Job seekers came to East Rutherford on Wednesday, lured by the prospect of hiring on at one of the hundreds of stores and restaurants that are slated to open soon at the long-delayed American Dream entertainment and retail complex.
Wednesday’s event is the latest in a series of such events aimed at staffing the businesses at the complex, which has cost $5 billion, had three different developers and has been under construction at the Meadowlands Sports Complex for more than 15 years.
The job fair comes amid a dispute between the current developer and local officials over payments that had been promised once the complex opened. An amusement park, skating rink and ski slope at American Dream have been open to the public since the end of last year, even as work has continued on its retail components.
Secaucus Mayor Mike Gonnelli said the developer, Triple Five, which also owns the Mall of America, is not living up to the terms of the agreement it struck with his town, as well as East Rutherford and Carlstadt.
Where’s the beef?
“All it says in their agreement was, once they opened, they would generate a check for X amount of dollars to each town. And it didn’t happen. So it’s like, what are you doing?” he said.
Triple Five did not respond to a request for comment, but Gonnelli said the company claims the payments aren’t due until the complex is fully open. That’s not his reading of the deal.
“There’s a lot of things open. I think they drew in almost a million people already,” he said. “We have to make it work for us all. And to make it work for us, you have to pay us what you owe us.”
The company — which still needs a certificate of occupancy for the DreamWorks-themed water park it said would open in November — says the formal opening of American Dream will take place in March, but no firm date has yet been set.
None of that deterred the hundreds of job hunters who turned up at the complex for Wednesday’s job fair.
“I came here because it’s a pretty cool place,” said a woman who identified herself as Maria E. “They’re very creative with their setup and it’s a good environment.”
Hoping for a job, any job
Al Ammarito said he has had trouble finding employment and was open to any number of options at American Dream. “At my age, I’ll take anything. I’m really appreciative of a job.”
Also on hand was Jared Reyes, who expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s really tough to get a job these days,” he said.
Retailers claim strong applicants can be hard to find, but that being in American Dream helps. Triple Five says that 90% of its retail space there is leased.
With more than half the complex focused on entertainment, managers at Abercrombie Kids were expecting great things when their store opens.
“It’s going to be oriented toward kids, so I’m excited, especially for the kids store,” said manager Shay Cramsey. “I think it’s going to be a great location for us.”
Rich Llanes manages the It’Sugar candy store, the only retailer currently open at American Dream. Business is sweet, he says.
“I’m local to North Jersey so I’ve waited half my life for this building to open, to be part of this,” he said. “It’s been way over all our expected plans, so it’s been very good. Our CEO is very happy.”
Triple Five claims nearly 800,000 guests have visited the complex thus far.
Adding to those numbers on Wednesday was a group of kids from Poughkeepsie.
“We decided to have them play hooky,” said Radames Martinez, an adult accompanying the contingent at the amusement park. “Skip school, let’s come to Nickelodeon.”