Inside America’s newest mega mall: ‘It’s the future’

America’s newest mega mall – the largest of its kind in US history – has officially opened, featuring roller coasters, ski slopes, an ice-skating rink and more.

It’s the American Dream and it’s now a reality.

The newest mega mall in the US – the most expensive shopping and entertainment complex ever built in the country – is the first nationwide to devote more space to entertainment, restaurants and theme-park rides (55 per cent) than to retail space (45 per cent).

It’s a formula designed to ensure consumers keep visiting and spending amid oversupply and the rise of online shopping.

But will it become a nightmare for investors or save the traditional mall?

That’s the question on the lips of retail industry leaders closely monitoring the success of the American Dream, which opened its first section in East Rutherford, New Jersey, last week.

The sprawling complex, situated over 36ha next to the Garden State’s Meadowlands Sports Complex, is being rolled out in three stages, with the first – a theme park spruiked as “the Western Hemisphere’s biggest indoor” facility of its kind, and an ice-skating rink – having launched last week.

It’s the second largest mall in the US and has so far come at a cost of $US5.7 billion (A$8.35 billion).

The colossal centre boasts a Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, featuring 21 rides including several roller coasters and “The Shredder” in a fully enclosed section. In another area, a professional-size ice skating rink and hockey facility sits at the ground-floor of what will soon be the centre of a retail hub.

For now, the American Dream still leaves a lot to the imagination.

Just around the corner is the DreamWorks Waterpark, the largest indoor water park in North America with the world’s largest wave pool, 40 slides, and 15 attractions – all set to open on November 27. For those wanting VIP service, luxury cabanas with views of Manhattan and table service will be available to book.

Just one week later, American Dream’s indoor snow park, called the Big SNOW, is slated to follow suit. It will feature multiple ski lifts for a 16-storey indoor ski hill – the largest in the western hemisphere.

American Dream chief executive and Triple Five president Don Ghermezian told the complex will “redefine the future of retail and entertainment while reshaping the customer experience”.

“We have curated and thoughtfully designed a blend of new-to-market retail, entertainment, and culinary experiences sure to please both local customers and tourists alike,” he said.

About 450 retail, dining and specialty shops will open early next year. Stores featured in the mall will include Saks Fifth Ave, Tiffany & Co, Primark, Hermes and Lululemon. A luxury wing will give shoppers the opportunity to sip champagne and sample caviar as they wait to have their designer purchases wrapped. Next door to the property, there are plans for a luxury movie theatre, a performing arts theatre, ferris wheel and two hotels with a total of 3,500 rooms.

“Retail cannot exist in today’s environment without entertainment, my father knew this back in the ‘80s when he built West Edmonton Mall,” Mr Ghermezian told

“This idea culminates at American Dream with 300-plus retailers and world-class entertainment destinations. This creates an atmosphere for shopping to really shine, as well as guaranteed traffic for our tenants through the entertainment components.

“Everybody talks about the future of retail and the future of entertainment, and how you merge the two…But there really isn’t a center on the planet that has done it to the degree that we’ve done in here.”

Mr Ghermezian said the owners were expecting 40 million visitors annually – or about 11,000 per day – once the complex is fully operational, with entertainment accounting for more than half of its space, as of March next year. That’s twice as many customers as California’s Disneyland attracted last year, according to The Wall St Journal.

“Around 50 per cent of our guests will come from the local drive market, which we consider a 50 mile radius from our centre, and the other 50 per cent will be tourists – 30 per cent domestically from a 500 mile radius, and 20 per cent internationally with top 10 markets including UK, China, Canada, Brazil, France, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico,” Mr Ghermezian said.

The state of New Jersey doesn’t charge sales tax on clothing, a welcome relief from the 8.875 per cent rate shoppers pay for large purchases over the Hudson River in Manhattan, New York.

But the American Dream comes at a time when thousands of brick-and-mortar retailers across the country are rapidly closing. Since 2015, only nine malls have been built in the US, a dramatic fall from their peak construction in 1973 of 43, according to CoStar Group, a real estate research firm.

In today’s retail landscape, 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 per cer 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.

Publicis Communications chief commerce strategy officer Jason Goldberg said the new development “will either sink or swim” but could work if the amusement park entices enough families in New Jersey to get into their cars and drive there .

“It’s going to be tough to get a lot of attention when you are next to a much bigger amusement park — Manhattan,” he said.

For many locals at least, it’s a relief to see the American Dream become a reality – after 16 years of false starts and multiple developers. 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 Canada-based mall and entertainment conglomerate Triple Five came on board a year later, renaming it American Dream, and bringing it to life.

New York businesswoman Tayla Lee, 38, visited the mall for this first time on Thursday.

“It’s insane but I think it’s the future of shopping to combine the retail with entertainment so you can get more people here,” she said.

New Jersey schoolboy Joseph Beato, 9, told he “loved” the idea of an indoor theme park because it was somewhere he could go with friends and family “when it’s raining”.

“The air glider is my favourite ride,” he said.

“I think this will be the best in the world.”

Triple Five group chief creative officer Ken Downing said locals could make the site – which they once dubbed “an eyesore” – their “backyard playground”.

“It’s a staycation,” he said.

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