New uses planned for site of N.J. arena

Developers envision projects from racetrack to indoor ski center

September 30, 2002|By Ronald Smothers | Ronald Smothers,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Six major developers have unveiled competing proposals for redeveloping the Continental Airlines Arena site here, envisioning everything from an automobile racing oval and an indoor skiing center to a convention center with hotels and family entertainment emporiums.

With names like "Xanadu," "MeadowFest America" and "Sports City America," the proposals sketched out visions for the 106-acre site far beyond the sports events and concerts held there now.

Threaded through with retail space and restaurants, the proposals introduced attractions like a sports arena for skateboarding and rock climbing, virtual reality games, an interactive National Football League Experience, an indoor amphitheater and a Canyon Ranch spa.

`Economic engine'

The unveiling of the proposals marked an important step in a nearly two-year-long effort to create what Gov. James E. McGreevey called "an economic engine" for the Meadowlands site in Bergen County amid skepticism and some opposition among county residents. For months, that effort had seemed tied to the fate of financing in the state Legislature for a proposed new arena for the Nets and the Devils in Newark to replace the Continental Arena.

Many argued that it would be politically impossible to win state financing without first giving the state's most populous county a replacement for the lost arena.

But with all the funding for a proposed Newark arena now likely to come from other than state sources, the redevelopment of the Continental Arena site has taken on an independent significance and one that could outshine the Newark plan. For one thing, the proposed Newark arena is expected to cost $355 million while the proposals for the Meadowlands site go up to $1 billion and more.

`Better uses'

George Zoffinger, the president and chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the site, said the response from developers "proved what we have always felt: that there are better uses for the property."

He said that advisory committees would now begin evaluating the proposals. When the authority solicited proposals last June, it required that the plans be all privately financed and that they return enough for the agency to pay off the $100 million in debt outstanding on the current arena.

The authority plans to critique the original plans by the end of October and give developers who are still interested until Nov. 26 to submit revised offers.

The following are the proposals and their developers:

Arena Place: This plan, by the Westfield Group, calls for the creation of an "Urban Village" with offices, movie theaters, hotels and restaurants as well as a live entertainment center in what is the current arena and a "town square."

Westfield, based in Los Angeles, is a subsidiary of an international developer and operates 61 shopping centers in 14 states. Its proposal is estimated to cost $989 million.

Expo Park at the Meadowlands: This is a proposal by Hartz Mountain Industries of Secaucus, N.J., already a large landowner and developer in the Meadowlands, and its partners, Forest City Ratner, the Cleveland developer of office centers, retail outlets and hotels. The plan, valued at $815 million, envisions a convention center, indoor Formula One-style racing center and 1,200 hotel rooms in three different buildings.

Liberty Speedway and Family Theme Park: Made up of a group that involves CART, Indy and Formula One racing figures like Paul Newman, Carl Hass and Mario Andretti, this plan calls for a 1.35-mile auto-racing course, a 100,000-seat grandstand, a hotel and a monorail connecting the race course and track with a family theme park on the site. The cost is estimated at $451 million.

MeadowFest America: This proposal mixes family and interactive games and amusements with entertainment, recreation and children's attractions like a mini-zoo and a museum.

Developed by Triple Five LLC, the Las Vegas developer of the Mall of America near Minneapolis, the plan would include retailers, restaurants and night life and is estimated to cost $41.5 million.

Sports City America: The proposal envisions a Garden State International Speedway for Nascar-type races on a three-quarter-mile oval flanked by an 80,000-seat grandstand. The site would include a hotel, a convention center and a "Merchandise Mile" retail crescent bordering the track.

The plan would improve Meadowlands Raceway. The plan, by the International Speedway Corp. of Daytona Beach, Fla., is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.

Xanadu: The plan is put together by the Mills Corp., an Arlington, Va., developer of malls around the country, and Mack-Cali Realty Corp. of Cranford, N.J., a major national office building and office park developer.

This plan proposes a multiuse complex with indoor skiing and indoor surfing, an "experimental learning and play city" for children and a minor league baseball stadium. Dining, a luxury spa and retail would also be included. The estimated cost is $1.2 billion.

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