Mall of America

“We still hope to add hotels, a water park resort, a commercial office building, and destination restaurants,” said Maureen Bausch, EVP of business development. “The entire original vision will be realized when Phase II opens.”

This may sound like a lot for a mall, but consider the elements involved in Mall of America, which was completed and opened to the public in 1992. There are currently more than 520 shops, 20 sit-down restaurants, 30 fast food restaurants, 36 specialty food stores, and 14 movie screens. In addition, the mall houses entertainment attractions such as Nickelodeon Universe, Underwater Adventures Aquarium, Lego Imagination Center, and Nascar Silicon Motor Speedway. 

And although such a destination location might seem more appropriate in a metropolis such as New York City, according to Bausch, Minnesota is exactly where Mall of America should be. “Some say we have nine months of winter, but I think it’s probably more like six months,” she said. “There are definitely months where people are looking for indoor fun, and whether you have $1 or $10,000 to spend, there is something here for you to do.”

Tenant health

Unlike most malls across the US, Mall of America has actually increased its foot traffic during the current recession. Bausch believes a big piece of the complex’s success comes from never losing site of the reason Mall of America exists in the first place: the tenants. “Our tenants’ health is absolutely the most important element of having a vital and successful mall,” she said.

From day one, Mall of America has played an active role in making sure its tenants succeed, starting with the hands-on approach it takes to helping smaller companies figure out their place in the retail world. When a single-site or even dual-site store opens at the mall, they instantly have a partner with Mall of America. And whether it’s figuring out how to market, establish brand, or even help identify a name for the store, Mall of America’s marketing and business development departments are there to assist.

“Mall of America is owned by the Ghermezian family, one of the most successful entrepreneurial families in North America,” said Bausch. “We like nothing more than to see one of the little guys succeed in going nationwide, but we love the chain stores that come in too.”

For example, Mall of America was home to the original Rainforest Café, the widely popular restaurant, of which there are now 24 in the US. “We try to help anyone who asks, but we are especially dedicated to ensuring our tenants are successful.”

Full swing ahead

Since opening in 1992, Mall of America has researched what would complement the already well-rounded entertainment and shopping destination and what would draw in more tourists from North America and internationally. One obvious piece was lodging. 

As a result, the Phase II expansion will include up to 1,800 hotel rooms as well as state-of-the art entertainment options. As planners analyzed the retail side of the mall, they realized it was light on stores that appeal to the male audience. The idea to add a sporting area to the mall seemed almost a necessity given Minnesota’s demographics. 

“We rank fifth in golf courses per capita in the country, but Mall of America doesn’t have a golf store,” said Bausch. “We’d love a driving range or a golf dome—anything we know would absolutely succeed.”

With BassPro as one of the anchors, Phase II will have a strong sporting retail presence and co-tenancies that will appeal to the local and international sporting enthusiast. In addition, the expansion will include a water park resort and, potentially, health and wellness components. “It’s still in the design phase, so this plan could change,” said Bausch.

A luxury retailer and co-tenancies that complement the anchor, much like the design and layout of the original mall, will anchor the other side of Phase II. When researching where the mall is light on categories, Bausch and her team found high-level luxury tenants do extremely well in Mall of America. 

“We know what categories we’re looking for, and we go out and talk to potential anchor tenants within those categories to pinpoint what co-tenancies we should be looking to attract,” she said. 

Place for fun

Although Mall of America has seen its foot-traffic numbers increase through the recession, that doesn’t mean the global financial crisis hasn’t made its presence known. The mall was poised to begin moving forward with the expansion, but due to a number of reasons including the sluggish economy, the progress has been slower than anticipated. In a perfect world, Bausch said construction would have been under way two or three years ago. Now, she estimates construction for some of the hotels might begin at the end of 2009 or in early 2010. 

These challenges haven’t stopped Mall of America from continuing to improve its facility, however. A few years ago, the mall invested about $30 million into refurbishing its common areas with all new soft seating, paint, and finishes. In the past year, the mall invested $22 million in opening the Nickelodeon Universe theme park, adding two thrill rides and four family rides. 

“We also created an area on our third floor we call Terrace on Three,” said Bausch. “It is a street that we redesigned to allow restaurants to have open terrace seating.”

The focus of all the investments Mall of America has made or is preparing to make is highlighting the complex as more than a mall. It’s a family focused destination tailored to meet the needs of children, teenagers, adults, or even seniors—no matter the budget. 

“Mall of America is the place for fun,” said Bausch. “We live that promise every day, and whether you’re one or 100, no matter how much you can spend, you’re going to have a good time. And especially in these difficult times, who doesn’t need fun?”