By BASN Wire Services
Updated: October 26, 2007
— City officials hope the home of the New Jersey Devils will attract commercial and retail development in the area and build on an upward trend that began in 1997 with the opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, three blocks away.
”When people started coming in, they saw that this was the best performing arts facility in the region and they began to see a new face of Newark,” said Mayor Cory A. Booker. ”This is going to further encourage that as they see a top-of-the-class arena.”
The 19,500-seat arena is the New York area’s first new pro sports and concert venue in more than a quarter-century. The last one was the arena at the Meadowlands sports complex that opened in 1981.
The Devils, who played at a Meadowlands arena for 25 years, are the arena’s chief tenants and will have their first home game Saturday night. The arena will also be home to the Seton Hall University men’s basketball team and the first-year New Jersey Ironmen of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
Bon Jovi, which hails from New Jersey, will get things started with 10 concerts over the next two weeks, all of which are near-sellouts, according to arena officials.
In preparation for its opening, millions of dollars have been spent on street resurfacing, new sidewalks, traffic signals and streetlights and the demolition of several decaying buildings nearby.
The Newark Police Department also created a new special events division and plans to have as many as 60 officers patrolling near the arena on event nights.
The city’s first plans for a downtown arena were presented in the fall of 1997.
The city paid $210 million for the arena, and the Devils paid the rest.
Last January, Prudential agreed to pay $105.3 million over 20 years for naming rights. Not everyone considers the city’s money well spent.
Newark native Felicia Benson said she’d rather see the city spend millions on programs to help struggling residents in the state’s largest city.
Unemployment in the city reached 18 percent in 2004, and billboards in the downtown area earlier this year screamed, ”HELP WANTED: Stop the Killings in Newark Now!”
”I think of it as a cosmetic fix for the city,” said Benson, 32, who works in human resources in New York and still lives in Newark. ”I would love to see those dollars spent elsewhere.”