At a press conference in May discussing the Christie Administration’s decision to offer approximately $200 million in financing, in the form of tax breaks, to Mall of America developer Triple Five, Triple Five Senior Vice President Paul Ghermezian called American Dream Meadowlands (the planned northern NJ mall formerly known as Xanadu) “the center of the world.” If American Dream truly will be the center of the world when it opens in 2013, will anyone actually be able to get there?
As virtually anyone who has gone near the Meadowlands during most of the past decade knows, Xanadu was never completed, leaving an oddly shaped, unaesthetic structure in its wake. The project, dormant since construction stopped in 2009 due to financing issues, was recently revived by the $200 million financing package, which passed the legislature in July.
As is clear from the pictures, a significant portion of the building’s construction had been completed before 2009. In addition, some roadway changes have been made. But there remains a lingering question as to whether they can in fact handle the congestion which will be created once American Dream is fully operational.
The Questionable Payoff
Traffic congestion has been a large concern since the very beginning. In analyzing the projected statistics for the completed American Dream facility, it is easy to see the source of those concerns. American Dream has a projected average visitor total at 150,000 per day or 55 million per year. First, anyone who has driven to an event at the New Meadowlands Stadium – seating capacity of 82,500 – has experienced the extensive attendant traffic congestion. Considering that 150,000 is almost twice the Stadium’s capacity, it is easy to see how American Dream could create a traffic nightmare. And 150,000 is an average, meaning there can be days with many more visitors and much more traffic.
Second, when compared with another very large mall in Northern New Jersey, the potential traffic problems become particularly clear. Westfield Garden State Plaza Shopping Mall in Paramus, NJ sees approximately 20 million visitors annually. The area is chronically plagued by traffic issues, despite being located at the intersection of three major highways and being served by over ten bus lines. Compare this with American Dream, also located near large highways, but providing much less in the way of public transportation despite two-and-a-half times as many projected visitors. The site of the American Dream is only accessible by public transportation through one train line and two daily bus routes. If Westfield Garden State Plaza, serving 60 percent fewer customers, often experiences large congestion problems, it is easy to see how a place like American Dream, with more limited transportation options yet many more visitors, has the potential to experience even larger problems.
Clearly, American Dream needs much more in the way of public transportation. Frequent train service, several dedicated bus lines that connect to locations throughout the state, as well as possible extensions of the Hudson/Bergen light rail all need to be implemented to meet American Dream’s customer demand. And given all the subsidies already sunk into the site, there’s a strong argument that the developer should foot much of the bill.