Chris Christie's presence in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' private box at a Cowboys playoff game earlier this month raised speculation about the men's shared areas of interest outside football. It turned out that Jones' entertainment and concessions company was seeking a government contract to operate a viewing platform at One World Trade Center -- a building operated by the Port Authority, whose board members are appointed in part by Christie.
Now another piece of business has emerged to explain the Cowboys owner's eagerness to share the New Jersey governor's company. The Christie administration's move this week to shutter the Izod Center, the Meadowlands arena that holds sporting events and concerts, could boost prospects for Jones' business at a competing New Jersey arena, the Prudential Center in Newark. That boost could simultaneously benefit the firm of Christie's top stadium policy adviser. And the closing of the Izod Center appears also to be a financial boon to a big donor to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chaired and which backed Christie's election campaigns.
"This is another murky deal in the history of New Jersey politics," said State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat. "This deal was done in the dark of night, and I am very suspicious of what this is really all about and what it is motivated by."
The interwoven relationships begin with the Prudential Center. The private facility is co-owned by Josh Harris, who led an investor group's purchase of the facility on August 15, 2013. Harris has made $50,000 worth of contributions to the RGA since 2010. Only a few months before the Christie administration shuttered the state-owned Izod Center, the Prudential Center hired Jim Leonard as a top executive. Leonard came to the job after serving as chief of staff of the Christie administration's Treasury Department, which was consulted during the deliberations over the Izod Center.
In mid-2014, Harris' Prudential Center announced it had given a multiyear contract to Legends Hospitality LLC to run concession services at the facility. That means the more business that comes to the Prudential Center as a result of the Izod Center closure, the more potential revenues for Legends' owners, including Jerry Jones and Yankee Global Enterprises.
The Prudential Center's connection to Yankee Global Enterprises through Legends is worth noting: The Christie stadium policy adviser who pushed the state to consider closing the Izod Center, Jon Hanson, currently serves as the director of Yankee Global Enterprises. Hanson also served from 2001 to 2011 on the board of Prudential Financial, which owns the naming rights to the Prudential Center. He also was Christie's finance chairman on both of his campaigns for governor.
This is not the first time Hanson and Harris have benefited from Christie administration decisions. Earlier this year, the administration approved a $106 million subsidy for a real estate deal involving Hanson's real estate firm, according to the Guardian. Hanson's real estate firm also benefited from a separate $10 million subsidy, according to the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, Christie officials in 2014 approved an $82 million tax subsidy to the Philadelphia 76ers, the professional basketball team that Harris owns. Harris sat with Christie in a luxury box at the 2014 Super Bowl.
Christie, Harris, Hanson and Legends did not respond to International Business Times' requests for comment.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat who chaired the investigation into the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures, has said he is considering launching a probe of the gifts to Christie from Jones after Christie pushed the Port Authority to give Legends a lucrative contract.
“What’s troubling is the surprise nature of the announcement," Wisniewski told NJ.com about the Izod Center closure. "Now, suddenly closing it means the company Mr. Jones invests in has the opportunity to do even better? You have to ask the question — and I am not saying I know the answer — but you have to ask the question: To what degree does the governor’s relationship with Mr. Jones have to do with the decision to shut down the Izod Center and, indirectly, benefit Mr. Jones?”
Matthew Cunningham-Cook contributed research to this report
Story updated at 5:20pm ET.