Visitors finally took their first steps inside the American Dream mall on Friday.
The mall, located by MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was once called "the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America," by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Construction has been on and off for several years, after hitting several road blocks in everything from funding to lawsuits from the NFL.
More than 17 years later, CNBC got a peek inside the partially opened center. (Only the ice rink and Nickelodeon theme park are open as of now.)
An estimated 2,500 people visited the mall on Friday, according to an American Dream press release. They waited in long lines for everything from food to rides — and to take their pictures with characters like Spongebob.
On Friday, some parking spots we saw cost up to $45. On its website, American Dream lists parking prices listed for $3-$24.
Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, called the first phase opening a "great first step."
"There's that great line, 'I don't know how to define it, but I'll know it when I see it.' This feels like it's a success," he said.
The developers behind the project, Triple Five developers, are also behind the Mall of America — the largest mall in the U.S. — and West Edmonton Mall in Canada — the largest mall in North America.
The mall-and-park complex will eventually feature a LEGOland, a movie theater and a ski-park. The indoor water park will open on Nov. 27, and the rest of the shopping center will open in March 2020. The 3-million-plus-square-foot space will eventually be 55% entertainment and 45% retail.
Mall retailers will still face challenges, due to Bergen County's "blue laws" that don't allow shops to open on Sundays.
The total price tag of the center is estimated at $5 billion.
CNBC's Lauren Thomas contributed to this report.