Bin Yuan exited the American Dream mall onto a short walkway that led to Level 1 parking decks, where a large, roughly chopped plywood box containing small debris scraps sat and looked out of place, near a plastic folding sign that asked visitors at "Please forgive our appearance."
"I know it's not finished, but next year everyone will be able to come and spend the day," said Yuan, a 53-year-old finance consultant who had driven a 20-minute drive from River Edge with his wife, their teenage daughter and a friend of hers, to check out the unfinished super template on its partial opening Friday. "I'm all set. So you can see some contractors. It's not perfect, but I'm fine."
Hard-hat workers were busy in the American Dream area throughout the day, especially outside, installed light fixtures, wired automated parking spaces and did various other things working on 3 million square feet of shopping, no entertainment and serving conglomeration at the junction of Route 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike in East Rutherford.
Permanent parking and highway signs around the complex were not yet in place, and the mobile electronic bulletin boards and the absence of signage at certain intersections confused some first-time visitors.
"A few people have asked," where to park, said a worker, Andrew Skelton, a West New York electrician who helped a colleague in a bucket with to lift the cord a series of lamp posts along a shopping mall.
Insisting that the partial opening allowed the mall's entertainment component to "tell its story" in front of retail or culinary stories, the American Dream's Canadian developer, Triple Five, decided that the opening of a mega-center that the region had been waiting for 15 years to wait no longer .
So on Friday, the crowd got on the ice in the mall's NHL-sized ice rink and thrill rides in its indoor theme park Nickelodeon Universe, though parts of the interior and exterior looked like the active construction sites they still were – and will continue to be for months.
Outside, there were tractors, piles of dirt, stacks of unpainted pipes and rows of port-o-potties ri ng the structure, with enclosed staging areas directly across the mall's loop path.
Inside, most of the ongoing work, if done, was behind temporary white walls lining the mall's retail competitions, providing monochrome warnings of glossy walkways and vaulted, skylights central rooms reminiscent of the World Trade Center PATH station. Information kiosks that would usually display ads or store locations had no information to offer, only the hopeful refrain, "Beyond your wildest dreams."
American Dream was leased 87% as of Friday, Triple Five officials said. But there were only a handful of exposed storefronts that suggested shopping was coming, for the Old Navy, Sephora and Ulta shopping center. Under the big Dream's multi-phase opening plan, not all 350 expected retailers are expected to be open until March. American Dream partially opens ” sizes=”(min-width: 761px) 700px, (min-width: 360px) 600px, 325px”/> Brianna Kudisch | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Brianna Kudisch | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
That said, the ice rink and theme park bustle on Friday, as they offered ice cream, rides and even a limited selection of food, candy and soft drinks for free. Neither was paid for parking. It starts Monday.
People who had come to the mall on Friday said they did not mind the rough edges, either aesthetically or for safety reasons.
"No, no, no," said Bryan Stepneski, director of the Clifton High School Mustangs band, whose 95 members had performed the SpongeBob Square Pants theme and hits from their regular repertoire on a Nickelodeon Universe scene before heading on tours.
"There was no concern there," Stepneski said. "Everything is under control."
In connection with the ice rink, where dozens of skiers glided and staggered around the ice, the mall's large, unopened DreamWorks Water Park offered a surreal scene visible through a large, thick glass wall: an enormous wave pool that generates two-foot swells that broke on a concrete beach, laying on the decks of motionless construction cars.
"Fantastic," wondered Lionel Cruz, a 57-year-old IT specialist staring through the glass.  American Dream opens par tial  Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The interior walkways, stairs and other passages were closed, and an unusual indoor garden with sculptural moss was visible from the end of one corridor just above a temporary, chest-high partition. The garden of peace was disturbed by a mobile accordion elevator parked a few meters away, and a garbage bin nearby ran out of woods and other by-products of some carpentry.
Three friends from Jersey City, Corey Davenport, Baltazar Gonzalez and Kevin Campoverde, all 21, thought about the garden a few minutes before 5pm, the mall's special early closing time on Friday.
"I think it's not strange," Gonzalez said of the ongoing work of seeing and feeling on the spot. But without any dealers open, and only a store and a few other temporary suppliers doing business, he added, "It was underwhelming."
Davenport wondered why the opening couldn't wait.
"I feel they shouldn't have opened it yet," he said. "Like, they should have had a floor for the stores."
But Campoverde said it was worth a return trip, especially after been informed that the skating rink and theme park were already in operation.
"After hearing all that's going to be here," he said, "why shouldn't we come back? "
Steve Strunsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky Find NJ.com on Facebook . Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips .
Get the latest updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com's newsletter.