Slam dunk for Pru Center as it scores role in March Madness

//September 24, 2009//

Slam dunk for Pru Center as it scores role in March Madness

//September 24, 2009//

Listen to this article

Newark arena will play host to NCAA regional action in 2011.Newark’s 18,000-seat Prudential Center won the right to host the 2011 NCAA East Regional for men’s college basketball because it scored on all key counts of “transportation, venue and hotels,” according to David Worlock, associate director for men’s basketball at the National Collegiate Athletic Association in Indianapolis, Ind.

The two-year-old Prudential Center won over the Izod Center, in East Rutherford, the only other contender from New Jersey among 71 venues that pitched for 33 of the 36 slots nationwide to host the games, Worlock said. New York’s Madison Square Garden, in the midst of a $500 million renovation, also made a pitch for the East Regional event.

“It’s a sign of the city’s progress,” said Alfred C. Koeppe, president and chief executive of Newark Alliance, a nonprofit committed to help improve the city’s economy and its public education system. “I wouldn’t say it is catalytic, but it is symbolic of the progress being made in Newark on a regular basis.”

Koeppe, who was formerly president and CEO of utility company PSE&G, said there is “no question that the spectators — whether it is a concert or hockey or basketball — get to know the city and appreciate what the city has to offer.”

The NCAA was “absolutely comfortable” with the availability of hotel rooms in Newark, Worlock said. “We need full-service rooms — they cannot be small hotels — good dining options and good meeting space for the team members,” he said.

Each team and its traveling party would number 35 people, making that a total of 140 across four teams, in addition to NCAA executives and the media. “And then we generally fill out the arena, which is thousands of people,” he said of the potential demand for hotel rooms.

Newark and next-door Elizabeth have roughly 23 properties with a little more than 5,000 hotel rooms, according to Hector Ortiz, director of the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau, a business unit of Brick City Development Corp., the city’s economic development arm. The bureau was part of the three-member team that bid for the NCAA championships, along with the Prudential Center and Seton Hall University.

Proximity to the airports was another big plus for Newark, Worlock said. “Transportation is a major consideration; we need adequate number of flights in and out of the city on a daily basis,” he said. He clarified that the Prudential Center’s selection was not a reflection on the quality of the opportunity offered by the Izod Center.

Crime was not a factor that came up in the selection process, Worlock said.

Worlock said the economic impact on a city that hosts such events is in the ballpark of between $5 million and $10 million, based on studies conducted by several agencies in Atlanta, San Antonio and Indianapolis, though those studies focused on the final round of the tournament, not the regional rounds. No such study has been commissioned to assess the potential impact on Newark, which would typically include the spending such events generate on local shopping, dining and other merchandise.

Ortiz expected about 50,000 people to attend the championships and patronize local shopping and dining establishments. Shopping destinations include the Jersey Gardens Mall and an Ikea store in Elizabeth, a participating organization in the bureau, he said. The anticipation of new business could also stimulate investments by several chain and specialty restaurants that have considered Newark in the past, he added.

Ortiz said the NCAA championships would be “the single biggest drawing event for the year,” alongside the Portugal Day weekend street festival each summer in the city’s Ironbound district; that festival draws between 50,000 and 75,000 visitors annually, he added.

The Prudential Center made its bid for the basketball tournament four months ago, and found out it had won Monday afternoon, according to a spokesman.

Early next year, Ortiz expects to hear the verdict in a bid his organization has filed to host the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball championships for five days each March from 2012 through 2014. The Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau has bid for that along with the arena and St. Peter’s College, he said.

E-mail Shankar P. at [email protected]