American Dream (or Nightmare) to become a reality in the Meadowlands

Yesterday Governor Phil Murphy toured and touted Bergen County’s American Dream in the Meadowlands, saying it will “turn the Meadowlands complex into a place you come for a football game or a concert or for harness racing or sports betting into a truly year-round family focused diverse entertainment destination.” It’s projected to open in 2019, maybe in April, and to draw 40 million visitors a year. Plus, the governor added, it will create 16,000 “sustainable” jobs.

 Paul Ghermezian, Triple Five’s chief operating officer, said  American Dream is not just a shopping mall but seeks to offer “an experiential experience.”  It plans to feature a Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park with three roller coasters, a permanent venue for Cirque de Soleil, a waterpark, a National Hockey League-sized skating rink, an indoor ski and snowboard slope, an observation ferris wheel with a view of the Manhattan skyline, a Sealife aquarium, and a  12-screen upscale Cinemex movie theater. Only some of these venues are expected to open in early 2019, and as you see on the left there is more construction, some 30% or more, still to be completed.

Some critics have been skeptical of American Dream’s prospects because of its many setbacks and the apocalypse that the retail industry is undergoing. Mills Corporation’s failed effort started development of the complex in 2004. It wasn’t until 2017 when the new mall operator Triple Five secured $2.8 billion in additional funding to resume construction. It now appears clear that the complex will become a reality. See the breakdown of the 2017 financing and other financial details here. 

The bondholders, who will need considerable sales tax revenue to meet projections to receive their money back, are taking on the brunt of the risk while Triple Five is expected to only contribute $500MM of equity. Triple Five estimates that the development will generate $148 million a year in taxes for New Jersey.

Nearby residents fear that the area will become a traffic nightmare. The Sierra Club says it goes against the vision of what the Meadowlands is about and will harm the environment. Nearby businesses are concerned they will lose revenue to this shiny new complex. Others suspect that even with the additional entertainment venues, the so-called death of the shopping mall will be its downfall. At least it’s once infamous ugly facade has been discarded for something more attractive. 

As it is clear that it will be built, the question now regards the quote “If you build it, they will come” – a quote appropriately enough adapted from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. A lot is riding on the success of this $5 billion project. The surrounding towns, Bergen County, the state of New Jersey, and bond holders are relying on it for tax revenue and for it becoming an engine for NJ economic growth. Let’s hope it will be a dream come true, not a nightmare. 

Triple Five is building an even bigger mall in Miami, also called American Dream without public subsides, unlike the New Jersey project. Triple Five also owns the Mall of America in Bloomington, Indiana.

Photos by Russ DeSantis for NJ Advance Media for NJ.com.

Below is Triple Five’s representatIon of what it might look like.

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