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The Record: Local politicians weigh in on stalled American Dream

The state senator representing the Meadowlands district said he may sponsor a resolution urging the developer of the American Dream Meadowlands project to either resume construction or allow the state to consider finding an alternative project at the site.

“I want to see if there can be a piece of legislation to express our sentiment that Triple Five needs to decide what it is going to do,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge. “We can’t just have this thing staying dormant.”

Attorneys for the project, while pressing in September for immediate dismissal of a lawsuit by a nonprofit group over a proposed issuance of $1.15 billion in bonds, told the state Appellate Court that failure to grant their request would prevent the scheduled Nov. 4 bond issuance. And when construction workers were called off the site by the developer in December, a project official said work would resume “after the holidays.” January and February came and went with no sign of construction activity at the 100-acre site.

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, said such a resolution would be “pointless – just a feel-good measure” because it would be non-binding. The December 2003 developer’s agreement with the state does not specify a deadline by which the shopping-and-entertainment project must be completed. A second phase that would include 1.8 million square feet of office space would be constructed only if the developer found favorable market conditions.

All local officials contacted about the project – which is being built on state-taxpayer-owned land – sounded befuddled about the future of American Dream. A Triple Five spokesman did not offer a comment on the project or when the bonds – which would be paired with more than $1 billion in private financing – would finally be issued. The parameters of the bond issuance were approved by state officials in 2013. A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie declined to comment, although Christie previously has said the project is a private entity so there is little left for government to do.

“It does seem to be an ill-fated kind of place, doesn’t it?” Cardinale said. “There was a lot of hope that thing would take off. But every time I pass by, I can see the cranes are not moving. It’s a fantastic location, but is it fiscally viable? The people in the financial markets seem to be skeptical.”

Sarlo said he has “sort of given up thinking about” the project.

“I don’t want to get myself, my constituents or the building trades all worked up over it,” Sarlo said.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said she thinks about American Dream “every time I drive by, which is pretty often.”

“I’m hopeful somebody will get it moving again,” Weinberg said. “Have I seen any action to suggest that will happen in the near future? No, I haven’t. And I don’t know about the idea of opening up a shopping mall, when you read all this news about stores closing down around the country.”

Richard Codey, the Democratic senator from Essex County, was governor in 2005 when heavy construction began on Meadowlands Xanadu, the predecessor project of American Dream Meadowlands.

“I’d like to see it open, given that building would help the construction workers,” Codey said. “But malls are closing all over, not opening. I used to think [Triple Five] was smart, but now I don’t know that.”

Triple Five took over in 2010 and became the third developer to try to complete the project, whose variety of color schemes has been the object of bipartisan derision.

“February has come and gone without a bond sale, and I doubt March is in the cards, either,” said James Cassella, the East Rutherford mayor since 1996.

“No one can put their finger on exactly what the hold-up is,” Cassella added. “Some suspect it has to do with the outside financing; others say it’s the state of the bond market. Who knows? I can’t tell you what’s going on.”

Cassella said bond attorneys for the borough and the project continue to communicate, but he hasn’t spoken “in months” to Tony Armlin, who is overseeing the project for Triple Five.

“A lot of the locals don’t even ask anymore, they just shake their heads,” Cassella said. “We feel kind of immune to it. Hopefully, it happens, but life will go on with or without it. When people do ask me what I think is going to happen, I say, ‘You might as well ask me what I’m going to roll at the casino playing craps.’ ”

By John Brennan , Staff Writer, @BergenBrennan

Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/story/money/2017/03/02/local-politicians-weigh-stalled-american-dream/98599436/