A delicate balance: economic development and the environment

NJSEA head shares Meadowlands plans at business breakfast

Wayne Hasenbalg had a message, “for all of those naysayers that thought the big bad Sports Authority was going to come on board and undermine… all the great things that were done” by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
Hasenbalg, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), spoke to local business owners during a breakfast at The Graycliff in Moonachie on Aug. 4. He pledged to balance the economic development of the Meadowlands with the environmental conservancy previously overseen by the Meadowlands Commission.
About seven months ago, Gov. Christopher Christie signed a bill consolidating the Meadowlands Commission and the NJSEA. The new organization has undergone considerable reorganization, according to Hasenbalg, and will retain just the NJSEA name.
“The Meadowlands Commission was dissolved,” he explained. But he said that doesn’t mean their objectives were abandoned.
“The more that I’m understanding the history,” said Hasenbalg, “the more important it is for me to make sure that we not only maintain the mission and uphold the environmental stewardship that the Meadowlands Commission always did, but we actually try to do more.”
The Meadowlands Commission was established in 1969 as a regional zoning, planning, and regulatory agency to protect the region and ensure the orderly development of the Meadowlands.

A new unit within the NJSEA is devoted to marketing and bringing tourism to the Meadowlands.
The NJSEA was established in 1971 to oversee the Meadowlands Sports Complex and has since expanded their purview to include other sports and entertainment ventures throughout the state.
The newly-combined entity falls under the umbrella of the New Jersey Department of State, “so we’re part of the economic development world,” said Hasenbalg. “And we take that very seriously.”
With that in mind, the NJSEA is focusing on bringing tourism to the region. A new unit has been created within the agency, devoted to marketing and promoting tourism within the Meadowlands, particularly seeking large-scale events like Wrestlemania and the Super Bowl, both of which gave a considerable boost to the local economy.
“I think we can be balancing interests of economic development and business along with making sure that we’re mindful of the environmental responsibilities that we have,” he said.
Unfortunately, Hasenbalg indicated there will be no additional funding allocated for the new tourism initiative.

Beyond the Meadowlands

The NJSEA will retain oversight of zoning and development within most of the Meadowlands region, which encompasses 14 towns. All of the towns were given the choice of “opting out” of NJSEA control and taking over their own planning and zoning.
Secaucus and Kearny both elected to opt out. Hasenbalg indicated that the NJSEA has been meeting with representatives from both towns to “ensure that [zoning] applications are dealt with responsibly.”
Hasenbalg spoke several times about the American Dream complex that is slated to bring a massive mall and amusement park to the Meadowlands. Huge cranes are visible from miles away but still many are skeptical about the project due to the troubled history of the site.
“There’s an enormous amount of activity going on,” said Hasenbalg. “I hope in the very near future… that you’re going to see some incredible activity.”
“It’s important to this region and it’s important to the state,” he emphasized.
The Izod Center was another topic of discussion. The sports and entertainment arena was closed for two years by the NJSEA in January after reporting significant losses in recent years. “I am very optimistic that at some point that facility will reopen. What I don’t know is by whom and for what purpose,” he said, adding that, “I think right now the focus is on American Dream.”
Asked in a Q&A about the NJSEA’s plans for Meadowlands neighbors in Hudson County, Hasenbalg admitted that “I haven’t given it a lot of thought, and that’s shame on me.”
“Back in my sports authority days we did have more interaction with Hudson County and the people there. But since I’ve been in this kind of new responsibility I haven’t done a good enough job of how we integrate that into the overall region,” he said. “Now that we’re organized, it’s the right time to do it, and it deserves more attention that we’ve been giving it. “
Hasenbalg did offer praise for the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, which organized and hosted the business breakfast. “Your chamber is the most effective vehicle that I’ve seen anywhere in this state to be able to promote the interests of a region, and they do it better than anybody else,” he said, stating that the NJSEA would be working closely with the chamber on future initiatives.
Jim Kirkos, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, indicated that the chamber was broadening its vision to “the whole Meadowlands region,” which he defined as the area from the Statue of Liberty to the George Washington Bridge, and from the Hudson River to Route 17 and the Passaic River.
“That’s where we come in as a public affairs advocate thinking about the entire region,” said Kirkos.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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