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Revamped N.J. Hall of Fame may find permanent home

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A new committee has been charged with determining whether the New Jersey Hall of Fame should establish a permanent museum or other site for its operations, part of the state's effort to overhaul the organization and other major tourism outlets.

The panel was among several established recently by the organization's governing bodies and the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which moved last year to become the state's lead tourism and marketing arm. Wayne Hasenbalg, the authority's president and CEO, said Thursday that not having a permanent site has been "part of the challenge" for the seven-year-old Hall of Fame.

"There's been talk for years and years about a location," Hasenbalg said after the NJSEA's monthly board meeting. "But now that we have an actual structure with people who are charged with that responsibility — to make that recommendation — I think it will facilitate getting some decisions made."

Hasenbalg stressed that the committee's work had barely begun, but said officials have discussed locations such as the Meadowlands and the idea of having multiple locations in the state.

The nonprofit Hall of Fame, which counts firms like CohnReznick and Johnson & Johnson among its biggest supporters, was created by state law in 2005, and in 2008 started to induct prominent New Jersey celebrities, historical figures and business leaders. The first five induction galas were held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in Newark, but this year's June event was canceled amid the sports authority-led reorganization.

Published reports last week said Don Jay Smith, the hall's executive director, was laid off in October as part of a cost-savings plan.

In recent weeks, the Hall of Fame's commissioners and its foundation that handles fundraising approved a resolution to give the sports authority its advisory role, Hasenbalg said. Part of the reorganization has been to better link the two entities while clearly defining their roles, and to establish a monthly meeting schedule.

The Hall of Fame has also formed working committees to reexamine the selection criteria for inductees and how members are honored each year, Hasenbalg said. He said an induction ceremony could still be scheduled for the fall.

"I won't say we're starting over, but we're taking a look back at everything, really more with an eye forward on where we're going," he said.

Hasenbalg noted that a plan to have a mobile Hall of Fame museum — essentially a tractor trailer that expands into an exhibit — is moving forward. The sports authority is now reviewing qualifications of private operators for the museum, which would travel to schools and public events.

The Hall of Fame reorganization is among several steps outlined by Gov. Chris Christie's advisory commission on gaming, sports and entertainment, which last year issued a report on how to better promote tourism and attract major events. The commission, led by former NJSEA chairman Jon F. Hanson, also called for entities like the Division of Travel and Tourism and the Motion Picture & Television Commission to be centralized under the sports authority.

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