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Mall of America launches $325 million expansion By Forum News Service on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:24 p.m.

A rendering of the Mall of America expansion plans. The mall, Mortenson Construction, Hotel Development LLC and the city of Bloomington, Minn., celebrated the beginning of the $325 million expansion project at the mall with a ceremonial groundbreaking event Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (Image courtesy of DLR Group/Mall of America)

St. Paul Pioneer Press

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- In a shower of confetti, Mall of America on Tuesday launched a $325 million expansion aimed at adding glitz and new elements of luxury to the nation’s largest mall.

The expansion will add a new Food Hall, underground valet parking and another 50 to 75 retailers, mostly aimed at upscale shoppers.

It will also add a second atrium — “bigger than the one we’re standing in today,” said Kurt Hagen, senior vice president of mall owner Triple Five Worldwide, at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, which was moved indoors because of weather.

The expansion also will add a 342-room luxury JW Marriott Hotel and a seven-story office building designed to attract distinctive high-profile tenants.

On an even grander scale, the expansion kicks off a 10-year plan to nearly double the size of the mega-mall, eventually pushing it to the north, filling up the old Met Sports Center space, now a vast parking area.

“As far as what’s to come, we have big plans — we always have,” said Paul Ghermezian, whose family corporation owns the Bloomington mega-mall.

Mall of America already attracts some 42 million visitors a year, ranking it among the nation’s most popular attractions. Eventually, mall officials hope to bring 60 million visitors a year to the expanded mall, and shift the balance so that tourists outnumber locals.

While the distant future — a world-class indoor waterpark, more department stores, an indoor skating rink — are still years away, the expansion launched Tuesday paves the way for those later additions, officials said.

“This is another step toward that,” Hagen said. “We’ll continue to grow north.”

This expansion, along with futures ones, is partly financed by a $250 million tax break that Minnesota legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton approved last year.

The $325 million addition kicked off Tuesday has several parts, with slightly different timetables.

“The retail will open in August 2015,” Hagen said. “The hotel will be about two months after that, and the office will probably open two months after that. So it’s kind of sequenced. Obviously, retail will be first, but it’ll all be open by the end of 2015.”

Those new elements include:

FOOD HALL: A third-floor Food Hall will replace the existing north food court. The current food court will remain in place until the summer of 2015, but then it will be removed and the food offerings upgraded.

Today’s expanse of tables dominated by fast-food options will be replaced with more specialized food offerings, officials say. Styrofoam containers and plastic forks will be gone, too.

“You’ll eat on real plates, use real silverware, and the ambiance will be much different in there,” said MOA Vice President Maureen Bausch. “We’d love to do cooking classes in the new common area.”

Added Ghermezian: “Imagine walking into a new modern restaurant, where you have beautiful finishes, beautiful chairs, but you have multiple food experiences. Calling it a food court wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s not a restaurant.”

Mall officials aren’t revealing the 12 tenants in the Food Hall, but Bausch said a handful of existing food court tenants will carry over to the new space.

STORES: The expanded retail area will have room for 50 to 75 new tenants, Bausch said. MOA isn’t saying which retailers are coming because leases haven’t been signed.

But it intends for the first floor to be aimed at “unique/upscale retailers,” the second floor emphasizing home furnishings, and the third floor dedicated to food.

The new stores will ring an oval-shaped atrium that feature a glassy roof to bring in sunlight. Ghermezian calls it a “beautiful event space” that will attract even more events to MOA.

“We have over 350 events at Mall of America today, and there are a lot of events we can’t do because of the size,” Ghermezian said. “This allows us to do these larger events, and the marketing guys are just going crazy about it.

HOTEL: The 14-story, 342-room JW Marriott hotel will rise on the mall’s northeast side; it will be owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. This would marks the debut in this market of Marriott’s luxury brand.

For most of its 20-year history, Mall of America had no hotels on its property. But then last year, Radisson opened its high-end Radisson Blu hotel on the mall’s south side.

“The Blu has been a fabulous addition to the mall,” Hagen said. “We found that 95 percent of the guests at Blu shop at Mall of America … and I think 42 percent of them spend over $500 at the mall.”

Mall officials expect the same from the JW Marriott, which will have the largest ballroom in Bloomington.

OFFICE TOWER: A 10-story building will also rise on the mall’s north side, west of the hotel, with the upper seven floors dedicated to offices. But not just any offices, Hagen said.

“It will be multiple tenants,” he said. “We are really looking to attract national or international companies who can leverage being attached to Mall of America, as opposed to a local Class A office building in a suburban market where you’ve got accountants and lawyers.”

Hagen added, “We’re trying to find tenants in marketing, advertising, retailing, who would bring in guests from around the country, stay in the hotels, dine in our restaurants and shop in our mall.”

TOURISM CENTER: The mall’s second floor will also include a new International Tourism Center, designed to give the mall’s millions of foreign visitors an easier entry to the mall, with services like taxis and tours offered nearby.

Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction is providing building and development for the expansion project.

Bausch said the overall theme of the expansion was to improve the Mall of America experience, to keep it fresh and interesting and unique for visitors who have endless options online.

While still popular, many traditional U.S. shopping malls have struggled lately from the weakening of department store anchors, a glut of low-priced competition and the growth of online shopping. Almost no new enclosed shopping malls have been built in the United States in the past six years, placing MOA’s expansion plans against industry trends.

Still, MOA has steadily boosted traffic and sales by adding attractions that people can’t get online, and that go beyond stores selling stuff. Lately that has included a new exhibition space featuring exhibits based on Barbie and the TV show CSI; new restaurant and dining options; a nightly light show; and performance venues like 400 Club and the Hard Rock Cafe, both opening this summer.

“It’s about the experience, because our biggest competitor is this” — Bausch said, waving her smartphone in her hand.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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