When the world tunes in to the Super Bowl Sunday night, aerial shots of MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands might afford a glimpse of a strangely colored structure the governor once dubbed "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey."
The shell of the former Meadowlands "Xanadu" project stands a Peyton Manning Hail Mary from the field where the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will square off for the Vince Lombardi trophy. First approved in 2003, it has passed through the hands of three developers and been envisioned as everything from a massive water park to a giant shopping mall, complete with an indoor ski slope. For now, it sits unfinished, a garish money pit that has so far sucked up an estimated $3.5 billion.
"The ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie famously said of the cursed development, with its mismatched tiling of loud, Day-Glo colors and mismatched patterns.
“It’s unfortunate that people have to look at that exterior. But the game is at night and luckily there won’t be any lights shining on it."
- East Rutherford Mayor James L. Cassella
To drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike, the immense building's facade provides a curious diversion from traffic jams. But for local residents, it is a source of embarrassment and a reminder of economic and regulatory failures.
“I don’t think anyone who lives around here understands why it’s there," said Sal Scaravilli, owner of Pizza Mia in downtown East Rutherford. "They should just tear it down. It’s ugly and it doesn’t belong there. It’s a waste of money.”
When the Mills Corp., in partnership with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, broke ground in 2004, Xanadu was touted as "a new standard for bringing lifestyle, recreation, sports and family entertainment offerings together in one location" with retail shops, entertainment venues, and attractions like the first indoor ski slope in North America. But by 2009, the recession had taken its toll on Mills, and the state agency, which operates the football stadium, a racetrack and a pair of arenas abandoned by the pro hockey and basketball teams that once played home games there, was left to scramble for another partner.
Next up was New York developer the Related Companies, which assured a dubious public it could complete the project by the end of 2010, though it dropped the fanciful "Xanadu" name in favor of the more practical-sounding moniker “The Meadowlands.” Months later, Related backed out, prompting a special state commission to award the project to Mall of America operator Triple Five Group, which changed the name yet again, to "American Dream Meadowlands." In December 2010, Triple Five secured a $700 million loan and announced plans to have the project, now a massive mall and indoor theme park, finished in time for this year’s Super Bowl.
But the "curse of Xanadu" remains unbroken. And while Triple Five hasn't given up on the project, it long ago abandoned hope the project would be open when the stadium to the west takes the world's stage.
“We are not pressured by deadlines," Triple Five spokesman Alan Marcus told FoxNews.com. "We believe we have found a formula for success because there has been no rush. The only deadline is Triple Five’s deadline.”
The problem this time is not money. Triple Five announced in October it will raise another $1 billion through private means and the state Local Finance Board approved a plan to issue nearly $800 million in public bonds to ensure the project survives.
But work has been stalled by a lawsuit brought by the NFL's Giants and Jets, who play their home games at MetLife and fear traffic generated by the project will foul up game days. Marcus noted that Bergen County, N.J., has blue laws that would prevent a mall from opening on Sundays, and expressed confidence the tortured history of what his company calls American Dream Meadowlands will soon take a positive turn.
“For those who say that this is a failure, the fact is that the companies before us had to deal with the two largest recessions this country has ever seen,” Marcus said.
East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella hopes once kickoff comes, the world won't pay much attention to the giant boondoggle that sits in his town.
“It’s unfortunate that people have to look at that exterior,” Cassella said. “But the game is at night and luckily there won’t be any lights shining on it."