21 May 2013

Extant Assets - Mall of America, Bloomington, MN

It was late in the winter of 1994 and I was attending Saint John's University just outside of Saint Cloud, Minnesota as a freshman. It was just before we were discharged for spring break, however temperatures in that Arctic wasteland had yet to break the melting point, even during the midday. I had just waken from the coldest night of sleep in my life after snoozing on the sub-zero floor of my buddy's pad. How I got into that position, I'm not entirely clear. But I'm pretty sure that alcohol had something to do with it. Despite this discomfort, I awoke chipper and excited; hypothermia and hangover be damned! That day, we would be road tripping to The Cities so that I could get my first ever look inside of The Mall of America.

 
 
The Mall of America Mallmanac, ca. 1994. View the full PDF version here.

Obviously, I've always had an affinity for shopping malls. Another indulgence with which I've had a long standing relationship is the roller coaster. The Mall of America was both of those pleasures all rolled into one. My excitement was nearing its peak as we approached the city of Bloomington driving eastbound on I-494. Just around a bend, there it was. She spread herself out on the horizon with her beige and amber smile, while the corner anchors of Nordstrom and Sears resembled outstretched arms, ready to welcome me.

We entered the cavernous interior on the East Broadway wing with it's flashing neon, shiny chrome and black trimmed elements. The overwhelming facility extended vertically another three tiers above my head while a band played nearby on the ground level stage. Every sense was being tastefully stimulated. The Mall of America was almost everything I expected it to be. Then I heard the low rumble of something racing by on a steel track, and my joy was complete. I looked ahead to Knott's Camp Snoopy and the Ripsaw Roller Coaster, both located just under an immense expanse of clear glass, bathing every square inch of the amusement park in soothing, warming natural light. The temperature was still in the teens outside, but I was feeling a heated rush of excitement within myself.


A postcard of Bloomington featuring their claim to fame.

Man, we did so much on that trip to The Mall of America. I left Planet Hollywood full of greasy Cap'n Cruch and disappointment for the first time. I enjoyed the rather mild Ripsaw coaster for several circuits. I discovered one of the finest timber-flume runs I'd ever had the pleasure of riding with the Log Chute. I even got my initial ear piercing with some tacky gold and faux diamond stud at one of the five or so Claire's Boutiques. And even after spending several hours within those tourist filled corridors, we may have covered one-third of the place.

Working for Northwest Airlink during the early 2000s, I found myself in the Twin Cities quite often on business. They'd almost always arrange for our accommodation at the Holiday Inn location in Bloomington that was in close proximity to The Mall of America. After visiting countless times just to grab a quick bite to eat or to pick up a new toothbrush, the place eventually lost all of its novelty. But I still couldn't help but stare upward and to be amazed every time I walked into the four million square foot wonder.

 
 
The Mall of America's layout at its opening.

The Mall of America was conceptualized by the Triple Five Group, owned by the Ghermezian family of West Edmonton Mall fame, and was built in conjunction with their partner Indianapolis-based Simon. Opened in 1992, it was constructed on the site of the razed Met Stadium just south of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. It was a hit from the moment the doors were open and brought Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's to the state. To this day, it maintains yearly visitor counts of around forty million, while the owners' plans for a Phase II that will nearly double the size of the complex have been on the drawing board for years.


The Mall of America as of this writing.

A few things have changed since that original visit of mine. Knott's Camp Snoopy is now branded Nickelodeon Universe, theme restaurants have fallen out of favor leading to Planet Hollywood's closure in 2003 and Bloomingdale's, citing the location's disappointing performance, closed in 2012. Presently, the 210,000 square foot building is being subdivided into space for several junior anchors. A marine exhibit, SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, now occupies space on the basement level, allowing visitors to traverse a 300 foot tunnel where over 4,500 organisms can be viewed. Oh yeah, and I now have both ears pierced and wear simple silver studs instead of gold.

The Mall of America's official website

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