Let’s start with the money question. Because that’s always the first query when it comes to mega economic development projects. Building the proposed 460,000-square-foot multipurpose convention and exhibition center/ballroom/amateur sports mecca that would transform the Meadowlands would cost “in the B’s.”
Not $2 billion. But not $1 billion. The cost, those involved said, can’t be determined until it’s determined how much is involved, such as road and infrastructure improvements.
The potential return? That’s in the B’s, too.
So said the three panelists Tuesday morning at a Meadowlands 2040 Foundation event.
Rob Hunden, CEO of Hunden Strategic Partners; David DuBois, CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events; and Brad Mayne, the former head of MetLife Stadium who is now the CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers, all said the project was a no-brainer in the convention and exhibition space sector.
Hunden, a longtime leader in the space whose team did the study (see the full story on the project here), said the potential of the facility is unmatched.
“I’ve never did a study where every box had a green check — there are no red X’s,” he said.
“I don’t cheerlead. We tell the truth. And the truth is, the opportunity is there, and the impact will be massive. I think it’s going to be a game-changer for New Jersey’s reputation.”
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- The pitch: A 460,000 sq. ft. facility in Meadowlands for conventions, exhibitions and amateur sports festivals
To be clear, the project is just a study. Phase 2 — which organizers said begins Tuesday — is about assessing costs and getting support to pay those costs.
This also is clear. While the dream of a convention center at the Meadowlands goes back to the opening of Giants Stadium in the 1970s, doing so now is time-sensitive. The project, which could take 3-5 years to finish, needs to be started soon if it is to be completed before the 2026 World Cup comes to the U.S.
Here are a dozen reasons the speakers listed that they said makes the project a no-brainer:
- Space need: The area is undersupplied in terms of convention and exhibition space. How much? The panelists said you could build 3-4 facilities of this size and still not be overserved.
- Good value: For all the talk of the high cost of building in New Jersey, the location is much cheaper than across the river. Much cheaper.
- Good location: Too crowded, you say? Actually, it’s not. The experts said the large number of roads that converge in the area, combined with the access to airports, makes it easier to get into than convention centers in most locations around the country.
- Parking and transportation. The facility will have enough parking (likely built underneath it) to fill the need. Remember, most people attending conventions and exhibitions will not be driving. Which leads to another component. Plans to expand and extend rail to the area, currently under discussion, will need to come to fruition.
- Corporate clientele: The number of Fortune 500 companies within 50 miles of the site is astonishing. And most need places to hold annual events. Places this underserved area cannot fill.
- High-end sector events: Doctors, lawyers, life sciences, commercial real estate — the types of groups that love to have annual conventions (something about networking and continuing education credits) that are wrapped around a good time. This area is a good time. And by this area, we don’t just mean New York City.
- The connection to American Dream: Do not underestimate the draw the retail and entertainment center will have on convention-goers. (They don’t have to go to New York City during all their free time.) This is especially true for families. Which leads to …
- Amateur sports events: Think esports. Think cheerleading competitions. Think AAU basketball and wrestling tournaments (it could hold 30 courts, making it the biggest venue in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast). These events bring families looking for off-court time. Which leads to …
- More hotels (and restaurants) and upgraded hotels (and restaurants): There already are 4,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity. The experts said there should be 1,000 rooms on the site. This would be more than enough rooms, which would spur competition, which would spur bigger and better (and constantly updated) facilities. Oh, and thousands of jobs.
- More tent-pole events: This is an easy statement. Having a facility that can house a fan experience area not only is good for the once-in-a-generation World Cup, it also could help the Meadowlands get on the Super Bowl and Wrestlemania rotations. Not having a facility means not getting those events. Ever again.
- More international visitors: American Dream already has proven to be a big draw for those more than 50 miles away. This could make it a big draw an ocean away. International conferences and events are always on the lookout for more U.S. destinations. This could be that alternative, especially if it were marketed to the 15 million international visitors that land in Newark annually — many of whom are unaware they actually are in New Jersey. Which leads to …
- Branding: The Meadowlands could be — and perhaps should be — the destination that puts the state on the map in the eyes of outsiders who currently only see it as a suburb of New York City.
There you have it: A dozen reasons in favor of the facility as an economic engine for the region.
Unfortunately, there’s one more: social services.
We certainly have not seen the last of devastating storms. And everyone fears this pandemic is just the first, too.
Large convention and exhibition halls proved to be an invaluable asset to communities across the county and around the world. The nation’s most densely populated area surely would like to have such a site in place for years to come.