American Dream is a retail and entertainment complex in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This new venue is retailtainment on a massive scale.
Developed by Triple Five and owned by the Ghermezian family, American Dream Meadowlands will create thousands of jobs and enrich the local economy. In addition to this, the complex provides an unparalleled entertainment and retail experience destination. It comprises ‘Fantasy, fashion, food, family, and fun’.
Blooloop spoke with Gary Hanson, VP of Development (Attractions) for Triple Five. He is responsible for the design and construction of the attractions at the American Dream project. We also spoke with Natasha Betts, Director of Attractions at American Dream.
The Ghermezian family
“I’ve been working with the Ghermezian family since 1975,” says Gary Hanson. “I started as a security guard at one of their hotels. They saw some potential in me, put me through university, and I’ve had many positions since that time within the company.”
“I’d like to express how privileged I feel to be able to make the Ghermezian family’s vision for American Dream attractions a reality. Specifically, the man with the vision was Eskandar Ghermezian. He is the chairman of the company. I would sit down with him and say: here are some thoughts. And he would say: ‘Yes, but I want it bigger, faster, taller, better.’
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“It is the Ghermezian vision that you see. The goal was to create true world-class facilities. Both at the theme park, with the Nickelodeon IP, and at the waterpark with the DreamWorks IP, and I’m happy to say that we succeeded, either indoors or outdoors.”
“Universal’s waterpark at Volcano Bay in Florida is outdoors. Every slide they have in their facility, we also have in our indoor waterpark. The company, ProSlide, provided the slides for both. WTI designed the water systems for both parks also.”
The importance of IP at American Dream
IP is crucial in terms of establishing an emotional connection for guests, says Hanson.
“It is generally the mother and the children who dictate where a family goes. If you create something that is a draw for children and supported by the mothers, then you’ll be very successful. And that’s what IPs do for you. A child will watch Nickelodeon on TV and they go, Oh, there’s a Nickelodeon park! I want to go see SpongeBob, or Dora, or the Ninja turtles.
“It’s a real extra draw. The same goes for DreamWorks. You’ve got Shrek, you got Madagascar, the penguins, Kung Fu Panda. Children feel they know these characters, and they want to meet them, have their picture taken with them, ride the themed rides.
“That is the positive with an IP.”
A successful start
Triple Five announced that American Dream would open in four stages. The first two, Nickelodeon Universe and Ice Rink opened in October 2019. Then Big Snow opened on 5 December 2019. The final stage is the 8.5-acre indoor water park, which comprises 40 water slides and 15 attractions. That is set to open in March 2020.
Since opening, Nickelodeon Universe and Big Snow have been an unqualified success.
“The weekends, especially, are just packed. And all the comments have been positive,” says Hanson. “When you create something like this indoors, it’s guaranteed great weather. It doesn’t matter whether it’s summer or winter or fall.
“Our customers realize that when they come to our centre, they can shed their jackets and just enjoy themselves. There is no need to worry about the weather outside.”
What makes American Dream unique?
“It’s the commitment that the Ghermezian family has made to entertainment. They’re not putting a little carousel in a centre and calling it entertainment. They are fully invested in providing funds to create world-class facilities. No other company in the world is doing what we’re doing with entertainment and retail, on the scale that we are doing it. That is the difference.”
American Dream will, he says, attract tourists from far and wide. It will also benefit from repeat visitors by local customers.
“Typically, the visitorship is made up of younger families. But the difference here is that in our theme park and waterpark, we have put in world-class rides. In the theme park, for example, we have four world-class coasters; one is the steepest coaster in the world. So we are attracting teenagers and those in their twenties and thirties as well. We accommodate every aspect of a family, from the small kids to the grandparents.”
“The direction I had from the Ghermezian family was: ‘We want rides and slides that are world-record breakers.’ So we have five world records in the amusement park. The steepest coaster, the tallest and longest spinning coaster, and the tallest indoor drop ride, for example.”
The waterpark has a lazy river and 31 luxury cabanas. It is also home to the dual FreeFALL speed slide. This is the world’s tallest body slide, with a 142-foot 70-degree drop in addition to two SuperLOOPs slides with and a near-vertical drop.
“We also have an American Wave Machine wave pool that generates eight-foot waves for surfing,” says Hanson. “I’ve been working with those guys for many years on this project.”
Nickelodeon Universe also features a Sky Trail ropes course by RCI Adventure Products, installed by Ride Entertainment.
Retailtainment on a new scale
Hanson’s flair for selecting the best attractions makes American Dream Meadowlands a captivating destination.
He says: ”We think of ‘retailtainment’ as a new concept, a 21st-century phenomenon. But in fact, the Ghermezian family was the first to introduce entertainment and retail back in 1983. In Phase Two of West Edmonton Mall, we added an indoor amusement park and an NHL size hockey rink.”
