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HARRISON, NJ-Confirming rumors that a deal was near, local, state and team officials announced that they had reached an agreement for a new soccer-specific stadium for pro soccer’s MetroStars franchise. Pending final approvals from town and Hudson County legislators, work is expected to begin later this year, with the facility targeted for a June 2007 opening.

The facility is a somewhat scaled-back version of an earlier proposal, and the deal itself has changed. The earlier proposal called for a 25,000-seat venue costing upwards of $120 million; this version puts the capacity at 20,000, carrying a price tag variously estimated at between $75 million and $90 million. Infrastructure, site remediation and related costs will, however, push the total cost into the $150-million to $160-million range.

Nick Sakiewicz, president of AEG NY/NJ, a division of Anschutz Entertainment Group, owners of the MetroStars franchise, calls it “a long journey filled with many ups and downs.” Sakiewicz has been involved in the project for several years, first as president and general manager of the MetroStars, and more recently as divisional president of AEG.

The MetroStars have been playing their games at the nearby 76,000-seat Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, but major league soccer tends to draw crowds in the 20,000 to 25,000 range, and the team has long considered that outsized venue unsuited for their needs. Demographically, the new stadium will also make the team more accessible to its fan base.The various parties thought they had a deal a year ago in the slightly larger stadium, but county officials nixed that deal by pulling the bond funding, citing financial concerns.

The new deal shifts more of the financial burden to the MetroStars. Under the agreed terms, AEG’s share of the cost will jump from an estimated $40 million to the full $75-million to $90-million cost of the stadium itself. Its money will come from a combination of equity capital and company-guaranteed taxable bond. In exchange for the added expense, AEG will assume full control of the facility, including its ancillary use as an entertainment venue.

The Town of Harrison, meanwhile, will pay for the cost of acquiring the former industrial site, as well as the remediation required to turn the brownfield into a soccer stadium. The town’s portion of the bill is expected to run in the $25-million range, with the money to come from the sale of general obligation bonds.

Finally, the Hudson County Improvement Authority will pick up the anticipated $38-million tab for a 1,500-car parking garage that will be linked to the nearby PATH light rail station. The issuance of tax-exempt bonds will cover that portion of the cost.

“Leverage is crucial in public partnerships like this one,” says Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise. “By bringing the bonding power of the HCIA to the table, we’ve created an environment that makes greater private investment possible and will finally move this project forward.” “We have made it very clear that we have to succeed in this marketplace, and this public/private partnership is one model that will guarantee this success,” says Timothy J. Leiweke, president/CEO of AEG.

The stadium is one of the centerpieces of this town’s $1-billion, 250-acre waterfront redevelopment, constituting about one-third of the community’s total land area. Advance Realty Group of Bedminster, NJ is the primary developer for the overall project, which at build-out is planned to encompass 3.5-million sf of office space, 1.2-million sf of retail space and 6,000 residential units. A 166-key Hampton Inn and Suites has already opened within the redevelopment area, which sits directly across the Passaic River from Downtown Newark.

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