American Dream megamall opens after 15 years in the making

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Crews broke ground in 2004 and after 15 years of delays and ownership changes, a portion of the American Dream megamall at the Meadowlands is officially open for business.

Friday saw the official opening of the Nickelodeon Universe theme park that is a part of the complex. Gov. Phil Murphy was on hand, along with Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco and other elected officials for the grand opening.

“Everyone talks about the future of retail and entertainment and how to merge the two, but there isn’t a center on the planet that’s done it like the degree we’ve done it here,” said American Dream CEO Don Ghermezian.

Some of the complex’s first visitors said that they were excited for what’s to come at American Dream.

“I think it’s going to be awesome, with a water park next month…I think it will only get better,” says Jersey City resident Justin Turner.

The water park and an indoor ski area are set to open later this year. The retail store and restaurants should open by March.

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“This is a journey that’s still on, so a ways to go with the other phases, but this is a great first step,” Murphy said. “It’s a huge day for the Garden State of New Jersey.”

There are still some concerns about the crowds and traffic in the area. American Dream is located right by MetLife Stadium where the New York Jets and Giants play, along with the Meadowlands Race Track.

There are others who question if a brick-and-mortar retail space can survive in today’s climate of massive online retail. Amazon has morphed into the biggest online retailer in the world. And overall traffic at malls, which had been on the rise in the late 1990s, has declined 10% since, according to an estimate by Coresight Research.

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

GUIDE: The American Dream opening. Here is everything you need to know

Canada-based mall and entertainment conglomerate Triple Five in 2011 took over the massive project originally dubbed Xanadu from two developers, whose plans included building the world's largest Ferris wheel. The project broke ground in 2004 but it languished during the early years, with its multi-colored, checkerboard exterior - since removed - drawing derision, including from then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who called it "an offense to the eyes" and "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America."

The project was suspended in 2009 during the financial crisis after a Lehmann Bros. affiliate failed to fund its share of the construction. Creditors seized 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 hub for tourists and locals, 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 malls in North America. Entertainment was a big selling point for both, accounting for 20% of the West Edmonton Mall's space and 30% of Mall of America's. That compares with the 6% average for U.S. malls, according to CoStar.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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