Newark Mayor Cory Booker today publicly ripped into New Jersey Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek, calling him a “liar” and “bamboozler” a day after arbitrators ruled on the city’s long-running legal battle with team ownership over rent and revenues from the Prudential Center.
In a press conference outside the downtown arena, Booker scathingly described what he said were Vanderbeek’s attempts to squeeze millions of dollars from the city and his failure to deliver a return on Newark’s $210 million investment in the construction of the nearly five-year-old arena. Booker also alleged Vanderbeek has failed to deliver on pledges he made in exchange for the city’s support, such as private investment in a recreation center and job training for city residents.
“He came into the city with a mouthful of promises but a pocketful of lies,” Booker said, later adding, “What Jeff Vanderbeek has proven after five years of trying to work with him is that he is a highfalutin, high-class huckster and hustler. The facts speak for themselves.”
In a statement issued through a spokesman, Devils Arena Entertainment responded by saying, “We recognize it is hard for the mayor to accept a legal loss and understand what must be his frustration with the housing authority’s dubious decision to initiate this arbitration.”
Booker called the press conference a day after an arbitration panel ruled on a five-year-long dispute over several financial issues, including whether the Devils were entitled to $2.7 million in annual parking revenues related to the arena. The panel on Tuesday awarded the Devils some $10 million in total parking revenue from the past four years, along with other awards. The panel’s award to Newark included about $13 million back rent that went unpaid during the dispute.
During his remarks, Booker alluded to a letter signed in 2005 by Vanderbeek and the city’s former business administrator that guarantees the Devils $2.7 million in annual parking revenue generated by the arena. The letter is separate from the original lease agreement between the city and the team, Booker said.
Booker acknowledged the “collateral benefits” that the Prudential Center has brought to the city, including Newark’s first new downtown hotels in 40 years and the opening of new businesses around the arena. But he vowed to fight the arbitration panel’s ruling.
“Every legal manipulation and exploitation he could pursue to get another dime and dollar out of our city, he’s gone after,” said Booker, who accused Vanderbeek of trying to “bilk us at every turn” while the city struggles financially.
An economic impact study released by Devils Arena Entertainment says that by June 2012, the arena will have generated $27.2 million for Newark and $93.1 million for Essex County, while creating 1,140 jobs for Newark and 4,304 jobs for the county. The economic activity includes data from the team’s payroll, operating expenses and spending from visitors since the venue opened in October 2007.