$5 billion megamall finally set to open, despite environmental, labor opposition

Posted May 3, 2018

By ALLIE SIMON

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The American Dream Meadowlands construction project  here, which began construction in 2004, is set to open next March after years of struggling to find sufficient funding.

The $5 billion project will be home to hundreds of different attractions including high-fashion retail stores, a Cirque-Du-Solei theater, an aquarium, an ice rink, an indoor ski slope, a Nickelodeon-themed amusement park, a LegoLand Discovery Center and a water park, according to the official website of the American Dream.

An artist’s rendering of the projected American Dream Meadowlands design (Photo Courtesy of GH+A Design).

The site is directly next to MetLife Stadium – the home to the New York Giants.

The American Dream Meadowlands will be a global tourist attraction, according to the Triple Five Group, the contracting company for the project.

Don Ghermezian, the president of Triple Five said in a statement that the project will, “create tens of thousands of jobs, bring millions of tourists and billions of dollars in economic growth annually to Bergen County and the state of New Jersey.”

No structure of this caliber has ever been built in North America.

Despite the wide variety of entertainment that the project will host, the American Dream Meadowlands has been the target of some critics. According to a member of the UniteHere union, who would like her identity to be kept confidential, “the quality of jobs is a big concern.”

The member chose not to disclose her name in fear that she would loose her job for revealing the controversial opinions of the union.

An artist’s rendering of the projected American Dream Meadowlands design as viewed from New York City (Photo Courtesy of Joseph Garavente, Meadowlands Director of Communications & Publishing).

The UniteHere union represents about 300,000 people across the U.S. and Canada. They advocate for various kinds of workers, but primarily for hotel, casino and amusement park workers.

The member, an advocate for labor and environmental justice, claims that “it will be hard to regulate so many low-wage jobs and ensure good conditions.”

The member also shared that the Triple Five Group has recently acquired land in Miami-Dade County in Florida and will begin developing an American Dream Miami soon. One of her biggest concerns regarding the Miami project is the environment.

“The project is located on 530,000 acres of wetlands,” she said. The member also said that, “the water from the wetlands goes into an aquifer, which is the largest source of drinking water in Miami.”

She expressed concern about what will happen to the aquifer when the project is constructed.

An artist’s rendering of the projected American Dream Miami (Photo Courtesy of Triple Five).

Information on when the American Dream Miami is predicted to open is not available, as the project has not yet begun construction.

Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview that he does not believe that either project poses any serious environmental or job welfare concerns. He calls the American Dream Meadowlands a “major win for the region and the state of New Jersey.”

Kirkos added that, “the American Dream project is an absolute game changer for the Greater Meadowlands economy. It will be a dynamic entertainment and retail complex with an awesome wow factor that will enhance the existing assets at the sports complex consisting of MetLife Stadium, Meadowlands Racetrack and Arena.”

He says there will be “almost 20,000 jobs created between construction and operations and the economic impacts of the project which will make us a primary destination are enormous.”

“The company building this project is the same one that owns and operates the Mall of America in Minnesota,” Kirkos said. “Last year that facility generated 42 million visitors through its doors.”

Kirkos said he believes “the American Dream will beat those visitor counts and drive the regional economy by filling hotel rooms, restaurants and attractions outside of its own entities within the project.”

It is projected to be the largest mall in North America.

Bailey Tocci, a longtime resident of East Rutherford, hometown of the American Dream Meadowlands, says that she “has been seeing construction take place at the site for a long time” and is “anxious to see what is in store for New Jersey.”

The American Dream Meadowlands first began construction in 2004 under the name “Xanadu” by developers Mack-Cali and the Mills Corporation. The project was then acquired by several other developers before the Triple Five Group took control. It struggled with funding for years, but announced in June 2017, that JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs would complete financing for the project.

“The American Dream is located in a spot that could make or break the state,” Tocci claimed. “I fear that I will have a lot of problems getting in and out of New York City.”

The Meadowlands region sits on the border between the wetlands of New Jersey and the expressways to New York City.

Lily Jacobson, an environmental advocate who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison environmental studies program in 2015, stated in an interview that “the impact that both American Dreams can have on wetlands is being underplayed by developers.”

The wetlands that the American Dream Meadowlands is located on are the home to rain water that would flood the state elsewhere, according to Jeff Tittel, an official of the environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club.

“The traffic that both American Dreams will bring to their respective areas in Miami and New Jersey will surely release excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Jacobson said. “With both structures located next to highways, it will be easy for people to check them out. More cars will mean more traffic and that will be especially bad for the already deteriorating ozone layer.”

She also believes that she represents environmentalists globally when she outwardly opposes these projects.

The anticipated opening for the American Dream Meadowlands is gradually approaching, despite the environmental and job welfare controversy. There is no evidence of impact yet and, until doors open in March 2019, the effects of the project on the area will remain uncertain.

John Obeid, a senior real estate expert of the Tri-State area from Colliers International, does not see any issue with the location of the American Dream Meadowlands.

“The American Dream property is ideally situated, adjacent to MetLife stadium and at the intersection of the New Jersey Turnpike and Routes 3 and 17,” he stated.

It is clear that commercialization is a main priority in the construction of this project.

“The scale of the complex along with the shopping and entertainment experience will drive consumers and tourists to this location and make it a true retail destination for any person living within or traveling to the New Jersey or the Tri-State area,” Obeid stated.

The push for commercialization and the struggle for environmental and job welfare protection make the construction of the American Dream Meadowlands and the American Dream Miami very controversial. According to Johnson, an agreement between environmentalists and unions with the developers of these megamalls could make waves for social reforms in this country.