Mega casino proposed for Jersey City

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. (PIX11) -- It's been months in the making, and now plans for a mega casino on New York Harbor that would face the Manhattan skyline are taking shape. The proposal is still in its initial stages, but some major political and financial players are taking it very seriously, in part because of the effect it would have on Atlantic City, and its fading status as a gambling hub.

The Jersey City mega casino project, if it were to reach fruition, would rival mega high-rolling complexes like those in Macau, the former Portuguese colony on the southern shore of China. The site of the proposed development is adjacent to Liberty National Golf Club, across a channel from Ellis Island on New York Harbor.

Currently, that site is covered in sea grasses and cottonwood trees. Later this decade, it could be filled with a world class casino housed in a skyscraper rivaling One World Trade Center in height.

"It's serious," said New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, (D) Union, about the proposal. He has met with venture capitalist Paul Fireman, who came up with the mega casino plan. "He's put a proposal together that would put New Jersey on the map as the gaming destination of the world," Lesniak told PIX11 News in an interview.

Fireman founded and runs a venture capital firm in Boston that bears his name, Fireman Capital Partners. But his greatest claim to financial fame is through a name that's much more widely known. He made a $65,000 investment in 1979 in an athletic shoe maker, and in 2006, he sold Reebok, his company, to Adidas for $3.8 billion.

He also developed Liberty National Golf Club. On Tuesday, Justin Timberlake, an avid golfer, was on the links there, after having joined the club as a member earlier this year.

Fireman created the course from a landfill, but it's now where The Barclays tournament is played on the PGA Tour. Liberty National's helipad and yacht access, coupled with its proximity to New York, has made it a destination for better golfers than even Timberlake, including Tiger Woods, among many world renowned professionals.

So Fireman clearly knows how to develop a world class property. It's apparently part of the reason why his proposal calls for the mega casino to be about much more than gambling.

"It will be a 95 storey casino-hotel-condo," said Lesniak. "It will have a 104,000 seat motor sports arena and the world's largest Ferris wheel."

Plans for a Ferris wheel of record-setting size, however, are already well into the development stage for a site adjacent to the Staten Island Yankees stadium in St. George,  on the northern shore of Staten Island.

However, people involved in the process of trying to make the mega casino a reality aren't letting details like that get in their way. In fact, it may be the least of their worries.

They'd have to convince Gov. Chris Christie and the leaders of both houses of the state legislature to set into motion the process of changing the state constitution to allow for gambling outside of Atlantic City.

It is, of course, the country's second largest city for gambling, after Las Vegas. Fireman and elected officials supporting the mega casino believe that the proposed Jersey City gambling mecca will be so popular that it would only help Atlantic City. It faces losing at least three of its twelve casinos this year alone.

"[The mega casino] will generate enough tax revenues to bring $100 million to Atlantic City over ten years," said Lesniak. He said that money would be designated by the state to redevelop Atlantic City as "a tourist destination that also has gambling, rather than a gambling destination that has nothing" else, Lesniak said.

However, similar hopes were placed on American Dream, the entertainment complex formerly called Xanadu, at the Meadowlands, which has still not opened its doors 11 years after it was first planned. Could the proposed harbor-side mega casino end up like that, if it successfully jumps through a long line of regulatory hoops and becomes reality?

The answer comes from Jersey City's mayor, a day after he posed for pictures with Justin Timberlake on the greens of Fireman's Liberty National Golf Club.

"This has been nine months in the making," said Mayor Steven Fulop. "These are people with a reputation for getting things done." Fulop said that he's been in frequent and detailed discussions with Fireman about the mega casino proposal.

Fireman has not commented about the project, but Gov. Christie has told the Star-Ledger  that he is "happy to have that conversation" that could open the legislative process that would allow the mega casino to be built.