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DreamWorks Animation Unveils N.J. Theme Park Plans Amid Protests From NFL's Giants, Jets

Shrek
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
Shrek and Donkey

UPDATED: The company is providing its characters and creative input for a giant retail mall and theme park development in the Meadowlands.

DreamWorks Animation may soon see its family of characters including Shrek, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda become theme park attractions in East Rutherford, N.J., although obstacles and questions still remain before a long-abandoned shopping mall becomes what developers are calling American Dream.

On Wednesday, DreamWorks Animation SKG and Triple Five, the Alberta, Canada-based developer (owned by the Ghermezian family) that operates the giant Mall of America in Minnesota, announced plans for a theme park in the New Jersey Meadowlands not far from Met Stadium where the New York Giants and New York Jets football teams play and the 2014 Super Bowl is scheduled to be played. 

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Both the Giants and Jets are against the project in a vacant shopping mall 10 miles west of New York City on the grounds that it would create huge traffic problems and interfere with their operations on game days. They also say in a suit filed in late June seeking an injunction to stop the project that the deal would violate their lease, which gives them veto power over any major expansion plans. The team owners have said publically that efforts to meet and negotiate with Triple Five have not been successful.

The New Jersey State Department of Transportation is not concerned about the potential traffic problems apparently, as it has already given its tentative approval to the project.

The developer has called the lawsuit “frivolous” and is opposing the granting of an injunction.

On Tuesday, the developers asked a judge to dismiss that suit, arguing that it would actually ease road congestion on game days by giving fans a place to go as they exit the stadium. The judge has not yet ruled on their request, nor granted the football teams request to stop the development.

There is also an issue in New Jersey of local blue laws, which do not allow any retail activity on Sundays.

That may not be a big obstacle, however. Local officials have already endorsed the mall transformation into a theme park and shopping complex, according to published reports. It has already been promised or received some $1.2 billion in tax breaks, subsidies and other exceptions to the usual rules. The developers have also filed papers seeking about $200 million more in public funds.

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Despite the announcement, the project is not yet financed. However, Triple Five reportedly will have the $1.75 billion it needs in place by October and projects the park will be open by September 2014.

That would be some seven months after the Super Bowl. When the project was first put forward by Triple Five, with the blessing of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- before DreamWorks Animation got involved -- the plan was to open by the end of 2013 in time for the Super Bowl. That plan obviously is no longer possible.

Another developer started building on the site but ran out of money in 2009 after spending about $1.9 billion on what was to be called Xanadu. It was then taken over by Triple Five, which renamed it American Dream.

The link with DreamWorks Animation (a public company separate from the DreamWorks studio) gives the developers the cachet of a Hollywood connection which adds an aura of glamour to what is otherwise a big retail development.

DreamWorks Animation, according to reports,  would license its characters and brand the park but would not put up any money to develop or build it and would not operate the park. 

DreamWorks's CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg knows trhe value of theme parks when they succeed from his days at Disney.

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For Disney, and to a lesser extent Comcast’s NBCUniversal, theme parks have proven not only profitable but an excellent way to exploit their family oriented tent pole properties (or those they license such as Harry Potter in Orlando). These parks help drive sales of licensed merchandise and create a connection with fans of the characters who then go to see more of the movies in the franchise, buy DVDs, books, video games, go online and do more with the licensed properties.

It would also provide an additional source of revenue at a time DVD sales have slowed and new media opportunities have not yet become a important financially as the fading old media.   

"American Dream at Meadowlands is poised to become a one-of-a-kind retail and entertainment destination in North America. We look forward to working with Triple Five Worldwide to incorporate DreamWorks Animation characters, storytelling and technology into a unique and innovative family entertainment experience at the venue," Katzenberg said in a statement.

Added Don Ghermezian, president of Triple Five Worldwide, in a statement: “American Dream at Meadowlands is working with the most creative minds in the entertainment business. The theme park will have direct input from the creative talents behind the films to create a park experience that will attract a global market."

In the football team’s lawsuit, it says the project projects the new park and mall will attract about 55 million visitors annually.

The plan in various forms, and according to several sources,  has said it may include a live theater and 14.7 acres amusement park on 3 million square feet of space. That may include 1.7 million square feet of retail space, an ice skating rink, an indoor ski hill, indoor sky diving, bowling, an aquarium, a movie theater, a live theater and 150,000 square feet of fine dining and other restaurants.

The park, per an announcement, will “offer a new amusement park experience, driven by innovation to entertain adults, teens and children alike.”

DreamWorks Animation's involvement witih the project was first reported by the New York Times.