New Jersey, Super Bowl Host, Scrounges for Its Economic Cut

Businesses near New Jersey's MetLife Stadium are happy to reap whatever they can from Super Bowl LXVIII despite getting cut from the limelight. "A little something is better than nothing," one said.

Doug Palsi got excited the first time he heard the prediction from Super Bowl XLVIII organizers: $550 million expected to flow into the region for Sunday's NFL championship at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. — less than a mile from the sports bar he owns.

Then Palsi thought some more, and it seemed kind of ridiculous. The number — viewed skeptically by economic experts — was freakishly big. His business, Redd's Restaurant & Bar, was small. And most of the Super Bowl-related spending wasn't going to happen in the Meadowlands, anyway. The money would go to New York, just across the Hudson River. Like always.

Still, he was grateful for whatever uptick in business came his way. "If it wasn't for New York City, the Super Bowl would never be here," Palsi said. "So we're thrilled. A little something is better than nothing."

That scrappy North Jersey outlook — take what you can get — prevails among the small businesses and civic boosters that surround the stadium. They are accustomed to living in New York's shadow, so they don't bother themselves with the bold economic projections, or try to compete for media attention. Instead, they focus on getting a cut of the action.

"If I spent all my time worrying about New York capturing the limelight, I'd have no time to scratch and claw for business out here," said Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Instead of letting my ego get hurt, I'm going to go out and try to win some business. Because at the end of the day, what else can I do?"

He said he'd be happy with the North Jersey region capturing a third of the total economic impact — whether it be the league's estimate of $550 million, or much less, as sports economists predict.

After it was awarded the Super Bowl in 2010, New Jersey made an aggressive push to host the NFL Experience, a mini festival that accompanies the game. But that perk went to New York, which renamed a section of Broadway Super Bowl Boulevard and installed a concert stage and toboggan run.

The vast majority of people visiting for the game will be staying in New York. And yet New Jersey will bear the brunt of the impact on infrastructure. Dozens of state agencies have spent years working to make sure the game goes off without a hitch. Thousands of state and local cops will be deployed for security.

New Jersey isn't getting completely overlooked. Super Bowl Media Day was held at the Prudential Center In Newark. Both championship teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, are staying in Jersey City, where there will be a pre-game concert at Liberty State Park.

But that's pretty much it for NFL-sanctioned events. What's left is a sprawling array of residual economic opportunities: visitors who need to eat and sleep and have fun, locals who want to watch and celebrate together.

Thousands of front-desk clerks and concierges and other members of the local hospitality industry have taken a one-day "customer service training program" at a local community college to prepare them for the onslaught of visitors, whom they'll steer to local businesses.

Pete Gremanis, whose family runs the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst, said he expected business to double in the days before the Super Bowl. He placed ads in local publications and in nearby hotels, but he knows from experience that word of mouth will provide the biggest boost.

"We don't want anyone to come here from Denver or Seattle and say they had a bad time," Gremanis said. "Jersey gets a pretty bad rap on some things. But we're definitely ready to welcome everybody."

Many of the region's restaurants, bars, banquet halls and nightclubs have formed a loose coalition to promote each other's Super Bowl-related events. The fortunate ones have booked events for large groups.

Palsi, for instance, is hosting several hundred guests of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "That's a nice chunk of change," he said, declining to provide details. "Without that party, it would probably be like a normal game between the Giants and Cowboys in November."

Wayne Hasenbalg, president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said he and Alfred Kelly Jr., who heads the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee, sent letters to New Jersey mayors a few months ago, encouraging them to create their own unofficial events as a way to spark local spending.

"There's an additional economic impact in being proactive and creating our own opportunities," Hasenbalg said in an interview.

Many took the advice. East Rutherford will hold an unofficial tailgate party in its downtown business district. Neighboring Rutherford will have a Winter Festival. Nearby Secaucus and the more distant Montclair organized several days of football-themed events. The municipal festivities extend into the central part of the state, far from the game itself.

East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella said he hopes that the game will be a wash, financially, for his town, despite the fact that it is the host. Local police officers have been allocated to the Super Bowl security apparatus, for which Cassella doesn't expect to be reimbursed. He is concerned about how transportation restrictions will affect traffic, and local commerce.

At the same time, the town receives a portion of the taxes on local hotel sales receipts.

Cassella noted, a bit sourly, that East Rutherford could not even use the words "Super Bowl" in the name of its tailgate party, because of NFL licensing restrictions. He added that he has yet to have a conversation with anyone from the league.

"Just acknowledge a little bit more where the game is," Cassella said. "That, in fact, the game is in our town and it's going to affect our town."

The mayor stressed that he is a die-hard football fan. He is a Giants season ticket holder. He entered a Giants lottery to win a pair of Super Bowl tickets, but didn't win.

He said he knows no one in town who has a ticket to the game.

Last week, Cassella said he expected to spend Super Bowl Sunday at home, on his recliner, "nice and comfortable," as he would any other year.

But on Wednesday, Cassella said that he'd accepted a last-minute invitiation from the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who'd heard about his predicament.

He said he appreciated the gesture of respect.

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