Anyone born before the year 2000 remembers spending countless Saturdays roaming the halls of their local shopping mall. Kids across the nation reveled in jealousy of those lucky few that grew up near the Mall of America. The legendary Mall of America is complete with theme parks, restaurants, and hundreds of stores. Since the ribbon cutting of the Mall of America many other real estate investors have tried to mimic the colossal project. One such attempt has just recently begun its belabored opening in late 2020. The American Dream Meadowlands had all the potential in the world. The problem: it took 26 years for developers to complete the project.
In 1994, The Mills Corporation began working on plans for the American Dream Mall, then called Meadowlands Mills. The original proposal consisted of 2 million square feet of retail stores, 1 million square feet in commercial office space, and a hotel. The intended site for the megastructure was a plot of land in the center of the Empire Tract a massive area of protected Wetlands just outside of Manhattan.
The proposal quickly stirred up controversy because of the extensive environmental impact. This early controversy would mark the beginning of a long difficult journey for the shopping mall. After years of battles with the conservationist groups, the EPA, and the U.S. Fish and wildlife service The Mills Corporation eventually lost the rights to build in the Empire Tract and was forced to find a new site for the massive project.
Breaking Ground on a Mega Mall
In 2002 the New Jersey Nets moved out of the Continental Center and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority published a request for proposals to repurpose the parking lot of the arena. Executives at the Mills Corporation saw the proposal as an opportunity to rethink their original proposal. The new proposal would include much of the old plans plus a renovation of the Continental Airlines Arena. In addition to the new plans, the corporation inexplicably renamed the mall Meadowlands Xanadu. Yeah, we don’t get it either, but it is fun to say.
The Mills Corporation earned the right to build on the property and broke ground one year later. Projections at this point slated the mall to open two years later. Poor planning, construction failures, and financial issues inevitably pushed the opening back nearly two decades.
Mega Mall or Mega Fail
We know that header doesn’t rhyme but it’s close, ok. Throughout the project, there was no clear evidence of a plan. At one point, the builder built a parking lot only to continue to build on top of the lot. Teams of workers repeatedly built structures and tore down what was built to put something else on top. After numerous delays, The Mills Corporation sold the incomplete project to Colony Capital in 2006. Under new ownership, the opening was pushed to 2008.
Unfortunately, when the planned opening date of 2008 neared the world hit the global housing crisis. The crisis had an impact on just about every project on the planet. Xanadu, now 80% complete, was forced to immediately stop production. Their largest investment came from Lehman Brothers the now infamous bank which was forced into bankruptcy during the housing crisis.
If At First You Don’t Succeed (in Two Separate Decades) Try, Try Again in a Third
In early 2010, New Jersey awarded the rights to the project to the third company that would attempt to be a part of this journey. The Related Companies expected to be able to finish the project by the end of the year and began an aggressive marketing campaign. Thankfully, the new project managers renamed the mall once again to a much simpler Meadowlands. Later that same year Triple Five Group, the company famous for operating the Mall of America, purchased the rights to the mall and rewrote the entire project.
Numerous financial issues, construction road blocks, and strange events like a snow-caused roof collapse slowed the project throughout the 2010’s. Time and time again the team would announce a planned opening only to later delay the opening of the mall. By this time, locals had a largely negative perception of the massive structure in the meadowlands.
Grand Opening and Grand Un-Opening
In September of 2019, Triple Five opened their newly completed New Jersey mall under the new name American Dream. The project was still far from complete, but Triple Five decided to slowly open different wings of the mall over the coming year. However, after just 5 months of operation and nearly 30 years of construction, the world closed down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, the American Dream was halted in its tracks. Just like many other malls around the world, the American Dream has begun opening under strict public health guidelines and has revealed plans to pivot from a retail focus to an entertainment focus. Maybe one day every square foot of the American Dream will be complete and fully operational. Today is not that day.
The success of this project (sarcasm heavily implied) has lead Triple Five to double down on the American Dream concept and begin construction on a second location in Florida called American Dream Miami. Read about this crazy idea here.
American Dream Meadowlands – Wikipedia
Mills Corporation – Wikipedia