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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ-The original half-dozen proposals to redevelop the 106-acre Continental Airlines Arena site here has been cut to three by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the site within the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The three surviving plans will be fine-tuned and resubmitted as final proposals by the end of the year, and the NJSEA is expected to make its final choice by the end of January.

Conspicuous by their absence from the three surviving plans is an auto racing facility, which was part of two of the discarded proposals, as well as any substantial residential component. The emphasis is on entertainment and shopping. “These three proposals contain the components and the ideas that best suit the site,” explained NJSEA president/CEO George Zoffinger in announcing the finalists.

Those finalists include Arena Place, offered up by the Westfield Group of Los Angeles. The $989 million project would turn the existing arena into a 5,000-seat theater surrounded by restaurants and shops. It would also include hotels, offices and conference and exhibition space.

The second, called Xanadu, would be a $1.2 billion joint venture between the Mills Corp. of Arlington, VA and Mack-Cali Realty Corp. of Cranford, NJ. The existing arena would similarly be retained and incorporated into a four million-sf combination of retailing, restaurants, extreme sports and a minor league baseball stadium, among other things.

The third, called Expo Park by joint venturers Hartz Mountain Industries of Secaucus, NJ and Forest City Ratner of New York, is the only one that calls for razing the existing arena. At a cost of $815 million, the partners propose to build a new 500,000-sf convention center as the centerpiece of an urban center that would include shopping, offices, hotels and entertainment.

The project, which could ultimately borrow elements from all three finalists, is contingent upon a final deal to build a new arena in downtown Newark to replace Continental Airlines Arena. The New Jersey Nets and Devils franchises have a tentative deal with the City of Newark for a $355 million, 18,500-seat venue that would be ready by the 2005 season, but that deal is the subject of a lawsuit by a citizens’ group, filed late last week.

The new arena would involve $200 million in public money, and it’s being challenged in Superior Court by a new group called SCORE (School, Community, Opportunities, Revaluation and Emergencies), which charges that the Newark City Council violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. The group’s leaders say that public comment was not allowed prior to the council’s vote to approve the pact.

SCORE leaders also charge that state and local budget laws were violated in the process of putting the funding package together for the arena. City officials would not comment on the lawsuit.

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