Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) yesterday in a Blue Jersey post, Transparency & The NJSE, raised six important questions about the abrupt closure of the Meadowlands Izod Center Arena. She has good reason for her concerns. She is seeking answers and is known for her persistence and success.
As the Star-Ledger reported on January 15, “With little warning and no public notice, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority voted this afternoon to shut down the Meadowlands Izod Arena by the end of the month and shift the remaining few events on its schedule to the Prudential Center in Newark. Officials said the Izod Center’s continuing losses left them no choice. In its agreement with Prudential, the state will keep the arena dark for at least two years, receiving $2 million in compensation for the added events.”
This action, taken with no documetation as to its need, hurts Bergen County which loses jobs, tax revenue and local business income, as well as a near-by entertainment venue. However, there are significant advantages for other groups. A confluence of special interests and the governor appear to be at the root of this travesty.
For a governor whose budget is short on funds and riddled with one-shot gimmicks the fact that the state will receive $2 million sweetens the pot. By keeping the arena closed for at least two years it also postpones beyond Gov. Christie’s tenure any costs involved in demolishing the facility should that be its ultimate fate. State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff serves as an authority commissioner as does Richard Constable who at the time was Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs – a loyal Christie ally but one with a dubious record on Sandy relief.
It benefits Newark’s Prudential Center which picks up some former Izod events and prevents further competition from Izod only eight miles away. Democratic Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, a strong supporter of Gov. Christie, is one of the commissioners from Essex County which stands to benefit.
It benefits the deep pockets of investors who are not shy about making contributions to Christie and other politicians. Triple Five executives of American Dream Meadowlands which plans a gargantuan shopping and entertainment complex there might have use for the facility. (There have been numerous allegations of conflicts of interest against the law firm formerly known as Wolff & Samson and its former partner David Samson which represented both Triple Five and EDA which provided a grant.) There are other wealthy investors, including those who want to build a casino or convention center there, who might appreciate having an in-place arena which they could renovate. NJSEA commissioners are involved in managing properties (George Kolber) and real estate development (Steven Plofke).
Although Gov. Christie has been quiet on the matter there are other ties to him. The Chair of the NJ Sports & Entertainment Authority, Michael Ferguson, served as a senior member of Christie’s transition team. Wayne Hasenbalg, President of the authority was formerly Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Planning in Christie’s office. The authority’s chief lawyer, Ralph J. Marra, worked for Gov. Christie when he was NJ’s U. S. attorney.
Individuals tipped off to the plan for an abrupt closure, including Sen. Weinberg, had an opportunity to express disapproval during the public portion of the board meeting. However, commissioners then entered a closed session where the plan to shutter Izod was executed. Commissioner LeRoy Jones made a motion to table the resolution so as to allow time for further discussion. There was no second to his motion. The final vote was 10-2, plus, two recusals from union officials – commissioners Ballentyne and Scala. Another commissioner is Robert Yudin, Chairman of the Bergen County Republican Organization, who should have been vociferously in opposition. The full list of 15 commissioners is here.
After three months there still is no clear documentation to justify this action. The state is hanging tough. A judge has reviewed the OPRA requests and is expected to render a decision on Wednesday. If there is anyone who can get to the bottom of this matter it’s Sen. Weinberg.