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Sports teams were drawn to the Meadowlands. So why did they leave?

Designed in 1971 as a lure to land a big sports franchise on the new Meadowland sports complex, Meadowlands Arena landed the big fish: Stanley Cup final, NBA final; an NCAA Final Four.

The idea for the East Rutherford Arena won over franchise owners for much of the 1970s, and it remained a nationally recognized arena for nearly three decades after its construction. However, the brighter decoys ultimately proved to be more effective.

This century, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Newark’s Prudential Center, made its appearance. The Nassau Coliseum and Madison Square Garden have undergone renovations. And another arena, the UBS Arena, outside of Belmont Park, opened (and effectively replaces the Coliseum) in November 2021.

When the idea for the Meadowlands Sports Complex took shape in 1971, two things were clear: there would be a horse racing track to generate income and a football team to put it on the map, the former Bergen County Freeholder, William McDowell. The record this can.

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An early 1970s rendering of the proposed Meadowlands sports complex features the later added arena and the never-built baseball stadium designed to attract the New York Yankees.

New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority officials said they would build the arena, but a team had to come first. The idea was to build a sports and entertainment center, McDowell explained in May 1971. Local stakeholders had made openings to basketball, baseball and hockey franchises, he said.

“The Giants are expected to be hired within the next six weeks,” McDowell said. “The Yankees are in limbo.”

The New York Yankees remained in the Bronx, but the racetrack and stadium stayed on track and opened in 1976. The following summer, the seeds of the area’s competitive arena scene were born. was planted by then-New York Nets president Roy Boe.

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In July 1977, Boe sent a letter of intent to the Sports and Exposition Authority. If Meadowlands Sports Complex had an indoor arena, its team would move out of the Nassau Coliseum and become the primary tenantof what would originally be known as Brendan Byrne Arena.

While this was the deal they were proposing, authority officials feared competing with neighboring Madison Square Garden – and to a lesser extent, a more desperate Nassau Coliseum – for concerts, circuses and more. shows during the 320 days of the year the Nets weren’t playing at home. The recordThe editorial board and the building’s namesake, then Governor Brendan Byrne, questioned the profitability of the lawsuit in the days that followed.

“There might not be enough events and clients for everyone,” Byrne said.

On the other hand, the authority owned the land tax-free, had a sea of ​​parking lots and access to low interest rates. It also had a potential clientele of state residents who regularly provided the Garden with a third of its portal, according to Byrne. At the end of July, officials of the authority approved the agreement. The Nets were moving to New Jersey.

The entrepreneurs opened the arena in early 1979 after lengthy environmental and financial reviews. After collapses at the Hartford Civic Center in January 1978 and at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena in June 1979, authorities ordered additional steel buttresses for the roof, and Terminal Construction Corp. de Wood-Ridge extended the project.

Meanwhile, Boe’s financial woes compromised plans. As the Nets settled temporarily at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Boe was racking up bills for snow removal and his arrears of $ 77,000 were reported in The record.

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Jack Krumpe, the authority’s executive director, has been criticized for building an arena for an NBA team that did not draw large crowds. He still said The record in 1978 he was confident another NBA team would fill the seats. In addition, he said, three National Hockey League teams had expressed interest in the arena.

Among the likely candidates were the Colorado Rockies. The struggling NHL franchise was recently bought by New Jersey millionaire Arthur Imperatore, who planned to bring the team into the complex, but instead returned it to the riverside train stations in Hoboken and Weehawken.

Harness Racing during the tri-State Food Truck Mash-Up at Meadowlands Race Track in East Rutherford on Saturday

The Nets would be there for opening day, but the costs of the arena would still be borne by the state. When counted, the initial cost estimate of $ 40 million to $ 50 million was around $ 85 million.

The generic design of Grad Partnership and Dilullo, Clauss, Ostroki & Partners opened on July 2, 1981. Governor Byrne’s name was plastered to the side. Bruce Springsteen was on the marquee. “The Boss” played six concerts over six days. The arena’s income generation outlook looked strong.

Brendan Byrne Arena hosted the New Jersey Nets on October 31, 1981. Within a year, it would host the NBA All-Star Game and see Imperatore’s intention to move the Colorado Rockies from the NHL to New Jersey. come true, albeit with different owners. On October 5, 1982, the rebranded New Jersey Devils took on the co-occupation. Under President and GM Lou Lamoriello, the Devils have played 13 straight playoff games and won three of five Stanley Cup finals in 25 years. The Devils were the most successful team in the arena.

He was also the first to leave.

After the 2007 season, the Devils moved to the new Prudential Center in Newark. Meadowlands’ basketball-specific layout quickly became restrictive, at least according to team officials who depend on solid incomes to keep their jobs. Newark-based Continental Airlines, which bought the naming rights to the arena before the 1996 Final Four, withdrew from its deal.

By that time, the New Jersey Nets had also signaled their intention to move to Brooklyn. Although the Nets made back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, the team’s time in New Jersey was marred by the tragic death of 28-year-old Croatian star Dražen Petrović in a car crash in June 1993. .

In 2005, Meadowlands Arena was named the worst value for buyers of NBA tickets by Greg Boeck, a USA today writer who has visited all league sites. This was despite the intrinsic value added by the famous Mrs. Fields of the arena, he noted.

While waiting for their Brooklyn, New York arena to open, the Nets continued to play in a newly renamed IZOD arena. However, politicians, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, have pushed for the arena to be closed and a consolidation of the new Prudential Center. The Nets’ last game at Meadowlands Arena on April 12, 2010 put an end to the arena’s raison d’être.

Over the next five years, the arena was held with ice shows, concerts and graduation ceremonies. In January 2015, the board of directors voted to close its establishment, given the gloomy income outlook and losses amounting to approximately $ 700,000 per month. All guaranteed reservations would go to the Prudential Center for a reduced cost of $ 2 million.

Although closed for public events, the Meadowlands Arena remained for private use as a rehearsal stage for musicians preparing for concerts in the area for most of the 2010s. More recently, NBC Universal rented the arena to film video productions.

David Zimmer is a local reporter for For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.