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Mall Plan Irks Jets, Giants
Posted by Gold_12TH on Thu Mar 15 21:16:10 2012New Jersey's quest to build one of the nation's largest shopping centers has long been plagued by money problems, but now a new obstacle has emerged: potential opposition from two professional football teams, the Giants and Jets.
The powerful franchises are concerned that the American Dream Meadowlands would intensify traffic around their home field, MetLife Stadium, worsening what is already the No. 1 complaint from fans. The stadium is unique among the region's sports facilities in that the majority of fans travel there by car. Exiting the parking lot already takes about an hour.
Transit advocates and some local mayors also believe the $1.8 billion entertainment complex—the latest incarnation of a project originally called Xanadu—will cause highway gridlock, but the teams are a far more influential force in New Jersey. Together, they spent $1.6 billion to build the new MetLife Stadium in 2010 and have the ear of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
The sports teams want the American Dream developers to shut down an amusement and water park on the days of their 20 home games during the regular and preseason, people familiar with the negotiations said. If that doesn't happen, the teams would consider a legal challenge, these people said. Talks between the teams and the developers, Triple Five of Edmonton, Canada, got "testy" two weeks ago over traffic, one person said.
A Triple Five spokeswoman, Maureen Hooley Bausch, said the company is "working with" the teams and that the mall "will be nothing but a positive."
Traffic is only one of many issues faced by the American Dream complex, which sits partially completed on state land 10 miles west of Manhattan, visible from major highways.
Triple Five—owners of the Mall of America in Minnesota—is currently seeking federal and state permits, and three federal environmental agencies have warned that the complex would negatively affect wetlands. Triple Five has yet to submit a plan to address those concerns, said Richard Tomer, chief of the regulatory branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York.
Triple Five has also struggled with financing. Xanadu was abandoned in 2009 because of a lack of funding. Since then, lenders in control of the mall property wanted the company to secure financing by Dec. 31, but Triple Five needed a three-month extension of the agreement and is expected to seek a second extension before the end of March, a person familiar with the matter said.
On Wednesday, company executives said they expect to have a financing plan secured by early summer, and leases for the 2.7 million-square-foot mall will come together from there. The mall's main section is supposed to open by early 2014—in time for the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, Ms. Bausch said.
At the heart of the dispute with the football teams is an indoor water and amusement park that Triple Five has proposed in addition to the mall.
The developers have said the 14.7-acre water park—which Triple Five claims would be the largest in North America—is important to making the complex a regional destination.
The amusement park would be open on Sundays unlike most of the mall, which must close in compliance with Bergen County's blue laws. Most football game days are on Sundays, when the roads that connect to the stadium are already crowded, said Janna Chernetz of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which advocates for mass transit. "It's going to be a disaster between events," she said.
The teams believe a 2006 "Memorandum of Cooperation" among themselves, Triple Five and the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority gives the teams the right to block changes to the project that would have an adverse effect on their business, people familiar with the teams' position said.
"Their No. 1 concern is traffic," one of the people said.
The original Xanadu project was expected to draw 50 million people a year, compared with 55 million under Triple Five's plan. Xanadu was expected to attract about 61,000 cars a day, though they estimated that some visitors would take mass transit. NJ Transit currently runs limited bus and rail service to the stadium, mostly on game days.
Triple Five doesn't intend to build additional parking for the amusement park.
John Samerjan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which owns the Meadowlands Sports Complex, said: "The authority believes, rightly, that it will be a tremendous success."
The Jets and the Giants are significant players in New Jersey's economy—and Mr. Christie's political circle. The owner of the New York Jets, Woody Johnson, is a major Republican donor. A spokesman for Mr. Christie declined to comment.