American Dream project receives EDA grant OK

TRENTON – The second phase of public agency financial oversight of the sprawling, multimillion-dollar, retail/entertainment project known as American Dream was accomplished Friday.

After the Local Finance Board OK’d a plan for $550 million in tax-exempt bonding for the 2.6 million-square-foot Bergen County project on Thursday, the Economic Development Authority approved plans today for an  Economic Redevelopment and Growth Act grant not to exceed $390 million.

In addition, EDA gave the go-ahead for reimbursement of remediation, at 75 percent of an estimated $36.7 million, for the East Rutherford site, from the previous developer to the current applicant.

In summarizing some of the controversy surrounding this decade-old project that remains unfinished and has changed hands, EDA CEO Michele Brown aptly chose the term “colorful’’ to describe its past and the building’s façade under the prior developer.

Total project costs of $2.6 billion include $2.2 billion eligibility under the grant act, resulting in a recommended grant of 17.55 percent, not to exceed $390 million, to be paid over a maximum period of 20 years.

The financial approvals issued Thursday and Friday are designed to help turn what Brown called an “eyesore’’ into a 3.3 million-square-foot retail and entertainment destination, one that will include a 12-year licensing agreement with Dreamworks for use of its characters.

It will include movie theaters, an indoor ski/snow dome, miniature golf and other aspects that will make it more than just a mere shopping site, EDA President Tim Lizura explained.

The entities owning the project – Ameream LLC and Meadow Amusements LLC – are owned by the Ghermezian family whose other projects include the Mall of America.

As cited for the Finance Board on Thursday, the project will create 11,000 permanent full- or part-time jobs that will generate $218 million in wages.

But as was in evidence Thursday, the project has detractors.  Environmentalists decry blacktopping of a region that already is prone to flooding, and the NFL’s Jets and Giants, who play home games at nearby MetLife Stadium, have gone to court over the nightmare vision they have of traffic on game days.

In recognition of the complexity of the deal, Lizura said the paperwork for potential investors will include so-called “big boy letters, meaning they will know what they are getting into.”

In terms of the site remediation, the board was told it has been completed with the exception of whatever unknown problems might potentially arise in the future.

In addition, Lizura said the developers want shovels in the ground as soon as possible with a target completion date of 2015.

The president of N.J. Policy Perspective criticized the EDA approval.

“Pledging to help bail out a megamall to the tune of nearly $400 million is a clear case of New Jersey’s misplaced priorities on economic development,” said Gordon MacInnes in a release.

“Instead of placing their bets on a flailing retail destination in the swamps, New Jersey policymakers would be better off making investments that are proven to grow the economy and create good jobs for this and future generations.”

Earlier story:

Finance Board OKs American Dream $550M bond proposal