Three years after the long-awaited opening of the American Dream retail and entertainment center at East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Meadowlands Sports Complex, another mega-project is in the dream stage: a $1.6 billion convention center district. The enthusiasm of local businesses and elected officials suggests this project will become a reality.
The Meadowlands 2040 Foundation and Meadowlands Live Convention and Visitors Bureau revealed Phase 2 of their extensive convention-center study on Friday, Feb. 17, exactly 51 years to the day since the groundbreaking of the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The report paints a very promising picture of a successful facility that would bring billions in new spending to the region.
At a cost of up to $1.6 billion, the Meadowlands Convention Center would replace the Meadowlands Arena, formerly the Izod Center, which closed in 2015 and is now rented occasionally as a film studio. The project would stimulate growth and economic vitality in the region and position the Meadowlands and New Jersey as one of the nation's top destinations for meetings, events, sports and entertainment, according to the 181-page report.
The Ambitious Meadowlands Convention Center Plan
"It's a big bold project, and there's no better time to do this than right now," Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber and the CVB, told attendees of Friday’s "mDest23! A Thought Leaders Conference," held at the chamber’s offices in Lyndhurst, N.J.
The proposed facility would have 300,000 square feet of flexible exhibit space, a 60,000-square-foot, divisible ballroom and about 75 smaller meeting rooms. A 1,000-room headquarters hotel would offer two more ballrooms plus 50,000 square feet for breakout rooms. Two additional hotels would add rooms at different price points: a 700-room luxury hotel and a 500-room select-service property.
To facilitate access to the site New Jersey Transit would offer direct bus service, and a proposed monorail or people-mover system would connect key locations throughout the complex.
The Meadowlands site, owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, already is home to the Meadowlands Arena, MetLife Stadium, Meadowlands Racetrack and American Dream. According to the study, the convention center would replace an existing and under-performing building at the site, complementing and enhancing the existing assets in the complex.
A Meadowlands Convention Center, headquarters hotel and two privately developed hotels are expected to generate $30.1 billion in net new spending over the course of 30 years, and more than 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Construction of the facility would support nearly 17,500 full-time construction jobs.
Filling a Need in an Underserved Meetings Market
The area has a well-defined market that is very clearly underserved, said Rob Hunden, president and CEO of Hunden Strategic Partners, the firm that conducted the study. In comparison to other top metropolitan areas in the U.S., the New York/New Jersey metro area is short of prime convention space by 2 to 3 million square feet, he noted. The Meadowlands Convention Center would fill a need for a wide range of groups that currently need to go elsewhere. Among examples:
- Corporate groups could take advantage of flexible, high-end ballroom and meeting rooms at a fraction of New York City prices.
- For conventions and trade shows, MCC would be among the largest facilities on the East Coast.
- For consumer shows, the facility would capture overflow demand from Javits (which has a generally full calendar), and recapture latent demand for events too large to meet in the region.
- Youth sports would, for the first time, be able to hold large-scale indoor tournaments in the NY/NJ metropolitan area.
- The project would fill a gap in the N.J. entertainment market for large-scale concerts, music festivals and fan experiences.
New Jersey Has the Necessary Funds
Business leaders first floated the idea of a Meadowlands Convention Center 35 years ago, according to Ron Simoncini, president of Axiom Communications and spokesperson for the Meadowlands Chamber. In the ensuing years, a number of factors stood in the way of progress.
"I can tell you why we never built a convention center at any point in the timeline," said Simoncini. "But right now, I can't tell you why we're not building it. This administration has had six credit upgrades. We don't have an excuse to say, 'Geez, 1.6 billion is a lot of money.' We have $1.6 billion to put in this, and we have it in a walk."
Over 30 years, the project is expected to generate $19.2 billion in net new direct spending. About 69 percent would come from lodging, food and beverage. As that money ripples into the area’s economy, it would likely induce $7.4 billion in indirect spending and $3.5 billion in direct induced spending throughout New Jersey, per Hunden’s estimates.