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Latest lawsuit over American Dream nothing new when sports, private companies collide

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A new lawsuit by the New York Giants and Jets is not just déjà vu for state officials and the developer of the American Dreams Meadowlands — it's also the latest case of a conflict that can arise at the intersection of sports teams, government and private entities.

Kenneth L. Shropshire, a sports and business law attorney with Duane Morris LLP, said franchises in other regions have dug in their heels when the space around their facilities is at stake. He pointed to the late 1990s, when the Philadelphia Phillies fought pressure to build a new stadium in Center City section, rather than remaining at the wide-open South Philadelphia Sports Complex that's home to the city's four major sports teams.

"It's the same kind of fight, but in a different kind of way," said Shropshire, a professor of sports law at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "It's all about the control you have of the game-day experience and the space around the facility."

He said it's "very difficult when a franchises or a couple of franchises don't have exclusive rights to the space, including external development." Such is the issue with the Jets and Giants, which occupy MetLife Stadium and on Thursday filed another lawsuit to block an expansion of the would-be American Dream Meadowlands complex next door.

The lawsuit, the latest chapter in a decade-long saga for the former Xanadu site, follows a set of key approvals this month by the state agency overseeing the complex. On May 17, the state Sports & Exposition Authority voted to have the site turned over to developer Triple Five, which owns the Mall of America, in Minnesota, and approved its plan for 640,000-square-foot expansion that includes indoor water and amusement parks.

But the teams have spent at least a year fighting the expansion because of concerns about how it could worsen game-day traffic. That included a complaint last summer that was dismissed ahead of a review by the sports authority, but the teams went back to court this week with a lawsuit against the developer and the sports authority.

The teams once again argue the plan violates an agreement with the project's former developer, struck in 2006, that effectively gave them veto power over potentially harmful changes. The 27-page complaint also notes "the success and goodwill of the teams' business depends on providing patrons with an enjoyable experience on the limited number of days when events are held at MetLife Stadium."

Attorneys for the Jets and Giants are now attacking the sports authority's review, saying it was "no process at all, with rules made up along the way in order to achieve the preordained result of approval of the developers' American Dream proposal without taking any steps to avoid the teams' contract rights."

Alan Marcus, a spokesman for Triple Five, said today that the teams are ignoring hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements around the complex and months of traffic studies. "This was the most exhaustive traffic analysis ever undertaken in this area," he said. "I know because I've been involved in most of the traffic analyses undertaken in this area over the last 40 (to) 45 years."

Marcus also pointed to the success of Patriot Place, a 1.3 million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex that shares a parking lot with the New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium.

"They coexist beautifully. It works," he said. "Why? Because the owners of the Patriots also own Patriot Place. This is about money —it isn't about traffic, it's not about congestion."

Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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