EAST RUTHERFORD — On July 2, 1981, while he was still in office, a new building in the Meadowlands named for Gov. Brendan Byrne opened with a Bruce Springsteen concert.

The construction of Brendan Byrne Arena made the area a true Sports Complex, five years after both Giants Stadium and Meadowlands Racetrack began operation.

Today, Giants Stadium is long gone and MetLife Stadium stands in its place, the racetrack has been spiffed up over the years, and the American Dream megamall looms large over the entire region.

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But still upright in the middle of it all is what is now known as Meadowlands Arena, first renamed Continental Airlines Arena in 1996 and then Izod Center when the New Jersey Devils moved out in 2007.

It's now been more than seven years since the venue was open to the general public, but New Jerseyans may be surprised to learn it's far from laying dormant.

Brendan Byrne Arena
Brendan Byrne Arena during the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Vincent Prieto, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, said after the sports teams and circuses moved out, the arena was first used as a rehearsal space for concert acts who were getting ready to go out on tour.

This list, he said, included Beyoncé, Rihanna, Dua Lipa, and New Jersey's own Jon Bon Jovi.

Brendan Byrne Arena
Brendan Byrne Arena during its transition to the renamed Continental Airlines Arena in early 1996 (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

Right now, though, the arena has built a reputation as an in-demand production studio, first for NBCUniversal and more recently (and exclusively) AMC.

Among the NBCUniversal projects staged at Meadowlands Arena were "The Enemy Within," "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector," and the CBS network reboot of "The Equalizer" starring another Jersey icon, Queen Latifah.

AMC's upcoming "Walking Dead" spinoff "Dead City" now films there, christening the network's first production facility in the Northeast.

Continental Airlines Arena
Continental Airlines Arena during the 1996 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four (Doug Pensinger/Allsport/Getty Images)

"This has been really a hotspot for television and streaming productions, which has been great for the Meadowlands region," Prieto said. "It's sort of evolved as something different, and the film tax credits that Governor Murphy put in place have drawn a lot of attention to this region."

The attractiveness of Meadowlands Arena to production companies satisfies two sides of an equation, according to Prieto.

On one hand, he said, "necessity is the mother of invention," and the state has found a use for a structure that might otherwise have been left to fall into disrepair.

Continental Airlines Arena
Continental Airlines Arena in 2005, two years before rebranding as the IZOD Center (AP Photo/Jim Lord)

But its proximity to New York City and major airports and highways means cast and crew can arrive easily — and check out what else the Meadowlands has to offer while they're here.

"They frequent restaurants and even the hotels in the area, so it does bring a lot of life into an area that people don't know it's going on, so it really helps the economy with the local businesses," Prieto said.

IZOD Center
The IZOD Center prior to a New Jersey Nets game in 2007 (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, file)

One part of the arena does remain available for public use: the parking lot, which is earmarked for overflow by both American Dream and MetLife Stadium.

But otherwise, Prieto wants residents who drive past to know that this historic building is still making an impact.

"The film industry in the state of New Jersey is alive and thriving, and we have been able to kind of repurpose this arena at this point in time," he said.

IZOD Center
The IZOD Center parking lot, flanked by what is now American Dream (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

Click here to contact an editor about feedback or a correction for this story.

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