The American Dream mall, the $5 billion experiential retail gamble in the New Jersey Meadowlands, finally seems to be reaching critical mass after the pandemic and skepticism about the project delayed efforts to fill its more than 3 million square feet of leasable space with tenants.
The megamall’s ongoing financial issues don’t seem to be preventing it from attracting new tenants and opening new attractions. Recent leasing announcements and openings indicate that the momentum may be turning in the mall’s favor, nearly three years after it first opened to the public.
This week the mall reached a long-delayed milestone – the opening of The Food Hall at American Dream. While the Food Hall is far smaller than the culinary experience originally envisioned for the project, it is another sign that the mall’s developers are getting closer to fulfilling their promise of a totally different kind of mall experience.
The 10,000 square-foot Food Hall, with only five vendors ready to serve on opening day, and two more slated to open in coming months, is about a quarter of the size of the sprawling, Vice Media and Munchie’s themed food hall the mall’s developers had announced before the American Dream was beset by lengthy construction delays and a pandemic. But it does deliver different kind of mall dining experience – a food court designed for adults, and foodies.
The Food Hall’s most unusual feature currently is Vinoteca, an automated wine-tasting bar that lets guests pay by the ounce to sample from 64 different bottles using a machine that dispenses 1-ounce, 3-ounce, and 5-ounce pours. Vinoteca also sells small plate Italian options like paninis and charcuterie boards.
The Food Hall space has sofas and conversational seating areas, as well as places to play oversized Jenga and Connect 4 games, a foosball table, video games, and a faux lawn set up for cornhole games. The other food vendors now open are Best Pizza; Vanessa’s Dumpling House, which sells Beijing-style dumplings and other Asian food; New York dessert boutique Lady M, know for its mille crepes cakes; and artisanal ice cream stand Van Leeuwen.
Dream Bar – described as “an intriguing cocktail bar” – is scheduled to open this fall, and organic cookie company Bang Cookies is expected to open by the end of the year.
The Food Hall is located on the second floor in the A wing of the mall – a space originally intended for the Munchies food hall, which, as planned, was going to feature live cooking demonstrations and appearances by Munchies videos celebrities.
Instead, American Dream ended up using a smaller portion of the space for the Food Hall, and plans to surround it with additional sit-down restaurants, such as the House of Que, a barbecue restaurant that opened earlier this year.
The current layout lets American Dream add more food vendors to the hall if the concept takes off, or pivot to more sit-down, full-service restaurants if it doesn’t.
The mall also has been able to keep signing new tenants, including some cutting edge experiential tenants, amid reports of looming debt payments and financing issues. It faces its next payment deadline Aug. 1.
American Dream recently landed the East Coast flagship location of Activate Games, an indoor, interactive gaming experience that merges digital and physical gaming activities.
The Game Room Powered by Hasbro
In any new mall project, prospective tenants typically want to know who else is on board before committing to a lease. With American Dream, that wait-and-see period was unusually long – first because of doubts that it would ever be able to draw enough stores, or visitors to fill it, and then because the pandemic put the world, and leasing decisions, on hold.
While traditional retailers have remained slow to sign up, the mall’s developers have shifted their focus to entertainment, dining, and experiential tenants, and it is becoming clear that other entertainment operators are looking at the mall’s current tenants, and the crowds they are drawing, and saying “Me too.”
These tenants don’t seem to be scared off by frequent reports that the mall is at risk of defaulting on its loan payments, or that it has depleted its reserve fund for debt payments.
“Our tenants are smart, sophisticated people who understand how financing works, and they believe in the project,” Paul Ghermezian, a member of the family that runs Triple Five Group, the owner and developer of American Dream, as well as Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, said during a grand opening celebration for the Food Hall.
Jim Kirkos, President and CEO of local business group the Meadowlands Chamber, and a long-time American Dream booster, said prospective tenants see the crowds and success of the current attractions and tenants and they want to be at the mall.
“You look around and you see hundreds of people having fun,” Kirkos said at the Food Hall opening celebration. The mall, he said “is not having trouble attracting people.”
While American Dream’s owners still need to work out a number of financial issues, people should “give them a chance” and give them credit for continuing to move forward despite the financial hardships of the pandemic shutdowns, Kirkos said.
The mall, he said, is delivering on its promise to draw people and dollars to the Meadowlands. “They are filling hotel rooms and that makes me happy,” he said.
How Cotopaxi Provides Sibly’s AI-Assisted Coaching 24/7 To Employees
Irish Drone Delivery Startup Expanding To U.S. And Mainland Europe
What Brands Need To Know: Marketing Measurement And Attribution In 2023