After 15 years of delays, the long-awaited American Dream mall in the Meadowlands finally opened its doors to the public.
The $3 billion project, which developers previously called Xanadu, will feature 3 million square feet of stores, an ice skating rink, indoor ski slope for the summer and indoor water park and amusement park for during the colder months.
But the first “chapter” – as the property’s owner Triple Five Group calls it – which opened on Friday, only includes the ice-skating rink and Nickelodeon theme park, complete with 1990s-style “slime shows.”
The project has been repeatedly delayed, ever since a 2004 groundbreaking ceremony for the Xanadu project. Funds then dried up and Triple Five, which owns the Mall of America in Minneapolis, bought out the abandoned monolith in 2011.
The ski slope loomed over the Meadowlands complex, Route 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike for at least a decade as an eyesore.
By the end of the year, American Dream will host the Big Snow ski slope and DreamWorks-themed water park, with most retail stores opening in March, according to the Canadian-based real estate firm. Once fully operational, the mega-mall could see upwards of 40 million visitors a year.
The project will miss out on the Christmas 2019 shopping season, but Triple Five President and Chief Executive Officer Don Ghermezian told reporters that did not faze him.
“It’s a generational project,” he told reporters, and there is always the next holiday season.
Nor was he fazed by the lagging popularity of retail as people flock to online shopping — the mall has 17 entertainment options to boot, while 87 percent of the available retail space has been leased out.
The project is financed by roughly $1 billion of state and local tax incentives, according to a report by NJ.com. That includes a $390 million Economic Redevelopment and Grant growth from 2013, as well as agreements with local towns for payments in lieu of property taxes.
Planes, trains and automobiles
With the opening of the mall, traffic and visitors coming to American Dream will repeatedly butt heads with visitors to the MetLife Stadium and Meadowlands Racetrack, residents from East Rutherford where the mall is located, neighboring towns such as Secaucus, and the thousands of daily commuters who traverse the highway daily.
Parking would be free for the first half hour, then $3 for up to three hours, $4 for up to five hours, $5 for up to six hours, $6 for up to eight hours and $24 for more than 24 hours – but all of that for “17 entertainment options,” Ghermezian said.
“You go to Disney, you’re paying $20 [or] $30 for parking, any of these  attractions are $30 or $40 of parking,” he said.
New Jersey Transit struggled in a mad-dash effort to provide more public transit options for commuters, after media reports surfaced that as late as the summer, the statewide transit agency had no concrete plans – or coordination with the developer – to accommodate the millions of visitors looking for a travel option other than their own cars.
The Murphy administration on Thursday said that there will be a new bus route to the mall directly from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The route will let out at a new bus plaza adjacent to the mall.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco told reporters that more mass transit will be essential for the region to accommodate the influx of passengers, and that the region would be clobbered should too many guests decide to drive to the mall.
But it remains to be seen how any of that will be financed, and any proposals beyond expanded bus routes could be years away.
“Day one has gone so far so good,” Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters. “As this gets more and more populated… to be determined.”
Tedesco was also adamant that he would not allow the county to relax its 17th-century Blue Laws, which keep virtually all retail businesses in Bergen County closed on Sunday, save for restaurants and grocery stores.
That could provide some relief to residents, as has been the case in nearby Paramus, which plays host to a dozen malls and shopping centers.
County, state and Triple Five officials have not indicated whether the mall-owners would chip in for the funding, though Tedesco said he would not take any options off the table.
Ghermezian maintained that the majority of guests would not come in during the typical rush hour periods between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., alleviating some of the problems.
“It’s spread out through the entire day,” he said, adding that “we’re continuing to work with the state on all transportation ideas.”