It has taken 15 years, three owners, two names and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer incentives, but a giant mall built on a former swamp in the Meadowlands — and less than 10 miles away from the shopping haven of Manhattan — is finally opening.
The $5 billion development, formerly known as Xanadu and now called American Dream, will eventually feature roughly 3 million square feet of stores, water slides, a caviar bar and an indoor ski slope that promises man-made snow even in the height of a New Jersey summer. It is an attempt to lure crowds to a spot not easily accessible by public transportation and which most people know primarily from visits for National Football League games or concerts at MetLife Stadium.
But when the complex opens, visitors will not find anyplace to shop or much to eat. The property’s owner, the Canadian real estate firm Triple Five Group, is introducing American Dream in “chapters.” The first consists of an ice-skating rink and a Nickelodeon amusement park that claims to have one of the world’s steepest roller coasters and will offer regular “slime” shows.
Triple Five plans to unveil a DreamWorks-themed water park and the ski slope by the end of this year, and said that more than 300 stores, the essential retail part of the development, are slated to open in March. During a tour last week, few signs hung above dark, partially constructed stores and dust and orange cones littered boards protecting tiled flooring.
Still, even a partial opening of the mall — publicists said they preferred the term “style and entertainment destination” — is a milestone. The project broke ground in 2004 but construction halted with the recession. In 2011, Triple Five, which also owns the Mall of America outside Minneapolis, took over with big plans to make American Dream a globally recognized megamall. At the time, a 2013 opening date was announced. That was subsequently pushed back at least four times.
In that time, the retail landscape has shifted rapidly and major mall developments have dropped off. Some originally announced tenants of American Dream, like Toys ‘R’ Us and Barneys, are now bankrupt.
“Maybe pre-recession, there were some massive mall developments, but this is extremely unique,” said Vince Tibone, a retail analyst at Green Street Advisors.