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Critics Wonder If Miami Mega-Mall Will Ever Be Built As American Dream In N.J. Suffers

When the $3B American Dream mall opened its entertainment offerings at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in October 2019, malls almost everywhere had already been suffering. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, during which the mall had to totally shut for six months. Its retail didn't open until fall of 2020, and its luxury wing opened last week with only five stores, according to Forbes.

That has people in South Florida wondering whether the developer, Triple Five Group, will proceed with plans to build a similar, $4B project in between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

American Dream Miami

American Dream Miami was first pitched in 2015 and approved in 2017 as a 5M SF theme park and shopping center on 175 acres in Miami-Dade County that would include a performing arts center, an indoor waterpark, an indoor ski slope, a skating rink, an aquarium and submarine rides.

Triple Five already owned Minnesota's Mall of America and Canada's West Edmonton Mall when it took over the American Dream project in New Jersey after other developers, who had been planning it since the 1990s, ran into financial troubles. 

Last spring, the family-owned firm had to surrender 49% of its equity stake in its other two malls after defaulting on a $1.2B construction loan for the Jersey project. It had to tap into reserve funds in August to cover a $9.3M payment on about $290M of municipal bond debt, Bloomberg reported. Triple Five was said to be exploring restructuring options.

The Miami project has been pushed behind schedule but could still be completed by the end of 2026, Miami Today reported. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the developer's attorney, told the Sun-Sentinel that the developers have been working with highway agencies to improve on interchanges and land exchanges, some of which are already under construction.

Skeptics told the Sun-Sentinel that it would be difficult for the Miami project to find financing. Trez Capital Executive Managing Director Brett Forman told the paper the American Dream Miami would be competing with Sawgrass Mills outlet mall.

“It never made sense to try to build another," he said. "I don’t know of any place in America that can support two.”  

“When was the last time you walked into a mall?" Florida Atlantic University College of Business associate professor Sofia Johan said. "When was the last time you went to a movie?”

She warned that the developers may seek to leverage municipal bonds to help finance their project, which could be a bad deal for taxpayers if the developers went bankrupt.