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Guest Opinion: American Dream Mall Fail to Pay Back Taxpayers

submitted by NJ Sierra Club

It has been 3 months since the grand opening of the American Dream Mall and towns are still waiting to be paid. In East Rutherford, where American Dream is located, officials said the mall owes $1 million in payments for last year, and an anticipated $2 million in payments in 2020 that are outstanding. For nearby Carlstadt and Secaucus, the missing payments amount to $750,000 and $100,000, respectively. Guest-opinion 2

“The cost to build the American Dream mall has reached a historical price tag for both our wallets and the environment’s.  The mega mall is too costly to build and too costly to visit. From riding its thrilling rides to food costs to parking, a daily visit is very expensive. New Jersey taxpayers had to pay over $1billion to subsidize this monstrosity of a mall and now its customers are being charged even more to enjoy it. What’s even worse is that the mall still owes taxpayers millions of dollars for their mega mall. The mall has taken all of this public money without paying them back while the public still can’t afford to go there,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

It has taken 17 years to build and billions of dollars from subsidies, tax breaks, and tax incremental financing. The price tag for the mall has reached historical lengths and unfortunately the cost to its customers are seeing high price tags too. The American Dream/Xanadu mega-mall is the largest public subsidized development project in state history.  The project received $350 million in direct state subsidies from EDA plus another $800 million for financing including $100 million for road improvements, bringing it up to $1.5 billion project.

“The American Scheme mega-mall has been the largest corporate subsidy in the state’s history. What’s even worse is that they have failed to pay back East Rutherford and other cities who are proposing to use taxpayer money for school improvements,” said Tittel. “If paying $24 for parking wasn’t enough, a daily price to ride American Dream rides will be $80 soon. Combined, that’s more than a season pass at Six Flags and just $5 shy for a daily pass to Disney World. The people who work at the American Dream Mall making $11/hr. cannot afford to go there. To spend a full day at the park could take a full week’s wages.”

The mall is an estimated 3 million square feet with more than half of that allotted to entertainment and the other 45% of the space will be for retail. There are 11,000 parking spaces and they share 22,000 with MetLife stadium on non-event days.

“There is no real traffic program for the bus or train services that are reliable, instead the mall will be car dependent. The project, which comprises 7.1 million square feet of office and commercial space, in order to be successful, it will need to generate around 120,000 to 150,000 cars a day, gridlocking Bergen County with traffic. Everyday traffic will be like game day at Giants Stadium,” said  Tittel. “The Murphy Administration have been trying to fix traffic problems by proposing a rail plan that will cost $1-$2 billion while NJ Transit is crumbling. That money could have been used to finish the Bergen-Hudson Rail, or important improvements for NJ Transit. Why should we be paying for a rail to a private male. They created the problem, why should NJ taxpayers pay to fix it?”

The American Dream/Xanadu mall sits partly on wetlands in an environmentally sensitive area prone to flooding. Meadowlands resources are important for flood control, fisheries, and migratory birds.

“We have been fighting this mega mall for over 20 years because it is too large, it’s in an environmentally sensitive area, and will cause a lot of pollution and traffic. The American Dream/Xanadu site flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The mall’s water park is built on top of wetlands, which means increasingly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise and storm surges. Studies have shown the entire area will end up under 3 feet of water. The EPA and Fish & Wildlife under President George W. Bush opposed the project because of environmental impacts on clean air and water, and wildlife,” said Tittel. “Overdeveloping the Meadowlands will not only put more people in danger of flooding, but will actually impact wetlands and the fragile ecosystems.” 

Governor Murphy believes this project has provided New Jersey residents with extraordinary opportunities for good-paying construction and building jobs, as well as opportunities for New Jersey’s business owners.

“The billions of dollars for American Dream could’ve been used for building schools and colleges, taking lead out of our drinking water, or cleaning up our toxic sites. Instead, this private enterprise is a one- two punch to our wallets, the billions it took to build it and the high price tag to enjoy its amenities. The American Dream mall shows everything that is wrong about New Jersey.  We don’t know what will be worse, it the American Dream succeeds, we will see all of the pollution from the traffic coming to the mall plus possible gridlock it would cause to commuters. If it would fail, it wastes billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.