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Kublai Khan's vision on the turnpike

We could all use some reassurance these days, and President Barack Obama's appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" last week seemed to be a small attempt to comfort the public amidst the chaos of the financial climate. By hitting the late night talk show circuit, the president helped to bridge the gap between the C-SPAN junkies and the rest of America. Despite all the face time and calming talk from our head of state, we continue to be rocked by one disappointment after another. While the entire nation was shocked by the news of American International Group's bonuses, here on exit nine, we have an interesting dilemma of our own.

Over the past year I have watched with curiosity as the area previously known as the Meadowlands has become more recognizable for the brightly colored construction site on the property than for Giants Stadium. Even after having taken numerous drives down the New Jersey Turnpike, I am still struck by the spectacle of the blue and orange structure taking its massive, odd shape in front of my eyes. It has been said by some that the new construction is an eyesore. Whether or not it is found to be attractive, it can certainly be described as a futuristic sight out of a program like "The Jetsons." The blue and white rectangles have been likened to stacks of cargo containers, and the orange incline is raising eyebrows.

Known as the Xanadu complex, the construction is planned to function as a "4.8 million-square-foot entertainment destination" according to the Meadowlands Xanadu Web site. On top of being a massive shopping center, the structure will also house a sporting area with an indoor ski slope, skydiving wind tunnel and the country's tallest Ferris wheel. But this Xanadu is far from the "idyllic, exotic or luxurious place" described by Merriam-Webster. It's not Kublai Khan's mystic summer retreat, Citizen Kane's estate, Olivia Newton-John's 1980 film or the recent roller-skating Broadway musical, but rather a terrible problem.

According to The Star-Ledger, a 15-year lease has been acquired on Xanadu for $160 million. However, the complex, which had been on target to open in August, is facing some major setbacks. Work has slowed because of "a default by a non-bankrupt affiliate of Lehman Brothers known as Xanadu Mezz Holdings LLC." In addition, there has been some difficulty filling the space. At this time, only about 70 percent of the retail space is being rented.

New Jersey Senate President Richard Codey, D-Essex, referred to these problems with Xanadu as the "icing on the cake that flopped before you could get it out of the oven. This would be a tremendous disappointment in any economic climate, but given the dire straits we're in now, it's a huge setback to a region that was relying heavily on the project for job creation and revenue."

The shame in all of this is really that we are trying to spread the icing on our cakes while they are still in the oven. Just as every building needs a proper foundation, and every cake requires some time on the cooling rack before we can go nuts with the sprinkles, Xanadu might have benefited from a more realistic, multipart approach from its conception. If the financial situation had been different, Xanadu would still have been a very ambitious project. The Jetsons feel that the colorful structure conveys on the exterior is equally matched by the fantastical, borderline outrageous plans for the interior sporting space.

Obama told Jay Leno that "there's nothing wrong with innovation in the financial markets," and I think the same applies with everything from business ventures to sweet snacks. Slathering icing on uncooked cake batter before you pop it in the oven would be inventive, but that does not ensure that it would work. The idea for Xanadu was inarguably innovative, at least for us here in New Jersey. Yet such a grand scheme, which could offer such a huge payoff, provides an equally significant letdown; and as with all financial disappointments of late, it's difficult not to wonder if more foresight could have prevented the upset.

We may still prove to get lucky with the Xanadu complex. As of now, the project is just faced by delays and should see completion in the near future. Xanadu has the potential to be the giant entertainment sensation it was proposed to be and not simply a loss at the hands of the economic crisis.

The Great Depression was also marked by a series of grand, ostentatious building projects, some of which were enormously triumphant and others huge flops. The Empire State Building saw completion shortly after the stock market crash of 1929, and the construction of Rockefeller Center, which was just beginning, was a product of the era of financial turmoil — both are staples of the New York landscape. On the other hand, the Second Avenue Subway was originally proposed in 1929 and with all the trouble, it remains an ongoing project today.

For the moment, the empty structure on the side of the turnpike is going to be just another reminder of the grim situation our nation faces. We can wait and see whether Xanadu will be another Rockefeller Center or a Second Avenue Subway, but perhaps we should take a cue from Xanadu and make some adjustments to the way we imagine our projects in the first place. Colossal ambition does not always yield immense success. Maybe it is time to take a step back, give ideas careful consideration, focus on practicality and start getting ahead without getting ahead of ourselves.

Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column "Definition of Insanity" runs on alternate Thursdays. She welcomes feedback at [email protected]


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