Such a deal under quiet discussion since the spring but first confirmed by those involved Thursday would move the team into a 7,000-seat arena to be built opposite the parking lot of FirstEnergy, home of the Lakewood BlueClaws, an affiliate of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies.
The arena would host 40 hockey games a season and could be a partner with the Devils' $310 million home under construction in Newark. Because the Devils would operate both venues, any concert, circus or entertainment event held in Newark could also be held in Lakewood, said Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, who is helping negotiate the deal.
Singer is "hoping within the next 30 days we have a signed agreement," although Devils co-owner Jeff Vanderbeek described the talks as "preliminary discussions."Vanderbeek added he will "very, very seriously consider" any written proposal.
Still, local negotiators see the deal as a spark plug for millions of dollars in tax ratables for Lakewood and a chance for the Devils to solidify their fan base by shuttling the minor-league River Rats from their current home in Albany, N.Y., to the Jersey Shore.
More important, those advocates say, the arena also would bring mainstream concerts, hockey tournaments and national circus tours to Ocean County creating a new tourism draw for a seaside county already known for its beaches.
"The opportunities are endless," Singer said.
Before hockey fans start sharpening their skates, though, the ambitious plan has several major obstacles.
First, Lakewood no longer has development rights to the 7 acres on which it would build the stadium. That land is under contract to ( Govoha's) Cedarbridge Development Corp., which has a deal in place with the township to create a high-tech office park next to the BlueClaws' ballpark at Cedar Bridge and New Hampshire avenues.
Second, the township has to figure out how to pay up to a $50 million price tag, which is roughly double what it cost to build the baseball stadium.
Zucker's plan drew raves from elected officials when he pitched it last fall, but he was told the Cedarbridge agreement which he has no part of could not be changed.
Now, township officials are looking into what changes can be made.
"I'm telling you one of the things that excites (the Devils) is the mixed-use component," Zucker said. "What Lakewood and Ocean County will get out of this is multiplied tremendously if we get more than an arena."
The first thing Lakewood needs to move forward with the plan is an agreement with Cedarbridge to relinquish rights to the 7 acres the arena would sit on, said Township Committeeman Raymond G. Coles.
The agreement to build a 1.5 million-square-foot office park and an age-restricted housing development on 240 acres adjacent to FirstEnergy has long been touted by township officials as a way to bring high-paying jobs to Lakewood, even while some residents have consistently criticized it as a land giveaway.
Jack Mueller, who runs Cedarbridge, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Lawrence Bathgate II, a lawyer with an office in Lakewood who brought the Devils and Singer together and is helping broker the deal said Mueller is amenable to returning the land to the township.
Officials would not comment on what Mueller would get in exchange, but Singer said he hopes to work out a deal with Cedarbridge in the next 30 days."We sat down with Cedarbridge," Bathgate said. "They will release the seven acres. It's not a done deal, but directionally, everybody's striving to get it done."
Singer said the township could solve its second problem paying for the construction by getting the land designated as a Revenue Allocation District, a little-known distinction that allows the district's tax revenue to be used to pay off the bonds.
"I've been told how we can do it," Coles said. "I haven't gotten anything in writing yet as to how it's worked in other places."
Coles isn't the only one short on information...
What's Govoha's Cederbridge Development getting in return? What happened to their grand plans?
What exactly are all the stipulations in the contract ( e.g. how's maintenance, taxes, revenue distributed)?
Why have they not sought the input from the community?
Maybe Lakewood wants to become the capitol of minor league ballparks. Or at least the builders do.