Can the American Dream mall survive the pandemic?

Before Covid hit, owner projected 40M visitors

The mall was already beset by 18 years of starts and stops (Getty)
The Meadowlands project has been beset by 18 years of starts and stops (Getty)

New Jersey’s American Dream mall was projected to have 40 million visitors when it opened in 2019 — and then Covid-19 hit.

The mall was already beset by 18 years of starts and stops, and the pandemic put another roadblock in the shopping center’s final stretch toward completion and fiscal viability, the New York Times reports.

After years in the making, the $5 billion retail and entertainment complex in the Meadowlands finally started opening its facilities in phases in October 2019. Its retail component was set to open in mid-March, but the pandemic forced the owner, Triple Five, to put that on hold. It finally opened more than 80 stores and attractions in October, but the pandemic has taken its toll.

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“It was extremely, extremely unfortunate, the timing of it all,” Don Ghermezian, chief executive of Triple Five and co-chief executive of American Dream, told the Times.

Ghermezian said as many as 200 of the mall’s retail and food tenants would probably have opened this month if there had not been pandemic shutdowns. Instead, about 90 are now open, including the biggest Zara in the United States and the flagship for the fast-fashion chain Primark.

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But there are other troubles. The Ghermezians missed loan payments over the summer at the Mall of America, which is being used as collateral for the New Jersey property; there’s also a $27 billion debt payment due on American Dream next month, and it’s unclear if it will be paid.

“We are working with our lenders on a regular basis to put a plan in place that allows the center to continue to flourish,” Ghermezian said.

Initially known as Xanadu Meadowlands, development of the site next to MetLife Stadium started about 15 years ago. Triple Five took over the project in 2011, determined to reignite enthusiasm for the project.

New Jersey legislators have long maintained that the mall could weather the storm, but the possibility of further lockdowns as Covid cases spike across the country is dampening that optimism.

“How long can you keep going without any revenue?” said Joel Brizzi, a councilperson for East Rutherford, New Jersey, who has supported the project. “The jury’s still out on whether it’s going to survive.”

[NYT] — Akiko Matsuda