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Judge Lets Newark’s Pru Center Reopen After Code Dispute

Fri July 18, 2008 - Northeast Edition

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A judge reinstated a certificate of occupancy (CO) for the Prudential Center arena on July 11, allowing it to reopen hours after a Newark construction code official ordered it closed.

State Superior Court Judge Paul Vichness reinstated the temporary certificate of occupancy until Aug. 25 and scheduled a hearing on the matter for Aug. 8.

The arena was closed July 11 after city officials said they failed to receive proper documentation from the New Jersey Devils, the building’s owner, on improvements to be made to the smoke alarm system.

The decision to close the $380 million arena, which opened in October, was made by Neil Midtgard, the city’s construction official.

The Prudential Center has been operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy since opening in October 2007, which has been renewed at regular intervals.

According to Julien X. Neals, corporation counsel for Newark, the terms of the CO required the Devils to provide complete documentation on additional work scheduled to upgrade the smoke alarm system.

The Devils plan to add more smoke detectors to the building and upgrade a pressurization system in the stairwells that will more effectively ensure that smoke flows away from the stairs.

Though Neals stressed that the smoke alarm system is fully functional, the arena has been paying firefighters to stand at stairwells during events.

“The system is fully operational,’’ Neals said. “This was a timing issue. It could have been prevented if the plans had been available earlier.’’

Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek did not return a call for comment July 11.

Employees were not let inside the arena the morning of July 11. A sign taped to the entrances of the arena read: “You are hereby ordered to vacate said premises. As of 7/11/2008, no individual is to occupy this building until the structure is rendered safe and secure.’’

There has been at least one other run-in with city code enforcement officers. In March, the city ordered the center to halt work because it was installing a pedestrian bridge without proper permits.

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