Over 20 delay-mired years, at least two name changes, and innumerable legal challenges after the project was first envisioned, the 3-million-square-foot “destination” complex, complete with an indoor ski slope, DreamWorks water adventure park, 8.5-acre Nickelodeon-branded theme park, aquarium, ice rink, and over 450 retail shops including the world’s first department store dedicated to candy, partially opened this past October to decent fanfare. Some attractions, including the aforementioned ice rink and candy department store, reportedly performed beyond expectations during their few months in existence. The Manhattan-adjacent mall was scheduled to be opened in phases, beginning with some of its major attractions.
The $5.7 billion development’s prospects have long been viewed as iffy due in large part to the ongoing slow demise of brick-and-mortar retailers. However, some retail experts were optimistic that American Dream, referred to as “by far the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America” by former New Jersey governor Chris Christie in 2011, had a fighting chance. After all, the American Dream, colossal in size and focused on kid-friendly diversions in lieu of embattled anchor stores a la Macy’s and JCPenney, wasn’t an average shopping mall. And the complex’s owner, Canada-based Triple Five Group, had a proven track record in that field as the operator of North America’s two largest shopping malls-cum-entertainment complexes: The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta and the Mall of America outside of Minneapolis.
— Gothamist (@Gothamist) November 5, 2019
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Now, it’s now unclear when the previously opened parts of American Dream will return. It’s also unclear when other areas beyond the 8 percent of the mall that opened in October will debut. This includes many of the mall’s stores and eateries, which were on the verge of opening when the mall was temporarily shuttered in March. As reported by NJ.com, tenants including Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, and the Children’s Place could vacate before opening. Meanwhile, supplement purveyor GNC has announced it will close numerous stores across the Garden State, including a yet-to-open one at American Dream, as part of a bankruptcy protection plan. CMX Cinemas, which was on tap to open a major outpost at the mall, also filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year. (Two major planned tenants, Barney’s and Lord & Taylor went belly-up before the pandemic; while not officially gone, the latter plans to liquidate its surviving stores after they reopen.)
As individual tenants put out their own financial fires, Triple Five Group also appears to be struggling. Per NJ.com, the company missed a third $7 million mortgage payment for June on its $1.4 billion Mall of America mortgage, which was used for collateral in the financing of American Dream. What’s more, over $13 million in construction liens been filed by contractors and subcontractors for unpaid work at the mall.
“We are aware of the liens and thank all project-related vendors for their patience during this global pandemic, and have been reaching out to those who have been affected. We are working with our tenants and vendors to ensure each of these payment items are addressed as the state continues to re-open, restart and resume business,” a spokesperson for American Dream said in a statement provided to NJ Advance Media in late June.
Forbes also reported in June that American Dream has slashed 100 jobs, which amounts to roughly 7 percent of the complex’s property management and operations team.
Despite the dire financial situation, some local officials are optimistic that American Dream will emerge from its present-day nightmare albeit perhaps in a slightly different form considering that it has more legs to stand on than just retail.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, however, doesn’t see the point in donning rose-tinted glasses.
“It’s always been the wrong project, in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Tittel, who has long been critical of the megamall, told Forbes. “This place has been jinxed since day one, but then again it’s the curse of New Jersey. This is something that should have never been approved and they just kept pushing forward on it,” he said of the local politicians and officials who simply refused to acknowledge the project’s risky nature.