American Dream Mall Exterior
Economic Development

Anticipating the American Dream Mall

Three-million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex is destined to be “the stuff dreams are made of.”

The American Dream Mall, the 3-million-square-foot mega retail and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands, East Rutherford, will finally open in late summer, according to its developer, Triple Five. For months, the company was noncommittal on announcing an exact opening date, but it had every right to play it safe. Remember, this is a project that was first introduced in 2002 as Xanadu, which had two previous owners who were impacted either by fiscal mismanagement or the Great Recession. The complex itself was notoriously criticized for its exterior design as being the “ugliest building in New Jersey” by Gov. Chris Christie. The structure stood empty for so long, with on-again/off-again construction, that certain real estate professionals were calling the project “Xanadon’t.”

American DreamThings changed in 2011 when the Christie Administration and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) transferred the project to Triple Five, owners of North America’s two largest tourism, retail and entertainment complexes of their kind: The Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada. Now, the American Dream will join their ranks.

The developer has invested more than $5 billion to bring the site to its current status. According to Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, the American Dream is expected to open with 80 percent of its 450 retail, food and specialty shops, occupied. This is being complemented by more than 18 acres of entertainment offerings. In fact, 55 percent of American Dream’s makeup will be entertainment, while 45 percent will be retail, which is the highest ratio of entertainment product for all Triple Five destinations. The ratio plays well with Bergen County’s blue laws, since all retail establishments must remain closed on Sundays, but restaurants and entertainment venues can remain open.

On the cusp of the opening, the question to ask is: Will the American Dream realize its dream?

According to David Townes, senior director of retail at Cushman and Wakefield (C&W), “Given the location and the strong demographics of New Jersey and the Tri-State area, and the scale of the mall, this is a pretty good recipe for success.”

What do the regional demographics have to offer? For one thing, the property is close New York City, which has more than 8.6 million residents and more than 65 million annual visitors. With this, American Dream expects to attract 40 million annual visitors, with 50 percent projected to be tourists.

Townes adds, “New Jersey is a densely populated state and northern New Jersey has some of the highest incomes in the entire country. On top of that, there is an incredible road network around the property with I-95, and Routes 3, 17 and 120. It is very well connected, so it will be a big draw for the Tri-State area.” It is estimated that 100 million cars pass the area on an annual basis.

The dense and high-income population of northern New Jersey is one of the reasons why high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Hermes and Barneys New York have chosen to locate within the luxury retail area of the American Dream, known as The Collections. According to Kirkos, the section will look like Beverley Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

He says the American Dream will be a “game changer relative to the greater Meadowlands region becoming a primary destination as a component of the overall economy here. Right now, we don’t have enough assets to be a primary destination.”

He says area hotels, restaurants and other local businesses will benefit from the opening of the complex because the site will be generating “so many visits from people who are not from the area.”

“As someone who markets the entire region, including downtown businesses, the American Dream will make my job easier because it puts the Meadowlands on the map in a way that, in the past, only MetLife Stadium could. I also think that the ability for us to attract more major events to MetLife is greatly enhanced by the American Dream.”

Kirkos’ perfect “dream” would be the opening of a casino and a large convention center at the Meadowlands site.

One of the main reasons for a convention center, he says, is to keep discretionary spending money on this side of the Hudson River. He gives as an example the upcoming April 7th WrestleMania event that will be held at MetLife Stadium. The event’s fan experience festivities, known as WrestleMania Axxess, will be held in Brooklyn. “That’s four days of thousands of people going to Brooklyn simply because we do not have a large enough venue in the region that could house the fan experience,” he says. “The same thing happened when the Super Bowl was at MetLife Stadium a few years ago. A Super Bowl Boulevard was created in New York City because we did not have a large enough convention center. We lost a week’s worth of activity where people could have spent their discretionary money in New Jersey and the state could have realized that economic benefit.”

When asked about the use of the existing Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, Kirkos replied, “That facility has 70,000 square feet of space. We are looking for 500,000 square feet. The larger facility, perhaps located where the former Izod Center is, would host trade shows and association events that never consider the Expo Center because of its size.”

As for a casino at the sports complex, Kirkos says that needs to be revisited because it is a smart idea and would be immensely successful. He points to the success of sports betting at the Meadowlands Racetrack, which he says is the highest grossing sports betting facility in the state. “That should be an indication that there is a market here,” he says.

A casino may complement the American Dream Mall as a gaming destination, but it may find it hard to compete with it from an entertainment and restaurant aspect. As mentioned previously, there are 18 acres dedicated to entertainment at the site.

The $5-billion project is expected to create some 16,200 jobs, totaling more than $1.2 billion in annual compensation, when open. It has generated some 23,000 jobs during its construction phases.

The complex will open. According to Townes, “I drive on Route 3 daily and I see the banners alongside the buildings and the logos on the exteriors. I think north Jersey is beyond the skepticism and is now moving towards excitement and knowledge that this is going to open very soon.”

Opening day is just around the corner. Rest assured, once visitors cross the threshold to enter the complex, they may realize it is “the stuff dreams are made of.”

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