Dueling Meadowlands mall traffic studies offered

DAVID PORTER, Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The planned American Dream entertainment and retail complex will have minimal impact on traffic on football Sundays at the Meadowlands. Or, it will take an already precarious situation and turn it into a gridlock nightmare.

Those wildly contrasting conclusions were offered to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority on Wednesday by the two warring parties in the bitter dispute, the New York Giants and Triple Five Group, the developer that took over the troubled project last year. The New York Jets, MetLife Stadium's other occupant, didn't appear before the authority, Wednesday but have the same concerns as the Giants'.

The sports authority is expected to vote on the redevelopment plan, possibly as soon as this month, and the traffic and parking question is paramount. The teams want the complex closed on game days because of anticipated traffic problems, while the developers say that isn't going to happen.

Just how vigorously the teams are sticking to their position was evident during a heated exchange Wednesday between normally stoic Giants co-owner John Mara and Ralph Marra Jr., the authority's senior vice president for legal and governmental affairs.

As Marra disputed the teams' claim that the current project doesn't resemble the one they originally agreed to several years ago, Mara interrupted with, "That's absolutely false."

"Don't talk to me like that," Marra said, his voice rising.

"Don't you talk to me like that," Mara retorted.

At that point a member of Mara's staff jumped out of his chair and began to speak, prompting Marra to yell, "Sit down!"

Earlier, a representative of Triple Five, the group that developed Minnesota's Mall of America and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, presented a study that claimed the traffic impact would be minimal on game days.

First, between 12 percent and 25 percent of visitors to American Dream would take public transportation, Tony Armlin, vice president for development and construction, said. There also would be a "stay-away" factor on game days as potential visitors would choose not to go because of potential traffic problems.

Armlin said Triple Five's research showed that at the retail complex next to the New England Patriots' stadium in Massachusetts, there was a 60 percent drop in traffic on Sundays when the Patriots played a home game.

Mara blasted those assertions and said the traffic situation at MetLife Stadium is "already stretched to the limit" and is a factor in 7,000 to 8,000 ticketholders regularly not showing up for games.

"This is not Edmonton, or Minneapolis, or Foxborough," he told authority members. "Don't buy into their fantasy numbers; use your common sense."

According to a study presented by the teams, nearly 8,000 additional cars would be trying to get out of the stadium parking lot between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., when a football crowd would also be leaving.

Even that number takes into account a 25 percent "stay-away" factor as well as reduced mall traffic since Bergen County laws prohibit retail establishments from opening on Sunday, said Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner who helped present the study.

The teams also estimated the additional traffic would cause gridlock until 7:30 p.m. on a day when either played a 1 p.m. game.

Armlin called the teams' Sunday projections "irresponsible" and said Triple Five would not agree to close the complex on event days.

The original project, called Xanadu, was scheduled to open in 2007, but ran into money problems. Triple Five has proposed adding an indoor amusement park and waterpark to the existing, 2.2-million-square-foot complex.

The Giants and Jets sued the sports authority in June, claiming it violated a 2006 agreement when it allowed Triple Five to expand the complex beyond its initial design without the teams' approval.

A judge dismissed part of the lawsuit in August but gave the teams the option to refile.