Customers began trickling into theAmerican Dream, the mega mall and entertainment complex, on its opening day Friday morning greeted by a lot of unfinished construction and confusion on where to park, how to get in and exactly what is open and what is not.
“I should’ve brought M & M’s to track how I got here from my car,” said Bob Kahn, of West Milford, as he recounted the long walk to the entrance from where he was directed to park.
Construction workers at first seemed to outnumber patrons as the doors opened around 10 am to the Meadowlands complex that has been decades in the making.
Friday marked the opening of an indoor amusement park and ice rink. The rink was slated to open at 11 am and will be free all weekend.
Patrons walked past an army of workers in hard hats, painters still priming walls and random packages of wall tiles sitting on the floor. Near the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, the smell of paint filled the air as the sound of power tools were still heard among the roar of roller coasters.
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One of the first visitors to the complex was Deborah Smith, 56, of Toms River, who had also had a little trouble finding her way in and was taken back by all the construction still underway on the sections of the complex that have yet to open.
“I drove around five times to get in here,” she said. “This place ain’t done with construction. It’s odd that it’s not done. Don’t want building to fall on my head. I don’t know if there’s tickets for the ice rink but we’re gonna find out. building fall on my head? That’s an exaggeration but look at all this construction. ”
First unveiled as a concept in 1991, reimagined, stalled and renamed numerous times over the three decades since,American Dream, the mega mall and entertainment complexthat rises out of the Meadowlands marshes, opened its doors to the first customer Friday morning at 10 am
Only a small portion of the complex actually opens today in East Rutherford. That would be the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park rides and a professional-sized ice rink.
But guestswill have to wait until late Novemberto check out the indoor water park; early December for the snow park; and March 2020 to shop and dine. Officials have described a string of opening celebrations as “chapters.”
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Still that didn’t stop kids, their parents or even Gov. Phil Murphy and a cavalcade of politicians from enjoying the rides.
Murphy along with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, rode the “TMNT Shellraiser” roller coaster together in a sign of legislative unity.
Driving to American Dream
On Friday, driving to the white-paneled behemoth was an exercise in confusion, with cars converging into a maze of unmarked roads and driveways.
As of 8: 30 am, if you followed signs to the mall, you’d be met with cones blocking one of the entrances. Continuing on, you’d have to drive blind, as there are no visible signs that say how to enter the mall.
There is no fee to park on opening weekend, Friday Oct. 25 to Sunday, Oct. 27. But parking is a guessing game, with no signs indicating which lots or decks to use. There are no toll booths. There are no toll booth workers.
News vans arriving to cover the opening were directed to the wrong parking area due to incorrect signage. Patrol officers had to escort the vans to the correct parking.
With few visible signs telling visitors where to go, several cars were circling the American Dream’s expansive property.
Police patrol cars and officers on bicycles were seen patrolling the property a little more than an hour ahead of the 10 am scheduled opening.
At the parking deck, worker Rhonda Lofton greeted customers with a huge smile. “Welcome to the dream,” she said as she directed them on where to park and how to get into the complex.
Major roadways leading to American Dream – like Route 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike – were relatively free of traffic Friday morning.
Kevin Walker and his wife drove to American Dream from South Orange and said it was a breeze. It was a different story once inside.
“There was a little confusion where the construction parking was, it was just for construction but they were letting regular people use it,” Walker said, adding that the signs around the facility could have been better . “I did anticipate more traffic, the traffic wasn’t bad at all.”
Gabe Shapiro took an express NJ Transit bus from Manhattan to American Dream on Friday morning with little trouble. His interest in the complex was a little more esoteric than most first-day patrons.
“I just have a huge interest in elevators, so I wanted to kind of check them out,” he said. “And I have a huge interest in building architecture so I wanted to come see this place. ”
American Dream: Under construction
Even with less than an hour before doors were scheduled to swing open, the megamall was an active construction site, littered with debris and equipment and full of construction workers continuing apace.
Workers in hard hats and neon vests were walking around the property as visitors started to trickle in. Unabated, the workers were directing people arriving at the mall, some who were there for continued construction work.
At nearly ever corner and bend, a worker could be seen acting as a de facto traffic officer, trying to help people navigate the tangle.
As you finally enter the mall, you’ll walk through a bridge with plywood instead of windows. The panels appear to be so new that the smell still pervades the tunnel.
Among the first customers Friday morning were pals Zachary Santi, 24, and Justin Paleologos, 25, both from Most Lyndhurst who knew their way around the sports complex.
“I’ve come here a number of times for sporting events and concerts at what used to be the IZOD stadium, so it wasn’t that difficult to figure out where to park,” said Paleologos , 25.
“I still can’t believe it’s done,” he said. “I remember when I was just a kid and this whole thing was being started and thinking when is it going to get done, and now here we are.”
Santi said for as long as he can remember, he’s seen the multi-colored structure while driving down Route 3.
“Before it was a mish mosh of LEGO blocks— it was like a monument to Jersey’s lack of building,” Santi said. “I woke up today like, wow, this is it, it’s really happening.”
Security was seen throughout the complex with state troopers, local police, security guards and K9 units out in force.
Like a shoppers entering an electronics store on Black Friday, dozens of giddy students from nearby Becton Regional High School ran into the complex at once around 11 a ..m. looking around for the amusements they had been hearing so much about for so long.
They weren’t the only high schoolers there.
Around 12: 30 PM the Clifton High School marching band performed at the amusement park with someone dressed in a SpongeBob SquarePants costume leading the way.
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The Clifton marching band put on a surprise performance at the opening day of American Dream. Catherine Carrera, Staff Writer, @CattCarrera
What’s opening later this year
Some retail experts say the mega center, developed by Canada’s Triple Five,could serve as a North Star for the retail industry. Once fully operational, it will be a test case for experiential retail, and whether the concept can be successful in one of the country’s most competitive markets.
DreamWorks Water Park is slated to open the day before Thanksgiving . The indoor water park will feature more than 40 slides and 15 attractions. It will have the world’s largest wave pool, the world’s tallest indoor body slide, and an estimated 31 luxury cabanas designed by New Jersey native Jonathan Adler.
Just one week after the water park debuts, on Dec. 5, American Dream’s long-anticipated indoor snow park, called Big SNOW, is slated to open.
The 160 – foot indoor ski slope, which has 5, 500 tons of snow, is topped with a 26 – degree incline, roughly equivalent to an intermediate ski run. It will feature banked turns on one side to mellow the initial grade for less experienced riders, and have a small terrain park.
TIMELINE FOR AMERICAN DREAM:Here’s which attractions are opening when this fall
American Dream will include Instagram-friendly settings where visitors can shoot selfies, including museum-scale interiors, a 60 – foot fashion fountain and a sprawling garden with bird-filled aviaries and rabbit fields .
There will be miniature golf at American Dream. But not your run-of-the-mill course. The mega center will have Angry Birds Mini Golf – equipped with 3D renderings.
The New Jersey Hall of Fame, which never had a permanent home, will also move into American Dream.
Reporters Catherine Carrera, Jessie Gomez, Rebecca King and Colleen Wilson contributed to this story
Melanie Anzidei is the retail reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about store openings and closings in North Jersey’s biggest malls, shopping centers and downtowns,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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