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NEWARK, NJ-The proposal to build a new arena for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils franchise takes a major step closer to reality now that a tentative agreement is in place between the team and the city. If all goes well, the team, which currently plays in the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands, could be in its new building in time for the 2007 season.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Devils would pay $100 million of the total $310-million cost to build the facility, with the city paying the rest. The city’s share would come mostly from a bond issue secured by rent payments from the Port Authority of NY/NJ for city-owned land that’s used for seaport functions.

The city would own the facility and lease it to the Devils for 30 years for $2 million a year. The city would also get 7% of revenues generated by the facility, including everything from concessions, to luxury-box rentals to naming rights. It’s estimated that would run between $3.5 million and $4.5 million a year. City officials also expect to garner up to $12 million a year in various tax revenues.

Besides the arena itself, the project would include a parking garage, a hotel and an office building. The Devils have also agreed to build a $25-million community center that would include a practice rink for the team, but would be used mostly for community functions. And the team has also agreed to fund a variety of community programs, totaling up to $250,000 a year.

The next step is a final review of the deal sheet by a special commission appointed by Mayor Sharpe James. If all goes well, the whole thing could be finalized by early next month, according to city officials.

The arena/parking garage/office building/community center complex is the centerpiece of a larger redevelopment effort the James administration has mapped out for a 24-acre piece of Downtown Newark. That larger project could add as much as 5.5 million sf of office, retail and residential space, with a projected price tag of $1 billion.

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