Gov. Chris Christie once called the American Dream project "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America."
But today, the stalled mixed-use entertainment and retail complex in the Meadowlands Sports Complex has a new lease on life after the state Economic Development Authority approved a $390 million Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant — the largest ever of its kind — for Edmonton, Canada-based developer Triple Five to finish it within a six-year time period.
As it currently stands, the project site includes an incomplete five-story facility that officials anticipate will be developed into 2.1 million square feet of leasable retail and restaurant space alongside an additional 639,000 square feet of space for an indoor amusement park and a water park. The project will also include roughly 600,000 square feet of common area.
A recent Cushman & Wakefield appraisal found the project site to possess an as-is market value of $1.05 billion.
Current total project costs are estimated to be $2.5 billion, of which just over $2.2 billion are considered qualified costs under ERG. The EDA also agreed today to approve the assignment of a reimbursement agreement for remediation costs of roughly $36 million from the site's previous developer to Triple Five.
The EDA estimates the completed project will create 11,650 new full- and part-time permanent jobs. The authority says an additional 5,810 temporary jobs will be created during construction.
Fiscal impact analysis conducted by the EDA has determined that the project will have a net positive benefit of $487 million to the state over a 20-year period. The state will have some oversight of the project and measures in-place to protect itself, including termination of the agreement if the project is not completed within six years.
EDA president Tim Lizura said today that the developer appears ready to move on the project and get in the ground as soon as possible.
Following the vote, Tony Armlin, a Triple Five vice president, assured the board that the company would be moving very aggressively toward completing the project and noted that the subsidy was "fundamental" in allowing it do so.
Triple Five is behind similar major developments, such as the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada.
"American Dream will be our new flagship," Armlin said.
But will today's approval be what finally moves the project once known as Xanadu forward?
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It's now been a decade since the site's original developer, Mills Co., broke ground on the project. The complex was supposed to open in 2007, but was derailed by financial woes and litigation in multiple instances.
In May 2010, then-developer Colony Capital turned the project over to a consortium of lenders. Christie soon turned to Triple Five to revive the project as American Dream Meadowlands.
Triple Five's efforts to reboot the failed Xanadu project have hit their own roadblocks over the past three years, including litigation by the Giants and Jets. But the developer has also cleared major hurdles in recent months, including a series of approvals in May by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority.
The approvals gave Triple Five control of the development rights and blessed its plan to add indoor water and amusement parks to the complex. Since then, the firm has closed on a deal to acquire the property from its previous lenders, while moving toward securing $748 million in public bonds that would be issued on its behalf to help finance the project.
So the developer is moving ever closer to resuming construction, despite a still-unresolved lawsuit by the Jets and Giants still hangs over the project. Since last year, the teams have sought to block the addition of the indoor parks, contending the expansion would create game-day grid lock around MetLife Stadium.
Currently, the project calls for roughly 7,850 parking spaces which will be spread out amongst four parking structures and grade-level parking under the building.
Following the vote, Sierra Club state director Jeff Tittel went before the board to question whether or not the project was a smart investment. He said the state should look more into supporting the biotech industry and promoting green jobs rather than help fund a "large greenhouse gas emitter" in what is already a crowded market overly saturated with entertainment and retail options.
Tittel likened the project's financials to that of Revel, the troubled Atlantic City casino and resort. He questioned if taking the American Dream to the next step was a matter of "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."
Liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective also weighed in on the project's approval today. President Gordon MacInnes said the EDA's decision to grant the subsidy is "a clear case of New Jersey's misplaced priorities on economic development."
"Instead of placing their bets on a flailing retail destination in the swamps, New Jersey policymakers would be better off making investments that are proven to grow the economy and create good jobs for this and future generations," MacInnes said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Tittel and NJ Policy Perspective.