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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ-Partners Mack-Cali and Mills Corp. signed a land lease for Xanadu, a one-million-sf mixed-use entertainment, sports and retail complex to be completed by 2007 around the existing Meadowlands Sports Complex. During a signing ceremony, Mills CEO Laurence C. Siegel listed the first 23 tenants and their combined commitment to lease 48% of the space that Mills will divide into five themed districts spread over 104 acres.

Using computer animation and a huge screen in a tent outside the Continental Arena, the partners provided a glimpse of how each of the complex’s districts will look. Each district will have a lifestyle theme: Sports, Entertainment, Fashion, Children’s Education, and Food and Home. Mills, an Arlington, VA-based developer and owner of 28 retail and entertainment destinations that generate combined annual sales of more than $6.6 billion, plans to complete and open all five districts at the same time.

Mack-Cali CEO Mitchell E. Hersh called Xanadu “one of the most exciting projects ever to come to New Jersey.” Cranford-based Mack-Cali, owner of 30 million sf of office and flex properties and an upscale Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Jersey City waterfront, plans to build a 12-story, full-service hotel with conference facilities in the Xanadu complex after the five entertainment and retail districts open and the infrastructure work is complete. The REIT would follow the hotel with four 440,000-sf office towers on a schedule determined by demand.

Sports Authority chairman Carl J. Goldberg said the Xanadu complex would generate 20,000 permanent jobs for residents around the region but acknowledged that the project has generated its share of detractors. The objectors include Hartz Mountain Industries, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the award of the development rights to Mills and Mack-Cali. “In the spring of 2007, when the new facilities open, a transformation will take place,” Goldberg said.

Siegel detailed the complex’ tenants so far, including Sky Venture, a skydiving simulator and vertical wind tunnel, and F1, an indoor race cart facility. The Sports District also will have year-round Snow Dome indoor snow ski slope, which several skiers demonstrated on a short slope setup for the press conference.

Other committed tenants include: Entertainment Weekly; House of Blues; Muvico Theater with 26 wall-to-wall movie screens and a 60-foot-high outdoor screen; Border’s Books and Music; a digital playground by Circuit City; Wannado City; the state’s first Virgin Megastore and its first Balducci’s Market. Committed restaurants include the Strip House and Summer Shack.

The project also will create 21,000 construction jobs and $1.3 billion in private sector investment, Gov. James McGreevey noted. German-based KanAm, a private international real estate company and Mills’ financing partner in Xanadu, has raised $200 million from German investors and anticipates raising another $50 million, said James C. Braithwaite, CEO of KanAm US, based in Atlanta. The development partners presented McGreevey with a ceremonial check for $160,000 as an upfront payment of the first 15 years of the land lease.

“This project also is helping to preserve our environment and is investing in the infrastructure,” McGreevey said. “This is an extraordinary balance, a new vision of the future. What we have done here is reclaim our public space. We have changed this destination [the Meadowlands Sports Complex] from something that is episodic to something that is ongoing.”

The set-aside of 587 acres of wetlands known as the Empire Tract as permanently preserved open space garnered an environmental endorsement from the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, the state board charged with facilitating open space acquisition in the Meadowlands and throughout the Hackensack River watershed.

Capt. Bill Sheehan, chairman of the trust, said it voted to give its approval to the project’s open space preservation proposal just prior to the signing of the land lease. The state board is charged with identifying and facilitating the acquisition of open space in the Meadowlands and throughout the watershed of the Hackensack River. “Ten years ago, no one would believe I would be standing here today,” said Sheehan, who also is the executive director of the Hackensack Riverkeepers.

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