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Newark and Devils Locked in Showdown

Prudential_CenterThe relationship between the City of Newark's government and Devils Arena Entertainment, depending on two related developments since their April 4 public falling out are interpreted, may have become more abysmal over the last week.

Mayor Cory A. Booker told City Hall beat reporters April 5 that he was informed by DAE officials that his request for Bruce Springsteen concert tickets at the Prudential Center had been turned down. "The Boss" has been slated to perform here May 2.

 

The mayor and Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio then said, on April 10, that they had cut police staffing for crowd and traffic control around the 19,000-seat arena during its special events 30 percent.

The above moves came in the wake of Booker deriding DAE President Jeff Vanderbeek in a sudden press conference before the arena April 4. The mayor lambasted Vanderbeek after learning that the Newark Housing Authority would be paying a net $600,000 more to DAE after an arbitration panel split claimed costs between the disputing parties.

Booker has been assailing Vanderbeek since calling him "a highfalutin, high-class huckster and hustler," who "came into this city with a mouthful of promises and a pocket full of lies," at the northwest corner of Lafayette and Mulberry streets.

The only response from either DAE or Vanderbeek since April 5 was their challenge of Booker's assertion that they had reneged on some $346,000 in job training and youth sports program costs.

An April 10 DAE release stated that they had paid for those programs, including the establishment of city youth hockey and the revamping of the Kenneth Gibson/Sharpe James Ironbound Recreation Center hockey rink. Booker, in print and on CNN's "Morning Joe" program April 9, said that the arena owner-operator had not.

Vanderbeek had otherwise said, on April 5, that, "Clearly, the mayor has not spent a lot of time on" reading through the arbitrator's 79-page ruling and their 2007 amended lease agreement with the NHA.

The three-person panel basically decided to split the claims and counterclaims made by DAE and NHA. The DAE took over Prudential Center operations once the $310 million arena was completed. The NHA, since the original 2005 lease was signed, was the city's representative and land owner or landlord.

Vanderbeek, Harold Lucas and Richard Monteith had originally agreed that the city be paid back in rent and parking revenue in 2005. Lucas and Monteith were respective NHA Executive Director and City Business Administrator during Mayor James' administration.

The city has been expecting repayment for the $210 million share on the arena's construction. The $210 million came from accelerated rent that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was paying for Newark Liberty International Airport.

Booker, who had originally opposed "The Devils Arena" project, agreed to let its construction be completed. He, NHA head Keith Kinard and then-BA Bo Kemp, however, had renegotiated the lease to include more community-oriented first-source jobs and job training, youth recreation and other programs in 2007.

Relations between the arena and city officials, however, became strained when the former began owing back rent in 2009. That city said figure had reached $13 million last year.

An arbitration panel was called in last July after negotiations, that were close to an agreement in the summer of 2010, reached an impasse.

The three-man panel, in brief, awarded the city $14.7 million in back rent, relocation expenses and fines. The arbitrators awarded DAE $15.3 million in unpaid parking revenue, excess taxes and capital costs.

Deducting the first figure from the second is where Newark is to net pay DEA $600,000. This net does not include about $360,000 in arbitration costs which the parties are to share nor the attorneys' fees each side has to cough up on their own.

The payments to each other’s side are to start May 3 - 30 days after the panel's ruling. Booker, who vowed not to set foot in the Prudential Center, has said that his administration is looking to challenge the arbitrators' decisions.

The mayor's vow made his request for May 3 Springsteen tickets, which was likely made before the arbitrators' April 3 ruling, moot. Booker said, during the April 10 announcement of the Dodge Poetry Festival's October return to Newark, that he had watched "The Boss" at Madison Square Garden sometime last weekend. Springsteen and the E Street Band played at the Garden April 6-10 as part of their "Wrecking Ball" tour.

Booker and DeMaio said that they have since decided to reduce their Prudential Center area police detail from 20 officers to 14. The reduction, from Prudential Center visitors' perspective, involves opening Mulberry Street between Market and Lafayette streets.

That two block stretch of Mulberry plus part of adjacent Edison Place, has been closed on special events as a bombing preventative. The area had been designed with less of a setback from those streets than what the federal Department of Homeland Security would prefer.

"Local Talk" also noticed that closing those streets has resulted in detouring several westbound NJTransit buses leaving Newark Penn Station. The Nos. 5 and 21, for example, end up taking Commerce and Halsey streets before resuming their normal routes on Market Street - bypassing their accustomed Broad and Market streets' stops.

The mayor and police director said that the city has spent $10.8 million to date for the 20-officer detail. They said that the figure breaks down to $6.7 million in salaries and $4.1 million in overtime. Newark's chief executive and police commander had said that DAE should ante up for more security.

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