Gov. Phil Murphy and Tammy Murphy were among those on hand Friday, Oct. 25, to tour the first phase of the American Dream project. — Courtesy: Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office
By Joshua Burd
Gov. Phil Murphy and other top state leaders were on hand last week to mark the long-awaited, partial debut of the massive entertainment and retail complex known as American Dream.
Triple Five, which took over the previously stalled project from an earlier developer, welcomed the contingent and other invitees on Friday to unveil the first phase of the 3 million-square-foot facility in East Rutherford. That phase includes a Nickelodeon theme park and an ice-skating rink, which will give way to what will be 17 major entertainment offerings, along with more than 450 retail, food and specialty shops across 16 fully enclosed acres.
“This is a big day for New Jersey and for a whole lot of folks,” Murphy said, after he and others rode a rollercoaster known as The Shellraiser. “This is a huge step and it’s been a long time coming.”
The event follows two years of near continuous construction at what had been the failed, incomplete Xanadu project that originally broke ground in 2004. Triple Five, the owner of the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall, moved to take over the site from its previous developers in 2011 and secured the needed financing in 2017.
That effort progressed largely with the support of Gov. Chris Christie and an advisory team led by Jon F. Hanson, the real estate magnate and founder of The Hampshire Cos.
Friday’s event marked a true milestone for the Meadowlands region and for the state, but highlighted several ongoing questions about the project and on the amount of work still to be done. After thanking stakeholders such as union labor, Murphy alluded to some of those questions, including the project’s impact on the region’s already strained infrastructure and how visitors will access the park.
“Day one has gone so far, so good, and I think one of the silver linings of a multiple-chapter opening will be that we are able to live and learn,” Murphy said. “And as this thing gets more and more populated, we’ll be able to catch up to that.
“It’s going to be bus-heavy, as was said, for a while,” he added. “And the long-term fixes are still a ways off, but we’ll get them.”
Still to come is a DreamWorks-themed water park that is slated to debut late next month, among several other entertainment options, and a massive retail and dining component that is expected to be open by the spring. Critics of the project have questioned whether North Jersey can support another luxury mall, but Triple Five President Don Ghermezian, cited the firm’s experience in Minnesota and Edmonton, which he said validates the appeal of an all-inclusive offering.
“Everybody talks about the future of retail and the future of entertainment — and how you merge the two,” Ghermezian said. “But there really isn’t a center on the planet that has done it to the degree that we’ve done it here.
More than half of the complex will be dedicated to entertainment, including North America’s 1st indoor snow sports center, an Angry Birds 18‐hole miniature golf experience, a Legoland Discovery Center and Sealife Aquarium and the new home of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. The complex will house iconic retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and the only New Jersey location of Barneys New York, along with a host of other luxury brands.
With the Meadowlands Sports Complex sitting at the nexus of the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 3 and Route 120, the surrounding highway network serves more than 100 million vehicles annually. Triple Five is banking on that location and accessibility to attract visitors from the surrounding 21 million residents and nearly 63 million domestic and international tourists that arrive annually.
“People come, they bring their families, they spend not hours, but they spend days and they shop,” Ghermezian added. “So we know the formula works, it’s something that we have incredible experience with and we’ve just really gone crazy to deliver it here to the state of New Jersey.”