A development team led by Arlington mall developer the Mills Corp. yesterday won approval to build a $1.3 billion retail, office and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, featuring a minor-league baseball stadium and the nation’s first indoor skiing facility.
The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority voted 9-2 in favor of allowing Mills and Mack-Cali Realty Corp., of Cranford, N.J., to negotiate for an exclusive agreement to build the “Meadowlands Xanadu” at the East Rutherford, N.J., sports complex. Hartz Mountain Industries Inc., of Seacaucus, N.J., and Westfields Group, an Australian firm, were the other finalists.
Plans for the 4.76-million-square-foot complex include three “zones” with different attractions, including a sports and recreation area with a “Snow Dome,” designed to offer year-round indoor skiing. Other recreation venues include an 8,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, indoor Formula One racetrack, indoor wave pool for surfing and basketball courts to be used for tournaments and by area leagues.
A New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame and Music Hall of Fame, and a make-believe city for children called Wannado are also part of the plan. There will be 2.2 million square feet of office and hotel space, and 590,000 square feet of retail space.
The vote yesterday does not guarantee development. The two companies must still negotiate a final contract with the NJSEA.
Mills owns 20 malls, including Potomac Mills in Prince William County, Va., and Arundel Mills in Hanover, Md. It has six projects in development in North America and one project in Madrid that is similar to the Meadowlands plan. Mack-Cali controls more than 29 million square feet of office and flexible space.
The Meadowlands Xanadu proposal had been considered the favorite to be approved after the New York Giants football team endorsed it in December. The team plays its home games at Giants Stadum in the Meadowlands, and said a redevelopment of the site will help its chances of attracting the Super Bowl as early as 2008.
NJSEA spokesman Jim DeBosh said the final decision came down to money. Mills and Mack-Cali agreed to a 10-year, $165 million guaranteed land lease, far more than the other two developers, whose proposals featured heavy profit-sharing rather than guaranteed cash.
Mills and Mack-Cali also pledged $65 million for infrastructure improvements and agreed to leave intact the Continental Airlines Arena, home of the New Jersey Devils hockey and New Jersey Nets basketball teams. Both franchises say they plan to move to play in Newark by 2005, but the NJSEA wanted to to ensure the teams could remain at the Meadowlands if those talks collapsed.
“We put together a very flexible plan,” said Mills Chairman and CEO Larry Siegel.
Over the past several months Hartz Mountain Industries mounted a campaign against the Mills-Mack-Cali proposal, arguing that the review process was not open enough, and that Mills and Mack-Cali were misrepresenting the nature of some proposed properties.
Specifically, Hartz said Mills characterized some retail shops as “family entertainment” as a way of circumventing limits on the amount of retail space to be built.
“There were misrepresentations made that we feel very uncomfortable with,” said Hartz spokesman Ron Simoncini.
“I think some of the representations they made here are not connected to the values of the region.” he said.
Hartz went so far as to create a video taped at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover, in which shoppers are asked if they were simply buying things or being entertained.
“The great majority of the uses in this complex are going to be entertainment-based,” Mr. Siegel said in response to criticism yesterday.
Mills and Mack-Cali may have scored points with the NJSEA when they designated 587 acres of wetlands at the site for preservation by the state. The companies had originally discussed building retail space on the site, known as the Empire Tract.
Shares of Mills Corp. fell 7 cents to close at $28.08 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday.