Awakening the Dream in the Meadowlands

The American Dream, the mall formerly known as Xanadu projects a 2019 opening.

Fourteen years after groundbreaking, the former Xanadu has yet to open, but is still expanding.
Fourteen years after groundbreaking, the former Xanadu has yet to open, but is still expanding.
Photo by Ira L. Black

For years, it hulked stagnant over the Meadowlands like a massive, forgotten Tinkertoy. But if you drive past it today on Route 3 or the New Jersey Turnpike, the mall once named Xanadu and now rechristened American Dream is rising anew.

But don’t call it a mall—not these days. Don Ghermezian, president of Edmonton, Canada-based Triple Five Worldwide, which took over development of the project in 2011, made that clear when he spoke to Bloomberg in late 2016. He refers to American Dream as “the center of the universe.”

If money spent is an indicator of one’s place in the universe, then American Dream is right up there. When the project’s original developer, Mills Corporation, walked away from Xanadu in 2006 after running out of money—$2 billion in private money had already been spent. Last May, Triple Five, the developer of the two largest shopping centers in North America—Mall of America in Minneapolis and West Edmonton Mall—announced that it had secured an additional $1.6 billion in private funding. And in June, after multiple delays, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan announced the sale of $1.1 billion in municipal bonds, issued through the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA). This spring, Triple Five announced a projected opening date of March 2019.

You could be forgiven for doubting that projection, given the history of the project, which began in the mid-1990s as the brainchild of the NJSEA, then looking for a way to help pump up the financially struggling Meadowlands complex. But insiders these days are feeling a lot more confident the Dream will become a reality sometime in the near future. “There’s certainly a buzz in the industry, and it sounds like things are moving along at a pretty fast clip,” says David Townes, senior director of retail services for Cushman & Wakefield.

It’s clear that Triple Five has gotten the memo about so-called experiential attractions being the future of malls. At the Bergen Business Expo in May, Tony Armlin, the company’s vice president for development construction, stated that American Dream will have a mix of 55 percent entertainment and 45 percent retail. Among the features: two roller coasters, an indoor water park, an aquarium, an ice rink, a mini-golf course, the world’s first kosher food court, a 300-foot-tall Ferris wheel, a Cirque du Soleil venue, a Legoland discovery center, and KidZania, a mini-city where kids 4 to 14 will be able to choose a profession, earn their own income and help run the metropolis.

An indoor ski slope, a remnant of the mall’s Xanadu days, will rise 12 stories high and offer skiing, snowboarding and tubing. A 4-D dine-in movie theater will pump in scents to accompany first-run films. And a 22,000-square-foot arcade and bowling alley will feature live bands and craft beers. And yes, there will be retail. Confirmed tenants include Saks, Hermes, Lord & Taylor, Zara and Lululemon. One thing American Dream won’t have: the dreadful multicolored exterior panels are being removed.

Even those who question the future of malls are starting to come around. “Another big, all-retail mall isn’t going to do it,” says James Hughes, dean emeritus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. “But American Dream is shifting away from retail, and I think it may have a chance of success.”

While some question whether American Dream can lure tourists away from Manhattan, Hughes believes it could be a big draw for families from all over the tristate area.

Once open, American Dream is projected to create some 16,000 jobs, though most of them would be relatively low paying. Local hotels should also benefit.

But some see potential headaches. Michael Gonnelli, mayor of nearby Secaucus, dreads the likelihood of increased traffic. “You can’t get out of town now at 4 pm,” he says. He wishes Triple Five good luck with the project, but says, “they really have to address the roads.”

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  1. MassMan

    “The Center of the Universe” in the same way my sphincter is “The Center of My Gluteus Maximus”.

  2. maxdi

    Looks like a black hole of investment money to me. Set up your time-lapse camera and watch it rot and go bankrupt on YouTube inevitably.