“The dream begins this fall,” real estate developer Triple Five announced on Monday, referring to the long-delayed American Dream Meadowlands entertainment and retail complex.
Many North Jersey residents — and horse racing regulars and sports bettors who flock to the nearby Meadowlands Racetrack and FanDuel Sportsbook — no doubt reacted with a collective yawn. That’s because this is the successor to the Meadowlands Xanadu project that was first approved by the state long ago. How long ago? Some of the babies born in the month that vote was made will wind up with part-time retail jobs when the doors finally open.
But before we go back to that Feb. 12, 2003 vote of the board of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, first let me, as the only one who reported on the original vote and as someone who has continued to chronicle its fate ever since, read between the lines of Monday’s press release.
First off, it’s possible that the announcement — and these are rare from Triple Five about this project — was at least partly triggered by news last week about a buzz of tenant activity.
But the developer’s hand was about to be forced anyway. It was clear that a summer opening was not in the cards, so the dozenth or so revised debut date had to be recalibrated.
Timing is everything
The word is that there was a challenge internally on whether the project could really be rolled out in mid-September, with some figuring that to get it 100% right, it would take until the end of the year.
But the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping season is extraordinarily lucrative in North Jersey, so what to do?
A compromise seems to have been reached, because the press release mentions that “Tenants will continue to open their doors through the Holiday 2019 and early 2020 seasons.”
So, there’s no one Grand Unified Theory of opening 3 million square feet of stuff all at once. Instead, we’re looking at a rolling kickoff that American Dream President Don Ghermezian said for guests “will be the realization of their wildest dreams.”
Hold the skepticism, everybody. A few people who have been inside, and who aren’t just cheerleaders, tell NJ Online Gambling it is “spectacular.”
If you’ve been keeping up with this forthcoming addition near the Meadowlands Sports Complex, you know about the first indoor snowpark in North America, the largest indoor water park in North America (by DreamWorks), the world’s steepest roller coaster at the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere (by Nickelodeon), the 300-foot observation wheel, the Sea Life Aquarium, and so on.
And of course retailers in that 1 million square foot section will include staples such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dolce & Gabbana, Zara, and H&M.
What’s new at the former Xanadu
But Monday’s announcement hints at why our sources are using the word “spectacular.”
A 60-foot fashion fountain “becomes a catwalk in a matter of seconds.” The “museum-scale interior” will feature art from around the world as well as from local artists, with rotating installations meaning visitors won’t always come back to the same experience. (Triple Five already does this at its Mall of America property in Minnesota, rebranding children’s rides every few years to keep up with what most appeals to the latest set of youngsters.)
There will be six grand atriums, and in one, guests will discover a garden with bird-filled aviaries and bunny rabbit fields. Who doesn’t like bunnies?
Snark aside, this is sounding less and less like a mega-mall with a few entertainment components thrown in — as critics claimed Meadowlands Xanadu was lined up to be under original developer Mills. Corp. (now defunct) — and more and more like, well, more.
It’s true that the first $2 billion spent on this project went up in smoke years ago. And opening up a mere mall in 2019 Amazon-crazy America seems a little problematic, even in shopping-mad North Jersey.
But when American Dream opens, all visitors will care about is, “Is this place cool?”
It’s starting to look as if the answer may be “yes” — and not just in that snowpark that is set to 26 degrees all year round.
The turning point for the Dream
While my reporting on this melodrama of a project over the years often has left me in a “Debbie Downer” role to the chagrin of each of three developers, it’s also true that when $1.1 billion worth of bonds related to the project were sold two years ago, I emphatically stated that after all these years, this project will definitely open. The money had finally arrived.
Now, those skeptics have retreated from “if” it opens to “when.”
If only odds had been available on that in the wake of the bond sale, backers would be feeling pretty good right now.
So now that I have finally been convinced that this project may open as a winner, see what kind of odds you can get on a friendly wager with a family member or friend. You might just score a nice payout in time for holiday shopping.
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