Red Bulls will break ground on stadium today
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
By IVES GALARCEP
More than six years ago, Major League Soccer's MetroStars let it be known that they needed their own stadium in order to survive and they were ready to settle down in whichever town proved capable of building it.
Big cities lined up as usual, but right alongside them was the tiny town of Harrison, which few people gave a chance of being the eventual winner of the stadium sweepstakes.
It took more than six years but the small town has officially won. Ground will be broken today in Harrison on a $220 million, 25,000-seat stadium, some six years after Harrison stood aloingside Newark and New York City, hoping to convince the team known then as the MetroStars that a professional team could thrive in the tiny Hudson County town.
Red Bull Park, which is set to open in June 2008, will serve as the crown jewel of Harrison's $1 billion redevelopment of its industrial waterfront on the Passaic River. The stadium project, which hit several roadblocks in the past six years, will be the marquee attraction in the 270-acre redevelopment zone in South Harrison, just across the river from Newark.
"It always made sense to have the stadium there and now we can finally see that dream become a reality," said Nick Sakiewicz, president of the New York division of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which is building the stadium in conjunction with Red Bull, makers of the energy drink and new owners of the area's MLS franchise. "In less than two years, you are going to see a state-of-the-art facility packed with die-hard soccer fans."
Sakiewicz, who oversaw the stadium project during his five-year tenure as team president of the MetroStars, acknowledges that if not for Harrison and Hudson County's willingness to stick with the project, the team now known as the Red Bulls might have left the market.
"If we couldn't get it built in New Jersey we would have moved the team," said Sakiewicz, a Passaic native. "We would have moved to St. Louis, Seattle, Philadelphia, basically to whoever could deliver us a stadium."
Red Bull purchased the MetroStars in March and renamed the team in a $100 million purchase that included a 50-percent stake in the stadium as well as naming rights.
Today's groundbreaking will serve as the end of an almost eight-year odyssey to secure a stadium for the area's Major League Soccer franchise, a journey that saw the project in jeopardy of falling apart on several occasions.
"We've had so many ups and downs with this project," Harrison mayor Ray McDonough said. "One day we would have it then the next day someone would pull the plug on it."
The project appeared to be in jeopardy as recently as a year ago, when AEG, which owned the MetroStars before selling them to Red Bull in the spring, fell into a battle with the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority over control of the proposed project. The conflict convinced AEG owner Phil Anschutz to increase his contribution to the project from $30 million to close to $100 million, eliminating the public funding aspect of the stadium construction and thereby paving the way for the project to become a reality.
"That was a home run for all of us," McDonough said of AEG's decision to fully fund the construction costs of the project. "Any doubts before that were erased. Once (Anschutz) did that I knew it was a done deal. That took a lot of pressure off everyone."
The project, estimated to be worth as much as $220 million, is broken down into three parts: AEG and Red Bull pay up to $100 million to build the stadium, Harrison paid $40 million for the purchasing and cleaning up the land the stadium is built on and Hudson County will pay $80 million for a 1,500 car parking facility and road improvements in the area.
The project is not without its risks. Harrison is banking on being able to pay its $40 million contribution with future tax revenues generated by other aspects of the redevelopment project. Hudson County is expecting to recoup its $80 million contribution from revenue generated by the parking garage, which will service those who commute to Manhattan using the nearby PATH station as well as all spectators who attend sporting events and concerts at the stadium.
Will it all work? Hudson County and Harrison officials are staking their futures on it.
"This project means thousands of jobs for our town as well as the stabilization of our tax rate," McDonough said. "I have no doubts about this working because all you have to do is look around us. You have Harrison and Kearny and the Ironbound section of Newark, all areas filled with people who love soccer and who are going to love the chance to be able to walk to a stadium to see a game, not to mention other events like concerts and college and high school games."
Red Bulls officials are banking on being able to draw those fans in. After nearly 11 years of drawing sparse crowds at Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls are eager to open up their own facility to cater specifically to soccer fans. The new stadium's features includes an overhang that serves as overhead cover for the entire seating area, leaving just the playing field exposed to rain. The stadium will include a stage for concerts but unlike the other soccer stadiums recently built, the stage will be covered by seats during soccer matches, meaning fans will encircle the field on match day. The area surrounding the stadium is also being developed with restaurants and retail outlets.
"We want fans to have a memorable experience when they come to the stadium in every way," said Red Bulls coach and sporting director Bruce Arena. "Obviously we have to put a good product on the field but you want the fans to enjoy the whole experience, from when they walk into the stadium to when they go home."