It took longer to open than they expected, and when they were finally ready a global pandemic foiled their plans. But just shy of seven months after American Dream’s retail establishments and entertainment offerings were supposed to open to the public, and more than two decades after developers first put shovels in the ground, 100 stores and multiple theme parks open Thursday in East Rutherford.
Among the mall’s notable attributes are the biggest in-facility Zara in the world and the world’s longest magnetic waterslide, situated within Dreamworks Waterpark, which has 40 rides altogether including a surfable wave pool. A large indoor garden, tended to by the facility’s horticulturist Claudio, is filled with mosses, ferns, and fountains. Disco balls – many, many disco balls – are set up in various locations akin to art installations.
Signs of COVID-19 prevention are all over the building, from one-way directional floor signs to digital boards with hygiene information to signage reminding patrons to distance themselves from others. Chief Creative Officer Ken Downing noted the facility’s size – 3.3 million square feet – in discussing what developer Triple Five was able to do to accommodate not only distancing measures, but its ability to be versatile with space overall.
“The property was always designed to be transformed, and the ability to transform not only the common areas into events but also transform the retail if we ever change it is something that we really value a lot, and as difficult as the time is that were living in, this property was built for the future,” Downing said. “It was not built to be ‘this is it and this is all it is,’ this is a property that has more and more and more stories to tell, and we can be as big and as intimate as we need to.”
“In and of itself, it puts us in a little bit of a different position that the traditional shopping center because we really can react,” he said.
Since the coming and going of March 19, when retailers across the mall were slated to open, operators Triple Five implemented an array of changes to accommodate for COVID-19 requirements including sanitization, limiting attendance, and more. The ticketing systems for all attractions have been updated to allow for timed entry throughout the day; and upon entry to the water park, patrons walk past a non-invasive temperature reader.
Those whose temperature is running high will be sent off to the Hackensack Meridian Health in-house urgent care.
Patrons who attend multiple attractions throughout one day may notice the many seasons of the facility, with temperatures kept at 87 degrees in the water park and 28 degrees in Big SNOW.
Of the 100 retailers opening Thursday, 80 are permanent and 20 are “dream drop” stores, more commonly called pop-ups. But that’s not a very American Dream phrase, explained Downing: Pop-ups come from the ground, but dreams drop from the sky.
The features that remain from its days as Xanadu, the mega mall that never got off the ground, are just two: Big SNOW, the only indoor ski and snowboard hill in North America, which has been up and running for a month now; and the other is a barrel roof above one retail area of the facility.
“When it’s good it’s good, and that’s good,” Downing said.
[T]his property was built for the future. It was not built to be ‘this is it and this is all it is,’ this is a property that has more and more and more stories to tell, and we can be as big and as intimate as we need to.
— Ken Downing, chief creative officer, American Dream
Bigger days still are ahead for American Dream.
Up to eight additional retailers will open by the end of October, and the luxury wing, anchored by Sax Fifth Avenue, will open in the spring. Eventually, Downing hopes to put fruit propagating trees, a vegetable garden, and an apiary on the roof to provide restaurants within the building fresh produce and fresh honey.
At present, Downing shared excitement for the opening.
“I was so excited for March 19 and to watch that dream slowly evaporate before our eyes was very difficult. We all know why it happened, but it was a very sad moment. We were all so proud of what we had accomplished,” Downing said. “But everybody is energized again, it’s great to see all of our retail partners, to see the parks that are up and opening and knowing people are excited about the reopening, it feels really good.”