Izod Center prepares to face the music

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Later this summer, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk will be battling it out inside the Izod Center in the Meadowlands, in one of the few shows scheduled to play there in the coming months.

But no superhero may be able to save the 33-year-old, state-owned arena, which operated in the red last year.

“The future of Izod is on the table,” Jon Hanson told The Star-Ledger (http://bit.ly/1tzmNyA). Hanson is the former chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority tasked by Gov. Chris Christie to reverse the declining fortunes of the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

With developers now set to resume construction of the long-delayed American Dream retail and entertainment complex adjacent to the arena, Hanson said the state needs to finally resolve the question of what to do about Izod, which is operated by the sports authority.

“It doesn’t make money, and it’s time to look at it and decide what its future should be,” he said.

The Christie administration has been seeking for the past four years to privatize or sell Izod. But officials said a decision on the arena was put on the back burner while the state tried to negotiate a takeover and reboot of the stalled American Dream complex, once known as Xanadu. Work on the $3.9 billion project - which was to incorporate a shopping mall, an indoor ski slope, a sky-diving attraction, a giant Ferris wheel and other attractions - was suspended in 2009 after the previous development consortium overseeing its construction, headed by California-based Colony Capital, ran out of money.

Canadian-based Triple Five, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, took over Xanadu and renamed it in 2010, in a deal brokered by the governor’s office to restart the project. However, proposals to add a 22-acre water park and indoor theme park led to lengthy delays after the Giants and Jets, which play at nearby MetLife Stadium, went to court. The NFL teams argued that the massive expansion violated their agreements with the state and would lead to massive traffic jams on game days.

The lawsuits and complicated financing package - involving $800 million in tax-exempt bonds and a $390 million grant from the state Economic Development Authority - were only recently ironed out, and Hanson said attention is now shifting back to the Izod Center.

“Up until now there was no sense to having a dialogue on Izod,” Hanson said, noting that the uncertainty over American Dream made it difficult to talk with anyone about the arena. “Now it’s front and center. It’s time to get seriously involved.”

The options, he said, were simple: allow someone else to run it in a lease agreement, sell it outright, or tear it down.

Not on the table is keeping it as a state-operated venue. “The status quo doesn’t work,” he said.

Once home to the Devils and the Nets, the arena in East Rutherford opened in 1981, inaugurated with six sold-out shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Since then, it has gone through a succession of name changes, known for a time as the Brendan Byrne Arena after the former governor, before a naming rights deal led to its becoming the Continental Airlines Arena, and then the Izod Center in 2007.

But the arena, which has a seating capacity of 20,049, has lost more than its name in recent years. Both its professional sports teams left the building, with the Devils moving to the newly built Prudential Center in Newark in 2007. The Nets bought their way out of their lease three years later, first for a temporary stay at Prudential, and then leaving the state completely to play basketball in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center arena, which has become a top concert draw since opening in 2012 and taken business that once went to Izod.

While Izod lost money last year, financial figures released by the state Sports and Exposition Authority do not show heavy losses. The arena last year generated $12.2 million in event revenue and another $6.7 million in income from advertising, suite revenue and property lease payments.

It has 131 events scheduled this year, up from 109 last year, despite the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, which shut down the Meadowlands complex for about a month leading into the February game. Still, after administration and event expenses, Izod reported a $45,800 loss.

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