UPDATE: It appears as though our friends at the WWL would prefer we didn't revisit The Mullet's regretful commentary, as the screen now reads "the video you requested is currently unavailable." I've replaced it for the time being with this image of people lined up to enter the Prudential Center, so that Mr. Melrose can analyze the frame to see which fans are literally carrying their own lives in their hands.
In summary, Melrose said that the area around the arena is "awful," that "the inside and the outside where it's built is pretty humorous" and warned those who dare see a game to not "go outside if you have a wallet or anything else." This naturally drew the ire of Devils fans and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who told Fox 5 in New York that he's "sick and tired of people kicking our city around."
Determined to come off as a complete elitist, Melrose apologized on Tuesday to all offended parties in an interview with the Associated Press and revealed he had not actually visited the arena yet, basing his comments on "footage aired by Canadian broadcaster TSN before the Devils' first game at the new arena last Saturday." Meaning that you and I know about as much about the surface of Mars as Barry Melrose does about the Prudential Center. Now, as someone who's actually been to the arena, let me tell you where Melrose was right and where Melrose was wrong ...
Melrose is completely wrong when he calls the area around the arena unsafe and dangerous. First of all, it's the business hub of the city, not some tenement. But more importantly, it's pretty harmless on a game night. Opening night against Ottawa, it felt like the uniformed police officer to hockey fan ratio was roughly 1:1. Cruisers rolled down streets with lights flashing, mounted police patrolled the pregame crowds, and that same presence was felt after the game as thousands of Devils fans crushed the city's mass transit system. Let me put it this way: It'll be safer for a visiting Rangers fan two blocks away from the arena than in the $10 section of the upper deck.
There's no reason to believe that protection won't continue during the arena's inaugural season, because it's no secret that Newark faces an image problem. As I covered previously on FanHouse, there is a segment of the population in the Garden State that would rather have a sleepover with that puppet from "Saw" than spend an evening in a place that's still synonymous in their minds with "murder" and "race riots." I don't think they're in the majority, but they could be if anything tragic happened to a fan after the game or if there was a criminal trend that targeted fans coming to the arena. The Devils know this, and the city knows this -- it was the same situation they faced with Newark's Performing Arts Center years earlier, and the Associated Press reports that the results are clear:
Police presence has been strong, with no crimes reported against arena patrons, said Daniel Zieser, chief of operations for the Newark Police Department. To handle extra security, a 30-person team of special events officers is deployed for events at the arena and the nearby Performing Arts Center and Symphony Hall. Other officers have been shifted from days to nights, and the cost is about $20,000 per event, he said.Melrose had a valid point when he said the city hopes the arena will lead to a revitalization for Newark. Like I said in my coverage of opening night:
"I'm here 35 years, and I've never seen downtown Newark like this," Zieser said. "People are not afraid to walk around."
It reminded me of when the MCI Center opened in D.C., as there were only a few watering holes and restaurants in what is now a booming area for downtown nightlife. In Newark, there are a few decent bars, but it's clearly an area that might see a little economic transitioning; as my father pointed out, the ratio of nail salons to professional hockey arenas was quite disproportionate.Nail salons, "discount" electronics shops ... not exactly the sorts of city highlights the Devils are going to pimp in their season-ticket brochures. The hope has to be that, like in D.C., the arena will transform that section of Newark into a hip, thriving scene that still attracts patrons during the non-hockey months.
Look, it's like any entertainment venue in an urban area: Use your head, and you won't lose "a wallet or anything else." The Newark I saw around The Rock isn't nearly as bad as its critics -- frequently sight unseen -- claim it is, nor is it as benign as others claim. It's a living, breathing city, which is something -- warts and all -- that this Devils fan has been hoping his team could call home after over two decades in a concrete nightmare whose urban charms were limited to what parking lot you were getting loaded in before face-off.
As for ESPN's hockey analyst, he tells the Associated Press:
... he wants to come to Newark to have lunch with Booker and tour the area around the arena. Booker sounded agreeable. "I welcome him coming to the city so we can dispel his ignorance," Booker said. "I'm happy to hear that he's willing to come and see the truth and I'm hoping he's responsible enough to write about it."Well, that's if he can keep his mind on his work. I hear the area around Bristol is awful ... Rick Reilly better watch his "wallet or anything else."