The long nightmare known as Xanadu is over – but Gov. Christopher Christie and a Canadian developer insist that the dream of a mega-retail/entertainment attraction in the Meadowlands will still be realized, bringing with it thousands of jobs and a lucrative taxpaying property for the region that includes Secaucus.
On Tuesday, Christie and executives from Triple Five Worldwide – the company that developed the Mall of America in Minneapolis – unveiled preliminary plans for what will now be known as “American Dream Meadowlands.” Under an agreement between the state and Triple Five, New Jersey will provide as much as $400 million in bonding to salvage the stalled $2.3 billion project on Route 3.
The project will be increased from 2.4 million square feet to approximately 3 million, according to Triple Five.
Triple Five signed a letter of intent to take over, rename, and complete the project in December, an agreement that was finalized last week.
New Jersey will provide as much as $400 million in bonding to salvage the stalled $2.3 billion project.
The Christie administration has brushed these criticisms aside, preferring to emphasize the attraction’s future importance to the regional economy.
“Working with Tripe Five to develop a realistic plan and pathway for the success of the project, we’ve been able to accomplish Gov. Christie’s goal of turning the stalled project around, capitalizing on the significant investment already made, and ensuring this project moves forward as a boost to the governor’s efforts to create jobs for New Jerseyans and get the economy moving,” said Jon Hanson, chair of Christie’s advisory commission on gaming, sports, and entertainment.
According to Triple Five, American Dream Meadowlands could attract as many as 55 million visits from tourists annually and will generate millions in tax revenue in the region. The developer also said last week that about 8,900 short-term jobs will be created during the completion of construction and up to 35,000 jobs could be created once the venue is opened.
Among the first tasks the new developer will undertake is stripping away the venue’s blue, orange, and green exterior that has been widely ridiculed as visually unappealing.
Under the new vision for American Dream Meadowlands, Xanadu’s multicolored metal panels will be replaced with panes of glass. Conceptual artist renderings of the revised exterior, released last week, reveal chic glass panels that are more reminiscent of modern art galleries than shipping crates.
The company said it plans to make other revisions to the original design as well. Architects and designers will add, among other attractions, an amusement park, an ice rink, and a water park to the project. Many of Xanadu’s original attractions – including the Ferris wheel, aquarium, and indoor snow dome – will still be included in the American Dream Meadowlands concept, whose square footage will be expanded to 3 million to accommodate the developer’s revised vision for the complex.
In addition to retail and restaurants, the Triple Five team also plans to include a comedy club, performing arts theater, and other nightlife attractions. The development company already manages similar entertainment attractions in the U.S. and Canada.
“This is great news for the Meadowlands and for New Jersey,” Christie said last week. “By working with a world-class developer in Triple Five, we are taking another positive step to get this project moving, creating tens of thousands of jobs for New Jerseyans, and continuing the growth of the Meadowlands as an economic engine for both the regional and state economies.”
When first proposed, Xanadu was expected to be an economic anchor in the region that would generate residual business and revenue for other area businesses, including hotels and car service companies. Such residual business could have helped the Secaucus hotel industry, which includes the Crowne Plaza and Embassy Suites.
But in March 2009 a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers – which had been one of Xanadu’s financial backers – went bankrupt. The collapse sent the project into a tailspin as the recession also affected other financial supporters of the project. Making matters worse, the recession also hurt Xanadu’s ability to draw struggling retailers and other businesses to the complex.
Xanadu’s developer, the private equity firm Colony Capital, found itself in need of $500 million to finish the project. The project floundered. Last summer, a consortium of lenders that had financed Xanadu wrested control of the project from Colony Capital.
Proponents of the project hope that Xanadu’s resurrection as American Dream Meadowlands could revive the vision of a large-scale tourist Mecca in the region.
“There is no question that once this thing gets off the ground and finally opens its doors, it will be one of the biggest attractions in northern New Jersey and will be a major economic driver in the Meadowlands region,” said Jim Kirkos, chair of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The Christie administration has stated the complex will generate tens of millions of dollars in sales and payroll taxes for New Jersey and will generate significant revenue for municipalities in Bergen County. It’s unclear what the economic impact will be for nearby municipalities in Hudson County, like Secaucus.
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli believes American Dream Meadowlands will boost the town’s economy, but he has concerns.
“No question, it will be great for some our local hotels and businesses. But I think traffic will be a nightmare. As it is, when there’s a Giants or Jets game [at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, next to the American Dream site], you can’t get out of town because of the traffic. I think we’re going to suffer from increased environmental problems. And I want to know if this site is going to pay its share of property taxes,” he said.
Triple Five executives said last week they expect American Dream Meadowlands to open in the fourth quarter of 2013.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.