By Brenda Flanagan
“It’s too big to fail! It has to happen!” said corporate realtor Frank Recine.
Recine smiles when he sees the cranes start to move around the quiescent hulk of American Dream — the mega mall in the Meadowlands. Developer Triple Five just announced $1.67 billion in partial financing for the long-stalled shopping and entertainment project. Neighbors like Recine hope to see renewed signs of life.
“From a real estate perspective, it’s tremendous because it gives another amenity to sell from the area,” said Recine.
It is also a long time coming. The original proposal, named Xanadu, launched in 2003 but it’s now on its third corporate developer, the Canada-based Triple Five which rechristened the complex American Dream. Current plans feature a DreamWorks water park, Nickelodeon theme park, ski slope and Cirque du Soleil, plus upscale shopping. But, Triple Five’s struggled to assemble the required $5 billion to finance construction.
“We’ve known that this very complicated deal has taken a long time to put the financing together and we’re just ecstatic over the fact that there’s one more hurdle out of the way,” said President & CEO of Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, Jim Kirkos.
“For far too long we’d been saying there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And now my feeling is we’re entering into the sunlight and when you put all that money together it’s going to mean thousands and thousands of people are going to work,” said President and CEO of New Jersey Sports and Expo Authority, Wayne Hasenbalg.
In a statement, Triple Five said, “We are pleased to have worked with J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs on the financing for this transformational project. The construction loan paves the way for the completion of American Dream and allows us to aggressively move forward with the construction and opening of the project, which is slated for March 2019.”
Gov. Chris Christie welcomed the news. His Economic Development Authority offered Triple Five a $350 million sales tax break, which will in part back the $1.5 billion bond sale the developer needs to raise more construction funding. But, New Jersey taxpayers will not be on the hook for these so-called ‘non-recourse’ bonds if American Dream turns into a prolonged nightmare.
“There was a choice to be made about American Dream: either knock the whole thing down and start from scratch up there which was going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, or find a developer who was willing to have the sticktuitiveness to do this,” said Christie.
Investors have hesitated for several reasons. But mostly, they wondered how yet another shopping mall can succeed when so many others folded in the face of online commerce. As Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy warned the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce:
“Unless you’ve got an idea which is unique, or you’ve got such a compelling rationale or profile, you’re getting amazoned to death,” said Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.
Triple Five says American Dream will be an ‘internet-proof’ entertainment destination. Local businesses, like hotels, have fingers crossed.
“At some points we felt it wasn’t going to happen, but the strong survive and we definitely felt that the structure is there and there is a need to add some more life and entertainment to the area,” said Director of Sales for Renaissance Meadowlands Hotel Robert Klein
The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority expects to offer bond sales for American Dream sometime next month. If all goes well, they say you can expect to see these cranes really start to move.