Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Ugliest Building in New Jersey

Here are some pictures of a big project that has been started, stopped, restarted, stopped again, and now resurrected anew.  It is in East Rutherford, N.J., next door to Met Life Stadium, where the New York Giants and Jets play football.  

The photographs below don't convey the impact of the project because they were taken from a distance and tend to minimize its enormous size.  It has many garish pieces, and a lot of it looks like parti-colored stacks of oversized shipping containers.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called it "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America."  Whatever you think about Christie, you have to agree that he is right about that.  He said the latest effort to revive the never-completed project will start with improving the look of the place from the outside.

This development, originally dubbed Xanadu, is to include a retail complex,  an amusement park, a water park and the first indoor ski slope (on the left in the middle picture) in the country.   It was approved for construction in 2003.  The original developers filed for bankruptcy in 2007, after which another developer resumed work, quitting in 2009.

Between them, the first two unsuccessful efforts to complete the project consumed $1.9 billion and left the current hulk sitting in the middle of Jersey's Meadowlands.

In 2011, a group named Triple Five took over and renamed the project American Dream.  The company promises 400 retail stores and restaurants, among these an "upscale gourmet food hall" and a kosher food mall. The theme park will have a Dream Works theme.

Triple Five owns the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., which is described, appropriately, as a mega mall.  It has 520 stores, 50 restaurants, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, a Sea Life aquarium and a Lego Universe Center.

When Mall of America opened, retail experts were skeptical, doubting that there were enough retail concepts in the country to fill the thing.  In the 22 years since, American stores have lost much of their business to online sellers, but Mall of America seems to be holding its own.

American Dream may have real potential because it is not far from New York City.  Millions of people from other countries visit New York every year, and something this big, with this many elements, could become a major tourist destination just on its own.

Back to the aesthetics.  Triple Five plans to change the exterior of American Dream, adding "a lot of glass, really clean and exquisite, and I think a world-class building to be proud of," according to Triple Five's chief operating officer.  A company spokesman told a Minneapolis newspaper it would have 80-foot-tall windows.

Almost any change would be an improvement, of course, but I doubt that any effort could render an "exquisite" result in this unfortunate situation.

Work is to begin shortly and be completed in 2016.

Last year, New Jersey's Economic Development Department approved $390 million in tax breaks for American Dream, as well has hundreds of millions of dollars in public bonds to finance construction.  The total tab for the completion of American Dream is expected to run to almost $2 billion.

Great as the prospects for American Dream may be, I do not sense much public enthusiasm in New Jersey for government investment in the project.  My guess is most people would have been happier just  to see the thing torn down.

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