One of the largest entertainment and retail complexes on the
planet opened its doors five miles west of New York City on Friday after
decades of planning and delays and multiple changes in ownership. There through
it all, hundreds of members of
N.J., Local 164
are finally ready to share their hard work with the
|Scores of Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 members are installing and maintaining electrical systems in shops, restaurants and attractions throughout the Meadowlands’ new 3-million-square-foot American Dream Mall, the third-largest entertainment and retail complex in North America. Photo courtesy PCL Construction Enterprises.
“We’ve been a part of conversations about development of the land ever since the late 1990s,” said Local 164 Business Manager Daniel Gumble. “We’re excited to have been a part of bringing this massive project across the finish line.”
The plan all along has been to build some sort of mall, he said. In the early 2000s, construction began on a huge shopping destination called Xanadu, located on a 120-acre parcel alongside the sprawling Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. The Meadowlands is home to another Local 164-built behemoth, MetLife Stadium, where the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants play.
Financial complications, though, brought a halt to work on Xanadu several times. By 2013, with the economy improving following the Great Recession, Mall of America developer Triple Five Group stepped in to take control of the project, and construction resumed on a redesigned and reimagined complex they renamed American Dream.
American Dream benefited from the considerable expertise of Local 164’s members, who weren’t intimidated by the project’s 3-million-square-foot footprint. The local’s Bergen, Hudson and Essex county jurisdiction has been home to some of the largest commercial and industrial projects in the entire country over the years.
Leaders at the local are especially proud that American Dream is being built using 100% union labor, noted Local 164 business agent Harold Bender.
“We’ve had a PLA from Day 1,” said Bender, who worked with Gumble, Local 164 President Thomas Sullivan and the local’s office staff to manage the IBEW’s workload on the project and the mountains of paperwork that accompanied it.
In 2014, the Bergen County Building and Construction Trades signed a project labor agreement with Triple Five and the state of New Jersey. Ever since, thousands of union tradespeople have worked on American Dream, with PCL Construction serving as the general contractor.
Gumble praised the team effort that went into getting ready to welcome the public to the mall. “The owner of Triple Five and general contractor PCL have been tremendous to work with throughout the entire project.”
Although American Dream is technically a shopping mall, the phrase doesn’t fully describe the $5 billion complex that’s geared more toward entertainment and experiences than traditional retail. The facility is so big that it’s opening in segments across a span of nearly half a year.
The indoor Nickelodeon-themed amusement park, which boasts a roller coaster claiming to have the world’s steepest vertical drop, opened on Friday alongside an NHL-sized ice rink.
Next month is expected to bring the launch of the glass-domed DreamWorks-themed water park, complete with a 1.5-acre wave pool. In early December, an indoor ski park called the Big Snow will open its doors, boasting a 16-story, 800-foot-long ski slope with room for snowboarding.
“We basically had nine $200-million programs that happened to be in construction within a five-minute walk of each other,” Steve Schmalz, PCL operations manager on American Dream, told ENR New York. “The work site is a campus.”
But several months remain before the mall’s true grand opening in March, meaning hundreds of union construction workers are continuing to work on the site seven days a week.
“We’ve had at least 300 electricians onsite working three shifts round the clock for the last two and a half years,” Gumble said. “We have about 500 onsite now.”
Local 164 members are performing installations all over the complex, Bender said. “Every electrical system — variable message signs, fire alarm systems, power — you name it,” he said.
Most of the 450 shops and 100 or so eateries in American Dream’s three-level retail section are expected to be ready for business by March, as well as the Sea Life Aquarium, Legoland Discover Center, multiplex movie theater and 300-foot outdoor Ferris wheel.
Fully operational at that point, American Dream will become the third-largest retail center in North America. Triple Five Group also owns the two largest, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta and the Mall of America near Minneapolis, built by members of Edmonton Local 424 and Minneapolis Local 292, respectively.
Tony Armlin, Triple Five’s senior vice president for development and construction, said American Dream’s construction “has been an enormous undertaking which has been completed through collaborative teamwork, personal commitment and key partnerships.”
He had especially high praise for Local 164’s electricians. “We are very pleased with the hard work and contributions of the highly skilled and well-trained men and women of IBEW Local 164 in completing this project,” said Armlin, who also served as American Dream’s project director. “The men and women of Local 164 take great pride in the quality workmanship that they have performed and have shown incredible commitment to helping us successfully build and complete an amazing new global destination.”
American Dream’s full opening in the spring will not spell the end of Local 164’s involvement with the project. The expected 30 million to 40 million annual visitors from all over the world will continue to benefit from the local’s handiwork, Gumble said.
“We’ll have work through 2020 and beyond, as long as the PLA is in force,” he said.