AMERICAN DREAM MEADOWLANDS (XANADU)
Route 120 and Road D
Bergen County (Borough of East Rutherford), New Jersey


The development of New Jersey's MEADOWLANDS multi-mega mall has been wrought with numerous delays and diversions. Originally scheduled for an April 2007 grand opening, the inauguration of the problem-plagued project has been pushed back 10 years...and counting.

Our story begins in the New Jersey / Hackensack Meadowlands, an 8,400 acre wetland. In the 1940s, the area began to be used as a landfill and toxic waste dump. In 1968, the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (later renamed the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission) was formed.


This was followed by the creation of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, in 1971, who were charged with the development of a tri-venue Meadowlands Sports Complex.

Construction commenced at 2 sites in November 1972. In September 1976, the Meadowlands Racetrack, a harness racing facility, became the first to open. Giants Stadium, the new home of the NFL's New York Giants, was dedicated in October of the same year. A third venue, originally known as the Brendan Byrne Arena, opened in July 1981.

We now zoom up to 1996. The Arlington, Virginia-based Mills Corporation proposes MEADOWLANDS MILLS, a 2.2 million square foot "value mega mall". This was to be built on land in northeastern New Jersey known as the Empire Tract. Community opposition forced the cancellation of this plan in 2002.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Sports & Exhibition Authority was seeking developers for 104 acres surrounding the former Brendan Byrne Arena (which had been renamed Continental Airlines Arena in January 1996). This site was situated .9 miles west of the Empire Tract and 5.5 miles northwest of Manhattan's Times Square.

Plans were submitted by several entities in September 2002. These included the following;

*ARENA PLACE, a 989 million dollar urban village concept from the Australia-based Westfield Group.

*EXPO PARK AT THE MEADOWLANDS, an 815 million dollar mix of convention and hospitality facilities with a Formula One race track. This prospectus came from a consortium of Secaucus-based Hartz Mountain Industries and Cleveland's Forest City Ratner.

*MEADOWFEST AMERICA, a less elaborate, 42 million dollar, retail-restaurant-family fun concept from the Edmonton-based Triple Five Corporation (builders of WEST EDMONTON MALL and MALL OF AMERICA).

And

*XANADU, the most elaborate proposition of all. This 1.3 billion dollar shoppertainment facility was envisaged by a joint venture of the Mills Corporation, Cranford, New Jersey-based Mack-Cali Realty and Munich, Germany-based KanAm.

In February 2003, the Mills-XANADU plan was approved by the NJSEA. A slew of contentious lawsuits, filed by Hartz Mountain, the Westfield Group and several environmental conservation entities, followed. These would eventually be resolved.

Ground was broken for XANADU September 29, 2004. Classed as one of the largest commercial real estate projects in the nation, the prospective 4.8 million square foot venue was designed by the New York City-based Rockwell Group and Middletown, New Jersey-based T & M Associates. It would consist of 5-levels, with the first being dedicated to customer parking.

The structure would be an American counterpart to the Mills Corporation's European MADRID XANADU complex, which had opened in May 2003. Like its predecessor, the New Jersey XANADU would be based around an indoor ski slope, known in the early years as the Snow Dome. This would anchor The Sports District, one of five Districts comprising the mall.

The Sports District would also include SkyVenture (a skydiving simulator and vertical wind tunnel), Formula1 (an indoor go-kart track), Adrenalina (a surfing store), a wave pool and (175,000 square foot), Sydney, Nebraska-based Cabela's (a specialty retailer carrying hunting, fishing and camping accessories). In The Sports District Center Court would be the world's largest LED screen, that would televise ongoing sporting events.

Other sections of XANADU would have been...

The Entertainment District, based around an Entertainment Weekly interactive experience. There would also be Digital Playground (a new concept store from Circuit City), Virgin MegaStore, Borders Books, House of Blues (a music-based dinner theater), The Funplex (a state-of-the-art family fun center), Wonder Works (an "interactive adventure" museum) and Lucky Strike Lanes (an Art Deco-style bowling alley).

The Children's Education District. This would house a Legoland Discovery Center, Party House, It's Sugar! (promoted as the largest specialty sweets store in the world, with a simulated chocolate waterfall and candy city) and Wannado City (a children's "grown-up career simulator" attraction).

The Egyptian motif Muvico Xanadu 26 Theatres (a stadium seating megaplex with an upscale, rooftop restaurant and its own heliport) would occupy a massive enclosed area built over The Children's Education District.

The Food & Home District. With a Balducci's Gourmet Grocery, Cooking Studio (a broadcast facility for culinary TV shows), Viking Culinary Arts Center (a cooking school), various home design expositions and several full-service restaurants, including Cheesecake Factory, Benihana (Japanese cuisine), Mitchell's Fish Market and The Melting Pot (a fondue-based bistro).

The Fashion District, which would encompass the major retail portion of the XANADU complex and front on the Elle Pavilion Fashion Runway. The initial collection of fashion-forward retailers was to include Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch and Mango.

On the periphery of XANADU would be 1.8 million square feet of "class A" office space, in 4 high rise structures, a 500,000 square foot "luxury hotel" and the Bergen Ballpark, a venue for the prospective minor league baseball Bergen Cliff Hawks.

