Newark mayor-elect sees no need for 2 arenas
NEWARK — Less than two weeks from being sworn in as Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker vowed Monday to foster a more cooperative relationship with Bergen County officials than his predecessor, Sharpe James, did.
But Booker also suggested that it would be unwise for the state to keep Continental Arena open if the New Jersey Devils’ arena in Newark opens in the fall of 2007.
“I think that the region cannot support two arenas,” said Booker, who will be sworn in on July 1, “so something’s got to give.”
But which arena has to “give”?
Booker, who grew up in Harrington Park, says he isn’t sure yet.
The mayor-elect has serious qualms about Newark’s share of the costs for a new arena that Devils principal owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek said Monday would cost “about $350 million.” That figure is $40 million more than the official estimate of the past two years.
“If we don’t push for a Newark arena, then we need to find a way to bolster Continental Arena, because it’s not successful in its current state,” Booker said. “But my approach, either way, is going to be looking at a larger region al plan.
“We really are just one big region in northern New Jersey. I’m a Bergen County guy, I have relationships there, and I’d like to see some way for there to be no losers in all this.”
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney said they supported increased cooperation with Newark. But both said they wouldn’t shy away from competing with a Newark arena.
“We have told the Governor [Jon Corzine] that we have not even begun to be inclined to close Continental Arena,” she said. “There’s no way we’d even consider it.”
Corzine said in an interview with The Record last September that he would be inclined to close down Continental Arena if a Newark arena opened as scheduled. But he said that opinion was “not a final statement,” and his office did not comment on Monday.
Groundbreaking on the Devils’ arena began in October, with the first steel going up in March. Construction workers have erected a two-story semicircle-shaped piece of the arena exterior, and work has begun on the press box above those levels.
Booker has been suggesting for months that he might try to have the city back out of its $210 million arena commitment.
“We’re trying to do a full analysis of the information, hopefully by July 1, to evaluate whether [the arena] is viable or not,” Booker said. “We have to see if we can get a reasonable return on our investment, or if stopping it would save the city from compounding its losses.”
Vanderbeek insisted the city’s deal with the Devils was finalized in January, when CIT Group issued an irrevocable $100 million letter of credit to cover the Devils’ estimated share.
Richard Monteilh, the city’s business administrator, agreed.
“Steel keeps going up, materials already have been ordered. To try to stop it now would be a colossal loss for the city,” Monteilh said. “You’d have lawsuits that could take years to negotiate, people would have to be made whole, and you’d scare away a lot of good people who come under good faith to negotiate with the city.”
Booker acknowledged that “there would be a legal risk that we would have to factor in” as he weighs whether to challenge the deal.
Vanderbeek said that he continues to firm up a final construction price, with the Devils responsible for any costs above $310 million.
“I can say now that this project will come in at roughly $350 million,” Vanderbeek said. “It could be $10 million lower, or it could be $10 million higher, but after spending two years with these numbers, that’s where it’s going to be. And the reason I know is that we have in our possession guaranteed prices with our subcontractors for 90 percent of the project costs.”
Vanderbeek said his dismissal of Hunt/Bovis Strategic Alliance as construction manager last week wasn’t due to issues with the setting of a Guaranteed Maximum Price, or GMP, that is standard for sports facilities.
“We just couldn’t work out the details on a construction contract that includes all costs, including the GMP,” Vanderbeek said.
Newark City Council member Augusto Amador said Booker is wise to question the city’s deal with the Devils.
“He wants to find out the city’s cost, which will be way beyond $210 million,” Amador said. “If you don’t think so, you must be in heaven or something. And Newark isn’t heaven right now.”