The outcome of Harrison’s stadium gamble remains equally fuzzy. In exchange for the town’s $40 million investment, the Red Bulls agreed to pay just $1 a year rent, plus $125,000 in payments in lieu of property taxes, or PILOTs. (The team received a full property-tax exemption, though this is currently tied up in legal issues.) The rest of the city’s payback was to come out of PILOT payments from new hotels and apartments that would accompany the stadium.
Thanks in part to the economic downturn, construction around the stadium started slow, with dire effects on city revenue. In 2011, Harrison’s bond rating sunk as low as Detroit’s. In fact, all of the new suburban soccer stadiums provided weak initial returns on taxpayer spending. The Philadelphia Inquirer last year described Philadelphia Union’s new PPL Park in suburban Chester as “an island among vacant land and dilapidated buildings.” Bridgeview, the Illinois town that became home to the Fire, is facing millions of dollars in debt and a tumbling credit rating.
At least in Harrison, the development tide has begun to turn. The Water’s Edge luxury rental complex and Element hotel opened last fall, and three more housing developments are under way. James Fife, who took over as Harrison mayor after Town Hall fixture Raymond McDonough died of a heart attack at his desk in February 2014, notes that Moody’s Investors Services raised the town’s bond rating out of junk status in September and says annual PILOT payments on new buildings are now enough to cover the stadium bond debt. “As of right now, anything that comes online is money that goes directly to the town.”