A New Home For Local Soccer

By Steven Ferrezza

“This is Journal Square.  The next stop on this Newark-bound train will be Harrison. Please stand clear of the closing doors.” The conductor blared over the intercom as the doors closed.

One stop away. The excitement was in the air.  As the train neared the station fans crowded the left side of the train to catch a glimpse of their new home.

After 15 years at an empty, desolate Giants Stadium, after years of broken promises and missed deadlines, the $200 million Red Bull Arena was finally opening.

A glittering gem in a deserted and forgotten industrial area, the town of Harrison, N.J. now had its diamond in the rough, but not everyone was thrilled.  Harrison is a small town of 15,000 residents in Hudson County, New Jersey just outside of Newark.

To say Red Bull Arena is isolated is an understatement.  Surrounded by empty lots, abandoned warehouses, the Passaic River and substations for the utility company Public Service Energy Group, the futuristic stadium looks like it was left there by accident.  And the lack of access roads does not help its case either.

Frank E Rodgers Boulevard, a two-lane street, is the only access road to the arena.  Fans’ best bet is to take mass transit to either Newark Penn Station or the Harrison PATH station, which is severely in need of an upgrade.

Some residents blame the stadium for causing traffic jams on game days.  “This has been nothing but a headache for us.” Sophia Jimenez said as she waited for her livery cab on nearby Market Street.  “They said they would build up the area, but I see nothing.  Traffic is a mess whenever there is a game.  You can’t drive anywhere, it’s a zoo.”

Others have a different take on the new stadium.  “We have traffic all the time,” said Antonio Ramos.  “The Jackson Ave. Bridge is the only way into Harrison from this area. It’s one lane each way, we have traffic all day everyday.  The stadium doesn’t help but it’s not the reason why we have traffic.”

Interactive Map of Harrison and Newark:

View Area Around Red Bull Arena in a larger map

The lack of access roads and viable entertainment options has cost the arena already.  The U.S. Men’s National team was scheduled to play a game in Harrison in October but moved the game to Philadelphia and in November, Major League Soccer held its championship game in Toronto instead of Harrison in order to give the city more time to build up the area.

But Red Bull is looking to fix this issue. The team recently donated $25,000 to the city of Harrison to replace the temporary barricades along Frank Rogers Boulevard that have been there since the beginning of the season, and, according to a Daily Harrison article, the Port Authority has set aside funding to rebuild the Harrison PATH station.

The modernization will take four years and cost $173 million, but the upgrades are extremely necessary.  Currently there are six turnstiles for fans to go enter through and it typically takes upwards of 45 minutes for fans to get on a train after the game.  Several phone calls and emails to local politicians for comment on these improvements were unanswered.

Still fans are happy the stadium is finally here.  “Oh yeah, I love it.  I go all the time,” said Ricardo Hernandez said of Newark outside an empty Red Bull Arena on a cold November day.  “They’re working hard; it takes time to build an area up.  You know what they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’”

No one has benefited as much as the local business owners.  From the bars and restaurants where fans meet up before and after the games, to the local bodegas where fans stop in for a quick drink everyone is benefiting from the new stadium.

Meet the South Ward:

With fans pouring in from all over the tri-state area many establishments are vying for increased business and no one is enjoying the new stadium more than the owners of MMM Bellos Pub and El Pastor Bar & Restaurant.

Bellos is the home of the Garden State Supporters one of the two main supporters clubs of the Red Bulls, and El Pastor is the home of the Empire Supporters Club the other main supporters club.

Both bars offer great pre and post game atmospheres and many drink and food specials.  Being the home of some of the most loyal fans in the league has its benefits, and these two bars look to be packed for years to come.

With one season in the books and many more to come there is still time to build up Harrison and create an even better soccer experience.  After finishing in last place in 2009, the Red Bulls surprised everyone and won the Eastern Conference, but ultimately fell in the first round of the playoffs.

With a promising future ahead of them filled with young players like defender Tim Ream and striker Juan Agudelo, Harrison will be rocking with the sounds of the ESC and GSS for years to come. But Red Bull is not just stopping at Harrison; they are currently in the planning stages of a training facility in nearby Kearny that is set to open in 2012.

Though residents may not be 100% on board with the new stadium, the fans are enjoying every moment of it.  Just a few more months before it all starts again next March and the South Ward is belting out “As long as I’m breathing, I’ll sing for the Metro. Whether we’re winning or whether we’re losing. We are your people, we’ll always follow. We’re always behind you, and that you can count on.”