Devils living Prudential life, set to unveil $380M arena

Associated
Press- Workers dumped dirt in planters, vacuumed the red carpet and police
patrolled the streets on horseback outside the
Prudential

Center Thursday evening, as the city
prepared to christen a glistening $380 million arena that could help revitalize

Newark.

Some
concertgoers arrived hours before

New
Jersey rockers Bon Jovi were scheduled to take the
stage for an opening night performance.

The show
attracted many first-time visitors to

Newark.
Michael and Mary Delia drove three hours from the North Fork of Long Island to
attend the concert.

“We
didn’t know it would be in the middle of the city,” said Mary Delia, 32,
who delivers mail.

They also
will attend the last concert of Bon Jovi’s 10-show run and plan to take the
train next time. They were impressed with their first look at the arena
nicknamed “The Rock.”

“It’s
beautiful,” said Michael Delia, 32, a Verizon technician. “This
particular area doesn’t reflect the reputation that

Newark has. It’s very Manhattan-like.”

The arena
opened amid hopes that crowds attending concerts and sporting events would help
revive a city whose image has been tarnished by violent crime, poverty and high
unemployment.

“It’s
our first time in
Newark,” said Michelle
Payne, 41, who drove nearly two hours from
South Jersey
with her 16-year-old daughter, Ashley. “So far so good.”

Several

New Jersey celebrities
were expected to walk down the red carpet: former New York Giant Tiki Barber
and several stars of the former HBO series “The Sopranos,” including
Lorraine Bracco, who played Dr. Jennifer Melfi, and Robert Iler, who played
Anthony Soprano Jr.

The downtown
arena is the first professional sports venue to open in the

New York region in 26 years. It will be the
home of the New Jersey Devils hockey team.

“I
have all the confidence in the world that when people come see this building,
it’s gonna sell itself,” said Devils chairman and owner Jeff Vanderbeek.
“The rest will follow.”

After
playing their first nine games on the road, the Devils will skate on their new
home ice Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.

During a
ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon, Mayor Cory A. Booker said the opening of the
arena is “a testimony to hope.”

He said
visitors who worry about their safety coming to

Newark will be surprised.

“People’s
perceptions of

Newark
are frozen in time,” he said. “People are going to rediscover

Newark.”

Gov. Jon
S. Corzine, who joked that he’s looking for another Stanley Cup championship,
said that the city’s renewal will be built by momentum and credibility.

“Not
only will we get to hear Jon Bon Jovi tonight, which is always a thrill,”
he said, “but this is a milestone.”

Other
officials who supported the arena over the years also attended, including former
Mayor Sharpe James, who has been indicted on federal corruption charges for
allegedly using city credit cards for personal expenses.

“I’m
excited to have been a part of where we are today,” said James, clad in a
Devils tie.

After a
news conference, former political rivals James and Booker shook hands, joked
and even embraced.

Thursday
was the first of the city’s traffic alert days, isued when events at the arena
take place on weekdays. In anticipation of traffic gridlock, commuters and
concert fans were encouraged to leave their cars at home and take the train.

Police
assigned extra patrols to ensurevisitor safety. Yellow-jacketed NJ Transit
employees were deployed to direct pedestrian traffic along the 21/2 blocks from
Newark Penn Station to the arena. At major intersections, police planned to use
remote-control devices to change traffic lights to help keep cars moving.

The
Devils, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team and the New Jersey Ironmen indoor
soccer team will call “The Rock” home. The men’s and women’s
basketball teams from New Jersey Institute of Technology also will play several
home games at the arena this season.

It will
seat 17,615 people for hockey, 19,000 for concerts and 18,500 for basketball.

Vanderbeek
said the arena’s final cost won’t be calculated until months after the opening,
but he estimated it at between $377 million and $381 million.

The city
is funding $210 million and the Devils are paying the rest.