Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First Hand Account: Red Bull Park Groundbreaking

A link to photos of today's event can be found at the bottom of this post.

Politicians, soccer executives, media members and hundreds of Red Bull fans gathered in Harrison, NJ today to celebrate the groundbreaking to Red Bull Park, the first component of a $1 billion redevelopment of the Hudson County town across the Passaic River from Newark.

The trip from midtown Manhattan took about 35 minutes to get to Harrison on the PATH train with a change of trains in Journal Square. The Harrison station, which is to undergo a $50 million facelift, left little to be desired, and the ten-minute walk to the stadium site took fans past energy substations and construction parking lots. A decades-old brick wall down the left side of the street gave way to a four-story abandoned warehouse, where signs and red and yellow balloons directed visitors around the corner to a full-on construction site where bulldozers sat at the ready and construction workers surveyed the land.

A "Welcome to the Site of Red Bull Park" sign greeted visitors, and a samba drummer and two bikini-clad samba dancers entertained fans waiting for the program to begin. A bulldozer and soccer goal with Red Bull park signs on them awaited the golden ceremonial shovels. Longtime Metro and Red Bulls fans mingled with Shep Messing, Bogie of the Cosmos, and Nick Sakiewicz, to whom the day clearly belonged.

Three large tents kept most the crowd out of the hot midday sun. Fernando Fiero of Univison's Republica Deportiva had made the trip from Miami to emcee the program. Fiero professed to being a "Jersey Boy," who arrived in the US from Argentina in 1980 with little English, and settled in Hoboken before his success in the Hispanic media world. He told the crowd that MLS was his favorite soccer league, and added that he missed his beloved Miami Fusion. His love of the league may more to do with Univision's new MLS contract, however, than his passion for American futbol.

Nick Sakiewicz was next to speak, and he noted the trials and tribulations he'd experienced since launching the stadium effort in 2000. Love him or hate him, Sakiewicz has stuck with the project through the days that it seemed unlikely to materialize. Sakiewicz noted that Red Bull's infusion of cash made it possible for the project to move forward. One wonders if Uncle Phil would have made the project a reality if Red Bull had not stepped up in March to purchase the team.

Numerous NJ politicos got their moment in the sun, including former Governor Richard Codey, who kicked off with a few off-color jabs at his disgraced predecessor Jim McGreevey.

MLS Commissioner Garber noted the day's importance for the future of MLS and American Soccer, and confirmed that the league would have 16 teams by the 2010 season.

Sadly, it was time to head back to work before I could see the shovels hit the dirt, but camera crews from SNY, NJN, and channels 7 and 47 were on hand to record the event and surely will have coverage tonight, as well as the major print media for tomorrow's papers.

It's a new era for Red Bull. Here's to hoping the investment of the field will be matched by an investment on the field.

Click here to see photos of today's event.

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