The Mall of America is one of the most iconic landmarks in Minnesota, drawing over 40 million visitors a year as the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the United States.
But why was this mega-attraction built in the middle of “flyover country” in the first place?
There’s an intriguing backstory behind how a Canadian development firm chose a suburb of Minneapolis for what they envisioned as the “largest most complete, most comprehensive tourist attraction ever built anywhere in the universe.”
Bloomington Had Big Shoes to Fill After Losing Its Stadium
The Mall of America stands on the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
For years, Met Stadium had put Bloomington in the national spotlight by hosting MLB’s Minnesota Twins and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
As assistant city manager Larry Lee describes it, “Every time there was a nationally broadcast baseball game or football game, the first sentence was, ‘Live from Met Stadium in Bloomington.'”
When the stadium was demolished in 1985, the city wanted a replacement that would be just as grand to retain its national identity.
A Mall Like No Other Captures Local Leaders’ Attention
In 1985, a consulting group suggested Bloomington take a look at West Edmonton Mall, an enormous shopping and entertainment complex in Alberta, Canada developed by the Ghermezian family and their firm Triple Five.
This mall went far beyond everyday retail with attractions like an aquarium, ice rink, and waterpark inside.
When a delegation from Minnesota visited, Governor Rudy Perpich remarked, “I have literally been all over the world and I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere. This exceeds Disneyland.”
Related video: Mpls furniture store closing after 128 years (FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul)
Of the oldest furniture stores across the entire state isVideo Player is loading.FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. PaulMpls furniture store closing after 128 years
The concept captured the imagination of Bloomington’s leaders, who were seeking a monumental anchor for tourism.
Not Everyone Was on Board with the Mega-Mall Vision
While Bloomington officials got on board with Triple Five’s fantasyland plans, there was also serious opposition – especially from downtown Minneapolis advocates.
The initial proposal called for a massive convention center that raised red flags about drawing business away from downtown.
Former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak toured West Edmonton Mall and found the downtown area “shattered” and bleak, worrying the same would happen in Minneapolis.
There were also concerns about subsidizing such an ambitious private development with public funding.
It took eliminating the convention center and gaining state legislative approval of tax exemptions before the necessary backing aligned behind the mega-mall.
Securing a Replacement for Civic Pride
For Bloomington, the keys were restoring the civic pride lost when Met Stadium was demolished and positioning the city for ongoing national attention.
As Larry Lee puts it, “The Mall of America has a home game every day.” Unlike the limited season of sporting events, the mall promised year-round tourism and economic impact.
Nader Ghermezian’s bold vision to build the greatest tourist attraction in the universe matched Bloomington’s ambitions for replacing their beloved stadium with something bigger and grander.
That’s why city leaders pushed through the tax subsidies and legislation needed to transform an empty plot of land into the sensation we know as Mall of America today, now entering its fourth decade as an internationally renowned destination.
So why did they decide on Bloomington for the Mall of America?
In the end, Bloomington’s quest to fill the void left by Met Stadium and establish a new defining landmark drove the development of Mall of America in the suburbs of flyover country.
It took the bold vision of a Canadian firm, a delegation visiting the West Edmonton Mall, and the alignment of local leaders rallying for civic pride and tourism dollars.
Despite early criticism over public subsidies and concerns about downtown Minneapolis impacts, the mega-mall ultimately moved forward – and put Bloomington back on the map in an even bigger way.
The Mall of America succeeded in giving Bloomington that home game feeling every single day.
MANSKE, NADINE. “CURIOUS MINNESOTATHE MEGAMALL THAT BLOOMINGTON BUILT.” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN), METRO ed., sec. NEWS, 4 Dec. 2022, p. 05B. NewsBank: America’s News. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.