For years, the New Jersey Devils had been rumored to be at least considering relocation. Even when the team won the Stanley Cup in 1995, it was amidst rumors that the franchise would move to Nashville. Despite playing championship-caliber hockey in the 2002–03 season culminating in a Stanley Cup that year, the Devils only averaged 14,858 fans per game at their home arena, Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford.
A project to build a new 18,000 seat arena in Newark first received funding from Newark's city council in 2002, when the team was owned by Puck Holdings, a subsidiary of YankeeNets. In 2004, former Lehman Brothers executive Jeffrey Vanderbeek bought the team from Puck Holdings and became a strong proponent of the proposed arena. Vanderbeek said, "The Devils need a new arena that can provide a game-day experience that is certainly equal to the best team in the National Hockey League and certainly equal to the product that is put on the ice." He also stated that he believed the arena "would take downtown Newark to a whole new level." After legal battles over both eminent domain and the city's financial participation in the arena project, the final deal was approved by council and went through in October 2004.
Construction and funding
Prudential Center, under construction in June 2007
A seven-acre site for the arena in downtown Newark was selected, bordered by Edison Place on the north, Lafayette Street on the south, Mulberry Street on the east, and Broad Street on the west. The site was the location of the never-completed Renaissance Mall and, previously, the tracks and train shed of the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Broad/Lafayette Street terminal whose building still stands nearby. The arena was designed by HOK Sport, with the exterior designed by Morris Adjmi Architects. Initial designs were released in early 2005 and referred to the arena as "Newark Arena". Groundbreaking began on October 3, 2005, and a workforce of 2,725 union workers was employed to construct the arena. Financial issues, though, threatened to halt the deal. On January 24, 2006, the Devils averted having the project canceled by submitting a guarantee in writing that the team would contribute $100 million to the arena, one day before their deadline.
Though construction was well underway, in late summer 2006, Cory Booker, who had recently taken office as Mayor of Newark, promised to reevaluate the deal and considered backing out. In October, Booker conceded there would be "a first-class arena built in the city of Newark, whether we like it or not", and soon afterwards, the Devils struck a deal including both property and monetary givebacks that appeased city officials.
The city of Newark pledged to contribute $210 million to the construction of the arena, using settlement money from its lease dispute over underpaid rent for use of Newark Liberty International Airport with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Devils paid for the remainder of the cost. Thus, no new direct taxpayer funding was required for the construction of the arena. Some taxpayer dollars, however, were spent on infrastructure improvements. These improvements were necessary for both the new arena and proposed private development surrounding that arena.
Prudential Financial purchased the naming rights to the stadium in January 2007 for $105.3 million over 20 years, reducing the city's cost for the project. Prudential has chosen to call the arena the "Prudential Center", even though this is also the name of numerous office complexes around the country, most notably in Boston. The arena had been referred to as "Newark Arena" before the deal, and now field press releases refer to the Prudential Center as "The Rock" after Prudential's corporate logo.
Construction on the arena was completed in October 2007. The estimated final cost of the arena's construction is $380 million. In total, more than 18,000 tons of steel were used to build the bowl area and high roof, while 62,000 linear feet of ductwork were installed throughout the arena. The Devils had to play their first nine games of the 2007–08 NHL season on the road as construction on their home arena was finished.
For the soft opening on October 20, the Newark Boys Chorus performed at Prudential Center, which became the first use of the arena. It officially opened on October 25, 2007 with a series of 10 concerts by the New Jersey native rock group Bon Jovi, featuring a star-studded lineup of opening acts including Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, Daughtry, The All-American Rejects and fellow New Jersey native group My Chemical Romance.
The Devils played their first home game at Prudential Center on October 27, 2007 against the Ottawa Senators, who, coincidentally, were the Devils' last opponent at Continental Airlines Arena. Chris Neil scored the arena's first goal, while Brian Gionta scored the Devils' first goal in the arena. Martin Gerber earned the first win as the Senators defeated the Devils 4–1.
On November 11, 2007, the first collegiate basketball game took place in the arena, with Seton Hall defeating Monmouth, 89–81, in overtime.
On January 8, 2010, a lighting problem occurred in the arena during a game between the Devils and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay was leading 3–0 with 9:12 left in the second period when half of the arena's sports lights went out due to a power surge on the grid feeding electricity to the arena, followed by a computerized lighting system failing to reboot. PSEG and Prudential Center electricians worked on the situation for 1 hour and 52 minutes but could not reboot the system. The game was suspended due to the lighting problem; it was resumed two nights later, with about 3,000 of the original crowd of 15,129 in attendance. Tampa Bay won, 4–2, with Lightning center Steven Stamkos scoring two goals in the contest: one on Friday and one on Sunday.