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Construction to begin soon on American Dream project following labor agreement

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Gov. Christie once called the American Dream project as
Gov. Christie once called the American Dream project as "the ugliest damn building in N.J." - (AARON HOUSTON)

The American Dream Meadowlands project is now slated to open in fall 2016, generating some 9,000 construction jobs with its developer set to begin work at the site of the long-stalled retail and entertainment complex in East Rutherford.

The new timeline was laid out Monday during a ceremony at the nearby Izod Center, where Gov. Chris Christie joined Edmonton, Canada-based developer Triple Five to mark the signing of a labor agreement with the Bergen County Building & Construction Trades Council. Construction is now expected to begin soon on the unfinished, mixed-use complex that began as the Xanadu project more than a decade ago.

According to updated project information on the developer's website, plans call for an indoor amusement and water park, indoor ski slope, observation wheel offering panoramic views of the New York City skyline, a National Hockey League-sized ice rink, movie theater, aquarium, 18-hole miniature golf course and space for more than 400 retailers, restaurants and services.

"It will be a dynamic, world-class tourist destination," Christie said.

Famously quoted in the past for referring to the complex as the "ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America," Christie said Monday that the first order of business will be redoing the project's exterior.

Noting that it was "no secret the façade is ugly," Triple Five President Paul Ghermezian presented those in attendance with a slideshow of the project's remodeling plans. The updated version will offer a sleeker look that incorporates more glass into the design, Ghermezian said.

Ghermezian praised the "group effort" needed to push the project to this point.

"To say it's a milestone is not really giving it just justice," Ghermezian said.

"We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for business, government and labor working together on this project," BCBCTC President Rick Sabato added.

Last month, lawsuits filed by the Jets and Giants arguing that Triple Five's proposed expansion would cripple game-day traffic in the area was put to rest after nearly two years, bringing an end to speculation of an ongoing legal battle and paving the way for construction to begin.

In November, the project secured a $390 million Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant — the largest ever of its kind — with the stipulation that it be finished within a six-year time frame. At the time, total project costs were estimated to be around $2.5 billion with just north of $2.2 billion considered to be qualifying costs under the grant.

Referencing the ERG grant, liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective criticized Monday's announcement, noting that the money would be better spent if used to expand preschool, control higher education costs or lessen the tax load on poor, working families.

"Pledging nearly $400 million to bail out a megamall is not smart economic development," NJPP President Gordon MacInnes said. "Instead of placing bets on huge entertainment projects like Revel and now, American Dream, New Jersey policymakers need to invest in assets that are proven to grow the economy and create good jobs."

Triple Five spokesperson Alan Marcus refutes the notion that the project presents any burden at all to taxpayers.

"American Dream has received no public subsidy," Marcus said in an emailed response to NJPP's comments. "There is no risk to taxpayers. The $400 million EDA grant, funded by a portion of the sales and related taxes generated by the project after it’s completed and open, poses no financial risk to taxpayers and is not a subsidy. In fact, it is a temporary revenue sharing mechanism using a portion of sales tax revenues which would otherwise not be available but for the existence of this project. Tax increment financing is widely utilized as a catalyst to complete financing of major projects such as American Dream."

Monday's milestone comes more than a decade after the site's original developer, Mills Co., broke ground on the former Xanadu 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.

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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