Monday, September 15, 2014

Meadowlands Proposal for Casinos, Hotels & Convention Center

With four casinos in Atlantic City already shuttered this year and another expected to close shortly, a regional business group has rolled out a grand vision for a Meadowlands of the future. The “Vision Plan” outlined for the Meadowlands Sports Complex features a convention center, two hotels and four casinos within the complex. The total cost is estimated at nearly $1.2 billion.

That plan includes 2,000 new hotel rooms, a 1-million-square-foot convention center, up to 20,000 additional parking spaces and a 1½-mile monorail to move visitors around the complex.

Spurred by recent signals from Trenton that the state might be ready to end Atlantic City’s gaming monopoly, the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce presented a proposal to build several sparkling gambling palaces, including a resort-style hotel and casino and a combination race track and casino, at the Sports Complex.

The ambitious plan to open New Jersey’s casino gambling licenses to areas beyond Atlantic City have generated "significant private interest" in a Meadowlands establishment.

Banking on that possibility, the Meadowlands chamber updated its 2011 "vision plan" for the sports complex, now home to MetLife Stadium, the Izod Center, Meadowlands Racetrack and the long-stalled American Dream Meadowlands project.

The chamber’s plan envisions these elements:

  • A pair of hotels with a total of 2,000 rooms, one near American Dream Meadowlands and the other near the racetrack;
  • A convention center of 700,000 to 1 million square feet;
  • Four unspecified casino-gambling sites, which officials said could perhaps be at each hotel, the track, and at the convention center;
  • Four new parking decks that combined would nearly double the 27,000 parking spaces currently available;
  • A 1.5-mile people mover such as a monorail that would transport visitors between the various elements at the site: the existing NJ Transit rail station, the Izod Center, American Dream, and the new track grandstand and the elements envisioned in the plan.

The plan calls for a mix of private and public funding, but does not lay out how much tax money would be needed to build the various components. Presumably, the hotel and casinos would be developed with private money, while the people mover and the convention center would be publicly funded, at an estimated cost of $65 million for the people mover and $175 million for the convention center.

The Giants and Jets spent $1.6 billion to build MetLife Stadium, and private firms have paid for the more than $2 billion worth of construction at American Dream, formerly known as Xanadu.

Another proposal being promoted is a $4.6 billion casino project next to Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, with its sweeping views of Manhattan.

The proposal from Paul Fireman, a former chief executive of Reebok, calls for a casino and hotel rising 95 floors above New York Harbor, almost eyeball to eyeball with the new 104-story World Trade Center just across the harbor.

The $4.6 billion project would also feature residences, a 107,500-seat motor sports stadium and what is billed as the largest Ferris wheel in the world.

The proposed development would create 25,000 jobs and over $5 billion of investment, which would be one of the largest construction projects in the United States.

But there’s one catch — The New Jersey Constitution limits casino gambling to Atlantic City.

But the recent closings of Showboat, Revel, Trump Plaza and the Atlantic Club — leaving just seven gaming halls in the seashore resort — have intensified the drumbeat for a 2015 referendum on expanding gambling to other parts of the state.

The Trump Taj Mahal issued layoff notices on September 13 to its 3,101 employees ahead of a possible closing date of November 13, bringing the total number of closed casinos to five as of November.

State Senator Ray Lesniak, who has introduced a constitutional amendment to expand New Jersey gaming, said his bill would allow for two casino licenses in the state. Lesniak said that if voters approve an expansion, additional legislation would be needed to determine where those licenses go.

“A casino will allow the Meadowlands to draw on an already existing customer base that wants to gamble and be entertained, but is currently driving past us to get to casinos in nearby states,” he said.

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