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NEWARK-What began as a $385 million proposal for an arena here for the NBA Nets and NHL Devils faces an important vote today at a special session in Trenton of the assembly appropriations committee.

And it’s no longer that simple—to the legislation has been added $100 million in “goodies” to mollify South Jersey (see earlier stories). A new stadium for the MetroStars pro soccer team may also be added, along with other projects around the state. If the package, estimated to total up to $1 billion, passes muster, it could hit the floor of the full assembly on September 17.

Supporters call the arena project “self-funding,” based on the idea that it would be largely financed by tax revenues from a special entertainment district in Newark. As part of the plan, the state-owed Continental Arena in the Meadowlands Sports Complex would be razed and the site redeveloped as an entertainment complex.

On Tuesday, Secaucus, NJ-based Hartz Mountain Industries, which has much of its 35 million-sf portfolio in the Meadowlands, launched an ad campaign in the state’s major newspapers, questioning the wisdom of the proposal. The ads question the project’s financials, fret about “hidden” costs and call for a public referendum. They also call for a bidding process for any Meadowlands redevelopment.

That would seem to put Hartz in bed with Bret Schundler, the Republican candidate for governor, who has repeatedly made the same points. Hartz officials say that isn’t so; realistically they have their own issues. For one, acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, author of the Newark arena proposal, has suggested that razing the Continental Arena would open the way for a land swap with Virginia-based Mills Corp., which wants to build a mega-mall on another environmentally sensitive site in the region. Ostensibly, the Continental site would be their alternative.

“What we want is open bidding,” Hartz Mountain president Emmanuel Stern told WNBC 4 televsion reporters yesterday. “We don’t want a developers’ beauty pageant—we just want a level playing field.”

Hartz’s campaign isn’t sitting well with Newark Mayor Sharpe James, especially considering the links between Hartz and Newark. Stern is a long-time James supporter and Hartz owns $500 million in Newark real estate with city-designated development rights for several sites. “I’m very disappointed,” James told reporters yesterday, suggesting Hartz might be “in trouble” with the city.

The city, through the Newark Alliance, has counterattacked, taking out full-page ads of its own. The essential message: “A Newark arena and a redeveloped Meadowlands make sense for New Jersey taxpayers.”

Enter the suburban factor. After earlier supporting the new arena, assembly majority leader Paul DiGaetano (R-Passaic), whose district includes the Meadowlands Sports Complex, indicated yesterday he would no longer support it. Several other local legislators have come out against it. And yesterday, Richard Fritzky, president of the board of directors of the Meadowland Chamber of Commerce, reiterated his opposition. “We want the [Continental] Arena to stay,” Fritzky told reporters.

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