June 12, 2004
Meadowlands to be touted as tourist spot
By Lisa Goodnight
LYNDHURST - The region that some derided as a stinky dumping ground will soon be promoted as a tourist destination.
The 14-town, two-county Meadowlands district could see its visitors increase now that plans are afoot to formally cultivate tourism in the region, which has 260 species of birds and 8,400 acres of protected open space.
"We have all the elements we need to be a center for tourism," said Robert Ceberio, executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. "It's a matter of marketing."
Ceberio on Friday talked briefly about tapping into the tourism industry. The plan will be formally announced at a June 23 news conference, at which time he said the program's cost and timeline will be revealed.
The Meadowlands Commission has met with environmental and business groups on the plan that would involve printing bilingual brochures in Spanish and English and setting up a convention and visitors bureau.
"We will set that up within the chamber," said Thomas Bruinooge, a member of the executive committee of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It will be a separate entity. It will have some employees."
Supporters said promoting tourism makes sense with the many pending development plans in the works. The Xanadu proposal calls for building a shopping and entertainment destination in East Rutherford, while the EnCap project would bring a golf course resort to Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Kearny, and North Arlington.
Nancy Byrne, executive director for the New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism, said she'll visit the area soon.
"I'm going up there to meet with them prior to their announcement," said Byrne. "It's something for us to market and promote. I grew up in Essex County, so it's nice to see the turnaround."
Ceberio said he's excited about the prospect.
"It's a symbol of hope that any place that had been this degraded actually has an opportunity to draw tourism," he said.
For a long time, many thought of the Meadowlands as nothing but a dumping ground. But environmentalists have fought to change that image.
Bill Sheehan, head of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, said the work continues.
"When people came to the Meadowlands, they said, 'What is there to do?'Ÿ" Sheehan said. "People pointed across the river and said you could go to a Broadway show. For the most part they had no idea they were sitting on one of the greatest natural resources in New Jersey."
Local officials welcome the potential for new revenue. In 2001, birders spent $2.6 billion in the state, according to the New Jersey Audubon Society.
"[Tourism] seems like the next logical step in the district ... Ø it's good for the towns in the district," said Rutherford Mayor Bernadette McPherson.