Arena issues Competing developer challenges ‘Xanadu’ project; Nets may move

Seeking to get a re-examination of the approval process that allowed the Xanadu development project to move ahead in the Meadowlands, the Secaucus-based Hartz Mountain development company filed a second lawsuit disputing how the project was selected.

Hartz Mountain was among three finalists in what some local officials had called the “Arena lottery,” part of an effort by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) to find a magnet for the Meadowlands area.

Last year, the NJSEA chose a project proposed by The Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., with Mack-Cali Realty of Cranford, called Xanadu – an attraction that incorporates family entertainment, office and hotel uses. Envisioned would be indoor skiing, indoor surfing, an extreme skiing park, a minor league ball park, a creative arts studio for kids, an experimental learning play city for kids, a luxury spa, and fine dinning.

Hartz’s suit, however, contends that the project slated for development differs fundamentally from the one initially sought, and Hartz wants the sports authority to review the process and possibly reject Xanadu.

Hartz – along with Forest City Ratner of New York – had proposed a competing project, “Expo Park at the Meadowlands.” This envisions the redeveloped Continental Airlines Arena site as a new hub for the Meadowlands and the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region. They would combine a new 500,000-square-foot world-class convention center with a pedestrian-friendly streetscape to create a new destination for sports, commerce and recreation.

Hartz already owns malls in Secaucus with which Xanadu would compete, including the Harmon Meadow and Mill Creek malls and the outlets.

The suit has been filed with the Appellate Division of Superior Court in Bergen County, although NJSEA representatives call the suit “a stalling tactic” to halt the development. The Xanadu developer is gearing up to award contracts.

Will have an impact

It’s not only Hartz that fears competition for its malls. Some local officials fear the competition as well.

“Xanadu will have an impact on our area,” said Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, adding that its arrival in the area may impact how Secaucus begins redevelopment. “We have to prepare for its impact on our area.”

This involves traffic impacts as well as the loss of business to existing malls and outlets, he said. The value of land will change and the demands for services in the area could change as well. Many of the existing warehouses and outlets may no longer fit in.

Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, who sits on a light rail committee with Elwell and Bayonne Mayor Joe Doria, has voiced concern over the Xanadu project as well, and said that his efforts at mapping out a new rail route to the Meadowlands is to service whatever project is ultimately approved.

“We will need access to the Meadowlands no matter what the NJSEA puts there,” Impreveduto said.

The Mills proposal includes rail facilities in its plan. Although Mills did not say who would pay for the rail link, its plans would have a heavy-rail line turn off the Bergen Line in Rutherford stop at the Meadowlands complex and continue onto the Pasack Valley rail Line on the other side of Berry’s Creek. While a light rail line has been proposed for the Meadowlands, the Mills proposal would allow trains carrying as many as 1,800 passengers to stop at the Sports Complex instead of the 60 to 80 passengers light rail can carry.

Impreveduto said the light rail could also establish a station at the Pascack Valley station, which would avoid the environmental impacts heavy rail would cause. Several environmentalists have sided with Impreveduto in this regard, saying that heavy rail from the Meadowlands would have to pass near residential homes causing noise and diesel pollution.

“Light rail has much less of an impact,” said Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan.

Hartz also risks losing office space retail value if Xanadu is built, because Xanadu would have competing office space. Hartz is among the largest suppliers of office space in the area.

But officials at Hartz claim the suit is more about the way approval was given as opposed to what won, noting that the review process failed to fully investigate the project’s impacts.

Nets loss

Meanwhile, the possible sale of the New Jersey Nets for a move to Brooklyn has some officials concerned since the Xanadu project has been designed to center around the sports theme of the Meadowlands.

But since the state loses up to $2.5 million a year from its lease with The Nets, NJSEA officials believe the loss of the team will not have much of an impact since the complex also hosts the Jets and the Giants football teams as well as the Devils hockey team and horse racing, more than enough to maintain the sports environment Xanadu would need.

Hartz has also criticized the Xanadu project as being out of touch with local needs. In pushing its own proposal, Hartz spokesperson Ron Simoncini said the fact that Hartz is local gives the company a better view of the needs of the region and makes the company more interested in the welfare of the local region than companies based outside the Meadowlands area.

The $825 million Hartz proposal would focus on the convention center, fulfilling a promise made by Gov. Jim McGreevey to bring in world-class facilities to the Meadowlands area.

Simoncini points out that Hartz owns the only existing facility in the area, an 85,000-square-foot facility in Secaucus that provides a start to many groups.

“But after a while, they get too big for our facility and they are forced to seek accommodations elsewhere,” he said. “We know that Javits Center in New York is full all the time and rejects a lot of projects. With the transportation infrastructure we have in the Meadowlands, we feel a convention center could be very successful here.”

New malls, he said, in a down economy would only take business from other malls or businesses, and would not act as the attraction for increased revenue the sports authority would like, whereas the convention center would.


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