For years, the 20,000-seat Meadowlands Arena has been used for as studio space for television, movie and other media productions. When it closed in 2015, the Meadowlands region lost a major event space, pushing concerts and sports teams out of the area.
At the same time, the Meadowlands sports complex continued to grow around the largely empty arena, with the construction of MetLife Stadium for the New York Jets and Giants – and perhaps the soccer World Cup final in 2026 – the opening of the American Dream mega-mall and the establishment of the Meadowlands Racetrack as a sports-betting hub for New York City just seven miles away.
Efforts to bring a casino in the Meadowlands never came to fruition, after voters rejected those plans in a 2016 referendum.
Now, local officials have drawn up plans to tear down the retired venue and replace it with a new 460,000 square-foot space that would host conventions, trade shows and conferences, as well as children’s and amateur sporting events and graduations, among other events. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and leases out the vacant arena, could not be reached for comment.
Jim Kirkos, head of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, thinks such a venue could compete with the 3.3 million-square-foot Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. “We have all the benefits of Manhattan without the cost,” he said.
It calls for a convention center with 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, including a 100,000 square-foot ballroom and a 40,000 square foot arena that could seat between 2,000 and 5,000 spectators. There would be an additional 60,000 square foot ballroom, and 100,000 square feet of meeting spaces, which could be broken down into as many as 75 meeting rooms.
Conference attendees would rely on a 1,000-room hotel, within walking distance of the center, which itself includes both ballroom and breakout space. In total, the plan envisions 4,500 hotel rooms in the immediate Meadowlands area, of which ideally more than half would be within walking distance.
“For attendees, especially those driving, costs are much lower for hotels and parking, saving hundreds per day,” the study found, which suggests that there could be as many as 300,000 yearly hotel stays at these establishments.
The Meadowlands area has acres of developable land and easy access to Manhattan, which also offers a high concentration of events such as trade shows, conventions, expos and conferences.
Details such as the price tag and the opening date are still unknown given that the proposal is an effort to catch the attention of the decision-makers, Kirkos said. Convention centers across the nation typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.
Right now, the region lacks a large convention center. The Meadowlands Exposition Center in nearby Secaucus, comes in at roughly 61,000 square feet. Kirkos said that compared to major markets such as Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Detroit, “we are almost 2 million square feet short” of what New Jersey’s side of the New York metro area needs for convention space.
The market serves as many as 21 million people living within a 90-minute drive of the Meadowlands region, the study found, with three major international airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport just to the south. Like other major attractions in the Meadowlands, the new center would also be served by NJ Transit, which has a line connecting a train station at the sports complex to the much larger Secaucus Junction.
But the route has been consistently overburdened by events like the Super Bowl in 2014 and Wrestlemania five years later. In both cases thousands of fans were left stranded for hours due to limited transit capacity. NJ Transit is spending $3.5 million for a study on how to build a higher-capacity train route to handle the stadium and American Dream Mall.
Kirkos said that doesn’t mean NJ Transit is incapable of handling the load. Instead, the improvements would only serve to create a better rider experience. In the case of events like the Super Bowl and Wrestlemania, Kirkos said that organizers “tried to squeeze too much in too short a period of time.”
“The train line is perfectly capable of handling the big events,” he said.