Last month, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority approved the construction of the $1.3 billion "Xanadu" sports and entertainment complex around the Meadowlands arena site. Now, Hudson County officials are seeking to have a light rail line built to accommodate workers and others from various parts of the county.
Xanadu, a project proposed by Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Mack-Cali Realty Corp. of Cranford, N.J., will be constructed on the 104-acre site now occupied by the Continental Airlines Arena and its parking lots.
Work will begin once all necessary permits and approvals are obtained, Mills officials said.
The family entertainment component of Meadowlands Xanadu will open about two years after the groundbreaking. Meadowlands Xanadu will feature the nation's first indoor Alpine ski resort and an indoor mini-Formula One-style racing venue.
Other planned uses include a minor league baseball stadium, an extreme sports park, a grand movie palace and a small-format live entertainment venue. The Mills Corporation will lead the development of the family entertainment complex.
Mills Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Laurence C. Siegel said, "Meadowlands Xanadu will set a new standard for bringing lifestyle, recreation, sports and family entertainment offerings together in one location. Our team is excited to create this innovative destination, integrated with dramatic architectural and design elements, which will capture visitors' imaginations and sense of adventure."
Mack-Cali Realty Corporation will be the lead developer for the 2.2 million-square-foot office and hotel component of the project. Mitchell E. Hersh, chief executive officer of Mack-Cali, said, "Mack-Cali has a long history of developing premier office properties. We're confident that the high-quality office space and state-of-the-art hotel and conference center that we will build at Xanadu will attract top-tier businesses to the Meadowlands, benefiting both the complex and the Northern New Jersey region."
The office and hotel components of the project will consist of four 14-story, 440,000 square-foot Class A office buildings and a 520-room hotel with conference facilities.
Although Gov. James E. McGreevey announced last week that a $150 million rail spur would be built into the Meadowlands site in a battle to keep area professional basketball and hockey teams from abandoning the state, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise has appointed a panel of local officials to attempt to get a light rail line installed from Hudson County to the facility.
"There is a plan," said Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. "This would include running a light rail line along the bottom of the Hackensack River bridge, which would eventually connect to the Secaucus Transfer station."
This is something of a battle between Bergen and Hudson counties. Hudson would like to have the light rail line in order to allow workers from the various cities to have affordable transportation to the project site.
"The way it is now, people have to get there by car," Elwell said. "And that would create a traffic problem."
Bergen County is seeking a rail line that would connect to existing rail lines going to Secaucus Transfer and Hoboken. If Hudson County wins, then workers will be able to access Xanadu from nearly any of the dozen Hudson County towns along the light rail route. If Bergen County gets its way, Hudson residents would have to go to existing rail stations in Secaucus or Hoboken.
DeGise's committee includes Elwell, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Bayonne Mayor Joe Doria and Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto.
"We have strong leadership on the state level to make this happen," said Elwell. "State Sen. Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, State Senator Nicholas Sacco and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires are on our side."
While Elwell has some concern over the impact of the mall on Secaucus outlets and malls, he said the greater problem will be traffic - something the light rail could help alleviate.
<B>Changed his mind</b>
Sires, an early critic of the project, turned around after he learned that the economic impact on West New York (where he is mayor) and other communities in North Hudson would not be as devastating as first predicted. Sires said Xanadu can provide Hudson County with sorely needed jobs, but also said people had to get to the jobs.
Elwell said projections showed Xanadu would offer many of the entry-level jobs people in poorer sections of Hudson County needed.
Earlier this year, Kenny said he changed his mind on Xanadu based on a study that showed little or no impact to local businesses. He said the kind of stores Xanadu is proposing would not affect Hudson County's traditional business base.
The Meadowlands Xanadu project is expected to generate 20,000 permanent jobs in New Jersey, translating into $1.24 billion in personal income annually, and 19,000 construction and related jobs, equal to $1.17 billion in annual personal income. The project is estimated to produce $133 million annually in state and local tax revenue.
The Mills/Mack-Cali joint venture will pay a $160 million development rights fee at the start of construction for the family entertainment component of the development, when all permits and approvals are obtained.