Facing the closure of the Izod Center in North Jersey, public officials and union leaders Thursday packed the offices of the New Jersey Sports & Authority to urge the agency to consider the economic impact and slow the process of shuttering the cash-strapped arena.At the NJSEA’s monthly board meeting, commissioners were scheduled to consider a proposal to close the East Rutherford venue for at least two years and have the Prudential Center in Newark take on some of its upcoming events. But speakers at the meeting questioned why the agency made what seemed to be a sudden decision, rather than put Izod on the market for sale or private management.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) pointed to several known suitors for the arena, including the owners of the Prudential Center and Triple Five, developers of the nearby American Dream Meadowlands project.
“I understand the economics of it,” he said, conceding the state’s need to get out of the business of operating entertainment venues.
“What I don’t understand is why shut it down for two years, because in two years you might as well bring the bulldozers in and demolish the structure.”
RELATED: Izod Center to close for at least 2 years, move some events to Pru Center
NJSEA Board Chairman Mike Ferguson dismissed the notion the arena’s fate was sealed by temporarily closing it, saying “there’s been no decision or even any conversation that I’m aware of about giving this building to anybody.”
That prospect of privatizing it is still very much on the table, Ferguson said.
“(W)e actually have had initial conversations with anyone who is interested in operating the building,” he said. “But we’re not at a point where we can make a decision on that.
The exchange came before the NJSEA board broke to meet in a closed-door executive session just before 1:30 p.m., where they were expected to discuss the proposal before returning to the public meeting. Aside from questioning the board’s strategy, speakers pointed to hundreds of jobs that would be lost among union and concession workers at Izod, along with a ripple effect among Meadowlands-area businesses.
Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the nearby Meadowlands Hilton was concerned about losing $250,000 in business tied to World Wrestling Entertainment’s Summerslam event in August. The hotel has 1,000 rooms blocked off for the event at the 34-year-old arena.
“The business loss, short-term, is significant,” Kirkos said.
He was among dozens who packed the authority’s normally spacious conference room at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. So was state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who urged the NJSEA to take a deep breath.
“If nothing else, this board should slow down, follow the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act and make sure the public knows what it is you’re planning to do before you do it,” she said, “and that you hold the meeting in a public facility that can accommodate not only the press, but all those folks that are standing out in the hallway.”
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