Why 2026 World Cup should jump-start vision plan for Meadowlands — and why process needs to start now

Chamber CEO Kirkos: Venues that attract different audiences give you greater ability to keep all that money in your state

By Tom Bergeron
Meadowlands | Jun 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm
Editor’s Desk

Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Kirkos spent all day Wednesday doing media interviews about the announcement of the 2026 World Cup coming to the United States — an award that comes with the expectation that multiple games will be played at MetLife Stadium.

He spent Thursday trying to make sure New Jersey will be able to take full advantage of the event.

“I’m typing out a note to all of the legislators in the area and all of the key people involved,” he told ROI-NJ when we caught up around lunchtime.

Kirkos, whose group spent years crafting a vision plan for the Meadowlands that includes a massive state-of-the-art convention center and hotel, among other items, said Wednesday’s announcement should be the jump-start the vision needs. The vision that needs to get going now.

“We’ve been talking about this for a good amount of time,” he said. “We’re going to get really aggressive with all of the Bergen County legislators and with people like (former Assembly Speaker) Vinny Prieto, who is now at the (New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority).

“We’re going to say, ‘We can’t sit on this any longer. These things don’t happen overnight and, if we sit on it another two, three years, it won’t be here in another eight years. We’ve got to move this stuff now, so it’s built before the World Cup comes.”

This vision is why Kirkos said he grew frustrated by a repeated line of questioning regarding how much economic impact the World Cup final would bring to the region if it were awarded to MetLife Stadium, as some have speculated it will be.

“Too many people focus on the economic impact of one day,” he said. “I got asked a thousand times yesterday: What’s the number? Is it $10 million? Is it $100 million?

“It’s not about the day, it’s much more than that.”

Kirkos sees the big picture — one in which the totality of the assets brings more and more special events to New Jersey, making each one individually better — and better than the previous ones.

“Venues that attract different audiences gives you a greater ability to keep all that money in your state,” he said. “If we had a convention center for the Super Bowl — even if they still did Super Bowl Boulevard in New York City — we would have captured a fan experience there and kept tremendous amounts of money in New Jersey.

“The economic impact would have been that much greater. That’s really the basis behind having the multivenue concept, where you have the stadium, the arena, the convention center, horse racing, American Dream — maybe even a casino.

“Maybe if we had an honest conversation it would make sense to put that here.”

The goal, Kirkos said, is to keep tourists in the state.

And while New York City always will have an allure, New Jersey does have one big advantage when it comes to longer events, such as the World Cup will be.

“We’re always going to be 30 to 40 percent less than New York City,” he said. “Always. Hotels. Restaurants. It’s just the way it is.

“The more reasons we give people to stay in our region and play in our region, the more they are going to do it.”

Price is important, but perhaps not as important as a multitude of venues and entertainment options.

MetLife Stadium could be key to bigger and bigger events in the Meadowlands.

It’s why Kirkos was typing the email.

“I’m drafting a letter to all the local legislators,” he said. “I’m going to send them out the most recent tourism report for the Meadowlands. And I’m going to show them, ‘If we can only find a way to invest a little bit more in destination marketing up here, we will continue to build an economy in the Meadowlands that will create good jobs, long lasting jobs of all different levels.’

“Let’s leverage what American Dream and some of these assets can do for us.

“Think about how many tourists are going to come for the World Cup. The line at the observation wheel at American Dream is going to be about three days long. They are going to be big winners.”

Kirkos wants to make the region a repeat winner.

“I’m going to use the idea of this and the idea of even bringing back another Super Bowl to say we must continue to build out the infrastructure and the assets,” he said. “The vision plan will make us a rounded and complete destination.

“We’re not there yet, but we have a little bit of a road map. We’ve had a lot of people spend a lot of time on that vision plan and if we do that, the return on those investments will be remarkable for New Jersey long term.”