On January 15 of this year I attended a “public” meeting of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority after being “tipped” off that they were planning to close the Izod Center in Bergen County. I say “tipped off”, because the public agenda for the meeting did not state they were planning that action.
The Commission members courteously listened to the many members of the public who had also been “tipped off”. and came to ask questions. There were no documents presented to the public (and from my observance none also to the Commissioners themselves). Commissioners then went into closed session and emerged later with a resolution autorizing the almost immediate closing. A majority voted yes, but one of the “No” votes came from Commissioner Leroy Jones who said, Commissioners had not received any information upon which to base a vote, and in fact had been notified only the day before that such an action was going to be taken. Certainly that raises questions of why there were any “Yes” votes with such little information.
Minutes of October and November of this past year state that the Izod was going to have a great 4th quarter. We have prior financial tables from NJSEA showing the Izod generally operating at a profit.
There were various events booked at the Izod for the first 6 months of 2015, and beyond, including high school and college graduations; Disney on Ice; and a huge WrestleMania event which resulted in the reservation of approximately 6oo hotel rooms in the Meadowlands area. All events were offered a move to the Prudential if they chose, but the Wrestling event with its hundreds of hotel rooms went to the Barclay in New York. A big loss for New Jersey and Bergen taxpayers.
We submitted OPRA requests for minutes and/or documents which would help understand how the Izod moved from a profit making endeavor to losing hundred of thousands of dollars in two short months. The NJ Treasurer’s office finally supplied some financial documents along with completely redacted reports and emails.
Our Attorney filed papers in court and Judge Peter Doyne held a hearing in Bergen County Superior Court on Friday. He indicated that our paperwork might have some deficiencies, but also urged that the parties meet and try to work out differences. His decision will be reported on Wednesday.
Whatever the outcome of the court findings, I have serious questions: (1) why was the action not put on the published agenda? (2) who authorized the signing of the contract with Prudential prior to the action of the Commission? (3) where are the minutes, emails or reports justifying this action? (4) was there any study of the economic impact on Bergen County of the closing? (5) if the Izod is to reopen in two years, why does the contract so limit how the Arena can be used (perhaps only a Cirque Du Soleil). (6) if this was done to somehow accomodate America’s Dream or The Prudential, both of which are privately owned, why hasn’t the public been given that information?
It might take us awhile; it might take a second court action, or it might actually relsult in finding out by meeting with the Commission and their Attorneys, but I’m not giving up. Whenever a public action – particiularly one of this magnitude – is being taken with little notice or background by this administration, we must all question and get answers.