Jim Kirkos wasn’t one of the two dozen or so officials and dignitaries up on the makeshift stage placed in the (almost) halfway-finished American Dream project in the Meadowlands on Tuesday for the governor’s sneak peek news conference.
He didn’t need to be. Kirkos has seen this program before.
As the CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce since 2002, Kirkos has been to as many of these shows as anyone in the area. He’s had an up-close-and-personal look at the transformative project — one whose number of names and developers is exceeded only by its number of missed opening dates.
This time, however, he’s convinced the show will have a different ending.
“You can see now, it’s no longer, ‘If it’s going to happen,’ it’s, ‘When,’” he said.
For that, Kirkos gives full credit to the Ghermezian family and its Triple Five development company.
“I think the Ghermezians have worked this project to be exactly what’s needed in today’s economy,” he said. “This is now right for today. They understand what it is needed.
“They’ve moved the number of entertainment elements to over 50 percent of the total square footage. That just changes the whole project. When we first thought it was Xanadu, it was like 8 percent entertainment.”
Who could forget Xanadu?
The precursor of American Dream was best known for the ugly outside of its indoor ski slope.
Kirkos said it only hid the ugliness of a failed business model.
“Those guys just threw in the ski slope to try to keep the natives happy,” he said. “It was just going to be another mega-mall — with a ski slope.
“This is going to be different. This is an entertainment showplace with retail.”
Retail, Kirkos said, will be different, too — an element that will not follow the failed business model that is closing malls all over the country.
“They make their retailers deliver experiences to their customers,” he said. “When they do the leases, they say, ‘Show us how you’re going to deliver an experience and not just sell a pair of pants.’
“That’s the retail they’re bringing in. So, everything here is an experience.”
Everything going in there is going to be a concern to local retailers, too.
The only people who have been happy with the more than a decade delay of the project are local retailers.
Kirkos, whose group represents all of them, appreciates the concern. He says it’s understandable. He also feels it’s not necessary.
“I think the right word still is apprehensive,” he said. “Local small businesses in downtown Rutherford and Secaucus are worried about whether this is just going to be a big black hole.”
Kirkos had the worry, too. So, he traveled to the two other Triple Five projects that are most like American Dream.
“I went to the Mall of America (right outside of Minneapolis) and West Edmonton Mall and spoke to the businesses outside of those two big projects,” he said. “What has happened is that the projects have been a nucleus for more business.
“Think about it this way: If we bring 30 million people a year to the site, they are going to find their way into the local community. And it’s not likely that somebody is coming here when they only need to buy a pair of pants. They are going to go to that local retailer.
“I think only time will satisfy and soothe those concerns, but I don’t think they should have worries.”
And while some are concerned about American Dream sharing a parking lot with MetLife Stadium, Kirkos feels the proximity will help both entities.
“The events MetLife Stadium brings in are going to be greatly enhanced,” he said. “Promoters are going to want to do more events there because of this, because this is going to an experience for their people.
“And think about the economic impact for New Jersey for something like Wrestlemania. Now that we have this, instead of people just getting on trains and buses and coming in from New York, they are going to spend some more time and more money here.
“We get to keep more of that money in New Jersey.”
Which means more for the Meadowlands region.
“We’re going to bring so many new faces to the region, and my job will be to show people that there’s more than just the American Dream,” Kirkos said.
“Yes, I want to leverage American Dream. And they’ll get a great experience here. But we’re going to show them all the other assets as well.”