Jim Kirkos, the always forward-thinking CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber, was thrilled when he heard the NHL was bringing a two-night Stadium Series to MetLife Stadium next February.
“We always want to do these major events, because they bring the country to us — which is great for our brand as a state and a region,” he said. “The impact is so dramatic: They absolutely fill hotel rooms, and they absolutely fill local restaurants and local downtowns. It happens every time.”
It certainly happened when Taylor Swift came to MetLife Stadium last month. Hotels were up 10%, Kirkos said — and room rates were up even higher.
Kirkos wants the region to aim even higher. He wants these multiday events to be bigger — and happen more frequently. That’s why he’s continuing his push to bring a convention center to the Meadowlands.
“Every single time we get to announce a big event coming to MetLife Stadium or the Sports Complex, it makes the reason for building a facility like the convention center even more compelling,” he said. “It just creates more opportunities to do more events and take care of our fan experiences in ways we could never do before.”
More opportunities mean more economic impact. American Dream is proving that, Kirkos said.
“American Dream absolutely changed the game,” he said. “We’ve been able to keep people in New Jersey longer.
“Are they going to go to New York? Sure. But they may not go in every day because, now, we’ve got something to do right here — five minutes from your hotel.
Kirkos’ more-than-a-decade-old quest for a convention center took a step forward in February when the Meadowlands 2040 Foundation brought in Hunden Strategic Partners to do a feasibility study of creating a center that would feature the ability to host any number of events, including a ballroom and meeting rooms for conferences, conventions and trade shows, youth sporting events and other entertainment venues.
Just as important, the center also would serve as a fanfest area for larger events, whether it be Taylor Swift, the Stadium Series, the 2026 World Cup — or a second Super Bowl.
“The possibilities are endless,” Kirkos said.
The Hunden report estimated the center would have a $30 billion impact over the next 30 years.
That’s why, on Monday afternoon, Kirkos sent a letter to all the legislators in North Jersey, urging them to find a way to produce a site plan for such a convention center.
“The economic analysis of the Hunden study showed what the potential economic impact was if we were to build that kind of facility,” he said. “Now, we need to refine it, come up with exactly what the facility size should be, what it would house and how it could exist.”
Everything from engineering concepts to environmental impact — to figuring out who will govern the facility and who will pay for it.
“We want to basically hand over a business plan to whatever entity is going to build it and run it,” he said.
“We continue to speak to every legislator we can about the power of the economic impact of $30 billion over 30 years. We believe that it is too big to ignore — and that we should be serious about taking the study to the next level and invest a scoping assessment.”
In a dream sequence, Kirkos sees it going this way. Approval for an assessment would take 12-18 months to complete — and thus be finished by the end of 2024. At the same time, the state could be taking down the Meadowlands Arena — and using that space to create a temporary structure for the 2026 World Cup.
When the World Cup is over, work on a permanent facility could begin.
“We think the moment is right now,” he said. “We have the mechanism, the state has the ability to fund this — and it’s an appropriate time to support the other assets of the complex, especially the stadium, with the World Cup coming.”
It also plays well on another timeline: The years Gov. Phil Murphy has in office.
“We absolutely believe it is a legacy project for the governor,” he said. “We can have the mechanism in place to advance this project well before the end of 2025 — giving him a legacy project for the next 30 years.”
That legacy moment needs to start now, Kirkos said.
“We believe that the Hunden study was so strong in its economic impact that it almost requires us to take this next step of due diligence,” he said.