By Joshua Burd
Amid the growing chorus to build casinos in northern New Jersey, area business leaders Tuesday unveiled a plan to reinvent the Meadowlands Sports Complex — one that includes up to four new gaming venues, a convention center and hotels.
The proposal by the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce also calls for thousands of new parking spaces and a 1.5-mile, monorail-like “people mover” that would shuttle visitors around the complex. The plan, one that stakeholders acknowledge is essentially a conversation-starter, would amount to nearly $1.2 billion in new investment to the longtime home of an NFL stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack.
“All of these product mixes are conducive to one another,” Jim Kirkos, the president and CEO of the chamber, said. “So when you think about … what’s the likelihood of the success of an aggressive product like what we’re proposing here today, we’re saying that all of those products together help each other and almost helps to ensure the success of the whole.”
Kirkos said an update to the chamber’s “vision plan” has been in the works for a year, but it comes at a critical time for the state’s gaming, entertainment and tourism industries. Atlantic City, which has seen its gaming revenue nearly cut in half since 2006, is slated to have three of its casinos close by the end of the summer.
That has stoked talks of a legislative referendum on whether to expand casino gaming beyond the resort town.
Still, Kirkos said “this isn’t only about gaming — this is about the entirety of the complex.” Speaking Tuesday at a presentation and news conference in Carlstadt, he outlined “the next generation of what we believe the sports complex could be” — a place with two new hotel complexes with roughly 2,000 rooms, a convention center that could total more than 1 million square feet and at least 14,000 new parking spaces in addition to the monorail system.
As it does relate to gaming, the plan discusses four “districts … with a varying type of casino product that would appeal to different age groups and audiences.” That could include a racino adjoining the Meadowlands Racetrack, casino space inside the hotels and a casino attached to a convention center.
The amenities, which Kirkos said could be developed over two decades, would accompany what is already new investment at the 40-year-old sports complex. He pointed to the new $100 million grandstand at the Meadowlands Racetrack, which was recently opened by operator Jeff Gural, and the sight of cranes and bulldozers at the long-stalled American Dream Meadowlands retail and entertainment complex.
All the facilities would be in 20-mile radius of some 6.4 million people, he said, not to mention that they would be available to some 33 million travelers coming through Newark Liberty International Airport each year.
Dan Baer of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which helped the chamber formulate its vision plan, said it builds on North Jersey’s infrastructure, along with the assets that already exist at the sports complex, to meet the changing demands of “the way people want to spend their time, the way people want to recreate, the way people want to move.”
“The whole entertainment has changed,” said Baer, a senior vice president at the firm. “People want uses close together, and essentially those are types of things that we incorporated into this plan.”
He and his fellow stakeholders noted that it’s only a vision “that starts the conversation”: In essence, we’ve created a vision. ... This plan is malleable, this plan kind of sets the tone — things can be moved, things can be reshaped,” Baer said.
Kirkos said his group now intends to present the plan to lawmakers and other stakeholders.