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Construction For American Dream Megamall In New Jersey Is Back On Track

A behemoth of a mall and entertainment complex is taking shape eight miles outside Manhattan.

By Jeff Vasishta December 16, 2016
Photo courtesy of Triple Five

And people said shopping malls were over. The idea of American Dream—Meadowlands retail and entertainment project located in East Rutherford, New Jersey—is like listening to hair metal from the ’80’s, while riding on a rollercoaster, eating cotton candy. It’s a big, bold, old school development, of which class and taste take a back seat to high octane, moneymaking consumerism.

Triple Five Group will restart construction early next year on the long-stalled project. It’s expected to feature an 800-foot-long indoor ski hill, a 300-foot-tall Ferris Wheel, a Nickelodeon Universe-themed amusement park, water park, performance theater, ice rink, movie-theater complex, aquarium and miniature-golf course and roughly 500 retailers. Get the picture?

Renderings have also been revealed at Jersey Digs. The complex is currently a little over 75-percent leased, Ridgewood Patch reported. GH+A Design Studios is responsible for the latest design. The complex, which last saw construction April, is currently partially complete and is expected to cost $2.7 billion, making it one of the costliest shopping malls in the country.

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Such colossal expenditure, just eight years on from the largest financial collapse in US history, which saw many malls, this one included, lying unfinished, has rubbed many people the wrong way.

“We don’t have enough money to pave our roads in New Jersey, to make our [public worker] pension payments…and we’re creating a future hole in government revenue to build an unnecessary mall,” said Mr. Doherty, a Republican who represents Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties, said in the Wall Street Journal. “We need a new mall like we need a hole in the head.”

Others have also voiced their concern. Gordon MacInnes, president of the New Jersey Policy Perspective think tank, said to the WSJ that he remains skeptical about America Dream’s ability to secure the funds it needs to see it through, which has plagued it for the last 13 years.

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“This has been abandoned by two other developers,” Mr. MacInnes said. “People with sharp pencils have said, “No, let’s walk away.”

Of course, Triple Five, who are also the developers for Mall America in Minnesota, see things differently. In late September, they won a court case, which claimed that a state agency allegedly issued $1.15 billion bonds to help them get back on track with construction.

“Now that this frivolous claim has been dismissed, American Dream–a world-class retail, tourist and entertainment destination that will serve as the economic engine for the region–will be completed,” Tony Armlin, vice president of development for Triple Five said to NJ.com.

Don Ghermezian, whose family controls Triple Five Group, added recently in the New York Times: “What we’re creating here is out of this world. It’s the best of retail and entertainment combined in one environment. There isn’t a project in the world that has developed this large a concentration of entertainment-retail, not in China, not in Dubai.”

The whole process has been stop and go for years, however, and it’s not as if New Jersey is short of retail outlets. The nearby Short Hills Mall and Westfield Garden State Plaza have been long established.

“I’m open-minded that they could build something very spectacular there because of the amount of money that they’re putting into it,” D.J. Busch, senior mall analyst for Green Street Advisors told the WSJ. “I’m less optimistic that it’s going to be able to compete or steal market share from extremely well-established, very strong retail that’s already in the market.”

A slew of banks, construction companies, and government officials are involved in the financial structure of the deal. It’s as messy and hard to digest as the garish development itself, which sits half-finished in a mind-altering maze of colors and boxy structures eight miles away from Manhattan on a featureless wasteland by the highway.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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