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Swamp Dreams

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Stephen Ross’s Related Companies flirted with the project next, in 2010. Ross’s team proposed changing the name from Xanadu to Meadowlands, and came up with a logo centered on the letter M. “The Meadow­lands will usher in a new era and a bold redefinition of what a retail destination can be,” read a Related brochure obtained by the Bergen Record. The ski slope, né Snow Dome during the Xanadu days, was renamed ­SnowPark. A 286-foot Pepsi Globe (or Ferris wheel) was also retained. But Ross’s Meadowlands Plan stalled, and Cabela’s, the outdoor store that was to be an anchor tenant, began threatening to opt out.

This is more or less where Christie stepped in. Some observers expected him to compare the development to other unwieldy projects, like the federally financed regional train tunnel he had recently squashed, and simply declare the mall dead. But he chose to double down, to go bigger and better, to show himself as an executive who gets big business moving. He met the Ghermezians at a Giants game and was reportedly impressed by their track record. Triple Five is the developer of the Mall of America (4.25 million square feet) in Minnesota, as well as the West Edmonton Mall (5.3 million square feet) in Canada, which reigned briefly as the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest mall before the opening of Beijing’s Golden Resources Mall (6 million square feet). With ­American Dream, Triple Five is looking to take back the No. 1 spot.

“Okay, so this is the ski slope,” Paul ­Ghermezian says, standing in an empty concrete room with a big hill in the ­middle of it. “It’s essentially a large refrigerator.”

Paul, Nader Ghermezian’s nephew, is in charge of the tour. He is tall and charming, relaxed and meticulous; he has inherited his uncle’s pitchman genes. “I grew up in the Rockies, so this is awesome,” he says. “You have to imagine the half-pipe. I already skied the equivalent of this. It’s in Madrid, and it’s a good time.”

He stays upbeat, enthusiastic. “It’s a great climate-controlled environment, so it’s not too cold,” he says. “And it’s real snow. This is something to really understand. It’s real snow!”

“You have to imagine the half-pipe. I already skied the equivalent of this in Madrid, and it’s a good time.”

Next stop, a mall-size sports bar, with a proposed TV set that Paul is bubbling over. “Our vision here is this wall, it’s going to be outfitted with the most amazing high-definition screen you’ve ever seen!” And then: “I told the management that I wanted a second one for my house,” he says, winking at the cameras.

Paul’s tour necessitates a lot of imagining, some of it fairly difficult (indoor skydiving, for instance). At the moment, walking around American Dream feels like entering a Battlestar Galactica episode in which a team boards an evacuated space station with a possible alien presence lurking. Workers’ lunch trash is scattered around rooms next to fancy terrazzo tiling; boxes of Kohler toilet fixtures are stranded near sheets of wallboard and rolls of insulation. If you didn’t know, you might not be able to tell whether the theater was on its way up or down. “This will be very similar to what was the Nokia Theater in Times Square,” we’re assured.

Toward the end of the tour, Paul finally gets the question he is looking for—why the name American Dream?

“Obviously, it’s a very vetted thing,” he says. After asking reporters for their theories, he says the name comes down from his uncles, who, after immigrating from Iran in the late fifties, believe they have lived the American Dream, albeit via Canada. “In all instances, they achieved it,” he says. “And they want to share that.

“We want people to live the American Dream, and what I mean by that is they have a great time,” he goes on. “There’s no feeling like it. And the tourists who come here are going to say, ‘This is America!’ ”

By this point we have ascended the mall’s roof, which looks out over the reeds and the parking lots and the disused radio towers across the muddied Hackensack River, beyond Secaucus, to the view of midtown Manhattan, creeping over the hills of Union City. Paul points to the city skyline, then unveils a revolutionary rethinking of the view, an American Dream in reverse. “When you look out at Manhattan, all our eyeballs are on them,” he says. “But when they look out, they’re going to see us. They’re going to say, ‘Wow, what’s going on out there?’—and they’re going to make that trip.” He waxes enthusiastic about the Jersey-centered panorama. “These investment bankers working late hours, looking out on the Meadowlands, they’re going to long to go to New Jersey,” he says. “You’re going to see children tugging at their parents—this is where we want to go!


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