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#1 rbdf

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:51 AM

MINOR LEAGUE HOCKEY IN LAKEWOOD? Arena proposal discussed
IT'S AN ICE IDEA

Town officials pitch plan for N.J. Devils farm team
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/16/05
BY RICHARD QUINN
TOMS RIVER BUREAU
LAKEWOOD — The township is in serious negotiations with the New Jersey Devils to build an arena costing $40 million to $50 million — within walking distance of FirstEnergy Park — that would be the new home of the franchise's minor-league affiliate.

Such a deal — under quiet discussion since the spring but first confirmed by those involved Thursday — would move the team into a 7,000-seat arena to be built opposite the parking lot of FirstEnergy, home of the Lakewood BlueClaws, an affiliate of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies.

The arena would host 40 hockey games a season and could be a partner with the Devils' $310 million home under construction in Newark. Because the Devils would operate both venues, any concert, circus or entertainment event held in Newark could also be held in Lakewood, said Sen.

Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, who is helping negotiate the deal.

Singer is "hoping within the next 30 days we have a signed agreement," although Devils co-owner Jeff Vanderbeek described the talks as "preliminary discussions."

Vanderbeek added he will "very, very seriously consider" any written proposal.

Still, local negotiators see the deal as a spark plug for millions of dollars in tax ratables for Lakewood and a chance for the Devils to solidify their fan base by shuttling the minor-league River Rats from their current home in Albany, N.Y., to the Jersey Shore.

More important, those advocates say, the arena also would bring mainstream concerts, hockey tournaments and national circus tours to Ocean County — creating a new tourism draw for a seaside county known already known for its beaches.

"The opportunities are endless," Singer said.

Before hockey fans start sharpening their skates, though, the ambitious plan has several major obstacles.

First, Lakewood no longer has development rights to the 7 acres on which it would build the stadium. That land is under contract to Cedarbridge Development Corp., which has a deal in place with the township to create a high-tech office park next to the BlueClaws' ballpark at Cedar Bridge and New Hampshire avenues.

Second, the township has to figure out how to pay up to a $50 million price tag, which is roughly double what it cost to build the baseball stadium.

All hurdles aside, Ralph Zucker, a township-based developer, sees news of a hockey arena as a chance to create a town center in Lakewood. The baseball stadium and the new arena combined would serve, in his mind, as the anchors of a "lifestyle center" that would include more than 750 homes and apartments, a movie theater, a youth baseball complex, a hotel, 1.2 million square feet of office space and six "big box" retail stores.

Zucker's plan drew raves from elected officials when he pitched it last fall, but he was told the Cedarbridge agreement — which he has no part of — could not be changed.

Now, township officials are looking into what changes can be made.

"I'm telling you one of the things that excites (the Devils) is the mixed-use component," Zucker said. "What Lakewood and Ocean County will get out of this is multiplied tremendously if we get more than an arena."

Reclaiming the site

The first thing Lakewood needs to move forward with the plan is an agreement with Cedarbridge to relinquish rights to the 7 acres the arena would sit on, said Township Committeeman Raymond G. Coles.

The agreement to build a 1.5 million-square-foot office park and an age-restricted housing development — on 240 acres adjacent to FirstEnergy — has long been touted by township officials as a way to bring high-paying jobs to Lakewood, even while some residents have consistently criticized it as a land giveaway.

Jack Mueller, who runs Cedarbridge, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Lawrence Bathgate II, a lawyer with an office in Lakewood — who brought the Devils and Singer together and is helping broker the deal — said Mueller is amenable to returning the land to the township.

Officials would not comment on what Mueller would get in exchange, but Singer said he hopes to work out a deal with Cedarbridge in the next 30 days.

"We sat down with Cedarbridge," Bathgate said. "They will release the seven acres. It's not a done deal, but directionally, everybody's striving to get it done."

Singer said the township could solve its second problem — paying for the construction — by getting the land designated as a Revenue Allocation District, a little-known distinction that allows the district's tax revenue to be used to pay off the bonds.

"I've been told how we can do it," Coles said. "I haven't gotten anything in writing yet as to how it's worked in other places."

River Rats taken aback

Coles isn't the only one short on information.

The Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League didn't know about the possible move until told of it Thursday by a reporter.

"This is the first I'm hearing of this," said John Scherzer, a team vice president. "We do have a contract with New Jersey, and it does expire at the end of the season."

Scherzer said he understands the Devils have to do what's in their best interest but declined further comment.

The River Rats, in last place in their conference, have drawn an average of 3,800 fans in their 14 home games this season, according to their Web site. By comparison, the Philadelphia Phantoms, also in the AHL, have drawn an average of 6,100 fans in 13 games. The league's average per-game attendance is 4,900.

"The only time line we're on is . . . our lease in Albany," Vanderbeek said in a telephone interview Thursday. "We have to protect our franchise and our minor-league team, especially nowadays when we have a great brand."

Vanderbeek and fellow owner Mike Gilfillan both said the Lakewood site is a good place for the Devils' affiliate — given the growing popularity of youth ice hockey and this season's return of the National Hockey League after an 18-month hiatus — but said it is too early to say whether the deal will be struck.

