Watch CBS News

Roller coasters, a wave pool and a ski slope. Is this the future of malls?

The future of the American mall
The future of the American mall 07:35

Almost 1,700 stores inside malls closed in 2018, according to Bank of America, and so far this year, closings have reached more than 4,000. But one company believes it has found a way to reverse the trend.

The 3 million-square-foot American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, will have a lot more than just stores behind its walls when it fully opens next year, CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste reports. Visitors will find five roller coasters, over 30 rides and attractions, the world's biggest indoor wave pool, an ice skating rink and a year-round ski slope.

Don Ghermezian, whose family's company, the Triple Five Group, is behind the new megacenter, doesn't like to call American Dream a mall.

"It's an experiential center," said Ghermezian, the CEO of Triple Five Group. "It's some place where you can go and do just about anything you could possibly imagine."

"In a time when malls are dying. Are you worried at all?" Battiste asked. 

"No … We've done it before," he said.

The Ghermezian family also is behind Minnesota's famed Mall of America and Canada's West Edmonton Mall. They both offer 75% retail and 25% entertainment, but American Dream offers about 50% of each. 

"If you think about it for a second, retail? It's not a secret. It's been a struggle. It's a struggle everywhere, right?" Ghermezian said.

"You're not deterred by that?" Battiste asked.

"No. We're not deterred by it at all. I think that, you know, great tourist retail megacenters like this, there's always going to be need for them," Ghermezian said.

American Dream cost about $6 billion to build and spans almost 70 acres, or about 53 football fields. Ghermezian said it boasts the largest indoor amusement park in the Western Hemisphere.

But this project hasn't always been a smooth ride. It has taken 15 years to build, gone through several owners, survived the 2008 financial crisis and was a much less grand plan when the Ghermezians took the reins in 2011. Since its conception, the megacenter also has caused major concerns for its neighbors.

"It definitely will create a nightmare for this city. It definitely will," said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. Millions of visitors are expected to travel through Secaucus to reach American Dream.

"My main concern is just traffic. My main concern is how it looks because we're the only municipality in the entire district that actually looks at it," Gonnelli said.

In 2004, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which controls the land on which American Dream sits, agreed to make payments to the surrounding towns to ease the inevitable rising costs.

"With money you can hire more law enforcement officers, traffic controllers," Battiste said.

"That's the number one problem," Gonnelli said.

"Does the potential boost to the economy outweigh the concerns about traffic and that it may be an eyesore?" Battiste asked.
"It sort of does because the economy will be boosted greatly, but you know we still have to really address each item and traffic, the eyesore is something I don't know how we can address that," Gonnelli said. "The boosted economy is great, but you still have to address all three."

Two sections of American Dream opened on October 25 and curious crowds have started to visit, but according to Gonnelli, his town has yet to receive any money to help with the increase in visitors. Asked if American Dream knew where the money was, the company said its "not able to comment at this time."

Ghermezian responded to the mayor's frustration, saying, "I think once they realize, and I think he does realize, what we've created in value for Secaucus. I mean you've got — jobs. And at the end of the day, isn't that what it's almost all about?"

Ghermezian argued that the retail-entertainment wonderland will not only attract area residents but also draw tourists visiting New York City 10 miles away.

"Where we're standing, what will we see here?" Battiste asked. 

"We're going to see luxury here," he said. "An incredible, incredible lineup of the best luxury brands in the world." There will also be more cost-friendly retail, such as Century 21 and H&M, he said.

Getting customers into those stores and out of cyberspace is part of the job of Marketing Senior Vice President Debbie Patire.

"You can't experience Nickelodeon Universe online. You can't experience DreamWorks Water Park online. You can't take your first ski lesson online, right?" Patire said.

To help visitors get around, there are interactive directories, and soon, they can have the American Dream app on their phones.

"We have what we call the social responders," Patire said.

"So I can just message on my phone, on the app, 'Where's the ice skating rink?' or 'Where do I get coffee?'" Battiste asked.

"Yes. And we'll be able to guide you, " Patire said.

The Ghermezian family is banking their grand idea, so much so they've put up over 40% of Mall Of America and West Edmonton Mall as collateral. Ghermezian said he expects the profits to be "a lot."

"When do you think you might break even?" Battiste asked. 

"I think that we'll break even right at year one," he said.

It's a money milestone that many will be watching, including retail analyst Marshal Cohen. 

"It's no longer about retail first. It's now about entertainment first and retail fitting in," Cohen said.

He said if American Dream is a financial flop, a lot of people will feel it. "The first ones to feel the pain if the mall doesn't succeed is certainly going to be the investors, but don't rule out the taxpayers and the municipalities if they don't get those tax payments," Cohen said.

But Ghermezian isn't losing any sleep over cash concerns. He is already dreaming up his next big idea.

"What keeps you up at night? You have to be a little bit worried," Battiste said.

"What keeps me up at night is thinking about what's the next crazy thing that we're going to put in here that's going to blow everybody away. That's what's kept me up for the last eight years, and we've delivered," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.