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A world of projects: Triple Five is turning ‘American Dream’ into a re

American Dream, the 2.9 million-square-foot, 500-store megamall set to open in northern New Jersey in 2017, is easily the most ambitious retail project in the U.S. development pipeline. And thanks in part to a steady stream of leasing deals announced over the past few months, confidence is growing that developer Triple Five will defy skeptics by turning the long-dormant site into a big hit along the lines of its Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, observers say. “I used to be totally skeptical, as all of us were,” said Danielle R. Brunelli-Albrecht, president and principal of R.J. Brunelli & Co., a New Jersey retail brokerage firm. “But this project is finally in the right hands.”

Originally called Xanadu New Jersey, the megamall faltered in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis. Triple Five, which acquired the Meadowlands site in 2010, is now ramping up the leasing and construction of American Dream. “It was just a matter of timing for us,” said Don Ghermezian, president of Triple Five. “We’re under construction now, and the project is slated to open for holiday of 2017. We are full force ahead.”

On the tenant front, in particular, Triple Five has announced a string of signed leases with major retail chains. Toys ‘R’ Us, for one, is closing its New York City flagship in Times Square to open a three-level, 55,000-square-foot anchor store at American Dream. -Hudson’s Bay Co. announced plans to open a 132,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, a 120,000-square-foot Lord & Taylor and a 30,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th. Luxury retailer Hermès will lease 8,000 square feet on two levels. The roster of announced tenants also includes a 1,400-seat Cinemex theater, plus Aritzia, Banana Republic, Gap, Lululemon, MAC cosmetics, The Microsoft Store, Pink, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret and Zara. Exotic luxury retail will be part of the mix at American Dream, but so will outlet stores, Ghermezian says. “Our entire third floor is power outlet,” he said. “We will soon be announcing several major outlet players that are brand-new to the New York–New Jersey marketplace.” 

As with Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, however, retail is just one of the potential draws of American Dream. This past fall Triple Five announced a deal with Merlin Entertainment to add both a Legoland Discovery Center and a Sea Life aquarium; the latter will feature a tropical ocean tank with a walk-through underwater tunnel. American Dream will boast a 300-foot-tall Ferris wheel, an indoor ski slope, an 800-room hotel, Cirque du Soleil shows and DreamWorks Entertainment–branded amusement and water parks, among other attractions. 

“We’re not in the mall business, we’re in the entertainment business,” Ghermezian said. “Retail is a strong component, but we try to bring elements that give people no choice but to come to our project. They cannot sit at home and go to one of the largest indoor water parks in the world or to a Cirque du Soleil show.”

Despite its stop-and-start history over the past 12 years, American Dream could indeed become a big attraction for both tourists and residents, says Brunelli-Albrecht. “It’s going to draw more tourism to New Jersey and even Manhattan,” she said. “It will just be one more thing you can do with your family.” The question, she says, is whether this will translate into robust retail sales.

Ghermezian points to the success of Triple Five’s existing projects. Mall of America is in the midst of a $500 million expansion, he notes, and West Edmonton Mall posts nearly $1,000 per square foot in sales, despite the low population density in Edmonton, Alberta. “Only about 1.1 million people live within 50 miles of West Edmonton Mall, and yet it draws 29 million people per year,” Ghermezian said. “That is staggering.” By comparison, 21 million people live within 50 miles of American Dream. Moreover, New York City attracts 55 million tourists annually — a huge pool of potential visitors to the project, Ghermezian says. 

And, believe it or not, Triple Five’s next move might just be even bigger. According to published reports, the developer is now assembling land — up to 225 acres of it — for the largest mall and entertainment complex in the history of North America: American Dream Miami — Joel Groover