EAST RUTHERFORD – On July 2, 1981, while he was still in office, a new building in the Meadowlands, named for Governor Brendan Byrne, opened with a Bruce Springsteen concert.
The construction of Brendan Byrne Arena transformed the area into a true sports complex five years after both Giants Stadium and Meadowlands Racetrack began operations.
Today, Giants Stadium is long gone and MetLife Stadium stands in its place, the racetrack has been beefed up over the years, and the American Dream Megamall towers over the entire region.
But right in the middle is what is now Meadowlands Arena, renamed Continental Airlines Arena in 1996 and then Izod Center when the New Jersey Devils left in 2007.
It’s now been more than seven years since the venue opened to the general public, but New Jersey residents may be surprised to learn it’s far from dormant.
Vincent Prieto, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, said after the sports teams and circuses moved out, the arena was initially used as a rehearsal space for concert acts preparing to go on tour.
That list, he said, included New Jersey’s Beyoncé, Rihanna, Dua Lipa and Jon Bon Jovi.
For now, however, Arena has built a reputation as a sought-after production studio, first for NBCUniversal and more recently (and exclusively) for AMC.
NBCUniversal projects staged at the Meadowlands Arena included The Enemy Within, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, and the CBS Network reboot of The Equalizer, starring another Jersey icon, Queen Latifah.
AMC’s upcoming Walking Dead spin-off, Dead City, is now shooting there, christening the network’s first manufacturing facility in the Northeast.
“This has really been a hotspot for television and streaming production, which has been great for the Meadowlands region,” Prieto said. “It kind of played out differently, and the film tax credits that Gov. Murphy introduced drew a lot of attention to that region.”
Meadowlands Arena’s appeal to production companies satisfies two sides of an equation, according to Prieto.
On the one hand, he said, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and the state has found a use for a structure that would otherwise have been left to decay.
But close proximity to New York City and major airports and freeways means cast and crew can travel with ease — and check out what else the Meadowlands has to offer while they’re here.
“They frequent restaurants and even the hotels in the area, so it brings a lot of life to an area that people don’t know is going on, so it really helps the economy with the local businesses,” Prieto said.
However, a portion of the arena remains available for public use: the parking lot designated for overcrowding by both the American Dream and MetLife Stadium.
But other than that, Prieto wants local residents driving by to know that this historic building still makes an impact.
“The film industry is alive and well in the state of New Jersey, and we were kind of able to repurpose that arena at that point,” he said.
Patrick Lavery is a reporter and host for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]
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