Does stadium sale squash Newark's dreams of getting a casino?

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on March 21, 2016

 Newark Bears Stadium

 

NEWARK — When city and county leaders announced earlier this year that they were gunning for a casino in Newark, Riverfront Stadium – the former home to the now-defunct Newark Bears – quickly emerged as a potential location for the gambling complex.

That possibility seems out, now that city officials have confirmed the sale of the stadium to a non-casino developer.

The possibility of a casino anywhere in North Jersey is still up in the air – lawmakers approved only a week ago a ballot question asking voters whether or not they want it. But, should New Jersey residents vote in favor of expanding the state's casino scene beyond Atlantic City, the $23.5 million sale of the stadium last week has prompted some to question whether or not Newark would still be in the running

The city sold the 6,000-seat stadium to a New York-based developer who plans to knock it down and build a high-rise tower. City officials say the plan is a good thing for Newark, and shouldn't impact on their hopes for a casino.

"There are several locations that folks are interested in" for potentially developing a casino, said Mayor Ras Baraka. Less than a year ago, Baraka was one of a string of local officials who spoke out in favor of developing a casino, entertainment complex, and hotel in the city.

"We are hopeful that the casino and entertainment complex might come, but we are going to move forward either way," he said Friday about the high-rise sale.

In addition to several other potential landing spots for a Newark casino, Baraka said Friday that Triangle Park – a development that the city broke ground on earlier this month after a decade of delays – could one day be home to the casino development.

Baye Adofo-Wilson, the city's Deputy Mayor for Economic and Housing Development, called the high-rise "the best use for (the Riverfront Stadium) site right now...we are not waiting for a casino to facilitate our economy."

But, Wilson did note that though there are other options for casino developers in the city, if the vote goes through and casino operators are still interested in the Riverfront Stadium property, "they'd have to talk to the (high-rise) developer about that."

Though details of exactly what the Lotus Equity Group plans to build at the stadium site are still being ironed out, officials say it will likely be a mixed-use development with as many as 1,500 residential apartment units and commercial spaces, including a possible hotel.

The stadium has been mostly vacant, save college and local games, since the Newark Bears franchise folded in 2013. But, it still carried a $2 million a year price tag for the taxpayers of Newark and Essex County.

County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, one of the biggest proponents of a casino in Newark, said the sale of the stadium eliminates that debt, making it the right move.

The development will "serve as a catalyst and anchor in the northern section of the city's downtown," he said.

"This dynamic project will contribute immensely to the economic revitalization of Essex County and Newark."

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