Vanderbeek said the Devils are talking with several cities to move the River Rats, whose name would change if they moved to Lakewood. He added the Lakewood site — surrounded by four-lane roadways, a five-minute drive from a Garden State Parkway exit and next to a baseball stadium that draws more than 440,000 fans a season — would allow the Devils to create more of a connection between the team and its minor-league affiliate.

"The Devils have always (tried) and will always try to get their minor-league franchise closer to our fans in New Jersey," Vanderbeek said. "They have to come up with a concrete plan."


Staff writer Mike Kerwick contributed to this story
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#2 Devs25

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:52 AM

doh. i posted the same thing :P
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#3 devils744

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:53 AM

lakewood is 25 minutes from my house. that would be sweet!
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#4 Devs25

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:54 AM

I wrote this in my thread:

This would be awesome for us Jersey shore fans. I would feel bad for all the fans in Albany though. The Blueclaws are a big draw. And most people in this area aren't even Phillies fans. They're Met and Yankee fans. I know a lot of people go to have fun and bring the kids. The "Rats" would do really well here.
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#5 rbdf

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:59 AM

doh. i posted the same thing  :P

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


wow, wierd, we posted within 2 minutes of each other

they probably won't do it for fear of pulling potential devils ticket buyers away from the new newark arena, but wouldn't it be sweet for all us ocean and monmouth hockey fans to have AHL level hockey in our back yards - I like going to the titans games, but the level of play is noticably lower, and trenton is still a pretty good hike all the way west on 195, Lakewood, AHL level, considerably cheaper than an NHL ticket, jeez, I'd buy season seats tomorrow.
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#6 CRASHER

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 11:02 AM

even if we put an ECHL affiliate (which I am still baffled that we don't have one) like the Flyers have in Trenton.... why not ??
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#7 sundstrom

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 11:05 AM

it would make a lot of sense in solidifying the NJ fan base. you watch the kids on the farm, and then they make it to the NHL.
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#8 emptynet

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 11:30 AM

Great idea. That would be awesome if they moved to Lakewood. :dance:
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#9 redruM

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 11:49 AM

If they put an AHL affiliate in Lakewood... I'll buy season tix, the place they are talking about it literally 5 minutes from my house!!!
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#10 PeteyNice

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 12:50 PM

That would be awesome. I have always thought our minor league team should be in NJ. It also extends the Devils reach further south than putting them in South Amboy or New Brunswick (two places discussed in the past) which is a good thing.

I'm sure the people in Albany will be pissed and I definately feel bad for them, but the Rats attendance has been terrible (I know the team has not been much better).
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#11 LizDevil30

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 01:04 PM

I feel bad for Albany Rats fans too, but the team in NJ is much better for the Devils. How many Rats fans have season tickets to the Devils? Just too far away to support both teams.
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#12 Steven M.

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 02:13 PM

OMG, that would be so awesome living in Toms River, I'd go to a lot of games!
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#13 Jerzzegirl

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 02:22 PM

OMG, that would be so awesome living in Toms River, I'd go to a lot of games!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I agree, I like very close to Lakewood and this is a stone's throw away. The Blueclaws is already so much fun, a great family acitivity, and this would be supremely awesome to have a rink so close by.

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#14 sammyk

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 02:44 PM

I think Jimmy has been mentioning this for months.

If it is near the Blue Claws stadium that's a great spot...down the road from my car dealer...well used to be before I moved!

I hope they do it! What would they call the team though? Lakewood River Rats doesn't sound right. Lakewood Blue Devils to go with the Blue Claws?
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#15 HellOnICE

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 03:18 PM

I think it would be a great idea.....

The only con I see is that the fans may be drawn away fromo actually going to Devils games. It's a weird thing...i think it's a great way to get new fans, which is clearly needed, but will it draw away from NJ?
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#16 sammyk

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 03:29 PM

That may happen but it may even create more NJ fans.
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#17 Voros19

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 03:57 PM

O well... -_-

"This is the first I'm hearing of this," said John Scherzer, a team vice president.


wtf?
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#18 RowdyFan42

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 03:59 PM

Yup, Scherzer was promoted to Vice President of Communications in August 2002, according to his bio on the Rats' site.
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#19 Voros19

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 04:10 PM

Yup, Scherzer was promoted to Vice President of Communications in August 2002, according to his bio on the Rats' site.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


O, of communications. That's different then. I thought they meant like head honcho type VP.

I don't see how this move could happen this year, though. They don't even have a stadium built. Could it be done in 10 months?
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#20 RowdyFan42

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 04:23 PM

O, of communications. That's different then. I thought they meant like head honcho type VP.

I suppose it's possible, depending on how you read it. His actual title says simply "Vice President" (as opposed to the VP of sales, which reads "Vice President, Sales"), but his bio explicity mentions the communications department. He may have been promoted to a head honcho-type of VP when they integrated front offices with the Conquest, I don't really know.


I don't see how this move could happen this year, though. They don't even have a stadium built. Could it be done in 10 months?

I don't see this happening in time for next season. Maybe the year after, though. We'll see how long they renew their agreement for after this season, if they even do that. (Lou may decide to scatter his few real prospects to the wind next year or go halfsies with another team, though it doesn't really sound like something he'd do.)

And if this does come to fruition... well, what am I supposed to say? It was only a matter of time before the Rats were going to be at a crossroads, although the general feeling was that the owner would give up before the Devils did. Who knows, maybe I'll finally buy Center Ice.
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