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Bonds approved for NJ Meadowlands megamall

David Porter, Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- A state financing board on Thursday approved about $800 million in bond issues to help finance the completion of a partially finished megamall at the Meadowlands sports complex, marking a key milestone in a project that has experienced more than 10 years of financial ups and downs.

Under the current plan, the borough of East Rutherford would issue as much as $550 million in tax-exempt bonds that would be bought by the Bergen County Improvement Authority, which would sell its own bonds to pay for the purchase, East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella said. The BCIA would also issue about $275 million in bonds separately to help finance the project.

Representatives from East Rutherford and the BCIA stressed to members of the Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board on Thursday that the bonds are structured so that revenue from the project would be used to repay them and taxpayers won't be liable even if the project isn't completed.

"You can say it 800 different ways, but taxpayers aren't on the hook at the end of the day," said board chairman Thomas Neff, adding to Cassella, "if I was in your shoes I don't know if I'd have structured the deal better than you did."

According to Cassella and borough adviser Steven Hoffmann, the financing deal will net East Rutherford about $82 million over 33 years in payments in lieu of taxes. Casella called it a significantly better deal than the one the borough signed with the original Xanadu developers that required East Rutherford to provide police and fire services at the mall. Partly in anticipation of Xanadu, Cassella said, the town built a $17 million police building and courthouse. That cost will be defrayed by an upfront payment of about $21 million in the current deal, he said Thursday.

The financing makes up a key part of the $1.75 billion needed by developer Triple Five to complete the mall, known as American Dream. Triple Five took over the project in late 2010 after the original mall, known as Xanadu, fell prey to the financial downturn. Xanadu was initially scheduled to open in 2007. The partly completed mall sits off the New Jersey Turnpike across a highway from MetLife Stadium.

The financing is not the only hurdle still facing the project. The New York Giants and New York Jets have sued the developer, claiming Triple Five didn't get their permission to expand the footprint for the mall, which now is planned to feature a Hollywood-themed amusement park and waterpark and, they claim will have a nightmarish effect on traffic on football game days.

Triple Five filed a suit in response that accused the teams of engaging in a "campaign to delay, thwart and ultimately prevent" the project from being completed.