American Dream, New Jersey’s mega retail and entertainment complex, will fill a big void in its promised offering on Sept. 17 when it launches its long-awaited luxury retail and dining wing, called The Avenue.
The upscale lineup includes Saks Fifth Avenue — which will be the largest store in The Avenue at 113,000 square feet — as well as Hermès, at 8,000 square feet, and Saint Laurent, Tiffany & Co., Dolce & Gabbana, Mulberry, Jonathan Adler, Zadig & Voltaire, Johnny Was and Anne Fontaine, among others.
On the food and beverage side, Carpaccio, an Italian restaurant in the Bal Harbour Shops in Florida, will open its first Northeast location at American Dream. A Brüt Champagne bar will also open in The Avenue.
Along with the 20-plus stores scheduled to open Sept. 17, within the next 30 days another group of retailers will be revealed for openings in the fall. The Avenue wing encompasses about 300,000 square feet and is 70 percent leased, according to officials at the complex.
Adding to the sense of style and with a touch of high-tech, an exhibit of American fashion and art is being curated by Ken Downing, chief creative officer of Triple Five, the developer of American Dream, in The Avenue’s common areas. Exhibits will be rigged with QR codes so visitors can learn about the art and the fashion designers and their collections, as they tour the floor. The exhibit, to showcase fall 2021 styles, will run for about a month.
Adding another layer of luxe to the ambience, Jonathan Adler has designed The Avenue’s interior expression with “sitting salons” for cozy gatherings, a sculpture garden, koi ponds, and an oversized collection of vessels, from 8- to 18-feet high, crowned with topiaries. Adler previously designed the 31 “VIP Skybox Suites,” overlooking American Dream’s DreamWorks Water Park, with exotic trappings evoking Adler’s favorite resort destinations: Bali, Capri and Tulum.
The Avenue, said Downing, “is much like a boutique hotel, with little individual sitting salons, for gatherings with friends. It feels very residential.”
The Dream Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel, will also open on the property, around the same time as The Avenue debuts.
“We don’t do things in a traditional way because we are American Dream,” Downing said.
The timing for the launch of The Avenue and its fashion/art exhibit is fitting considering life is now normalizing as COVID-19 cases decline, Downing noted. “With New York Fashion Week returning this fall with in-person fashion shows, with the Met Gala moving its May date into September, because we are seeing travelers coming from around the country into the city, and because there is all this positive energy as we all get on the better side of things, it’s just the right time to present The Avenue.”
A substantial portion of the space within The Avenue is yet to be leased, partly due to the bankruptcy of Barneys New York, which had planned to occupy 50,000 square feet, and Lord & Taylor, which also went bankrupt, aborting its plan to open at American Dream. “We have a couple of things in the works,” Downing said, to fill some space, though he declined to cite any potential retail alternatives.
He said The Avenue’s launch would “build off the momentum of fashion week.…We are going to open with a lot of events and excitement. It’s going to be a big draw and allow us to continue to open more and more stores as we go along.” More dining experiences will also be revealed, Downing said.
“There are familiar brand names at The Avenue, but what makes it exciting is that it will house the only Saks Fifth Avenue in New Jersey, and the overall attitude and presentation of what you will find in the common areas and the freshness of stores being built is unlike any shopping center anyone has seen. Nothing about it looks like a traditional shopping center.” (Saks once operated two stores in New Jersey.)
There has been speculation that luxury customers would prefer to shop Manhattan or upscale malls in Jersey, such as the one in Short Hills where Saks previously operated, but Downing disagreed, saying, “We know that the appetite for the luxury wing is here already,” with consumers shopping more moderate stores already present at American Dream, such as Zara, Aritzia, Primark, Uniqlo and H&M, and enjoying the DreamWorks Water Park, which has the world’s largest indoor wave pool encompassing 1.5 acres; Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park; Sea Life Aquarium, and the Big Snow indoor ski slope.
“We are seeing a blended community that shops with us and enjoys the theme park and water park,” said Downing.
Guests, he said, mostly come from within a 100-mile radius from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, although there is also a significant number of people coming from Connecticut, Florida and Ohio. “You have people who come to us for very different things — some for the parks, some to shop, some for both. Many of them are the luxury customers you would expect,” said Downing.
Since American Dream opened in the fall of 2019, the mix of retail and entertainment has been evolving and, according to Downing, the mix is about 45 percent retail and 55 percent entertainment.
American Dream, while continuing to advance its offering, has in the past been beset by construction delays, and financing issues, exacerbated by the pandemic, which forced the complex to temporarily close for several months shortly after it first opened. The complex defaulted on a construction loan and as a consequence, Triple Five, the developer of American Dream, had to give the lenders a 49 percent stake in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, both developed by Triple Five. It cost more than $6 billion to build the 3.3 million-square-foot American Dream complex, located in East Rutherford, N.J. The luxury wing itself has been delayed a number of times.
Commenting on The Avenue finally close to launching, Don Ghermezian, chief executive officer of American Dream, said in a statement, “We are excited to bring our reimagined luxury experience to American Dream with a selection of prestigious brands and offerings unseen anywhere else in the state. The Avenue at American Dream builds on our premiere offerings, reinforcing American Dream’s position as a top entertainment and retail destination.”