The American Dream megamall is finally opening after more than 2 decades. Here's how the 3 million-square-foot complex went from an idea to a reality.

American Dream renderingAmerican Dream

  • The American Dream complex is opening to the public on Friday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
  • The 3 million-square-foot center will be one of the largest malls in North America and will feature a theme park, ice rink, water park, and indoor ski center in addition to over 450 shops.
  • American Dream was first envisioned in 1996 and was originally called Xanadu by a completely different development team.
  • Here's the decades-long story of how one of the largest malls to open in the US came to be, from original concept to opening week.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

One of the largest malls in the US is opening this week - and it's been more than 20 years in the making.

Years of planning, evolving, and construction are culminating in the opening of the American Dream complex in New Jersey on Friday. The opening process will happen in stages though 2020 and when all is said and done the 3 million-square-foot center will be one of the largest malls on the East Coast, boasting a theme park, ice rink, water park, and indoor ski center in addition to over 450 retail stores.

American Dream was developed by Triple Five Group, the company that owns Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, the two largest retail and entertainment centers in North America. But Triple Five wasn't the first developer on the project, which started as an idea in 1996 and broke ground in 2004.

American Dream has evolved tremendously since its conception. It was initially called Xanadu Meadowlands and was being developed by Mills Corporation in partnership with Mack-Cali Realty Corporation.

The project lives despite various changes in the American retail landscape, including the steep rise of Amazon, e-commerce, and mass store closures that have characterized the retail apocalypse.

The first phase of American Dream's staggered opening begins this Friday after nearly 20 years of planning and multiple delayed openings. The Nickelodeon Universe theme park, DreamWorks water park, and ice-skating rink will open first, followed by various opening stages that will last throughout 2020.

Here's the story of the more 20-year journey of American Dream, from the original idea to final reality.

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The story of the megamall began in 1996 with an idea. The Mills Corporation proposed a plan for a 2.1 million-square-foot shopping center in the Meadowlands area in New Jersey.

The story of the megamall began in 1996 with an idea. The Mills Corporation proposed a plan for a 2.1 million-square-foot shopping center in the Meadowlands area in New Jersey.

Source: CNBC

In the early 2000s, mall developers clashed with environmentalists who wished to preserve the ecology of the New Jersey wetlands in the proposed site of the complex.

In the early 2000s, mall developers clashed with environmentalists who wished to preserve the ecology of the New Jersey wetlands in the proposed site of the complex.

Source: The New York Times

Developers found a new site for the complex on already-developed land in East Rutherford. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owned the Meadowlands Sports Complex, asked for proposals to redevelop a large region of land in June 2002.

Developers found a new site for the complex on already-developed land in East Rutherford. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owned the Meadowlands Sports Complex, asked for proposals to redevelop a large region of land in June 2002.

Source: CNBC, Teterboro Online, NorthJersey.com

A redevelopment agreement between The Mills Corporation and the Mack-Cali Realty Corporation with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority was signed in 2003 to redevelop the existing Continental Airlines Arena site and to create a 4.76 million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex.

A redevelopment agreement between The Mills Corporation and the Mack-Cali Realty Corporation with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority was signed in 2003 to redevelop the existing Continental Airlines Arena site and to create a 4.76 million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex.

Source: Business Wire

The project was named Xanadu after the Mills Corporation’s Madrid shopping mall of the same name. Xanadu was also a reference to the estate of Charles Foster Kane in the 1941 film “Citizen Kane.”

The project was named Xanadu after the Mills Corporation’s Madrid shopping mall of the same name. Xanadu was also a reference to the estate of Charles Foster Kane in the 1941 film “Citizen Kane.”

Source: CNBC, Business Wire

The project was expected to include the nation's first indoor alpine ski resort as well as a minor-league baseball stadium and an extreme sports park.

The project was expected to include the nation's first indoor alpine ski resort as well as a minor-league baseball stadium and an extreme sports park.

Source: Business Wire

It would also feature a sports viewing area with a large screen.

It would also feature a sports viewing area with a large screen.

Developers broke ground for Meadowlands Xanadu in 2004. "Meadowlands Xanadu is well on its way to becoming a reality," said Mills' chairman and CEO Laurence C. Siegel at the time. Officials said the center could open by the spring of 2007.

Developers broke ground for Meadowlands Xanadu in 2004. "Meadowlands Xanadu is well on its way to becoming a reality," said Mills' chairman and CEO Laurence C. Siegel at the time. Officials said the center could open by the spring of 2007.

Source: TMCnet.com, CNBC

In 2006, real estate investment firm Colony Capital said it would take over the project and the expected opening date was pushed to 2008.

In 2006, real estate investment firm Colony Capital said it would take over the project and the expected opening date was pushed to 2008.

Source: CNBC

In 2008, it was announced that Xanadu would include an observational Ferris wheel akin to the London Eye, a feature that residents feared would be a distracting and unseemly addition to their town.

