Meet Triple Five Group: The real estate developers behind New Jersey's 'American Dream' mega mall

Key Points
  • The American Dream is set to begin opening Oct. 25.
  • The property, which is about 45% retail and 55% entertainment, is being developed by Triple Five Group.
  • Triple Five is a family-run real estate conglomerate that also owns the Mall of America.
This is a rendering of the American Dream project in New Jersey which is scheduled to begin opening to the public on Oct. 25, starting with the Nickelodean theme park.
Source: Triple Five Group

A sprawling 3 million square feet of indoor ski slopes, waterslides, roller coasters, chef-backed eateries and department stores is set to open, at least partially, to the public later this month.

The development that sits in the Meadowlands area just west of New York City, known as American Dream, has been in the works for more than a decade, making its grand reveal a highly anticipated one.

And its developers, Edmonton, Canada-based Triple Five Group, have been working feverishly to pull it all together, since they took over the site in 2011. Back then, it was known as Xanadu, and its facade was a hodgepodge of colors — oftentimes derided by locals and those passing by it as they drove by on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Triple Five kicked off construction on American Dream in 2013.

A private, family run business, Triple Five is perhaps best known for designing the Mall of America in Minnesota, the largest shopping mall in the country by square footage, which spans more than 4 million feet and — in addition to plenty of shops and restaurants — includes a Nickelodeon theme park, an aquarium, mini golf and an escape room, among other family attractions.

If that tells you anything, it is that the family behind Triple Five isn't thinking small.

And, in a country that already has more retail per person than any other, Triple Five isn't looking to create just another suburban mall. It knows that wouldn't stand a chance of surviving.

"We are building something that no other developer in the country has done yet ... the Simons, the Westfields, the [Brookfields] — they are all good shopping center developers. But the world today is not about shopping centers, it's about experiences," Triple Five President and CEO Don Ghermezian said in an interview.

"We want to be the developer who produces and delivers tier-one entertainment while at the same time delivering an experiential retail environment," he added. "We've taken what we learned from [Mall of America]. We put it on steroids, went crazy and built American Dream."

According to Ghermezian, his family "started with nothing." They managed to turn a small rug business into a real estate conglomerate, which also owns the West Edmonton Mall in Canada. "They were always risk takers, had big visions and big plans ... always prepared to put their money and their mind where their mouth was," he said. "A lot of that has been passed down to the next generation."

Jacob Ghermezian, Don's grandfather, was born in Azerbaijan and eventually left Iran with his brothers to settle in North America in the late 1940s, working to expand the family's Persian rug business. That dovetailed into the Ghermezian family creating a real estate holding company, which became Triple Five.

Now, a younger generation of Ghermezians are looking to rewrite the playbook of what an American mall can be, at a time when more people are turning to the internet to buy things. However, the company doesn't refer to American Dream as a mall, though others may. The property is only 45% retail, with the rest of the space being devoted to entertainment.

"When we originally took on the project seven or eight years ago, there could've been 200 retailers out there that I thought would be tenants at the center. A lot of them just went bankrupt," Ghermezian said. "In a very advantageous way, it caused us to shift our focus ... on driving people to the center and getting them off their phones. America has a thousand shopping centers they don't need."

Triple Five Group is perhaps best known for designing the Mall of America in Minnesota. The company says it will bring some of its best practices from that development to American Dream.
Source: Triple Five Group

Though most of the business is still made up of family members, Triple Five has since brought on some outside help. In March, it announced it would be bringing on Ken Downing, previously senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, as chief creative officer.

Downing has been tasked with putting the "final touches" on American Dream, making design decisions and ensuring Triple Five has the right mix of retailers there.

"What excited me most [about working at Triple Five] was the enormity of this project," Downing said in an interview. "To think creatively beyond any expectations, beyond anything I could ever dream about before, no pun intended."

"I wanted to be part of the biggest project North America will ever see," he said. "[Don] thinks like I think. Big thinking is what we need today. We have no constraints."

The American Dream will be about 45% retail, with the rest devoted to entertainment uses.
Source: Triple Five Group

The American Dream is set to open in phases, beginning later this month. But holiday shopping will have to be done elsewhere, because the retail sections won't be coming until next year.

On Oct. 25, the Nickelodeon Universe theme park — with more than 35 rides and roller coasters — and an NHL-regulation size ice rink will open to the public.

Then, on Nov. 27, the DreamWorks water park will open, marking North America's largest indoor water park when it does, complete with a 1.5-acre pool, over 40 slides and a lazy river.

On Dec. 5, an attraction called Big Snow will open to the public. It's an indoor snow park that has multiple hills ranging from "bunny" to "black diamond."

Finally, the retail portion of American Dream is slated to open in March of next year, Triple Five Group says, along with the rest of the experiential aspects of the property, including a Legoland Discovery center, Kidzania, an observation wheel and movie theater. In total, there will be more than 350 retail shops, ranging from Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue and Hermes to Zara and H&M, and more than 100 dining options.

"The Ghermazian family ... they won't let this not be amazing," said Florian Suserman, a partner in the New Jersey office of commercial real estate services firm Ripco. "They've already invested their money, they are brilliant people, and they have brilliant people working for them. ... People know they will deliver the goods."

Still, Triple Five has its work cut out for it.

The family has faced its fair share of criticism for everything ranging from of how long it's taken to complete this project, the traffic headache some are expecting it might cause and the thought of the company adding even more retail square footage to a glut of it already in the U.S. Everyone wants to see if they'll be able to pull it off, and if they'll be able to bring New Yorkers across the Hudson River to visit.

Triple Five "doesn't do anything unless it's a large magnitude ... this is their specialty. This is what they love to do," Greg Maloney, CEO at commercial real estate services firm JLL's retail division, said. "People have to get used to it. After the opening, I think it takes a year or two before they really get things under their belt ... to get things humming."

Malls adding virtual reality experiences to boost foot traffic
Malls adding virtual reality experiences to boost foot traffic