American Dream Meadowlands Rollercoaster Saga Ready To Launch

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American Dream Meadowlands is scheduled to debut on Friday — with as “soft” an opening as its developer, Triple Five, can offer.

While a massive indoor amusement park, an NHL-sized ice skating rink, and a smattering of food offerings will be enticing visitors, the vast majority of the 2.9 mm-square-foot entertainment and retail project will not be open to the public this weekend.

The lack of fanfare by developer Triple Five — which operates the similar Mall of America in Minnesota and the larger West Edmonton Mall in Canada — hasn’t stopped New Jersey media from touting the much-anticipated opening.

But a staggered rollout of attractions — DreamWorks Water Park on Nov. 27, Big SNOW indoor ski slope on Dec. 5, more than a million square feet of shopping next spring — won’t produce many complaints from those who live near the Meadowlands site.

ski slope
The Big SNOW indoor ski slope will open in December, more than a decade after it was built.

“It’s probably better that it’s happening this way, because we can all try to ease into it,” said East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella, a lifelong resident.

Cassella even is crossing his fingers that Friday’s opening — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to the American Dream website — will be less of a madhouse than the 1976 opening of the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Close to 50k people were lured on Day One for what immediately became the centerpiece for North American harness racing. That backed up local roads for miles.

“There was so much buildup and so much concern about that opening,” said Cassella. “The word was ‘Armageddon’ — I heard it then and I hear it now. But with all the new roads and ramps, it could be different this time.”

Jim Kirkos, the president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, said local business owners are showing “a great deal of excitement” over the prospect of thousands of new tourists visiting the area each day.

And yes, he added, there are “equal parts concern” about traffic impacts.

“You’ll always have people convinced this will be ‘Armageddon,'” said Kirkos, echoing Cassella’s comment. “But if we can get through a couple of morning and evening rush hours OK, then people will stop worrying as much.”

Soft launch: that’s the ticket

Triple Five officials have frustrated local leaders and media over the years with only sporadic levels of communication. But in this case, Kirkos said he believes the company has been wise to somewhat downplay the opening.

“The limited ticket sales will allow for them to work out the kinks with all the new help that has been hired,” Kirkos said. “After all these years of delays, the last thing they need is a mob scene on the first days it’s open. I give them credit for wanting to err on the side of being conservative.”

The history of the project idea at the site dates back to 2002, when initial developer Mills Corp. proposed a more retail-oriented proposal called Meadowlands Xanadu. (There was a predecessor to Xanadu, too — a megamall that never got built on environmentally-sensitive wetlands adjacent to the Meadowlands arena site that was pitched in the mid-1990s.)

Triple Five became the third developer in 2011, and it added the more than 600k-square-foot indoor water and amusement park complex and other entertainment attractions to the mix.

Looking to go on Friday? Not so fast

At Mall of America, it’s free to park and to walk in — including into the indoor amusement park (the Edmonton version also has the water park).

At American Dream, it will be more complicated.

First off, passes for opening weekend for the amusement park — called Nickelodeon Universe, with about 35 rides — already are sold out. This is $39.99 for a “General Access Ticket” — for those under four feet tall or leery of the more daredevilish rides — or $49.99 for “All Access.” The passes last five hours on Friday and four hours on the weekend.

What if you just want to check out the ice rink or gawk at the enormity of the amusement park? It’s not clear that is even an option.

Plus you will pay to park — $3 for up to three hours, on up to $6 for eight hours. But don’t go beyond that, or you’ll pay $24.

For the opening Saturday and Sunday, hours of operation will be 9 a.m until 10 p.m. But eventually, the hours will be:

  • Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Getting that certificate

It’s true  that American Dream officials had not yet obtained a mandatory “certificate of occupancy” with fewer than 48 hours to go before opening day.

But as noted in that link, this is not unusual. I vividly recall being in the site of the utterly empty “Devils Den” team store at Prudential Center just two days before Opening Night. By the time fans rolled in, the store shelves were fully stocked and the required approvals had been gained.

Kirkos said he had visited American Dream “about 10 days ago” and found that the amusement park “looks really good.”

“The theming decor all seemed to be in, and I think it should be ready to go,” Kirkos said.

If American Dream is a success, meanwhile, it may lead to more dreams coming true. There is significant support in northern New Jersey for a Meadowlands casino — which, like sports betting, would lure New Yorker’s discretionary dollars across the Hudson River — and even a major convention center.

First, though, will be the long opening launch of American Dream.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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