president of Axiom Communications.
The occasion was a press conference in Carlstadt to unveil a “vision plan” for the Meadowlands sports complex – one that includes two new hotels, four casino spaces, a convention center, and a monorail “people mover.”
“We have a place that has enormous infrastructure support,” said Simoncini. “We have a place that’s within 20 miles of 6.4 million people and most of the highest earning zipcodes in the country are in that 20 mile radius. What are we waiting for?”
The $1.2 billion plan
The vision plan, essentially a suggested blueprint for the region, has been in the works for a year, according to Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber.
“We do not want to turn the sports complex into an Atlantic City,” said Kirkos. “Our plan talks about gaming or casino districts at the sports complex with a varying type of casino product that would appeal to different types of age groups and audiences.”
As an example, he indicated there might be a “racino” for the racetrack, a huge casino floor for slots and table games, and separate areas for high rollers.
The two hotel spaces would similarly be aimed at different audiences, offering a high-end luxury hotel as well as a family oriented resort. One would be attached to the convention center and the other to the racetrack.
The convention center itself, projected to be 700,000 to 1 million square feet, would be located near the American Dream megamall.
The cost for the 2,000-room hotel complexes was estimated at $1.1 billion, with an additional $175 million for the convention center, $400 million for parking, and $65 million for the people mover.
Breaking the Atlantic City stranglehold
Gambling has become a hot topic recently in northern New Jersey. With Atlantic City floundering – three casinos are set to close this year alone and profits are down to half of what they were in 2006 – discussions have taken place about allowing casinos in other regions.
That was not previously an option, due to a plan that Gov. Christopher Christie put in place in 2011 as part of a bid to revitalize Atlantic City. That plan included a five-year ban on any discussion of allowing gambling anywhere else in the state.
However, even State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a democrat from South Jersey who has been one of the most vocal opponents of allowing gambling outside Atlantic City – fearing that it would further impact the city – has relented and taken part in private discussions with officials about allowing casinos in the northern part of the state, in part as a way to generate revenue to support Atlantic City.
The newly unveiled vision plan for the Meadowlands includes two new hotels, four casino spaces, a convention center, and a monorail “people mover.”
Gambling and more
“This isn’t only about gaming,” said Kirkos regarding the vision plan, stressing that gambling was only one aspect of a larger initiative. “It’s about the entirety of the complex.” He pointed out that work had already begun on the makeover to the American Dream megamall, after years of laying dormant on the property.
The mall, once known as Xanadu, was never completed after the original developer and then a second developer both ceased production on the project. More recently, lawsuits between new owners the Triple Five Group and the NY Giants and Jets were settled by an agreement between the involved parties, clearing the way for development to move forward. The current owners expect to spend almost $2 billion more to complete the project, which will include an amusement park and an indoor ski slope and water park.
Simoncini expects American Dream to attract upwards of 20 million visitors a year to the Meadowlands. In addition, “Thirty-three million travelers come through Newark airport,” said Kirkos. “Many come through the Meadowlands to Manhattan for conferences and meetings and events. We want them to stay right here.”
“Mohegan Sun does $1.3 billion a year in gross revenue,” he added. “And its 20 mile radius includes a little less than a million people as residents. What happens when you put the wealthiest people in the country with 18 lanes of vehicular traffic, two train lines, bus service, etc., etc. – what happens to the volume the casino floor can do then?”
A malleable plan
Of course, one major concern is that any new gambling facility could follow in the footsteps of Atlantic City. Build it, and they will not come.
Kirkos stressed that the Meadowlands complex would differ from Atlantic City in that it would provide “different magnets for different audiences,” attracting people for various reasons and then mingling them at the numerous venues, from conferences to shopping to gambling. “We want a multitude of experiences for people,” he said.
Also speaking at the event was Dan Baer, senior vice president at Parsons Brinckerhoff, which helped put the vision plan together. “I think what’s important here to understand that this is a vision,” he said, pointing out that the plan can and will change over time. “This plan is malleable. This plan sets the tone.”
Addressing traffic issues around the site would take place in the next phase of exploration, he said. “Where we’re at right now is creating the vision and conversation. The next steps are: measure the market, get the uses right and in the right place, address the traffic and transit impacts.”
Investment in the plan is expected to come from the private sector. “All the money on the sports complex site in the last 10 years has been private money,” said Simoncini. “When you look at how much money a casino license might generate, that’s the seed money to build this whole thing. There’s plenty of private money out there to invest in such a premier location.”
And the money generated by the complex would benefit the State of New Jersey in taxes, as well as spilling over in the neighboring communities, bolstering hotels, restaurants, and many other services, said Robert Ceberio, president of RCM Cebero LLC and another speaker at the event.
“Economic development means jobs,” he said. “It means opportunity.”
Competitors next door
Kirkos plans to meet with state legislators over the next month or so to begin gathering support for the vision plan. But he won’t be operating in a vacuum.
Jersey City has also been named as a possible location for a casino if gambling is allowed in northern New Jersey. And it’s not likely that a license will be granted to both locations. Which means the two sites will be in competition with one another (and other possible candidates) for the right to host gambling within sight of New York City.
“If you look at the bones of the sites and the people who will be in charge, I think we make a pretty good case for ourselves,” said Simoncini, pointing out that the Meadowlands property is state-owned land and that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority already oversees operations in the region.
“So trying not to compete with them and trash their concept and all, but on a relative basis I think we’re more appealing,” he said.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.