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NEWARK, NJ-It’s been nearly eight years in the making, but barring any unforeseen legal challenges, a new 18,000-seat arena for the New Jersey Devils hockey team is finally becoming a reality. Team and city officials have broken ground for the venue in this city’s Downtown area, within a larger zone targeted for redevelopment. It’s slated for completion in time for the 2007/2008 hockey season.

“We have labored for seven years, and we have pleaded with four governors for this project,” Mayor Sharpe James said at the groundbreaking. “Today we start one of the largest economic development projects in this city’s history. It will create hundreds of construction and permanent jobs, and other opportunities for everyone.”

The estimated price tag for the city-owned arena is $310 million. The city will pay $210 million of that, with the funds coming from rent paid to the city by the Port Authority of NY/NJ for using Newark Liberty International and the Port of Newark. The Devils franchise will pay the rest, as well as any costs over the $310 million estimate. City business administrator Richard Monteilh has already said that he expects the costs to go higher.

The Devils have signed a 30-year lease with the city to use the arena. Under the terms of the deal, the city’s coffers will get 7% of revenues generated by the arena and its ancillary facilities, and Monteilh estimates that the number will be in the $17-million range per year. Those revenues are expected to come not only from Devils games, but other sporting and entertainment events throughout the year, according to city and team officials.

The city will also construct a parking facility and keep the revenues it generates. The Newark Housing Authority, led by executive director Harold Lucas, is overseeing construction.

The arena is seen as a centerpiece for a larger redevelopment of a portion of Downtown. In the works are a hotel–Marriott has already agreed to flag the facility–as well as office space, a community center, retail stores and restaurants, new homes and a new headquarters building for the board of education.

The arena, which will total some 850,000 sf and feature everything from a 4,800-sf exterior LED screen to a gourmet restaurant overlooking the ice, was originally to have housed both the Devils and the New Jersey Nets basketball team, both of which currently occupy the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands. But the partnership that owned both clubs broke up a couple of years ago, and developer Bruce Ratner, new owner of the Nets, has announced his intention to move the team to a new arena in Brooklyn, NY.

“This groundbreaking event represents several years of hard work,” says Jeff Vanderbeek, chairman and managing director of the Devils. “The state, this city and our fans deserve a first-class facility. We look forward to the arena being the focal point of Newark’s downtown redevelopment.”

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