In 2008, it was announced that Xanadu would include an observational Ferris wheel akin to the London Eye, a feature that residents feared would be a distracting and unseemly addition to their town.

Source: CNBC, NJ.com

In 2008, people were criticizing the mega mall for its multicolored, eye-popping exterior. The opening was once again pushed back, this time until the summer of 2009.

In 2008, people were criticizing the mega mall for its multicolored, eye-popping exterior. The opening was once again pushed back, this time until the summer of 2009.

Source: The New York Times, CNBC

The 2008 financial crisis hit Xanadu hard. Xanadu Mezz Holdings was a construction lender for the project and a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy in September of 2008. The complex was now in need of financing to the tune of about $22.9 million and the opening was delayed once again.

The 2008 financial crisis hit Xanadu hard. Xanadu Mezz Holdings was a construction lender for the project and a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy in September of 2008. The complex was now in need of financing to the tune of about $22.9 million and the opening was delayed once again.

Source: CNBC, The New York Times

During the construction stoppage, part of the Xanadu roof was destroyed in February of 2011 after heavy snowfall.

During the construction stoppage, part of the Xanadu roof was destroyed in February of 2011 after heavy snowfall.

Source: CNBC

In March of 2011, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the complex “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America."

In March of 2011, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the complex “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America."

Source: The New York Times

That same year, Triple Five Group, which owns the massive Mall of America in Minnesota, took over the project, which was renamed American Dream. A new opening was set for 2013.

That same year, Triple Five Group, which owns the massive Mall of America in Minnesota, took over the project, which was renamed American Dream. A new opening was set for 2013.

Source: Reuters

The Ghermezian family, which runs Triple Five Group, announced a revamped plan for the complex, which included investing another $1 billion into the project as well as adding as an indoor water park.

The Ghermezian family, which runs Triple Five Group, announced a revamped plan for the complex, which included investing another $1 billion into the project as well as adding as an indoor water park.

Source: CNBC

A new opening date was slated for 2014. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said in a 2011 presentation with the Ghermezian family that 35,000 jobs were expected to be created from the project.

A new opening date was slated for 2014. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said in a 2011 presentation with the Ghermezian family that 35,000 jobs were expected to be created from the project.

Source: CNBC

In 2012, DreamWorks Animation announced a partnership with American Dream to bring a water park to the complex.

In 2012, DreamWorks Animation announced a partnership with American Dream to bring a water park to the complex.

Source: PR Newswire, CNBC

That same year, the New York Giants and New York Jets filed a lawsuit against the complex, maintaining that the increased traffic would negatively impact their games held at the MetLife Stadium nearby. Triple Five Group countersued, but both parties dropped the suits in 2014.

That same year, the New York Giants and New York Jets filed a lawsuit against the complex, maintaining that the increased traffic would negatively impact their games held at the MetLife Stadium nearby. Triple Five Group countersued, but both parties dropped the suits in 2014.

Source: The New York Times, NJ.com

In 2013, construction resumed and the opening was once again pushed off to accommodate for the extra time it would take to build the theme park.

In 2013, construction resumed and the opening was once again pushed off to accommodate for the extra time it would take to build the theme park.

Source: CNBC

The complex was redesigned with a white exterior, as opposed to the multicolored panels which had characterized the building for years.

The complex was redesigned with a white exterior, as opposed to the multicolored panels which had characterized the building for years.

Source: CNBC

Triple Five Group and Nickelodeon announced in September of 2016 that they would bring Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere, to the complex. A new opening was slated for the fall of 2018.

Triple Five Group and Nickelodeon announced in September of 2016 that they would bring Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere, to the complex. A new opening was slated for the fall of 2018.

Source: PR Newswire, The New York Times

In 2017, Triple Five Group secured $1.67 billion in construction loans. A new opening date was slated for the spring of 2019.

In 2017, Triple Five Group secured $1.67 billion in construction loans. A new opening date was slated for the spring of 2019.

Source: The New York Times, Re-NJ.com

The opening was pushed back again until October 25 was set as the official opening date of phase one of American Dream, which would include the opening of Nickelodeon Universe, the DreamWorks Water Park, and an ice-skating rink. The rest of the complex is set to open in stages through March of 2020.

The opening was pushed back again until October 25 was set as the official opening date of phase one of American Dream, which would include the opening of 
Nickelodeon Universe, the DreamWorks Water Park, and an ice-skating rink. The rest of the complex is set to open in stages through March of 2020.

Source: CNBC, Global Newswire

“We know that the community has been eagerly awaiting the launch of this incredible global destination,” said Don Ghermezian, president of American Dream, in a press release. “We have a one‐of‐a‐kind property that will reshape the way people think about entertainment, theme parks, and shopping and we are so excited."

“We know that the community has been eagerly awaiting the launch of this incredible global destination,” said Don Ghermezian, president of American Dream, in a press release. “We have a one‐of‐a‐kind property that will reshape the way people think about entertainment, theme parks, and shopping and we are so excited."
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