American Dream, a mega-center and entertainment complex, opens in N.J .: Who's coming?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – More than two decades ago, when a mega entertainment and shopping complex was conceived on a large swamp of New Jersey swamp land, the iPhone didn't exist, Amazon only sold books online and malls were where you went for all your shopping needs.

Now, after endless fits and starts and billions of dollars spent, American Dream officially opens its doors to the public as the second largest shopping mall in the country, and the third largest in North America. It will showcase 3 million square feet of rental space dedicated to more than a dozen entertainment attractions such as a 1[ads1]6-storey indoor ski slope, roller coaster, water park and, finally, 450 stores, food and specialty stores.

The big question is: Who's coming?

In today's retail landscape, consumers are glued to their iPhones and smartphones, where they can shop without leaving the couch. Amazon has become the largest online retailer in the world. And total shopping mall traffic, which had increased in the late 1990s, has dropped 10 percent since, according to Coresight Research.

American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, NJ September 1, 2011. Mel Evans / AP File

A report from Credit Suisse published two years ago predicted that up to a quarter of malls will close by 2022 provided the growing popularity of online shopping and a rash of store closures. Since 2015, only nine malls have been built, a dramatic fall from the 1973 peak of 43, according to CoStar Group, a real estate research firm.

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American Dream looks in the middle of the new reality and wants to draw 40 million visitors in the first year, and entertainment accounts for more than half the space. Attractions include a rabbit field and a aviary. There will also be amenities such as a doggy daycare and a luxury wing, where shoppers can sip champagne and try caviar as they wait to get wrapped in designer handbags. Two hotels with a total of 3,500 rooms are planned next to the complex.

"You can make it your playground in the garden if you live in Manhattan or even if you're in New Jersey," said Ken Downing, creative director of Triple Five Group, the mall's developer. "It's a staycation. So it's a bit to compete with the mindset and emotion, far more than a property or even Disneyland."

Downing states that American Dream was designed to adapt to different events and trends. A grand court fountain, for example, can convert to a catwalk for a runway show. The ice rink can be transformed into a concert venue.

Canada-based mall and entertainment conglomerate Triple Five in 2011 took over the huge project originally called Xanadu from two developers, whose plans included building the world's largest Ferris wheel. The project broke ground in 2004, but it slowed down in the early years, with the multicolored exterior chessboard – since it was removed – to mock, including from then-New Jersey official Chris Christie who called it "an eyesore "and" the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America. "

The project was canceled in 2009 during the financial crisis after an affiliated Lehmann Bros. company was unable to finance its share of the construction. Creditors grabbed the project in 2010, and Triple Five came on board a year later, renaming it American Dream.

Triple Five reimagined American Dream as a community and tourist hub, taking a page from two other malls it had developed, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada and Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota – the two largest shopping malls in the North -America. Entertainment was a major selling point for both, accounting for 20 percent of West Edmonton Mall's space and 30 percent of Mall of America's. This compares with the 6 percent average for US malls, according to CoStar.

American Dream has its fair share of skeptics who wonder about the potential for success, especially given its proximity to New York City less than 10 miles away. [19659002] "This trend will either sink or swim," said Jason Goldberg, Head of Trading Strategy at Publicis Communications. "It's going to be hard to get a lot of attention when you're at a much larger theme park – Manhattan."

Goldberg thinks the complex can work if the theme park attracts enough families in New Jersey to get in their cars and drive out there. But he is not sure how things are going, since many of the tenants like Zara and Uniqlo can be found elsewhere. Another thorny situation: The mall will follow the blue laws, which means retail will be closed on Sundays, although restaurants and theme parks will be open, says James Cassella, Mayor of Rutherford, NJ.

Still, there is reason for hope. While vacancies on average in the country's malls are currently 4 percent, top malls have been the industry's bright spot, with strong traffic and an average of 2 percent unemployment on average, says CoStar. This is compared to the bottom of shopping malls, which break with an average unemployment rate of 7 percent.

David Smiley, assistant director of urban design at Columbia University, predicts that American Dream "will do pretty well."

a lot of uncertainty in the world of retail, "Smiley said." But American Dream is unusual. It's not a typical mall. "

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