Xanadu, New Jersey

The building of Xanadu, to be North America’s largest mall when completed, represents what many are calling the decline of the mall in American culture;

‘There’s something growing in the New Jersey Meadowlands, the marsh just nine miles west of Manhattan—and it isn’t the gentle ferns that the bucolic name suggests. Instead, what’s emerging is a man-made behemoth, the largest and most expensive mall ever built in the United States. Originally slated to open this month, Xanadu is now scheduled for completion next summer. Lawsuits, political grandstanding and construction delays have nearly doubled the mall’s cost to $2.3 billion. When it’s finished, the half-mile “retailtainment” center will be a Vegas-meets-Disneyland pleasure dome with the country’s tallest Ferris wheel and first indoor artificial ski slope. There will also be a two free-fall skydiving jumps, indoor surfing, a mini-city for kids, a digital media river on the ceiling—and, oh, some 200 shops.

Artist rendering of the cinema complex attached to the mall

The scale and scope of the project would be breathtaking in its own right. But what makes Xanadu extraordinary is the fact that it is emerging just as the American mall—that most quintessential of American institutions—is in its dying throes, if not already dead. But what were once just worrying signs appear to have finally flat-lined. Last year was the first in half a century that a new indoor mall didn’t open somewhere in the country—a precipitous decline since the mid-1990s when they rose at a rate of 140 a year, according to Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of the forthcoming book “Retrofitting Suburbia,” which focuses on the decline of malls and other commercial strips. Today, nearly a fifth of the country’s largest 2,000 regional malls are failing, she says, and according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and a record 150,000 retail outlets, including such mall mainstays as the Gap and Foot Locker, will close this year. Xanadu, whose officials declined NEWSWEEK’s requests for comment, has named just nine tenants for its 200 spaces.

Interior of the mall

So what’s the cause of this malaise? After all, malls have been part of the national landscape for more than 50 years, spawning their own indigenous culture (mall rats), native cuisine (Cinnabon) and home-bred pop sensations from Tiffany to Timberlake. Prior diagnoses have pinned the mall’s decline on retail cannibalization, the repopulation of cities and suburban gang problems. The current economic skid certainly isn’t helping to fill shops and attract vendors.

All of which makes the overt branding and commercialism of Xanadu stand out—for all the wrong reasons. The mega-mall has drawn fire from an unusually large and strange set of bedfellows: the Sierra Club, which sued to save environmentally protected wetlands; the Federal Aviation Administration, which has complained that the 287-foot Ferris wheel might disturb planes landing at nearby Teterboro airport; and former New Jersey governor Richard Codey, who has called it’s design “yucky-looking.” More recently, according to a person familiar with the matter, Xanadu’s architects at the Rockwell Group have stopped returning the developer’s calls and may remove their name from the structure, citing aesthetic concerns. Not that Xanadu entirely lacks believers. Its own personal Kubla Khan, developer Larry Siegel, has staked his career to the deal, while Pepsi has sufficient faith in the venture that it has bought the naming rights to the Ferris wheel (now the “Pepsi Globe”) for a reported $100 million.

Still, with a move towards a quieter, more retrained way of life, New Jersey’s Xanadu may yet find its dreams of leisure and retail success are as fantastical as the mythical world for which it was named.’

Article from http://www.newsweek.com by Tony Dokoupil

Couldn’t help myself.