Shopping venues in the periphery of the XANADU site included WESTFIELD GARDEN STATE PLAZA (1957) {6.8 miles northwest, in Paramus}, BERGEN MALL (1957) {6.7 miles north, in Paramus and Maywood}, SHOPS AT RIVERSIDE (1977) {6.8 miles northeast, in Hackensack}, MALL AT MILL CREEK (1986) {1.6 miles southwest, in Secaucus} and NEWPORT CENTRE (1987) {5.7 miles southeast, in Jersey City}..

XANADU looked good on paper and, in hindsight, comes off as a product of the New Age Age of Excess...the "sky's the limit" (hyper-inflated real estate boom) 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately for XANADU, The Great Recession got in its way.

The first sign of trouble came in mid-2006, when financial improprieties at the Mills Corporation caused the collapse of that company. The Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group would come in and pick up the pieces in April 2007.

However, the lion's share of the Mills stake in XANADU had been sold to a joint venture of Los Angeles-based Colony Capital and New York City-based Dune Capital Management in November 2006. Germany's KanAm remained on board.

Construction progressed, but the anemic retail scene found several prospective tenants in the project, now known as MEADOWLANDS XANADU, either filing for bankruptcy or substantially scaling back their plans. Exit Elle Pavilion Fashion Runway, Borders Books, House of Blues, Balducci's Gourmet Grocery, Digital Playground, Virgin MegaStore, Against All Odds, Muvico and the Bergen Ballpark.

Likewise, Cabela's, originally promoted as a 175,000 square foot operation with an indoor fishing pond, was slimmed down to 160,000, 125,000, and -finally- 110,000 square feet, before the retailer cancelled plans for the store entirely.

By late 2007, it was reported that all parking structures had been built. In 2008, the exterior of the mammoth structure was in place. January 2009 found the complex 80-percent complete. However, the crash of Lehman Brothers, a major financier of the project, resulted in a shortage of funds to do finishing touches. Work ground to a halt in May 2009.

New York City-based Related Companies took the helm in May 2010. The official name of the complex was shortened to simply THE MEADOWLANDS. As an adjunct, The Children's Education District had morphed into The Youth Culture District.


Alas, the Related Companies initiative also failed to resuscitate the stalled project. In May 2011, it was announced that Canada's Ghermezian Brothers / Triple Five Corporation was to take control of the development. The complex received a new name -it's fourth- AMERICAN DREAM MEADOWLANDS.

A major reworking of the existing structure got underway, with its exterior receiving a complete makeover. A glass-enclosed amusement park and waterpark were to be built on an adjacent land parcel. Office spaces originally proposed were omitted from the final plan. Lastly, the naming of 5 individual Districts within the mall was dropped.


Long range plans included a convention center and hotels, these to be built in the vicinity of a 4.8 million square foot retail, sports, entertainment and hospitality complex. 


Unfortunately, before work could get back underway, the owners of the New York Jets and Giants teams filed a lawsuit stipulating that, as proposed, the AMERICAN DREAM MEADOWLANDS mall would cause crippling traffic congestion in the vicinity of their sports venue. The mall's owners filed a counter suit. Work on the project remained at a standstill.

An official grand opening was delayed -yet- again. The mall was not in business by the time of Super Bowl XLVIII, which was played at the adjacent MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014. In April 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) officiated at a press conference where he announced that the AMERICAN DREAM super mall was (once again) on track. 

Litigation between Triple Five and the New York Giants and Jets franchises was settled. Construction resumed in November 2014. The controversial building exterior was repainted and work got underway on the water and amusement park sections. 

The long-delayed retail and entertainment complex would feature a London Eye-like observation wheel, NHL-sized ice rink, 18-hole mini-golf course and The Big Snow America (nee' Snow Dome) indoor ski slope. 

Other potential attractions were a Cinemex state-of-the-art dine-in theater, LegoLand Discovery Center, SeaLife Aquarium and live performing arts dinner theater. Parking facilities would accommodate between 30 and 50,000 autos.

By 2016, it had been announced that a 2-level (119,500 square foot) Lord & Taylor and 2-level (131,900 square foot) Saks Fifth Avenue would be anchoring an upscale Collections at American Dream concourse. The indoor amusement park would be branded as a Nickelodeon Universe. Adjacent to this would be a fully-enclosed DreamWorks Waterpark.

A list of prospective inline stores now included Saks Off Fifth, The Gap, Banana Republic, Lululemon Athletica, Uniqlo, Zara, Artizia, Hermes, Pink, Victoria's Secret, a (60,000 square foot) Century 21 and (100,000 square foot) Primark. In all, AMERICAN DREAM MEADOWLANDS will house over 450 shops, services and restaurants. 

Construction ground to a halt in December 2016 but was, once again, underway by June 2017. A dedication date set for the summer of 2017 was pushed back nearly 2 years. If all goes as planned, the retail and entertainment sectors of the AMERICAN DREAM mall will begin opening in March of 2019, with Nickelodeon Universe in business by October 2019.

Sources:

http://www.northnewjersey.com

The New York Times
http://visitmeadowlands.com
http://www.blognj.com / Comment post by Mark DiIonno
Stadium Preliminary Environmental Impact Statement
http://www.xanadumeadowlandsnj.com (website on Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
http://crebeat.com
http://www.jacksononline.com
http://retailtrafficmag.com
http://www.americandream.com
www.bloomberg.com 
www.northnewjersey.com
http://www.nj.com
"Meadowlands (Mall") article on Wikipedia