Living wages at Xanadu Meadowlands? Think again, New Jersey

June 15, 2010

dollarDo not expect the developer that’s working on the massive Meadowlands shopping and entertainment complex in northern New Jersey to compel its tenants to pay their workers a living wage. Related Companies, the New York-based real estate developer behind the project, said on Tuesday that it would be a deal breaker.

We talked to Stephen Ross, Related’s founder, chairman and CEO at our Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit, and after a while, talk turned to the stalled project, slated to open in 2011, four years after the 2007 planned opening date. Among other things, we learned that the name “Xanadu” isn’t happening anymore. Related, which took over the project after a bunch of lenders dropped out, has a list of other names, but wouldn’t share them with us.

The most interesting thing that I heard is that Related would not force stores at the complex, located in East Rutherford, N.J., by Giants Stadium, to pay living wages to their employees. While a minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly wage that employers must pay, a living wage is what is considered the lowest amount of money that someone requires to pay for shelter, clothing and other basic needs. Here’s what Ross (incidentally, the 95 percent owner of the Miami Dolphins football team) said about that:

That would be a deal breaker for any retail development. … People earn tips. The large retail tenants have a different wage scale that they pay. I think the most important thing today is creating jobs.

Ross shared more with us on this thought. He referred to the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory project,  a plan to convert the Eighth Regiment Armory building to a shopping mall that fell apart after the New York City Council tried to get Related to do the same thing. Ross contemplated the notion that the New York City government could try to make a living wage commitment a legal requirement:

I think that would be disastrous for New York. It would certainly be vetoed by [the Bloomberg] administration. Looking ahead, it might sound good for a politician or a labor leader, but I don’t think they’re thinking ahead or have very much vision about what’s happening in the world today.

Of course, politics and business are about compromise. Maybe New Jersey and New York could consider passing a law that requires retailers to place tip jars at strategic points throughout their stores.

(Photo: Reuters)

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