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Old Posted Nov 22, 2010, 5:23 PM
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On Train to Meadowlands, View of Wasted Money

The New Meadowlands Stadium, left, stands near the long-delayed Xanadu project, right.

November 21, 2010

It wasn’t a pretty view on the 13-minute train ride Sunday from Secaucus to New Meadowlands Stadium — old landfills, mud flats, the garish bulk of the stalled Xanadu project. But it might as well have been paved with money.

The 2.3-mile train line to the Meadowlands, opened last year, offers a unique tour of inflated and deflated dreams, poor decision-making and, most of all, enormous spending — a fair amount of it from taxpayers, and a fair amount that will never be recouped — in the inimitable New Jersey style. So did the green-clad Jets fans riding to the game gaze out the window at what were supposed to be golf courses, housing, hotels and malls, and sing a lament for the long-suffering New Jerseyan?

Some wearily accept the excess as an inevitable part of life in this state, but most give it little thought.

“If I think about it, I know some of it is crazy,” said Mike McBride, a computer scientist from Boonton. “But when I think about taxes and spending, I tend to think about my local government.”

As the train crosses the Hackensack River, to the left lies what was supposed to be the EnCap project. Once frequent headline news, to judge by the game-day passengers, it has largely vanished from public memory.

This was to be one of the largest developments in the state’s history, entrusted by state and local governments to developers who had little track record and shaky financing. EnCap Holdings was supposed to turn 800 derelict acres, including several old dumps, into a resort and thousands of homes.

None of it happened. Instead, the developers made a series of missteps, ran out of money and, in 2008, filed for bankruptcy. All that remain are lawsuits, investigations and questions about where the money went and who will do the needed cleanup.
State and local bodies sank hundreds of millions of dollars into the project; much has been repaid, but officials say some of it never will be.

On the train, Mike Von Ohlen of New Brunswick, who works at a truck company, turned to look at the sprawling, multicolored Xanadu. Or, as he called it, “the biggest boondoggle there is.”

Xanadu, now just called The Meadowlands, is the largest retail and entertainment complex in the country. After more than $2 billion spent, it is years behind schedule, and the owners say they need $875 million to complete it. It sits on state-owned land; the state has paid for transportation improvements to reach it; and Gov. Chris Christie wants the state to invest money to help finish it.

At the sports complex, owned by the state’s Sports and Exposition Authority, the train passes the money-losing Izod Center. Never a fan favorite, it has been losing business — including its two biggest tenants, the Nets and the Devils — to the newer Prudential Center in Newark.

Nearby sits the Meadowlands Racetrack, serving the fading business of harness racing and also losing money, despite state subsidies. Mr. Christie wants to sell the track and the Izod Center, or shut them down.

Nothing remains of the one site at the complex that actually made money, Giants Stadium, torn down and replaced this year by the new stadium.

Even so, taxpayers are still paying for it, and will be for years to come. The state is paying off more than $200 million in debts on the complex, including the demolished stadium.

New Meadowlands Stadium cost $1.6 billion, said to be the highest price ever for a stadium. That, at least, was built with private money, but many fans wonder what the point was.

“The old stadium was great,” said Marty Schwartz, a retiree from Englewood Cliffs. “Seems like a big waste of money.”

Critics have questioned the Meadowlands train extension itself, built for $185 million, which partly replaced a much less expensive shuttle bus service. It runs only a few dozen days of the year, when major events are held at the stadium, though that will increase when Xanadu finally opens.

Fans generally like the service, which lets them avoid the aggravation and expense of parking at the stadium.

“It’s probably worth it for us,” Mr. McBride said. “But everybody else? Probably not.”
NEW YORK heals.

“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.
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