More like an American nightmare

Secaucus mayor denounces increased costs and traffic associated with American Dream

American Dream isn't yet an eyesoar for Secaucus residents, but it soon could be.
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American Dream isn't yet an eyesoar for Secaucus residents, but it soon could be.

Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli tried again on May 15 to get the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) to provide more resources to deal with the expected impact on Secaucus from the opening of the American Dream mega mall.

Included on the expansive site is the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which already has been a mixed blessing for Secaucus residents, particularly those living on the north end of town.

The sports complex encompasses MetLife Stadium, a racetrack, and a concert venue.

While sports fans could get to events at the complex easily, it historically has created traffic problems, spillover noise, and other issues for Secaucus.

The new mega mall, however, presents an entirely different problem.

The NJSEA owns the sports complex and oversees most of the operations on the property, but appears unwilling to deviate from a 2004 agreement forged with Secaucus and other towns based on a much smaller version of the project.

While Gonnelli stopped short of saying Secaucus would sue to get its fair share of revenues needed to offset traffic and other negative effects, he said ultimately that is likely what the town will have to do.

Debut on the horizon 

The American Dream mega mall, which has been on the drawing boards in some fashion or another since the mid-1990s, is scheduled to open in the fall.

Gonnelli said Secaucus will see the brunt of negative impacts, especially in regard to traffic.

Secaucus is directly across the Hackensack River from the American Dream, and much of the traffic in and out of the mega mall is expected to pass through Secaucus along Route 3.

“I’m most concerned about the traffic,” Gonnelli said. “But I’m also concerned about how it will look. This mall is practically in the backyards of many homes in the north end of our town.”

The Meadowlands Sports complex, where the American Dream is located, has always been something of a problem for local residents, especially when it came to concerts that took place in MetLife Stadium.

Gonnelli said he does not expect the same problem with noise as in the past. He expects additional unexpected issues that will surface once the mall opens.

Fear of the unknown

The project includes a large retail mall with an amusement park, water park, Ferris wheel, and massive digital billboards.

“We haven’t seen the 300-foot-tall Ferris wheel yet,” Gonnelli said, “or the billboards. These will be facing the Secaucus side of the mall.”

Secaucus is expected to receive $100,000 each year for the first two years and another $200,000 after that to help cover the costs associated with the mall.

“Carlstadt is expected to receive $1 million to deal with the impacts,” Gonnelli said. “And Carlstadt is a lot farther away from this than we are. I don’t know the total amount East Rutherford is going to receive, but they are going to get $24 million to build a new police station.”

Gonnelli said the project as currently configured is drastically different from the one that was approved in 2004, after agreements with the state allowed the project to be moved out of Carlstadt and into the sports complex in East Rutherford.

The impact fees are based on the original plans, not those of the current configuration, Gonnelli said.

“The $100,000 they are giving us won’t cover the cost of hiring one police officer.” — Michael Gonnelli

Negative impacts downplayed

Gonnelli said the impacts of the current project on Secaucus are being grossly underestimated.

“There will be hundreds of thousands of people going to that place each year, and many of them will be going through Secaucus along Route 3 to get there.”

Gonnelli pleaded his case before the NJSEA on May 15, requesting Secaucus be given more money for police, EMS, and traffic control.

“Our EMS will be responsible for what goes on there,” he said. “The $100,000 they are giving us won’t cover the cost of hiring one police officer.”

Gonnelli said he raised his concerns a month ago with state officials that included Gov. Phil Murphy.

“Nobody has gotten back to me about it,” he said.

Originally, the project was proposed for what was called “The Empire Tract” in Carlstadt for the construction of a themed mall. As a compromise with local environmentalists who opposed filling in wetlands, the mall was relocated to the Sport Complex site and eventually became a project called Xanadu.

Agreements were forged with local communities, including Secaucus, to cover the impact expected from that construction. But for years, Xanadu stagnated until then Gov. Christopher Christie revived the project about eight years ago, expanding the scope of it to become one of the largest entertainment complexes on the Eastern Seaboard.

Among the current mall’s attractions will be an indoor water park and amusement park, a 12-story indoor ski park, an arcade, Legoland, and a movie theater.

Retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Off 5th, and Hermes are expected to open in the mall.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com