WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, New Jersey voters oppose any state subsidy for the developers trying to finish the long-stalled Xanadu mega-mall that has been re-branded as "American Dream Meadowlands," according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind Poll released Monday.
Pollster Peter Woolley said the opposition cuts across both political parties and geographical boundaries.
"The public's reaction to tax breaks for a private developer in the Meadowlands is completely consistent with its opposition to tax breaks for private developers elsewhere in the state," Woolley said.
Fifty-eight percent of the 800 voters sampled opposed state support while just 31 percent gave it a thumbs up. Woolley said the opposition including both voters who defined themselves as ideologically liberal or conservative.
Governor Chris Christie is backing a plan that could provide as much as $350 million in state-backed financing to help the Triple 5 Company — of Mall of America fame — bring the project back to life.
Triple 5 has also approached Bergen County for another $400 million to jump-start the moribund mall that has sat empty for a few years never having opened, according to the Bergen Record.
During Governor Jim McGreevey's tenure in 2003, the concept of building a mega-shopping and entertainment complex was viewed by state officials as the only viable strategy to keep sports teams like the Nets and Devils in the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority's East Rutherford complex.
(Photo: A concept drawing for the Xanadu/American Dreams Meadowlands mall project.)
Initially, it was the former Mills Corporation that paid the state $160 million for a 15-year lease on the 80 acres in the Sports Complex as the site for Xanadu that was to include more than two million square feet of shops and attractions like a world class Ferris wheel and a 14-story indoor ski dome.
In 2006, the project was taken over by Colony Capital. But just as finishing touches were being put on the mall, the Great Recession hit and prospective tenants backed away and project financing dried up.
Both Triple 5 and the project’s local boosters say that no direct state subsidy is involved. They say the financing is backed by the sales tax revenue that will only be generated if the project is up and operating.
Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he was thrilled when Triple 5 announced their plans to takeover the project.
"They get the entertainment component, they get the destination component,” Kirkos said. “That is what has us so encouraged."
Earlier this year, when asked by WNYC about the Triple 5 deal, Christie was adamant it was the only way to go.
"The state is going to get our money back once the project is successful,” he said. “So I think this is a great deal for New Jersey."
He said that tearing the existing structure down would cost $100 million.