A Super Bowl eyesore or future gem?

5:46 AM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
With Super Bowl XLVIII taking place next door in a few weeks attracting thousands of visitors to the area, the long-delayed American Dream Meadowlands mall project has yet to open. The complex is seen from Secaucus, N.J. (Photo: Eileen Blass, USA TODAY)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - (USATODAY.com) The Super Bowl offers its host locale a priceless showcase. But on display this year is perhaps the nation's biggest commercial real estate fiasco: a gargantuan, long-stalled mall that Gov. Chris Christie has called "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America.''

And he's one of the project's biggest boosters.

The proposed retail-and-entertainment extravaganza - complete with indoor ski slope, water park and wave machine - started life more than a decade ago as "Xanadu," on public land next to Met Life Stadium in the Jersey Meadowlands. The owners of the Mall of America in Minnesota have taken over and redesigned the project, renamed it "American Dream" and added plans for an indoor water park and DreamWorks Animation-themed amusement park.

Despite promises by Christie and the developers that it would be open by Super Sunday, American Dream's pleasures remain as ephemeral as the opium-fired reverie that inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan ("In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree ...'').

Next month, the inert, empty hulk, whose façade of garishly colored rectangles evokes empty cargo containers stacked at Port Newark, promises to embarrass the state and the Republican governor (and possible presidential candidate) who helped resurrect it three years ago.

Those passing it en route to the stadium or watching TV will see "a big ugly building that looks like a giant transformer stuck in the muck,'' says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who has criticized the project from the start. "It'll be a Jersey joke.''

Not to Christie, who has described the project as a "jobs machine" for about 9,000 construction workers and 11,000 regular employees. Nor to Chuck Lanyard, a retail leasing broker who loves its location at the confluence of two major highways in the nation's most affluent, most densely populated region.

But the project is on its third developer, its fourth governor and at least its 10th promised opening date. It has been plagued by everything from the fall of Lehman Brothers to the Euro crisis and the collapse of a snow-heavy section of its roof.

And, in perhaps the ultimate indignity, American Dream is being sued by the NFL's New York Giants and Jets, who play at Met Life Stadium (and as such are the Super Bowl's nominal hosts). They want to avert gridlock by making sure the water and theme parks don't open on game days.

American Dream's 2.9 million square feet will include the 12-story-high ski slope; a 27-story observation wheel, somewhat like the London Eye; an aquarium with 10,000 creatures ranging from sharks to jellyfish; an NHL-size ice rink; and hundreds of stores and restaurants, including "the world's first exclusive kosher food hall.''

But when will it open? Across the land, the fiscal crisis and the recession doomed a generation of American dreams. But Lanyard and other retail experts say they know of none so big, so visible and so tortured as the one marooned hard by the Turnpike in the swamps of Jersey.

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