“We also have a team that has been working with entertainment and retail for a long, long time. We have approximately 2000 employees, and we were able to go to them and say, ‘What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How can we improve this design for American Dream?
“Over the years there has been a lot of input from our entertainment team, besides the vision that the Ghermezians had. And to support all that, we have all of these staff members that step up to the plate and provide their insight.
“As the person whose job is to be responsible for the design and construction of the attractions, I’m just a conduit to get it done.”
Betts started at Mall of America in Minnesota as a teenager. She worked there in the amusement park in several roles for fourteen years.
“I found my home in rides,” she says. “I was the rides manager for the last six years. And then I came to New Jersey for American Dream in 2018, and have been on the project since then.”
American Dream Meadowlands, Betts says, is unique:
“There’s nothing like this anywhere. There’s so much more entertainment here than anywhere else.
“Everything is indoors, so no matter the time of year, you can always enjoy some entertainment. Whether it’s going swimming in the water park or going on roller coasters. The environments, though, are designed so you feel as if you’re outside. There are living plants, so it feels very warm and welcoming.”
Attractions at American Dream
She describes some of the attractions that make American Dream the pinnacle of the retailtainment phenomenon:
“For the amusement park, we partnered with Nickelodeon. We have 22 rides and attractions with the plan to add 8 additional rides, all indoors in an eight-acre plus park. There are four roller coasters. One, an Intamin Short-Loop launch coaster, is actually a prototype. In launches you on a pretzel shape track one way. And then you go on a turntable and are launched to do the whole thing backwards. It’s one of a kind, right now.”
There is also the world’s steepest rollercoaster:
“You go up 142 feet in the air, over a crest, you drop down at 122 degrees, and it goes upside down. There’s a launch portion to it. It’s a really exciting coaster. When you’re at the top of that 142 feet mark, you stop for a few seconds and can see the skyline of New York City through the glass, before it drops you down.
“It’s one of my favourite rides in the park for sure. There’s a surprise at the very beginning that catches everyone off guard, and really sets the whole ride in motion.”
The TMNT Shellraiser (Launched Euro-Fighter) and Shredder (Spinning Coaster) were installed by Ride Entertainment.
A brand new waterpark
There is also the 142-foot drop slide.
“There are the exciting rides like that one,” says Betts. “You go up a stair tower to stand in a capsule. Then the floor drops away and you freefall 50 feet before hitting the slide – it’s incredible. We also have mat racers where people can compete or race on waterslides. And there are the funnel-type rides, and then the more family-oriented tube rides. The theming is beautiful: we have Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar.
“It’s a beautiful park.”
Big Snow American Dream
Big Snow American Dream, the first indoor ski park in North America, opened on 5 December 2019. The indoor skiing and snowboarding park is within the American Dream Meadowlands shopping and entertainment complex. It is owned but not operated by American Dream.
“Big Snow has third party operators,” says Betts. “It is a 16-storey ski hill with a ski lift inside. The snow is real. You can also rent all your equipment there. So, you could literally spend a couple of hours at the waterpark, then leave and go skiing the same day.”
“You can have lessons, or just do freeskiing and snowboarding. It’s a very popular attraction.”
The American Dream Meadowlands Mall is bringing in a number of additional attractions, as well as its theme parks:
“There will be an observation wheel that will sit outside the property and that can be entered from inside. The ride will last 20 to 30 minutes, with gondolas or capsules that can take up to 20 people. Then we will have a bowling alley, a Cinemax movie theatre and a Legoland Discovery Center. Plus, a KidZania and a Merlin Entertainments’ SEA LIFE Aquarium.”
Shop ‘til you drop
Even with all the entertainment options, there is still room in the 300 million square foot property for retail.
“There are around 400 retailers and approximately 50 restaurants. It’s a great mix. We’re about 55% entertainment, 45% retail.”
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“Our owners had this vision, many years ago, of mixing entertainment and retail. And they’re the best in the business at doing it. Retail is hit or miss. A lot of it’s going downhill because of online shopping. But you can’t ride a roller coaster on the computer from home. You can’t go in a wave pool and experience all these different things while doing your shopping and trying things on and having a true destination experience. So we’re looking to continue to build on that model.”
Repeatability, Betts says, is something else American Dream Meadowlands offers:
“The diversity of the attractions is something that lends itself to the ability to return and have, maybe, a different experience. Some of our rides are competition based. Or there are interactions within them where the guest has to make choices. It could be a slightly different experience each time they experience a ride or a water slide.”
“We’re constantly seeking to improve. We’ve just opened, but from the start, we have been looking at what can we do. What is day two, what’s the next thing that we can do to continue to be an appealing place for people to come?
“We’re always looking forward, always planning the next step, the next ten steps.”