RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Anticipation has been building for the American Dream mall in New Jersey.

After years of work, part of the mall opened Friday, but not to shoppers.

It’s a whimsical, colorful world of fun and game at the Nickelodeon Universe theme park.

With the rides spinning and ice slick, there was plenty of excitement inside for its “soft” opening, reports CBS2’s Meg Baker.

Construction is still underway, with workers in hard hats by the indoor wave pool set to open in November, and whiteboards blocking where more than 450 stores are set to open in March of 2020.

“This is a journey we’re all still on,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “There’s a way to go with the other phases but this is a great first step.”

“I think it’s going to be fun,” said Aliana Gonzalez.

It has been a long time coming, but Friday was the big day… sort of. While the shops are not yet finished, an indoor ice skating rink is also ready for the public.

“Amazing. I’m very happy. I have three daughters, so hopefully we’ll definitely visit the American Dream,” said Fort Lee resident Alper Eskinazi.

With a sleek white interior and festive pumpkins lining the entrance, the reportedly $5 billion complex has been in the works since 2003 under various names and owners, and was originally set to open in 2016.

The idea was first proposed back in 1996 to build a complex called Xanadu on wetlands in Carlstadt, but that sparked environmental protests.

In 2003, developers reached a deal with the state to redevelop an area in East Rutherford, near the former Continental Airlines Arena.

Groundbreaking finally happened in 2004 with an opening set for 2007, but in 2006 a new firm took over and pushed the opening to 2008 – the year that the financial crisis hit. The lender went bankrupt and construction stopped.

New owners took over in 2011 and renamed the project “American Dream” with an opening date pushed back again to 2014, then to 2019.

Along the way, in 2012 the Jets and Giants sued to block the development because of the traffic and parking impact it would have at MetLife Stadium. American Dream counter-sued and the lawsuits were eventually dropped.

“I’m retired, so I have freedom of time to go there,” said Secaucus resident Bert Aguilera. “Yeah, I’m excited.”

But some are concerned about the traffic it could bring to the already congested area, especially on Route 17 and 3, with 40 million visitors expected each year.

“I know there’s going to be traffic. I work in Secaucus, so I’m going to be stuck on 3 coming and going. I know,” said Lyndhurst resident Joe Vittore.

“I think it’s really excited to have something very close by, but I’m also concerned about traffic, and what that’s going to look like,” said Diana Triana.

Parking will cost you $24 for an eight hour day, but there are other options.

Starting today, New Jersey Transit will offer daily express bus service from New York City and Secaucus. New York Waterway will run shuttle buses from the Weehawken Ferry station.

“We are used to small-town development, not so much traffic. I don’t know, we’ll see how it works,” Aguilera said.

Meanwhile, finishing touches are still being put on the water and indoor snow park, set to open in the next two months.

“This is the first time that you’re opening something like this here with these sorts of rides,” said Bergen County James Tedesco. “They’re taking their time and opening it up in stages so they can get the kinks out of the thing.”

“It deserves its own grand opening,” said Triple Five CEO Don Ghermezian.

A 60,000 square foot mural was hand-painted by various New Jersey artists. It’s a much different look than the dizzying color patterns that used to be at the facility when it was known as Xanadu.

“Wintertime, it’s hard for us to entertain kids,” said Eskinazi. “So it will be an exciting moment for us.”

Parking is free just for opening weekend. However, according to the mall’s website, passes for the theme park are completely sold out through Sunday.

Given how long the project has been going on, transportation to American Dream seems to be an afterthought.

“We have to do some major road improvements and rail improvements,” said Tedesco. “To me, the only way this is really going to really work well is with mass transit. We don’t want people driving single cars.”

Triple Five leaders seem to be focusing on tourists from New York who will take a direct bus, but as for helping fund mass transit from New Jersey, Ghermezian said “that’s a conversation to have.”

As for the shopping center, it’s expected to open in March.

NJ Transit Bus Service:

Express:

  • From New York City: The new 355 bus route provides express service from Port Authority Bus Terminal every 30 minutes.
  • From Secaucus Junction: The new 356 bus route provides express service from platforms 8, 9 and 10 every 30 minutes.

Local:

  • 85 Hoboken/Union City – American Dream
  • 703 Paterson/Passaic – American Dream
  • 772 Hackensack – American Dream

Click here for Nickelodeon Universe tickets | Click here for NJ Transit details 

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